Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Dreamer

Talking narrative, Joseph is the most fleshed out character in Genesis and, excluding Moses, maybe the whole Torah.

In the past few weeks I’ve had three different interactions with Joseph.

1) My father is a graphic designer, and sees Joseph as a businessman and as an outsider relating to the world. As a freelancer, my father’s work places him both deep within companies and at their margins. He supplies ideas, consultations and overhauled images, but he is always an independent contractor. The power of Joseph for him is the power of being second in command, a returning concept in Jewish history from Maimonides, to Albert Einstein, to Joseph Lieberman.

Read this way, the Joseph story is a very conservative one — that through smarts and personality, anyone can get themselves from the pit to the tower. There is a flip side, though. The consultant is always accepted and treated with skepticism at the same time. Ultimately, Joseph’s success in Egypt creates the foundation for the Jews to become enslaved under a new Pharaoh. In other words, the consultant can often make greater changes than those in power, but the ground is always less stable and the future is harder to see (even with prophetic dreams).

2) Dr. Owen Cosgrove is a minister at the Northside Church of Christ in Waxahachie, and in interviews with him over the past few weeks, he cited Joseph as a favorite character in the Old Testament. He mentioned how Joseph embraced forgiveness and eschewed envy and lust. In expanding his thoughts — my words, not his — I think Cosgrove sees Joseph as a New Testament figure, specifically in avoiding the seven deadly sins: 1) Lust, by turning down Potiphar’s wife, 2) Gluttony, by setting up the storehouses, 3) Avarice, by remaining second in command, 4) Sloth, by getting out of the prison and his work ethic once free, 5) Wrath, by refusing to take revenge on his brothers, 6) Envy, in opposition to his brothers, who envy him, and 7) Pride, well, this one is tough. Joseph shows pride throughout his life. Actually, it’s the first trait we find in him. But before he reveals his identity to his brothers, he weeps so loudly the Egyptians can hear him. Perhaps that moment is so cathartic because he has sloughed the last of his vices: that’s when he credits God with pulling the family apart and darwing them back together.

3) J.J. Keki is a politician and coffee farmer in Uganda, and is also a Jew. He is part of the
Abayudaya, a community of Jews in Eastern Uganda that began in 1918, when a British missionary decided the New Testament did not add truth to the Old Testament. He ripped those pages from his Bible and circumcised his community. At their height, the group numbered 3,000. But Idi Amin gave them the traditional Jewish choice — convert or die — and by the time he was ousted from power in 1979, there were only 300 left. Keki was one. Only 19 at the time, he set out to rebuild the community, which is now 800 strong, and has a school and a synagogue. Over the years, outside Jews learned of the Abayudaya and brought books, Torahs and other Jewish accouterments.

Keki was in Dallas last weekend for an art auction to raise money for a health clinic in Uganda. Speaking with him was enlightening for many reasons, and I hope to return to them in this forum, but the one thing that struck me was Keki’s relationship with Joseph.

One of the largest issues facing the community is how they relate to the world. They have been embraced by some sects within Judaism, and held in skepticism by others — particularly the Israeli government. In 1948, listening to radio broadcasts about the founding of Israel, they went out in the field to wait for airplanes, figuring all Jews would be taken back to the land.

Today, They are making decisions about how to grow into their new knowledge of the Judaism of the West while maintaining their own traditions. For instance, because they had never heard the traditional tunes, their songs are common Jewish lyrics set to African melodies. Do they keep those tunes now, or abandon them?

Keki sees Joseph as a family man in exile. He has written that when other Jews come to Uganda to visit and work, the community feels like Joseph did when his brothers come to Egypt — that moment of weeping for Keki isn’t about sloughing pride, but about finally belonging, about ending isolation. They are outsiders geographically and historically, but insiders in faith. Home is where their people are — be it Dallas or Uganda. Their reuniting isn’t complete — they are still separated from the masses and from the land — but it is completing — because they finally experience belonging. The Abayudaya are the younger brother, just like Joseph. They have to teach themselves about their family, and to learn about their chosen religion in bits and chunks over decades while they create a new version for themselves.

Keki is the first and only Jewish politician in the nation’s history. He works to foster relationships between the Muslims, Christians and Jews in Uganda. Just like Joseph, he is the outsider trying to enact change from much larger groups. Like my father, he understands his role as the consultant, and like Dr. Cosgrove, his righteousness has fueled his success.

1 comment:

Jonathan Blundell said...

This is a great post. Thanks for sharing.
I've always enjoyed the story of Joseph as it reminds of God's faithfulness to His promises. I've never thought of him in these other ways, but I'm glad to have the new insights.