Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Solidarity, Resistance, Liberation: The Way of God in the World?

[WARNING: Not a quick or light read. But hopefully a worthwhile one]

This was the name of the Regent summer school course that we took with Steve when he visited. It was probably the most unique and eye-opening course we have taken! Instead of meeting at Regent College, in its somewhat plush, renovated and air-conditioned building, we started off meeting in a downtown legal office with a spectacular view of the mountains. This was quite deliberate as the first two bible passages we explored were positioned around those who have power over those who don’t. As we sat in our reclining leather chairs, we read the Joseph Narrative in Genesis.

Depending on what you choose to focus on, you can make Joseph out to be a good or a bad character. A few snapshots: Joseph alienates his brothers by boldly re-telling his dreams predicting his power to the point Jacob has to rebuke him for it (G 37:10); Joseph makes slaves of the Egyptians and Israelites because they are desperate for food (G 47:21); Joseph plays tricks on his brothers, e.g. planting the silver cup in the sack (G 44); after Jacob’s death, the brothers instinct is to fear Joseph (G 50:15). Joseph is someone who knows how to move into a position of power and privilege, and gains power with his father, Potiphar, the jailor and Pharaoh. Early on “the Lord was with Joseph” in these ‘promotions’ (see G 39), but that favour drops out of the text after this point. God did use Joseph to save the Israelites from starving, but does that mean we should emulate an oppressor like Joseph? In the end, are you left with a picture of Joseph as a God-fearing Israelite or someone who has adopted Egypt’s powerful and enslaving ways? Or is Joseph a good Israelite who saves his people from starvation by chaining them to slavery?

The next day, we found ourselves in a very different location. The corner of Main and Hastings in Vancouver’s downtown Eastside is the centre point of Canada’s poorest and most problematic postcode. Homelessness, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, street prostitution and petty crime don’t hide in the back-alley’s here – they surround you on the street. In many ways, this is where Vancouver’s enslaved live and try to survive. While some of these people are enslaved by poor choices, others are enslaved by circumstance (abusive families, historical racial prejudice, low wages, no affordable housing – circumstances as uncontrollable as a famine in Canaan). As we crammed ourselves into a stuffy, overcrowded room with no windows we read the early chapters of the Moses narrative in Exodus that directly follow the Joseph narrative.

The Israelites are still enslaved thanks to Joseph, but they were fruitful and filled the land (E 1:7). Out of fear of being overrun the Egyptian King oppresses the Israelites, but they continue to grow (E 1:8-14). Plan B, the King employs a plan of national genocide to stop the Israelites taking over (E 1:16). Enter Moses, a child who should have fallen victim to the genocide, but instead grows up in Pharaoh’s household (E 2:1-16). One day, Moses goes out and sees where his own people were and the slave labour they endured. The oppression Moses sees has such an impact on him, he kills an Egyptian that is beating an Israelite (E 2:11) and the result is he flees to a foreign country (E 2:15). Years pass, yet the Israelites are still enslaved and God is concerned for his people (E 2:23-25). ‘The tears of the oppressed’ are again heard by God and he sends Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt (E 3:7-10).

In contrast to Joseph who climbs the ladder from powerlessness to power, Moses walks (or runs?) away from his place of privilege in the Egyptian royal household. With some convincing from God, Moses in an act of solidarity goes back to his people in Egypt. The request to “let my people go” is denied, and so at the age of 80, God sends Moses to announce his resistance to Pharaoh by delivering the 10 plagues. After Egypt is decimated, God brings liberation to his people and allows them to escape to the desert, bringing the red-sea crashing down on Pharaoh’s pursuing army. Solidarity, Resistance, Liberation. The way God rescues his people out of slavery in Egypt!

Is this the way God in the world today?

The louder and longer heard voices in my life have not emphasised a God, who through his people, would seek to transform the power structures of our societies and our planet that enslave people. Instead, God is shown to be someone who transforms individual lives by bringing them salvation from sin, some level of sanctification and potentially but not always some personal or family spiritual healing and transformation. All wonderful and valuable things!
But, are we cheapening the freedom that Jesus paid in blood for us to have?

The following quote is something I read earlier in the year from an interview in Christianity Today, it wasn’t used in the course. I’m not sure N.T. Wright is advocating a Liberation Theology here, but his comments do point towards how the church has devalued the good news Jesus came to bring.

