Pearls Before Swine: reclaiming sacred identity
An outline of a morning reflection time I have offered on a number of CPT delegations to Treaty 3 territory. This was often done on the first morning, both to offer some critical engagement with scripture and our lives, and to set things up for the workshop on Undoing Racism and Colonialism.
Although presented in note form, I also wrote it up as a short reflection for Wretch 2013, which I have included below.
In the middle of wisdom teaching
Why the excess?
What is holy? Usually concerns something being separate or set aside. Distinctive by virtue of being exclusive. Holy matrimony. Holy Communion. Holy Roman Empire.
Sometimes that can be a violent thing. Like the Empire. Enforcing its nature through military power. Our modern empires keep out vast numbers of people, either outside the borders or displaced internally.
We can find these patterns in our own lives too.
Each of us has claim to aspects of identity. So, I’m male, British, Christian, white.
These aspects are like lenses. They help me perceive the world in a specific way. They also affect the way that the world perceives me.
These identities are holy. They are created by God. They are a gift to me.
But they can be things of violence too. Either defending my identity, violently defining it, or enforcing it on others. The history of Christian colonisation, the fact of male violence.
(Yesterday talked about the United States citizenship)
Each of us, take a moment to think about an aspect of our identity which you don’t mind talking about. Pass out paper to write it down. Some way in which you exist in the world, perceive the world, and affects how you are perceived.
Identity based oppressions like racism, sexism, heterosexism or colonialism
These are ways that our identities can be twisted and made into tools of oppression.
How does this affect what I will be learning here?
How might people see me because of this identity?
In the passage, Jesus warns us about the danger of allowing the holy to slip out of our grasp. For me this means that i must not allow my identity to become a tool of evil. To be used for violence.
Finish with prayer in CPT book, pg 80
‘Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under your feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” Jesus says this in Matthew’s Gospel, 7:6, amidst much wisdom. The violence of the image is surprising. The metaphor of casting pearls before swine functions well to describe wasteful disregard, but unless there is some rage-inducing hormone in pearls, the attack of the pigs seems extraordinary. How does giving what is holy to dogs provoke their violence? What is holy?
One definition of hold in the world today is definitely linked with violence: the holiness of exclusion. It states ‘I am holy: this other is not’. For example, the Holy Roman Empire (substitute the ‘chosen’ superpower of your choice) claims to uniquely exist in comparison to all other nations. Virginity and male/female marriage claim holiness over other states. Manifest Destiny teaches exclusive settlement for the ‘white race’.
Why are these violent? Because they select a single instance of an identity and reserve for it a privileged status. Historically, this pattern is accompanied by systemic violence against the unprivileged. Consider the histories of these identities: Citizen/Foreigner; White/Racialised; Straight/Queer; Man/Woman; Adult/Child; Owner/Worker; Settler/Indigenous…
But all these identities are holy, or have that potential. God created every person, and God’s creations are good. What each person does with the parts of their identity may not be good. That is what the parable warns us against. Oppressive systems function only through the acceptance of the privileged and the silencing of the oppressed. Our identities, and all their facets – ethnicity; gender; orientation; culture; are pre-selected either as powerful or powerless. For those of us with privileged identities in the current world-system, our holy identities are in the grip of the Beast, because our acceptance, however passive, silences all those who are oppressed.
The instruction is not to do this: not to throw our pearls before swine. We must treasure our God-given identities by not letting them be co-opted into the violence of the identity-based oppressions that divide us and oppress our siblings.