Dear President Trump,
Yesterday our pastor focused her sermon on the book of Numbers, chapter 27, verses 1-8, which tells the story of five sisters whose father just died. They get Moses to have a chat with God because they want to be able to share their father’s wealth with his brothers – at least that’s what I think the following means: “Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.” God agrees that the sisters should get a cut and our pastor gave a powerful sermon about the sisters’ agency and the need for the church to recognize the misogyny upon which it is built.
And, yet. In addition to not addressing that the sisters had to share with their father’s brothers when a son would have been the sole heir, there was another bit left hanging. Pesky old verse 8 has God instructing Moses to tell the Israelites: “If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall pass his inheritance on to his daughter.” So the daughters’ inheritance was contingent on no son being in the picture, which wasn’t dealt with in the sermon. Plus, verses 9, 10, and 11 were left off completely; here God tells Moses to tell everyone else (nice game of telephone, huh?) that if there are no daughters or sons, then the man’s property all goes to his brethren, and if he has no brethren, then it goes to his father’s brethren, and if there aren’t even any of these sorts, then it goes to whoever might be his next kinsman.
Who’s left out of all this? I’ll give you a hint – it would be hard for the man to have any children on his own…. Yes, you got it – or at least we’ll pretend you got it – the man’s wife is absolutely nowhere in the line of inheritance. She got squat and was completely dependent on other’s pity to survive when her husband died. That was so messed up – unless you wanted to design a system that kept women powerless and completely vulnerable. If that was the goal, then it was pretty perfect, especially since God Himself allegedly handed it down.
I’m not saying we still have those old laws in place. Why in 1839, Mississippi allowed a woman to hold property in her own name! (It was the first state to do so.) And we were given the vote in 1920! So why, you wonder, am I fussing about ancient history? Well, because it still mightily shapes who and how we are today; it influences what scripts are handed to whom and what happens to people who say f*ck those scripts, who engage in improv, and who want things to be fair now, not later.
And we do ourselves a disservice when we only look at the parts of the picture we want to be true when there are still ragged and ugly parts just outside the frame. If we don’t deal with all of it, none of it can truly change.
May we be safe no matter what genetic roll of the dice we got.
May we be happy to fully take on ancient and not so ancient teachings that are oppressive.
May we cultivate new, healthy ways of being together.
May we make peace with change.