Are You There God? It’s Me, Hagar. A Meditation on the Past 28 Hours (#BlackLivesMatter)

Are you there God? It’s me, Hagar.

Wasn’t it enough that Sarai gave me to Abram so he could have a child?

That when I tried to get away YOU told me to go back?

So I go back. And endure.

Endure.

And Ishmael is born.

I have a reason to endure.

But then came Isaac.

And my Ishmael became a threat.

Abram put my child on my back and sent us out  into the wilderness.

We have been in the wilderness ever since.

And my Ishmael is still considered a threat.

No matter what he does.

YOU said that YOU would make a great nation of my Ishmael.

Are YOU there God?

Isaac’s nation is killing us.

Are YOU there God?

I’m tired of looking at the death of my child.

Are YOU there God?

Are YOU there?

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6 thoughts on “Are You There God? It’s Me, Hagar. A Meditation on the Past 28 Hours (#BlackLivesMatter)

  1. Beautiful poem, and especially poignant in these times of heartbreak. I was thinking that events are unspeakable…. but you’ve spoken clearly. The quote from Lamentations was exactly right too. Bunny

  2. I got her after reading your poem quoted approvingly in UU World and my reaction is: Wow, just wow. For a theologian who is clearly an anti-racist to write and post such an egregiously anti-semitic poem is shocking to me. Do you actually feel that all Jews (the nation of Isaac) are killing all Muslims (the nation of Ishmael)? Do you actually feel that this has been going on since biblical times? If this were an essay and not a poem I would challenge you to support these arguments. A poem is not an essay, but I do think you have a responsibility for your words, even in poetry.

    • If this poem had been meant to discuss an international matter, I would have added “International Edition” to the BlackLivesMatter tag. If you go through the blog, you would see that.

      But, on the substance of your comment…..
      What do you know about liberation theology in the African American context? Your response tells me not much; but then, I might be wrong.

      I agree that poets have a responsibility for their words (which is why Heidegger is so problematic), but context matters too. If this poem were being written about a different context, I would take more time responding to you. But since you didn’t take the time to ask what I meant, this is the response you get.

      • Hmmm….. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that some statements are racist regardless of context, but I would most definitely like to know what you meant, so if you want to contextualize I’m all ears. I have considered that you might be using Isaac and Ishmael as a metaphor for African-American oppression. It’s a powerful metaphor, but that doesn’t make the blood libel not anti-Semitic. I will spare you a list of analogies, as you seem to be a very intelligent person who doesn’t need that.

        As for reading your entire blog to understand the context, remember that I got here by following a link from a magazine and I was trying to give your poem the benefit of the doubt by reading it in its entirety and in situ. I read “Who Am I?” and some of your other blog posts, because I sincerely wanted to understand. Do I have a responsibility to read your entire blog, try to get to know you and your soul before I react/respond?

        I posted my comment here before I sent a letter to the editor of UU World. I thought that to do otherwise would be unfair. True, you presumably did not choose to have your poem cited in the magazine. But you publicly broadcast it by posting it on the internet . Did you not consider that it might be read by people who do not know you or the context you are invoking? Did you consider that it might be read by people who believe the blood libel, maybe by some who don’t really get metaphors and haven’t studied “Liberation Theology in the African-American context?”

      • THOUGHT FOR TODAY- I’m only responsible for what I say, not for what you understand.

        I think you and I have different ideas of what Blood Libel is. As I understand, Blood Libel is blaming Jews for the death of Jesus and taking revenge. How, then, is the story of Isaac and Ishmael connected to that?

        Even if one did want to say that I was talking about the current Jewish-Palestinian issue, I actually do know the end of the story of Isaac and Ishmael.

        Now….I am not responsible for your ignorance of Black liberation theology. Point blank. I am responsible for the words I wrote. And none of those words had any accusation of blood libel or were in any way anti-Jewish.

        If you had been sincere in reading the poem in situ, as you say you were, then you would have noticed that I had tagged it BlackLivesMatter. That should have given you a hint that this was not about Israel-Palestine.

        To repeat, I am responsible for what I say, not for what you understand.

        But to answer your last question, no. I did not consider that it might be read by people who believe in blood libel, as most of my audience is either African American (of whatever religious stripe) and/or seminary educated. Both of those groups are well-versed in Black liberation theology.

  3. Kim –

    With the benefit of hindsight I can see that I did not speak mindfully when I commented on your poem. I apologize for that. See at the end of this the comment I wish now that I had posted. Also, it looks from your last comment that you might have read my letter to UUWORLD. I have retracted that letter because it, too, was not as mindful as I would have liked.

    Before I continue, here is a little bit about me, so that you (and others who might be reading – this is the internet!) can have some context for my comments: Cisgender male, white, raised and educated in Jewish faith (currently non-practicing), 50’s, lifelong anti-racist and activist, long-term guardian of two Muslim children, degree in political philosophy, ambivalent Unitarian.

    By way of explanation (not excuse), please bear in mind that I came directly to your blog from another source that excerpted your poem and gave it no BLM context whatsoever. My mind was not fully open when I got to your blog, despite my intentions. That is entirely on me.

    So, with all of the above sincerely said, I still have to say that I find the use of the term “Isaac’s nation” odd and disconcerting – so much so that it really threw me off track in understanding your poem. And (as far as I know – my degree is not in theology) there is no biblical reference to conflict between the “nation of Isaac” and the “nation of Ishmael” beyond the original Hagar/Sarai incident. I was left with the image of the Murderous Jews (“nation”). When I used the term “blood libel” I was speaking of the extension of this idea beyond the specific Christian context. I’m sure you know that this is a stereotype that is on the rise worldwide, including in this country.

    The problem with metaphor, right? Use one thing to represent another and meaning can get a little complicated, but without it you end up with a user’s manual, not a poem or even speech as we know it. I get your point that you are writing for a particular audience, whom you presume to understand your metaphors. On the other hand, your blog is open on the internet and as we have seen your work can have a much wider audience than you had intended. And as we have also seen, that audience might know little to nothing about where you are coming from.

    I regret that I criticized your poem without investigating it further. You are, as you say, responsible for what you say and not what I understand. I hope that you will help me to understand. I also hope that you will consider that not all readers will understand; there’s a little piece there that you might want to weigh if you have not already. Lastly, I ask for your forgiveness for my reactivity.

    So, finally, here is the comment I wish I had posted:
    “I do not fully understand this. How does the ‘nation of Isaac’ fit into your biblical metaphor? To be frank, that phrase activates an anti-semitism hot button for me, but I do not know how you intend it. Would you be willing to explain your meaning a bit?”

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