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Today is tax day. This isn’t the typical time to file taxes. We are much more accustomed to submitting tax returns in the Spring. But then, not much is typical right now.

Covid-19 has upended our lives in a multitude of ways, leading to a lot of provisional and temporary adjustments to make life work. We grocery shop with masks, worship online, work remotely, graduate in drive-by ceremonies, and generally try to limit our contact with others. This is certainly not the 2020 we were hoping for and I suspect, after four long months of this, many of us are weary, longing for a return to “normal.”

Going back to the way things were . . . that would be the easiest. But I find myself wondering if that is what we should even be hoping for. After all, the way things were before Covid wasn’t necessarily great. At least not for everyone. We live in a country with significant disparities that run across racial and ethnic lines, disparities that our Covid-19 world has accentuated and exacerbated.

Take, for example, the decision in March by schools around the country to educate our children remotely. Recent studies have shown that students from low-income families, a disproportionate number of whom are students of color, faced significant roadblocks to learning because they didn’t have the required access to good internet, a personal computer, and often, someone in the home to help them work through the material.

In some cases, the tech industry stepped up to alleviate this disparity by supplying internet access or computers. However, these were merely temporary and patchwork solutions to a disparity in educational resources and opportunities that has long plagued American schools. To go back to “normal” is to go back to ignoring the way our educational system is failing low-income populations.

Covid-19 has highlighted similar disparities in our healthcare system. According to the CDC, people of color are 20-25 percent more likely to contract Covid-19. The reasons for this are many and varied, but three are worth mentioning here: 1. People of color tend to work in essential industries, resulting in greater exposure to the virus; 2. lack of health insurance has made health care inaccessible to too many people of color, meaning they are more likely to have underlying conditions that have gone inadequately treated. This, in turn, has made them more susceptible to the virus; and 3. racism and systemic inequities undermine prevention and care efforts among people of color. To return to normal is to continue to disregard disparities in health care and the general well-being of people of color that Covid is making visible.

With the gratuitous death of George Floyd at the hands of police in May of this year, America as a nation has been forced to reckon with racial injustice and inequity. You might say we have been awakened to the systemic racism in our nation’s structures and institutions. In response, hundreds of thousands of people in cities around the world have gathered together to protest racism and police brutality against people of color. Institutions have put out statements, taking a stand against racist attitudes and behaviors.

White folks in Christian circles have gotten together to read James Cone and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Phrases like white privilege, critical race theory, and structural racism have started coming up in casual conversation. There is an energy and earnestness to these actions that is deeply encouraging. But even as I write this, I’m conscious that change won’t come quickly or easily. The attraction and pull of returning to “normal” is strong. And in America, racism is part of that “normal.”

Perhaps this is where we can take a lesson from Rizpah. Rizpah is a little known character in the Old Testament, the secondary wife of Saul (thanks to Sarah Schreiber for directing my attention to her). We meet up with Rizpah in 2 Samuel 21 after Saul has been killed and David has become king of Israel. As retribution for Saul’s attack on them, David hands over seven of Saul’s surviving sons to the Gibeonites to be lynched. Innocent blood for innocent blood. Two of these victims are Rizpah’s sons.

Rizpah is powerless to prevent their death. What she can do, however, is make visible the invisible, calling attention to the injustice of the violent and gruesome deaths of innocent lives. For six long months, through the heat and the rain, she sits among the dead bodies, dignifying them with her mourning, and protecting the corpses from preying birds and wild animals. For six long months, she sits with her sackcloth, inviting the nation to repentance and social change. For six long months, Rizpah suffers until finally David notices her and makes reparations of sorts, gathering the bones of Saul and Jonathan and Saul’s seven sons and burying them with dignity.

For many of us, the events of this year have opened our eyes to the realities of racism in our country. My prayer in all of this (and perhaps yours as well) is that this new awareness and energy will bring about real social change. That like Rizpah, we will be persistent, courageous, and sacrificial in advocating for the dignity of our black and brown siblings. That like Rizpah, we will resolve to continue to point to injustices until justice is won. And that, in all of this, we will resist returning to “normal.”