“For generations the church has been polarized between those who see the main task being the saving of souls for heaven and the nurturing of those souls through the valley of this dark world, on the one hand, and on the other hand those who see the task of improving the lot of human being and the world, rescuing the poor from their misery.
… that distinction is one that we modern Westerners bring to the text rather than finding in the text. Because the great emphasis in the New Testament is that the gospel is not how to escape the world; the gospel is that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Lord of the world. And that his death and resurrection transform the world, and that transformation can happen to you. You in turn can be part of the transforming work. That draws together what we traditionally called evangelism, bringing people to the point where they come to know God in Christ themselves, with working for God's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. …
The key to mission is always worship. You can only be reflecting the love of God into the world out of overflowing self-giving love. The more you look at that God and celebrate that love, the more you have to be reflecting that overflowing self-giving love into the world.”

There is only one guy at Regent qualified to teach this course. Read more about Dave Diewert and his life spent in Solidarity, Resistance and Liberation.

Please add a comment or critique and share what you think.


Anonymous said...

Hi all,

Thought I'd add a comment in light of being the course as well. It was a real eye opener.

My next stop after the course was -Dubai. Fascinating in light of course.

The place where indoor ski fields are being built, 7 star hotels and so many skyscrapers - it is surreal. Arabian Gold and oildrippping in the landscape.

I went into the office of expat lving there. We loooked across the road and there was 30 - 40 black guys, mostly Indian/Pakistani working in 45 degree heat on a building site for the grand total of $1 a day.

Most of them live in 'slave style camps' with 10 - 12 per room, and their accomodation is conveniently outside Dubai. The streets are swept clean for the wealthy expats who talk down on the low earning peasants who struggle with English but go to Dubai desparate to earn a dollar for their families.

Does this sound like the Israelites building the pyramids? I could see the individual beads of sweat on their brough, as we swirled around our chilled water in the air conditioned office. Pharaoh, Pharaoh...ohh baby.

Wouldn't it be great if the church in Dubai went to the slave camps? With a guitar, great meal and scriptures in hand..they could go about bridging the divide so
apparent. These poor earnest blokes trying to save for their
families....Perhaps one less day at the indoor ski field and one more day out there with some wholesome food and a hand of friedship could help to
start to break the disparity there....

The fuinny thing is, if I hadn't been on the course first, I prob would not have thought twice.

Blessings to all,

ps Can I say a public hi to Dani Skinner - who will read this.

Andrew & Jessica said...

Steve - thanks for sharing your first hand experience of the exploitation in Dubai. For anyone who's interested, i found a good photo essay with audio commentary which gives a synopsis of what's happening in Dubai. See:

Craig Tubman said...

Hey shadrach's

Loving the posts and the thoughts from summer school. It sounds like a truely blessed time of learning and experience and fellowship.

Would have liked to be there with you.

On quick question re. the post. Did Joseph enslave the Israelites? Ch.47 certainly shows him buying their land and placing a tax upon them. So yes on one level there is a sence of servitude expressed here. Of taxes and the passing of ownership into government hands - which isn't great.
But slavery doesn't really emerge till chapter 50, when a new king comes to power who "did not know Joseph". It was only then that slave like conditions were forced upong the Israelites. The type of conditions that one can compare with Exodus.

So can we read exodus as 'the slavery that Joseph instituted'?
I'm not sure he did?


Craig Tubman said...

ooo, I'm sorry, I didn't mean Gen 50, I meant Exodus 1

Andrew & Jessica said...

Tubio – it would have been great to have you here with SB to do the course! Thanks for the question; it’s helpful for me to have another thorough look at the narrative.

Maybe the answer is in what we see as “slavery”? I suppose my thoughts would develop along the lines of chapter 41 & 47. Joseph is wise as he “collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance” (G 41:48). My question is, did Joseph pay the Egyptians for the food that they and their properties produced? Or did he ‘tax’ it on Pharaoh’s behalf? This is an important question, because when the famine hit, “Joseph opened up the store houses and sold grain to the Egyptians” (G 41:56). Why didn’t Joseph give the grain back to the people he ‘collected’ it from? You can see the results in chapter 47

NB: in ch 46-47 the Israelites are now living in Egypt

47:12 – Joseph provided food for all of Israel (from 46:26, maybe 66+ people)
47:13 – “no food, however, in the whole region” – I’m not sure how long after v.12 this is? Does this include the Israelites?

Now, Joseph’s enslavement of the ‘people’ goes up a few notches (chapter 47):
“Joseph collected all the money in Egypt and Canaan in payment for grain” (14). The people respond, “Why should we die before your eyes? Our money is used up” (15). Joseph’s response, “Then bring your livestock” (15). And the process of enslavement starts. The people now have no money and are selling their livelihoods, their livestock, to eat.

Side Q’n: in light of Joseph’s advice in 46:34, what happens in 47:16-17 could be very inclusive of the Israelites?

