So I've been hosting this summer chat on the book Radical Reconciliation. You can find more details about that HERE. We just finished chapter two on Rizpah, and I thought I'd share a few thoughts with you.
I am really digging Rizpah. I keep returning to her story because I continue to be absolutely intrigued by her. If you've not heard of her, please read II Samuel 21:1-14.
1. I am not entirely sure she is seeking reconciliation. It has taken me years to articulate for myself that justice comes before reconciliation. Rizpah doesn't seem at all interested in reconciling anyone. She is clearly focused on defending the dignity of the bodies she protects. She is intent on caring for them despite the stench, despite the danger, despite the carelessness on the part of other people. She is singularly focused. And yet her actions bring more than I suspect she anticipated. I find great hope in this.
2. I cannot get over the poetic nature of her using the sackcloth as a tent. The sackcloth was meant to aid her mourning. We see the use of sackcloth throughout the Scriptures. But Rizpah doesn't just wear it or rip it... She uses it. She uses it to form a tent to protect her from the elements as she protects the bodies. That blows me away. I still cannot comprehend the pain of mothers who fight for the dignity of their children who have been murdered due to state violence. I dont understand how they march, how they speak, how they host vigils and services and rallies. I refuse to pretend to "get it". I just want to honor it. I want to honor their strength.
3. But even with all of that said, I dont want to dehumanize Rizpah. I dont want to make her super human or superwoman. She needed a tent because she needed protection. I imagine she was fearful and tired and overwhelmed. I imagine she got sick once or twice out there. I imagine was scared out of her mind the first time she had to fight back a large animal. I imagine she was hurt and lonely all by herself up there. I imagine she wished someone would do more than just talk to her or about her. I imagine she wanted some help. And I imagine she made some people mad. I imagine there were those who defended what David had done. I imagine some people thought he actions were too much, over the top, disrespectful of the state, of the king. I imagine she was altogether human.
This 3rd point is important to me because this work is hard, yall. I think some people assume that it comes naturally for women of color, or that we have no choice. But let me clear up any misconceptions. Turning sackcloth into tents is hard work. Beating back those who would do us or those are love harm, is excruciating. I get my feelings hurt all the time. All the time. The hate mail hurts, the aggressive, accusatory "questions" hurt. Being put on the spot, embarrassed, shut out, looked over, and passed over- hurt. I am human. My sisters who do this work are human. I love Rizpah for her strength, but I refuse to indulge that she might have been impervious to pain.
Still Rizpah makes me want to be better. She makes me want to expect more. I think of Rizpah and I sense my own strength to fight for my community.
I've met a lot of Rizpahs. Those who are tired of the hashtags because you feel the loss of each name you type. I imagine there are some Rizpahs out there who are overwhelmed by having to fight for so many lives- not just those who are close to you, but the collective, the lives all over the country, all over the world. I suspect that many of you are tired from beating back the buzzards- those who would continue to disrespect the names, the lives of people you love. Tired of fighting against the media (mis)representation, tired of sharing that yet another death will go unpunished. My guess is many of you are tired. If I may, I want to say that you are not alone. That we are not just talking about your efforts; we are with you. We fight with you. You can sleep in the tent for a little while, because you no longer fight alone. Rizpah did this work all by herself. But I am determined to start a tribe that knows you dont have to fight alone.
We are with you.