Amanda W. Benckhuysen

Amanda Benckhuysen teaches Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her special interests include the Psalms, wisdom literature, and the classical prophets. An ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church, Amanda enjoys hiking and biking with her husband and two daughters.

10 Comments

  • Amanda, thank you for this. It is a wonderful bit of writing that made me think. Thank you and be blessed.

  • Helen P says:

    Thank you Amanda. Your writing expresses so well what many of us are feeling during this time.

    • Amanda Benckhuysen says:

      Thanks Helen! It’s so important to be part of communities that spur us on in faith and action – particularly when it comes to really hard stuff like confronting racism.

  • Tom says:

    Thank you … those with privilege are not easily swayed … yet, these days are compelling, and I hear a new level of conversation about these matters. Your commentary on Rizpah is dramatic – a reminder, I suppose, that when it seems that little can be done, a little can go a long way to, if not rectify, then at least, mitigate the injustice, and compel the kings to pay attention.

  • Jim Dekker says:

    Thank you, Amanda, for this. I’d love to see this in The Banner. Try it, as it complements two recent editorials. I might share it to the Pastors of the CRC FB page, a place that so often disapppoints and maddens me with some mighty retrograde conversations. Blessings jcd

    • George Vink says:

      Jim, once again I have to agree with you. Good idea to submit to BANNER and appropriate comment on The Pastors’ Pages. There are times when I wonder “Where did these ‘boys’ go to school.'”
      George

  • RLG says:

    Thanks, Amanda, for your take concerning our return to normality. But what is normal? As to our country’s problem, our world’s problem, with racism, there has always been a problem from the beginning of time. Old Testament history affirms national biases by every country, including Israel, and seemingly at the instigation of God. From early on, nation has risen up against nation, religion against religion, Christianity against every other religion. And of course this bias filters into personal lives. The root problem, in Christian terms, is sin. And if the Bible is right, everyone comes into the world a sinner, with a predominate inclination to sin (a sinful nature). If you’re an evolutionist then everyone has a basic survivalist inclination, the predisposition to provide for one’s own needs first and foremost. I’m willing to help others, I’m willing to reach out, as long as it doesn’t hurt me. This is obvious in most Christian charitable giving, even in giving back to God. Instead of giving God our first fruits, we give him what is left over. This is at the heart of the American capitalist mentality and free enterprise. That’s not going to change anytime soon. This sinful inclination or survivalist mentality is here to stay. That’s what is normal. All the dangling of sinners over the fires of hell by God (Johnathan Edwards) or Billy Graham crusades isn’t going to change our society. It hasn’t in the past and won’t now. So, as so many people are calling for change now, realistically, it will only happen in our dreams. Or it will happen very slowly. And Christianity has done little to push such dreams forward, in fact has done more to divide the world than to unite it.

    So Amanda, I think you are right, perhaps a new awareness and energy will bring about real social change. Perhaps Rizpah’s actions only changed David’s mind and not all of Israel. But try we must. It used to be that Christians would pray for God to change hearts, but that seems to have had little effect in changing hearts in the past. Racism is still here. And until hearts are changed I think our racist problems are here to stay. But try we must. Or perhaps, as Christians have prayed for over two thousands years, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” Who knows. Thanks, Amanda.

  • Jim Payton says:

    Thank you, Amanda, for clearly pointing to the desperate need for wide and deep systemic restructuring as the only wise and godly way to respond — which will undoubtedly be challenging in ways we can’t yet discern … but which will, for sure, entail giving up a lot of the privilege we have enjoyed, benefited from … and has been our past “normal.”

  • Rowland Van Es, Jr. says:

    Our national “normal” is what made us #1 in both Covid cases and Covid deaths. Maybe we will be humbled enough to see what other nations did better before during and after the pandemic. A lot of our problems have to do with inequality, something the OT prophets also wrote a bit about.

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