The enslavement continues … the food from the livestock sales is gone in a year and the people said, “we cannot hide from our Lord the fact that since our money is gone and our livestock belongs to you, there is nothing left for our lord except our bodies and our land” … “Buy us and our land in exchange for food, and we with our land will be in bondage to Pharaoh” (47:18-19). “The land became Pharaoh’s, and Joseph reduced the people to servitude from one end of Egypt to the other.” (47:20-21). Now the people in the land of Egypt are slaves!

But now Joseph, the ‘good guy,” re-emerges; "Now that I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh, here is seed for you so you can plant the ground. But when the crop comes in, give a fifth of it to Pharaoh. The other four-fifths you may keep as seed for the fields and as food for yourselves and your households and your children. "You have saved our lives," they said. "May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh." (47: 23-25). The people are happy for now as they aren’t going to stare to death, and the 20% tax rate seems fair. But they own nothing, and Pharaoh owns it all.

47:27 – not sure what to make of it? “Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number.”
Does ‘acquired’ mean they owned the property, or does it mean they were given the property to work for Pharaoh?

Interestingly, chapter 48, shows Jacob talking to Joseph about the promises he had received, “I will give this land as an everlasting possession” (48:4). 48:6 talks about Joseph’s sons inheriting territory. This is a big contrast to Joseph’s dealings with the land in the last chapter.

As I said in the post, Joseph’s brothers were afraid of him after Jacob dies. When the brothers came to Joseph and said, “We are your slaves” (50:18), did they have any doubt of their status in Egypt?

Joseph reassures the brothers, “don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children” (50:21), but, as Joseph is about to die, he comforts the brothers twice saying, ”God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land” (50:24&25).
Why do the brothers need “aid” if they have their independence from Pharaoh?

I think Joseph certainly enslaves the Egyptian people to Pharaoh. The question, which is a little ambiguous as I think I have shown, is whether or not the Israelites are lumped in with the ‘Egyptian people’ in this regard or not? (your question indicates you think they are). This then feeds into their situation in Exodus. When does someone’s situation make them a slave? When they have no self-determination because they have had everything stripped from them (G 47)? Or when they have a slave-master over them (E 1:1). Isn’t it all part of the same slippery slide? I think Joseph put them on the slide.

sajad said...

I from iran.
i must read later your post.
i see you blog random!!!!!
soory my english lang very bad.
see your blog later!!

my mail: admin[at]

Justin said...

God brings liberation to his people and allows them to escape to the desert, bringing the red-sea crashing down on Pharaoh’s pursuing army. Solidarity, Resistance, Liberation. The way God rescues his people out of slavery in Egypt!

I can see all this. I really can. I wish I'd heard what you had heard etc.

But what I'm working through is why the Scriptures don't use this language of 'Solidarity, Resistance, Liberation'. Heb 11:24 has the solidarity idea in it. But not as the reason that God rescued Israel.

Rather the overwhelming language for how God rescues his people out of slavery is with C"With a mighty and outstretched Arm".

Of course, the arm belongs to Jesus in the end -- the Word enfleshed, who tabernacled with us (more Ex language).

You are helping me to think...

Andrew & Jessica said...

J – glad to help you think, your Q’s do likewise … this is new to us too – we are still trying to see/think how it all works, how God works really.

I don’t want to get too caught up in language in the terms “S,R,L” (Dave didn’t in the course), we don’t find “Trinity” in the text either, but we use the model happily.

Take Luke 13:10-21 (BTW, not an example covered in the course) – the crippled woman who was healed on the Sabbath. Jesus’ outstretched arm is clearly there, and it combines with “Jesus saw her” demonstrating his solidarity with this woman. The “mighty” is there in the healing, but also in the resistance - Jesus heals on the Sabbath, resisting the established religious order’s hypocrisy of providing Sabbath rest to a donkey, but not to a child of Abraham who has been denied her rest for 18 years (I think you see social order resistance in many of Jesus’ encounters/teachings). The liberation is the mighty arm, the touch that brings healing, but the liberation goes beyond the text. This woman leaves being renewed, now able to work, be more engaged in relationships/less ostracised, and now able to enter the temple.

As you say, “the arm belongs to Jesus”, and later on it belongs to the Spirit.
Take Paul’s letter to Philemon (not an example covered in the course). Paul’s solidarity with a slave and now brother. Paul’s resistance to the established social order, pleading to Philemon to have Onesimus back as a brother, not as a slave – this is radical (the mighty arm, empowered by the Spirit, with the pen, more powerful than a sword)! The liberation is left out of the text, that’s where the Spirit comes to work on how the letter is received by Philemon, and how Onesimus is welcomed (v. 17) – the outstretched arm of God right? Liberating, saving and here redeeming.

