--Carolyn Custis James, The Gospel of Ruth (p 30)
What if one of our sisters is from Malawi and is helping us? What if she's "a child of the third wife in a polygamous marriage"? What of "her experience as a widow and mother of three" might inform ours, if we're willing for ours to be so informed? What if she's encouraging us "to think of the trafficked women in Geneva and not to forget that contextual Bible study is about transformation"? What if we start to have some "thought about how few choices trafficked women and men have?" And then what if we began reading the Bible, the Book of Ruth, and chapter 3?
Well then, we may just do what the wonderful Jane Stranz is doing and now encourages us to do: to "read it with the idea that Ruth could be seen as a trafficked woman - that Naomi could be seen as a formerly trafficked woman who encourages another woman to follow the same path, because of course there is no other path." Jane has been listening to Fulata Mbano Moyo, her "brilliant colleague," sharing with us her insights again.
Would we really be doing injustice to the Bible? As importantly, if we don't consider the possibility, then are we doing injustice to Ruth and to Naomi? Or don't we remember those lines of John Keats's "Ode to A Nightingale" which go like this:
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
If Keats is not thinking of the tears of the trafficked human, he nonetheless conveys how "forlorn." If we're reluctant to listen to Mbano Moyo, then how about Keats? If not a feminist like Jane (who has reminded us of the problem of trafficking in our world), then how about a Bible translator like David Ker (who also continues to remind us)? Ancient Israel of the bible, or Geneva, Glasgow, Tokyo, Congo, Africa, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the East, and the West. We do well to listen to the silences to the cries to the voices, our own and others', when we read.
Now, to be sure, Carolyn Custis James (whose book I quote from to start this post) doesn't necessarily advocate reading the bible to see Ruth or Naomi as trafficked humans. But in her chapter, “When Women Initiate and Men Respond” (on pages 173-174 The Gospel of Ruth), Custis James does get us thinking about how to read "Arthur Golden’s best-selling novel, Memoirs of a Geisha"; she's getting us to consider how we, women and men in the Western world, initiate and respond. How do we respond to the experiences and the stories of trafficked girls and boys?
Custis James reads how Memoirs of a Geisha:
chronicles the life of a young Japanese girl sold into slavery by her desperately poor parents—an appalling transaction in human flesh repeated in real life thousands upon thousands of times throughout the world’s sordid history and still happening today in shocking numbers. Sayuri is trafficked into the world of the geisha—the upper-class counterpart of the common prostitute. She is destined to become a “butterfly in the night.” Her youthful beauty, artistic accomplishments, and virginity will go to the highest bidder from among a coterie of Japanese businessmen. The Chairman—the elegant man approaching her now—is one of them.
Their first meeting seems innocuous enough. He wipes her tears with his handkerchief and sends her skipping on her way with a coin to buy a shaved ice treat, never to forget his kindness. Like a radiant full moon against the blackened sky, it is a snapshot of contrasts—two human beings dwelling in the same universe, simultaneously inhabiting separate worlds. She is female. Powerless, dependent, vulnerable, voiceless, and (except for the coin he just pressed into her small hand) penniless too. He lives in the privileged world of men and is possessed of power, self-determination, education, and wealth. The disparity between them will never go away and stirs up subliminal questions. What will he do with his advantages? Will he exploit her too? Or is he her ticket to freedom?So as we think about these questions, we might bravely apply them to ourselves. We might consider the story of Boaz and Ruth ("What will he do with his advantages? Will he exploit her too? Or is he her ticket to freedom?"). Won't we do well to hear the voices of African women and not forget the forlorn hidden away from among us by men who would traffic and own them?