Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What's in a name?

Just had one of those wow discoveries today. I was reading Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw's "Jesus For President" for the second time, and came across their overview of the Exodus story. I am assuming you all know about this one. Both the old Ten Commandments movie staring Charlton Heston, and the Disney movie Prince of Egypt try and tell the story.

But as I was reading I discovered something I have never seen before:

Pharaoh's name is never given. Pharaoh is not a name, its a title. In the story we meet Moses, Aaron, Miriam but we never really meet the real Pharaoh, all he is, is a title.

So what does that have to do with anything? Well, if I told you this story, about the oppressive nation, and the leader of this nation that continued to hold a large majority of the nation in slavery, and poverty. But never named the guy, what does that do to the story? If I said the president, then did this, the president then did that, a very common response would be which president. Since this was not written as a newspaper article, but as religious history, a name would be expected.

But when we read this story, we find that a nation, and the nations highest office, is the hands that hold Israel in slavery. It is not an individual, but a corporate identity and its high office. And who opposses this nameless face of the corporate evil? An elderly shepherd, and fugitive from justice, who was dispossessed by the same corporate evil as a child. This is not a battle with an individual, but as the bible says later in Ephesians, but with principalities, and powers, and the rulers of darkness.

God delivers from the oppressive system, headed by an office that has been corrupted by the very power that was given him. In one of his essays, Noam Chomski says something like, "the problem with power, is that once you have it, you are forced to defend it" Pharaoh was not just a man, with a family, but the power of all of Egypt, and could not let that be compromised. He even loses his family in the process.

Hope that made some small amount of sense, makes lots of sense in my head.



urbanmonk said...

Yeah, nice one Johnny!!

Made me think of the way corporations are divorced from any moral or ethical responsibility because they carry the title of "business"

My boss at the supermarket always used to say, business is business. But the thing is, business isnt business, business is people with names and histories..

nice one mate..

David said...

Someone living in the greediest, most rapacious country on earth with the highest standard of living that consumes 25% of the planet's oil resources with just 5%, someone living in a country that is directly and indirectly responsible for global poverty and suffering is giving us a lesson in oppression and slavery.

We're all ears, Rev. Give us some more of your profound wisdom in your Nike casual shoes and cheaply made Chinese clothing. Tell us some more about the nasty system that makes you live in miserable poverty.

After all, you'd know.

The Rev said...

of couse I would know David, I live in the modern day Egypt, I see it clearly. But for the record, I won't wear nike, and my cheap clothing is from the op-shop/thrift store.

But buck up little camper, Australia is well on their way to becoming as greedy as America, you have already become fatter than us, and you have a longer work week. woo hoo, you can do it.

fight the power david


David said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Rev said...

not proper language, shame on you

KLJ said...

Sorry John, but I agree with David.
Because you live in a country that is full of greed and selfishness you have to behave in kind. You cannot criticize from within. Sorry. You are not Thomas Paine after all. Blogs are NOT the new pamphlets. Bye for now, I'm off to McDonalds. I'll tell 'em David sent me.

David said...

Just living in a country like the US, Australia or other "first world" means unavoidable involvement in the exploitative system the Rev would like to see change.

I didn't think John was seeking change through blogging so much.

It's more by uttering voodoo incantations to the right invisible magic spiritual beings. I.e. praying that God hurry up and implement His Kingdom.

Just wondering what God is waiting for. Hasn't He seen enough human tragedy already? He must know the pattern by now.

David said...

I forgot the closing prayer.

Dear God, please magic everything better. Amen.

The Rev said...

Well that was pretty good for a beginner. Let me show you how I do it:

Father, I know you want us to take responsibility for this world, help me to see the ways I can be the change that the world needs, and give me the courage, and hope to walk it out.

Oh, and forgive David for being so negative, he has hemroids.


David said...

Don't you think God could make Himself a little clearer and provide a more reliable means of communication than prayer or ancient desert scribblings?

If God wants His will done, He's sure got a strange way of making it known.

By the way, how did you know I had hemorrhoids?

gods_rhema said...

Want the Father?
Find the Son..

If you want to make a change in the world go and live in a third world country and serve them.

Questions answered and fears allayed..

Easier than hemorrhoid cream..

Troy said...

Nice post John,

The problem isn't power, the problem is that those who dont have any power are vulnerable. If all power was bad, then organizations such as world vision, the World Health Organization, The Salvation Army and myriads of others would all be doing bad work. Which of course their not. I completely disagree with the thought that things cant be changed from within the structure of institutions which wield power. I also think that the idea of moving to a third world country to help those less fortunate as the only way to make a change in the world is a tad ideologically misplaced. Missionaries from the west still get to go home to developed countries, leaving those in developing countries in their circumstances. Poverty and oppression exist everywhere, and the first step is to notice it and name it. The Rev has spent his life doing this and attempting to bring about change in whichever culture he has been part of.

To toss our hands up and say, "well i wear nikes and China's finest threads, so I might as well endorse the rapping and pillaging of the poor", is much less academically rigorous then atheists perhaps should be.

We need to use the power we have to empower those who dont have any, in our street, neighbourhood, city, state etc. in any way we have the power too. Ghandi and Mandela who we all look up to were not unknown saints shying away from power. They embraced any power they could to protect those who had none.

Like Bono said, we need people walking the hallways of power, and people on the protest line to create real and lasting change.

The Rev said...

well troy, I do disagree a bit. I believe for one that power needs to always be used to empower others, if it is not it is illegitimate. When we see Gandhi, he actually quite frequently refused to let the government follow his advice, because he felt they didnt' agree with it, but were only bowing to his wishes. He knew that only when they were empowered, rather than following his power, would India become worthy of their freedom.

There are many ways to effect change, and we should do so wherever we are. But I think that change within the systems comes more from movements outside of the system than from within. Power tries to hold on to its power.

Bono loses credibility while flying around in private jets, and talking about world poverty. Making poverty history could and should start with him living like a normal human being. If he is telling me and my friends to help end poverty while we can barely get by on less than poverty level wages, he should atleast lower himself to the middle class.


troy said...

hi john,

I agree with what you said about Gandhi, however we need to realise the power we have by who we are and the effect our words and actions have on others - this too is power. Gandhi would have known this, otherwise why bother going on a hunger strike? Power absolutely needs to be used to empower others and it is so frequently abused it can easily by seen as in and of itself evil. But its like many drugs that are used for healing - as long as we are aware of the dangers they are effective. I wont refuse morphine or pethadine if needed in hospital just because I know many heroin and codeine addicts. Just as you dont turn down a nice glass of red wine, despite the knowledge of alcoholism and its affect on some.

I stand by my thought on change happening from both within and without (as I would :)because I have seen change happen from people within institutions. The change needs to be an evolution normally, but it does and can happen.

Bono's statement is true regardless of his inadequacies. Even if he lowered himself to the lower middle class, he would still be richer than most, and perhaps ludicrous for the attempt, patronising I think. He is a rediculously rich man in an absurdly paid profession. But that doesn't mean what he is saying is invalid.

I think sometimes we can romantiscise poverty. we of course should align ourselves on the side of the poor and fight injustice and poverty as long as we have breath. But even though I personally live below the Australian poverty line - within the bottom 5%, I know I am relatively wealthy. I'll finish with a quote from the World Health Organization:

“Poverty wields its destructive influence at every stage of human life, from the moment of conception to the grave. It conspires with the most deadly and painful diseases to bring a wretched existence to all those who suffer from it”

ps -thanks for responding to my email :)