Another story:

Solidarity – seeing a need
Resistance – just because these kids are Mexican, does that mean they should be blinded for the rest of their lives?
Liberation - $ and skilled doctors. A new world opening up for 2 kids whose world’s were limited by what they couldn’t see
S,R,L - The way of God in the world?

Outstretched arm – seeing a need, compassion
Mighty resistance
Mighty and outstretched arm – Spirit enabling rich people to see and give, giving doctors compassionate hearts, bringing healing

Andrew & Jessica said...

Sajad - glad to have you along! Your English is good. You maybe our first visitor from Iran - that's pretty cool! Welcome.

Justin said...

I see it very clearly in Philemon. Thank you.

I see it in the woman too. But in that scenario, I personally identify with the woman, and Jesus is YHWY come to rescue me. I would be nervous about identifying with Jesus in that text.

Do you think that the Gospel could be summed in those three words?

I was thinking yesterday how Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité could be used of faith as well. But at the same time, I would, of course, want to distance myself from the French Revolution.

Maybe thats my struggle. In the same way, I wouldn't want to be seen as a socialist or marxist. Which is what these words often evoke. Or even a liberation theologian, in any normal usage of that term.

What do you think?

Craig Tubman said...

hey shadrach team
Sorry to be commenting on now an old post - but I'm still thinking through it. The Tubeman brains turns pretty slowly sometimes!!!

I was thinking about your protrayal of Joseph and Moses.
Joseph = one who "climbs the ladder from powerlessness to power"
Moses = one who "walks away from his position of priviledge."

I went back to read Genesis and found that that could be a bit harsh on Joseph. The text seems to be making the point that the reason why Joseph got anywhere was because "the Lord was with him" (39:2, 41:16,39 ) and it appears that in points of disaster, the writer wants to make clear that God was with Joseph. It's because of this that he can say to his brothers: "God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here but God." 45:7-8
And then again: "You intended to harm me but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" 50:19-20

I guess my point is that Joseph reached where he reached not because he was a capitalist entrepreneur who climbs the ladder. But rather because God put him there in order to provide for the Israelites when the time of famine arrived.

It actually provides a beautiful compaison with Moses, who God drove away from the order to do the same thing - prepare him to come back and provide/save the Israelites.

I'm not sure if we can play them off against each other?

Also? I was thinking, God saves his people from Egypt so that they may worship him and move away from the Idols of Egypt (Ex 9:13 and Ezek 20:5-9). In this instance God didn't do anything about the social structure of Egypt. He just got his chosen people out so they may worship him and recieve the land he had promised them.
Not sure if the main point here is political/social structures?


also, do you know when Bairdy is back in town? Is he already back? I'm hanging to catch up with him and hear it all first hand!

Justin said...

Tubeo's brain may be slow, but its good.

I understand that we cannot really interact with a Course that we did not attend. But we are interacting with what you have written.

It feels like the academic problem that Laurel used to rail against in Shakespeare studies (Ah those early days of marriage): taking a certain 'reading' into texts. It always yielded fresh insights, but almost never leaves you satisfied with a plain reading.

Joseph is clearly a floored character, but he doesn't appear to be to be involved in 'systemic abuse'.

I'm not sure that we are required to emulate Joseph anyway. Or Moses. (although secondarily via yearning for a better country -- Heb 11).

The Story is about God.


Justin said...


Andrew & Jessica said...

Justin & Tubeo – great to have you still on board with these, even if brains and moving slowly and the processing is flawed … some (final?) thoughts…

Do you think that the Gospel could be summed in those three words?
I think so. Solidarity=incarnation, Resistance - to the powers of sin/death + Jesus’ choice to do the father’s will not the worlds & our choice to die to this world?, Liberation=res & salvation

I wouldn't want to be seen as a socialist or marxist. Which is what these words often evoke. Or even a liberation theologian
I dont want to be boxed by those things either. But I also don’t want to have my head in the sand and not see all the great things God, through his people, has done in this world, through legal change or otherwise: ending slavery in Britain with Wilberforce; apartheid in ZA with Tutu; civil rights movement in the USA by Dr. King; Mother Theresa’s Sisters of Charity; David Bussau’s Micro Economic Development work through Opportunity International that is transforming how we go about aid in the developing world.

