The Politics of Rejection (Acts 2:1-21)
We would like to sincerely thank you for exploring career opportunities with our institution. Your qualifications and credentials are competitive; however, a decision has been made to pursue applicants who more closely align with the overall requirements of the position...
So goes your typical "Dear John" letter. This is the correspondence which unfortunately many job seekers are still receiving in the United States. Although employment has risen by 1.3 million over the past year, unemployment that counts the underemployed and discouraged jobless has remained at 13.8 percent of the workforce. For the employer, the rejection letter is a necessary formality. For the desperate employee it is a resounding, "NO!" Another rejection.
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After the Senate's vote against gun background checks, one could not help but wonder if there is a politics of rejection pervading the hallowed halls of Congress. Despite the personal testimonies and lobbying, the United States will not legally mandate even the most simplistic verification of "gun worthiness." In addition, with the current sequestration, it is evident that there is a way Washington does business. It is the business of saying "NO!" Most likely what President Obama, proposes, Congress will oppose. His "yes" is sure to be its "no." Such back and forth stalemating is political maneuvering and negation. It is this politics of rejection that trickles down and affects Americans who must endure a more serious level of social and economic spurning.
Moments of rejection are not limited to employment conditions or to Congress. The story of Pentecost in Acts (2:1-21) is couched within the selection of one disciple over another. Luke, the author of Acts, describes the convening of men and women from North Africa, western Asia, and southern Europe in one place in Jerusalem during Pentecost. The term Pentecost means "fiftieth" and refers to the agricultural festival of weeks celebrated fifty days after Passover. Jewish tradition holds that the Law or Torah was also given on this day. The author of Acts recontextualizes this day by declaring that those gathered receive the Holy Spirit as presented in the form of fire.
The events of Pentecost begin the establishment of the early church. However, what is more astonishing is that, prior to the outpouring of the one Spirit on many persons from diverse ethnic groups, is Luke's description of one potential disciple's rejection at the hands of the eleven remaining disciples. As Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, has committed suicide, the disciples seek a replacement. Acts records that they cast lots (1:21-26). Justus/Barsabbas is rejected, and Matthias gets in the group. It is not clear why Justus is not included. Could it have been that his name was too close to the name of "Judas"? The biblical account does not say. Furthermore, there is no note on what specific credentials Matthias possesses.
What is apparent is that before the gathering of Jews in Jerusalem for a celebration, and over against people from various nations receiving the Holy Spirit, the disciples hold a business meeting to select their co-laborer. Is the meeting political? Sure. It could be interpreted as such since there is a voting process. Does this meeting involve a refusal of some sort? Absolutely. One candidate gets an acceptance letter. The other one gets a "Dear John" or "Dear Justus" letter.
The idea of a rejection experience as a forward to Pentecost can be interpreted in two ways. First, the author of Acts wants to expound on how the disciples complete unfinished business so that administrative matters are in order for the beginnings of the church. Second, one can deduce that in even the most glorious of times, there are moments of difficulty and dis-ease. While some rejoice over the supposed decline in the unemployment numbers, people are still having to scrounge for food, housing, and clothing. Yes, Obamacare passed guaranteeing health care for all, but this means nothing to the teens, children, and babies who have succumbed to the insanity and injustice of gun violence. We are grateful that the air traffic controllers are in place, but what about college students losing work-study and the reduction in weekly unemployment benefits due to sequestration frustration! Society fluctuates between good and bad, yes and no, acceptance and rejection.
A few weeks ago I attended the inaugural meeting of the Society of Race, Ethnicity and Religion. This group of persons representing African American, Asian, Latino and Native American communities convened to promote "scholarship through synergism." One of the guiding questions for the gathering was: "What lit your fire?" Plenary speakers proceeded to describe their own social, intellectual, and spiritual kindling.
Just as a fire on those at Pentecost ignited a universal movement, if even under imperialistic conditions, so did an internal flame spark the men and the women at the SRER conference to move from the margins of religious studies. Although the denouncement of their ideas, personhood, and place in the academy intended to extinguish their light what is apparent is that the pervasive negative activity has more so inflamed this social and academic fire. The fire of these scholars and of people longing for employment and justice burns brighter and brighter, even in the darkness of politics, even in the darkness of rejection.
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