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Why Was Noah Silent at the End of the World?
NOAH'S ARK IS a strange children’s story. We decorate nurseries and bedrooms with animals marching two-by-two. The images festoon baby items and fill the pages of countless children’s books. I’ve sat on the floors of many church nurseries playing with babies and Noah’s ark toys and questioned its appropriateness. I’ve thought about Noah and his family closing the door and being sealed inside. I’ve thought about them hearing the sound of rain and the people banging desperately on those closed doors. I’ve thought about the cries and the banging becoming quieter and quieter, about the gut-wrenching silence as the voices were swallowed by the sound of rain.
In a recent essay on her blog, Life is a Sacred Text, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg notes that while the Bible calls Noah a “righteous man, blameless in his generation” (Genesis 6:9), the Zohar, a Kabbalistic text that first appeared in 13th century Spain, doesn’t see him so favorably. The author ties him not to the survival of the animals but to the deaths of everyone else. “Noah did not plea for mercy on behalf of the world, and they all perished, because the Holy One ... had told him that he and his children would be saved by the ark” (Zohar 1:67b). Noah’s complicity in the people’s deaths is so bad that, in Isaiah, the floodwaters are named after him: “For this is as the waters of Noah to me; as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth” (Isaiah 54:9, emphasis mine).
Refusing to Be Comforted
In Matthew’s gospel, King Herod fears a threat to his authority after the birth of Jesus, who the Magi call “king of the Jews.” So he acted as Pharoah had done thousands of years earlier, and ordered the slaughter of male children. On the Feast of the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28), many churches read and reflect on the horror of slaughtered infants. I read it in September while preparing a church service acknowledging the legacy of Canadian residential schools.
Indigenous Boarding Schools and the Responsibility We Inherit
Indigenous people knew the graves were there. Canada’s investigation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which ended in 2015, contained a large section on unmarked graves. Survivors in Canada and the United States talked about these mass graves, but people didn’t hear them, so when the graves were uncovered, people were shaken. But that level of emotional intensity is hard to maintain. The emotions the news elicits are painful — so after the speeches and the promises, equilibrium is restored and things go back to normal. To business as usual.
Christians Romanticize Wandering Yet Rendered My People Homeless
HOME. PERPETUAL WANDERING is a crucial aspect of the Christian narrative. Cast from Eden, Christians are forever strangers in a strange land.
But for black and Indigenous people, that means something very different. If the original sin of the colonized West is genocide and slavery, that is not our sin. And yet it rendered us homeless as surely as the apple in the Hebrew narrative. Forcibly uprooted again and again, black and Indigenous people seek to create, and return, home.
Indigenous scholars such as Kim TallBear and Kim Anderson have described the power that the American idea of home has on the minds of people and politics, and the threat posed to that ideal by Indigenous families who did not live in nuclear relationships with women in a subordinate role. Historically, land allotments for settlers seeking to homestead or for Indigenous people were allotted to heads of households based on the size of households; having a wife and children ensured a larger allotment. Indigenous people who were determined to be more than “half-blood” were not given land outright but had their allotment held in reserve because they were not considered capable of managing the land themselves.
The founders of the United States and generations of subsequent legislators defined the home in narrow and specific terms, creating laws and policies that ensured that free blacks, Indigenous people, immigrants, and poor whites were unable to achieve this American Dream. Vagrancy laws separated families and jailed people under vague and arbitrarily written codes. The Homestead Act, while providing land for settler families, required clearing the West of the people living there. People were framed as “nomadic” in order to justify the theft. The practice of redlining, marking boundaries around primarily black neighborhoods, was used to deny mortgages and exclude black families from home ownership.
The homeless, whatever their stories, are still viewed as suspect by Western society. People whose sexuality does not conform to the American ideal have long been described as threats to marriage and family, and many landlords rely on their Christian beliefs to justify denying homes to LGBTQ people. Yet around the world, U.S. media promotes a glowing image of the American home and family—making promises the country refuses to keep.
The church’s role
SO IT'S A strange dissonance in church, singing songs about wandering and seeking a home when, as an Indigenous woman, my homelessness is because of the church’s role in empire and colonization. This was not just complicity, but active engagement, directing the process and benefiting from the displacement and forcible relocation of black and Indigenous people, as well as from foreign wars that destabilize other countries and generate refugees and asylum seekers.
It was a pope who wrote the so-called Doctrine of Discovery, giving colonizers rights over our land; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg cited it to deny an Oneida land claim in 2005. It was the churches who ran residential schools and whose missionaries paved, and continue to pave, the way for capitalism and colonial government by marketing the constructed idea of home as a Christian ideal and model.