Reflections from my book,
So I am officially part of the genealogy craze. Well, sort of. A friend who is into those searches volunteered to do some work for my wife, who is trying to find a lost sister. The friend offered to pay to have both my DNA and my wife’s tested, through one of the popular ancestry search companies. We were surprised by some of the results, namely that I don’t have the Native American ancestry that I’d always been told I have. It’s all a craze now, but genealogies are nothing new. Even without the Internet, databases, and DNA, folks have been documenting and researching genealogies throughout human history.
In the Bible, the Book of Numbers is largely about counting people and documenting who came from whom. Throughout the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles we learn about the same things: Who was the father of whom? And then the books of Matthew and Luke trace the ancestry of Jesus of Nazareth. In ancient Palestine, that practice mainly involved tracing the men, not women, in Jesus’s line. But Matthew adds four women. And to some readers, these four are unusual choices.
Tamar is in the line. Tamar was the twice-widowed, and once-jilted Canaanite woman who ended up sleeping with her father-in-law and producing children. Tamar is a great grandmother of Jesus.
Rahab is in the line. Rahab is known for harboring spies and lying about it. Rahab is later mentioned as an example of faith and obedience. Rahab is great grandmother of Jesus.
Bathsheba is in the line. Bathsheba is known not so much for what she does, but for what others did. Kind David saw her one day, sent for her, seduced her and then had her husband killed, so that he could have Bathsheba for himself. Bathsheba is a mother to King Solomon and great grandmother of Jesus.
And Ruth is in the line. The story of Ruth and Naomi is the story of home on the run. Like me and my family, Ruth could not define “home” by a building or even a place. Her circumstances wouldn’t let her. Here’s what happened as recorded in the Bible book of Ruth, which could just as easily be called The Book of Naomi:
Naomi was from Bethlehem, the same town that Jesus would be born in centuries later. Naomi was married to Elimelech. When a famine hit Bethlehem and the surrounding areas, Naomi, Elimelech and their two sons set out as refugees in Moab. The Moabites were not always friendly to the Israelites. There was history. But Naomi, Elimelech and their sons settled there to escape that famine.
We don’t know how long they lived in Moab before Elimelech died. But we know that when he died his sons took Moabite wives, Orpah and Ruth. Then the sons died, leaving Naomi, Orpah and Ruth all as widows. Naomi decided to go home to Bethlehem, and she wisely suggested—really ordered—her daughters-in-law to go back to their homes, each to their “mother’s house.” As Naomi explained it, “You can go back home, and you are young enough to find a new husband.” Orpah thought that made sense, but Ruth did not agree. She argued with her mother-in-law, and eventually said now-famous words: “Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” (Ruth 1:16, CEB)
She was saying, “My home is not where I come from, my home is not where I currently reside, my home is with my loved ones. And right now, Naomi, my home is with you.”
The homeboys and homegirls of Homeboys Industries can share that sentiment. Father Gregory Boyle likes to talk about “the power of radical kinship.” Former gang enemies have banded together and bonded into a family. Marcus found that family at Homeboy.
Once he started gang-banging in junior high school, Marcus never wanted to go home. He felt there was nothing for him. Often there was no food for him, and he felt like there was not much home. The father that he idolized had been shot when Marcus was eight. Already hope was dead. Once he began with gangs and drugs in junior high, it wasn’t long before Marcus was arrested. He found himself incarcerated for six years. When he came out, it took him awhile to take friends’ advice and check out Homeboys. But once he did, he felt at home. He felt like he had a family. He felt at peace.
A Home for Peace (Addendum)
I Googled it. It turns out there actually is a list of the most memorable fights in Christmas movies. I was looking for one in particular, but I stumbled upon a bunch. “Elf” has a fight. So does “A Christmas Story,” “Scrooged,” “Home Alone” and “Christmas with the Kranks.” Even that classic black and white film, like “It’s a Wonderful Life” features a fight scene. But the scene I was looking for shows up in 1996’s “Jingle All the Way.” In it, two rival fathers, workaholic Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and stressed out postal worker Myron Larabee (Sinbad), both want to get a Turbo-Man action figure for their respective sons. It’s Christmas Eve, and both men are on a last-minute shopping spree. When you Google “Jingle All the Way fight scene,” what comes up first is a pretty violent scene when Schwarzenegger’s character gets into a brawl with a bunch of Santas. The movie is all fueled by the pressures of the holiday season. And it sounds familiar to us because so much of the season can be full of tension. Some of the tension can be avoidable, like by taking away the emphasis on getting things or by limiting the number of activities that have to fit into the season.
But other tensions are just there. They come from relationships broken or strained, or from bad memories or from hard-to-let-go-of expectations. It’s might sound a little strange that we emphasize the peace of the season just as those tensions are the hottest.
For many folks at Homeboy Industries, the seasonal conflict might be heightened by a history that has had no peace. The sweet peaceful home pictures that many portray around this time do not reflect the reality of these Homegirls and Homeboys. They have memories of anything but peace. There are memories of gang warfare, of insecure homes, of unstable relationships. Add those memories to the stress of the season, and the mixture can be volatile.
But at Homeboy, many have come to embrace peace. Some rival gangbangers have become best friends. Many from difficult homes have found family and home. Some who were away from their family members have been re-united.
For all of us, it is tempting to get caught up in the tensions and forget the season. But in every week of this season, on every day, in every moment, we can decide to embrace the peace as we anticipate the coming of the Prince of Peace.