”Many Christians have rejected liberation theology in its entirety because they disagreed with specific elements of it. Yet early versions of liberation theology had at least one thing right: committed Christians ought not to remain silent and inactive about the horrible plight of the world’s poor. Concern for genuine liberation occupies an important place in Christian belief and practice.” Beyond Liberation Theology, Belli & Nash

my point is that Joseph reached where he reached not because he was a capitalist entrepreneur who climbs the ladder. But rather because God put him there in order to provide for the Israelites when the time of famine arrived.
Joseph is definitely a mixed bag character (we feel sympathy for him when he keeps crying in private all the time). God is certainly working through Joseph to save the Israelites and has blessed him with dream interpretation. Your right on God’s blessing in 39:2 (and 39:21-23), I pointed this out in the original post. But, I don’t think 41:16 & 39 are God’s blessing at all. They are Joseph’s religious and impressive words in front of a Pharaoh who could take Joseph’s head off or make him the 2nd most powerful person in Egypt with a single sentence spoken. Note, the Hebrew word for God is not YHWH here. Why should we take Joseph’s words in the narrative as authoritative? Why do we assume that God won’t use a flawed or oppressive person for His purposes?

Joseph’s entrepreneurial rises to power:
1. with his father/brothers. Joseph is so unaware of how offensive his dreams are, his father rebukes him for it (37:10-11). 37:12 – why is Joseph not out with the flocks? Instead his dancing around at home in the dream-coat.
2. How do you think Potiphar’s wife felt about Joseph’s swift rise to power, being “put in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned” (39:4)? Do you think she really wanted to sleep with him? Or was her original plan of removing him from power successfully carried out?
3. 39:21-23, the Lord is still with Joseph in prison. But he uses this religious & seductive language again in 40:8 “do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams”. After the favorable interpretation of the cupbearer, Joseph pushes for his own advancement “mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of prison” (40:14). His own push fails in 40:23, the cupbearer does not remember Joseph (NB: 2 years later, the cupbearer does remember 41:9). If the Lord was with Joseph why did he have to make his own advancement? I think there is a turning point here, and no more “The Lord was with Joseph” language, interesting that considering we are only 3 of 14 chapters into the narrative.
4. As above 4:16 & 39. Joseph is now summoning God’s power? No. Just impressive/seductive words in front of Pharaoh, like “And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt” (41:33). Joseph is bating Pharaoh here. None of Pharaoh’s magicians or wise men could help, but Joseph did – who else would Pharaoh appoint for the job? Joseph even makes Pharaoh sound wise in the choice. From zero to hero!

Do you get the feeling that Joseph is really like a true Israelite? Like he follows in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great grandfather.
How many times do you see Joseph pray in the narrative? None.
How many times does God speak to Joseph? None.
God does speak in the narrative to Jacob: “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there”. The Lord is in all of this for sure. As Justin said, it’s about the Lord. It’s not about how brilliant Joseph is.
Jacob’s funeral procession in 50:7-9 doesn’t resemble Israel (even though it’s ‘Israel’s’ funeral). Rather it’s Egypt. Large company. Chariots and horsemen. Vs 11 confirms it “The Egyptians are holding a solemn ceremony of mourning”
Heb 11 is interesting. Joseph’s faith is at the end of his life, concerning his bones (a great legacy?). Moses “regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as greater value than the treasures of Egypt” vs. 24-26

Justin - Joseph is clearly a floored character, but he doesn't appear to be to be involved in 'systemic abuse'.
Check my comment at Fri Aug 10, 09:57:00 AM. If this is systemic abuse, what is it?

I'm not sure if we can play them (Joseph & Moses) off against each other?
Im not totally sure either, but Exodus flows on from Genesis, it’s meant to be read as a single account of Israel’s history isn’t it? I think there could be a great series in studying the Joseph & Moses narratives, instead, we like to keep things neat, and wouldn’t do that. But, as you say, some great comparisons!

Not sure if the main point here is political/social structures?
Your right, God doesn’t seek to transform Egypt, instead he wants to give his chosen people their own land, and start again. If you compare some of Moses instructions in Deut, they stand in stark contrast to life in Egypt. Interestingly, Israel screws it up, wants a King and soon enough the warned against foreign wives, chariots at the ready and gold that Israel’s king was never meant to have are over-flowing out of Solomon’s palace.
This is a can; I don’t want to open here or now, but in contrast to God’s vision that Moses lays out in Deut, does Solomon’s kingdom more resemble Egypt?

J – is there any such thing as a “plain reading”?
As Ben Fold’s puts it, doesn’t your “male, middle-class and white”ness affect your reading?

Tubio – SB is back …

Justin said...

J – is there any such thing as a “plain reading”?

Perhaps not the plain reading, but certainly a plain reading.


(Sorry for taking my time on that).