So, in preparation of launching my YouTube channel, I created a Tumblr. I had never gotten into Tumblr before, and I regret not finding out about how awesome it is sooner. Like Twitter, it’s the social media that you make of it, but once you’ve found a few good people, it sort of balloons into a parade of wonderfulness. I saw an amazing gifset from The Prince of Egypt featuring Tzipporah, so one night when I was up with insomnia I watched it– and liked it. A lot. It was nice finally seeing a biblical story without any white people in it (Noah, I’m looking at you).
Watching The Prince of Egypt was the first time I’d really thought about Moses and The Exodus since I’ve started looking into Liberation Theology, and one of the things that stood out to me this time was what Moses had to overcome in order to become the man that could lead the Jews.
He had to overcome his classism.
This is something the book of Exodus actually seems to emphasize as part of Moses’ story, although I have never heard a message taught from this perspective. Moses was a child of mind-boggling privilege– fantastically wealthy, raised as the grandson of a god, and educated in one of the most advanced civilizations of the time. Exodus 2 doesn’t say how or when Moses discovered that he was not actually an Egyptian– only that Pharaoh’s daughter raised him as her own son, but sometime before the events of verse 11 it seems that he knows.
What the story does illustrate in two different ways is how Moses overcame his privilege. He probably could have remained in the palace indefinitely, embracing a system that justified brutality against those deemed lesser, but he didn’t. He committed an act of violence in defense of a victim. He does the same thing, again, when he sees his future wife being driven away from the well by a group of shepherds.
He could have ignored the oppression happening right in front of his face when he saw a supervisor beating a slave. He could have thought this is the way things are supposed to be, or if I get involved, I could lose everything, but he didn’t.
He could have thought it was right for the shepherds to take what they wanted, to use their strength and status to drive women and girls away from water. He could have thought I am only one man, what can I do? But he didn’t.
I don’t want to read too much into Moses– the text does not speculate as to his state of mind, or to his motivations. But, it is entirely human to go along with the power systems that benefit you without questioning them. The status quo is maintained not because there’s a group of conspirators actively making sure classism, racism, and sexism remain systemic and institutionalized, but through sheer force of numbers the people who accept “the way things are” keep these kyriarchal power structures in place. It would have benefited Moses to play along. He could have remained in luxury and privilege, but he didn’t. He chose to recognize suffering of those the culture he was raised in had collectively decided “deserved” to be slaves, and do something about it.
That’s also what the Bible says God responds to.
The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
I’m not sure why it took God so long to do something. He didn’t act when Pharaoh ordered all of the firstborn Jewish boys slaughtered. He didn’t act for however long they were enslaved until he sends Moses to liberate them, and that … bothers me. I wish there was some explanation for why then, why not before, what changed, but the Bible doesn’t give us any.
But it makes me wonder– Americans enslaved Africans for centuries before we decided to go to war over it. Segregation and Jim Crow went on until a woman sat on a bus and four boys sat at a lunch counter and a black preacher said “I have a Dream.” It took a woman sitting down and writing Le Livre de la Cité des Dames (The Book of the City of Ladies) to point out the inequality between the sexes, and another six centuries before women could vote, own property, and legally divorce abusive husbands (this is an oversimplification for brevity).
It seems that people like Moses, and Mary Wollstonecraft, and Rosa Parks, are necessary, that it takes regular, every day, run-of-the-mill humans to stand up and say “No More.” I’m not sure what it says about God, but I like what it says about people, about you and me.
I just finished reading Robert Reich’s Beyond Outrage (which became the documentary Inequality for All), and he makes an interesting observation in the book– that the class of political activists he calls “regressives” (conservative Republicans) are advocating for economic Darwinism– a political and economic justification of classism, essentially. Rich people are rich because they worked hard and therefore deserve to be rich; poor people are poor because they are lazy or inept and therefore deserve no help from society or government. It’s a “meritocracy” and “boot-strapping” and “rags to riches” that, frankly, doesn’t exist (in the case of meritocracy) and isn’t possible for most people.
And it’s going to take us– all of us– standing together and saying “No More.” What’s wonderful about the story of Moses is that it shows us what it takes, and what we have to lose, and that we’ll need patience and perseverance– but it also shows us everything we have to gain if we “go out to where our own people are.”
(update on Elsa: she seems to be doing ok at the moment. She ate and drank regularly yesterday, and she hasn’t vomited — at least, not yet. I played with her for a while today and she was her enthusiastic self, but when I picked her up she meowed like it hurt her, and she’s currently curled up in the corner behind a chair. That’s not all that unusual, but one of the possible symptoms is “hiding” for long periods of time. She’s yet to have a bowel movement since she ate the string, but I’m trying to remain hopeful. Thank you for all your encouragement yesterday– this is starting to exacerbate my pretty constant low-level anxiety, and hearing from you helped.)