Earned? (Isaiah 54-55)

Mid 1995, I walked off USS Billfish after my first time a sea, a short ten week run to the Mediterranean and back.  Among the families greeting their loved ones, I took my ten-month-old son into my arms; he struggled reaching for Mom.  He did not recognize me.  We drove home pretty much in silence, holding back the confounding mix of emotions that we would come to recognize as typical for returning to port.  Once home, I took out the Dr. Sues book that I had read on the video tape before I left.  After the first rhyme his eyes lit up.  Soon enough he was smiling and happy for me to hold him.

I made sacrifices for my country during those five years in the Navy.  And, had I not worked hard and mad those sacrifices, I would have suffered consequences.  I earned the right to stand up during Diamondbacks games when they honor veterans.  I deserve to walk with my daughter in the Veterans’ Day parade.

Of course, some of the advantages I enjoy are not the result of something I earned.  I did not have much to do with my dad being a scout leader who encouraged me to be an Eagle Scout.  I did not have much to do with my mom knowing how to fill out financial aid forms and assuming out of the gate that I would go to college.  Nor did I earn having my opinions taken more seriously when I spoke up in class, or people assuming that I’m one of the people in charge, both of which have much to do with my gender and race.

That’s the thing about being the privileged, or the chosen–it doesn’t mean you don’t work for what you have nor does it mean that you can’t do stupid things to lose what you have–it merely means that in addition to all of that, there is an element of luck prior to anything you ever did.

The nature of Israel’s chosen status is examined at the end of what is called Second Isaiah sometimes.  Chapters 40-55 were likely written after the Northern Kingdom had been taken into exile by the Assyrians, but before the Southern Kingdom had been taken into exile by the Babylonians.

Israel longed for a return of its special status, perhaps.  Isaiah 54:6 says, “‘The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—a wife who married young, only to be rejected,’ says your God.”  Note, in this metaphor, the wife doesn’t really deserve to be called back.  It is an act of love rather than a transactional response. In Isaiah 54:17, “‘This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,’ declares the Lord.”  Inheritance is not earned.

Despite Israel’s longing, as the Southern Kingdom stood on the precipice of what would seem like eternal defeat.  Not just exile, but a destruction of the temple, the faith of Moses and of Abraham would survive by transforming from a local religion to a global one.  As Isaiah would write, in 55:8, “Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.”

How does Israel’s demise relate to White Male Privilege?  The faith of Abraham survived because the chosen gave up their chosen status.  The chosen recognized, transformed, revised–whatever–the faith to be a faith of the world.  Imagine if those who benefit from our societal structures could both recognize the advantages they have received and work to reorder systems so that such unfair advantages would be removed.  How cosmically powerful is such a notion that the privileged in our society could let go of that chosen status for the betterment of the entire culture.  It would be as grand a change as the followers of YHWH seeing their God as the God of the world.

Israel wouldn’t give up its chosen status until absolute, apocalyptic, cataclysmic destruction was imminent.  What would it take for the privileged in our society (like me) to be willing to surrender their privilege?

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