We Are No Jonah

Here is the summary statement and call to action that I delivered at an action on October 23, 2017, which my church participated in through our membership in AMOS.

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Tonight we received public commitments from those who hope to represent us and our families in the city of Ames:

  • All of the mayoral and city council candidates said that they would vote to continue funding the Story County Housing Trust Fund.
  • They also all agreed to meet with us regarding new issues within six months of taking office, should they be elected.
  • All of the candidates for the city hospital’s board of trustees said they would work with us on mental health care availability, including putting us on the agenda at a board meeting within three months.

It feels good to have the people who want to be elected to governmental power recognize our own civic power. But I think there is more at stake here than these commitments and that recognition.

I’m a Christian priest, so my lens for understanding the world is a combination of the Hebrew Bible, the Christian testaments, and my life in Christian community. One of my inheritances from that tradition is the story of Jonah.

2017.10.23 AMOSThe story says that God asked Jonah to go to a big city and call on its rulers and people to repent of greed and self-righteousness.

Jonah’s response? He runs away.

But Jonah publicly describes himself as a man of covenant, a man who loves the God who invites all people to be generous, respectful, and well-rested. So Jonah can’t escape the obligations of that invitation so easily. The further Jonah runs away, the worse things get for him: a storm, a leviathan.

Jonah finally agrees to do as God has asked. When he arrives in the city, Jonah tells the citizens, “Behave, or things will get rough!” And in that moment, the entire city repents. To show the city’s new level of commitment to the common good not only does the king put on sackcloth and ashes, but so does every citizen and every creature, even the gerbils.

This makes Jonah the most successful prophet in the Bible! So what does he do? He goes off to pout under a bush and asks to be struck dead. God then delivers the most epic eye-roll of all time.

This story is a parody and it is a criticism of the institution of prophecy. It is also a pretty good nudge in the ribs for anyone who thinks that their voice is too small to make a difference. One person with a vision of healthy community on her side can make an entire nation give up its abuses and neglect!

I would wager that everyone here has already had enough storms and leviathans for a lifetime, and is willing to do whatever is necessary to protect our families and our city from enduring any more.

We may at times get tired and frustrated by the process. We even may want to pout and hide under a rock.

But because of nights like this, nights when success is just a conversation away, we will keep showing up for more.

And that is the most important thing that has happened tonight: Not a single one of us ran away from our right and responsibility to protect and promote of the common good.

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