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flour, oil, and asking for more

Everything

flour, oil, and asking for more

Courtney Bither

by Courtney Bither

What if asking more questions could help you find a way to save lives? Would you do it?

What if it cost you something?


I haven’t been writing much lately.

I sometimes open up my blog and I push the “Write” button and then I sit in front of my computer and I wait. I wait as if I’m hoping someone else will show up and write the words I need to say.

But no one is going to do this work for me.

So what am I waiting for?


I’m tired. Really tired.

I’m tired of helping people understand why I should be allowed to exist. I’m not supposed to say that, either. I’m supposed to be happy to do this work.

But I’m not always happy.
This work is sometimes dehumanizing. It’s often exhausting.

And I keep doing it. Over and over and over again. Giving to the people who hurt me. Giving them time. Giving them energy. Giving them patience. Because what else am I going to do? This is worth it –  this fight for more justice.

More people need to understand so that fewer people have to be hurt. And I’m sometimes not bad at this work. And I really do think it is worth it.

But I’m so tired.

How do I convince people who have more than me to give more? To risk more? How do I convince them that the lives of people are on the line?

Why do I keep finding myself in this position? Why do so many others find themselves in this position? What needs to change?

What if we lived in a world that didn’t make gender and sexual minorities justify, defend, and explain their existence?


While I was reflecting on these questions the other day, I read a story. It filled me with rage. It’s about a widow and a man:

Now Elijah said, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine. You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”
So he did what the Lord had told him and the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Go at once to Zarephath and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.”
So Elijah went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called,
“And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”
“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”  
Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.  For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”
She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family.  For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.”

There are a lot of interesting things happening in this story. But right now when I read this, I just get angry.

Ravens.

God is feeding the man with ravens?
Why isn’t he feeding the widow?
God should be feeding all the hungry with ravens now.
Why are people going hungry now?


The widow and her child are starving to death. And God sends Elijah to ask the starving widow for a piece of bread.

If I was the man in that story, I would tell God to fuck off and send some ravens to the widow. Or I’d ask him to call the drought off.

But Elijah doesn’t tell God to fuck off. He doesn’t ask any questions.
People like to make Elijah the hero of this story. I don’t think he’s a hero.

If there’s a hero, and I’m not sure there is, then it’s the widow.

She has suffered. She has suffered so much. She and her son are starving to death. And now they are asked to give what little they have to a man they don’t know.

And they do it.

They could lose everything. They are already losing everything. And they give.


The widow’s suffering feels senseless. There is no good reason why people with so little should have to give everything just to have a chance at survival.

I want a different story. I want a different world.


I don’t know what to do with this story. I resent it.
I resent it because it reflects life and life is sometimes awful.

There is so much unnecessary suffering. Right now, I am suffering and I am watching my friends suffer at my university and church because we are gender and sexual minorities. We are hurting. A lot. And people refuse to listen. And there’s no way for me to make sense of this.

And the best people I know, the people with the most hope and courage and persistence, have all suffered. They try when everything points to despair. They keep going. They keep giving. They keep showing up.

And I hate it. I really hate it. Because it shouldn’t have to be this way. What if it wasn’t this way?


And then there’s Elijah.

Elijah doesn’t question God’s instructions or the need for a drought. He just assumes it’s necessary, I guess. And it’s assumptions like this that lead to unnecessary suffering – it’s a lack of creativity and strategy and courage and hope.

People argue with God in the Bible. And sometimes it works.

But not in this story. Elijah doesn’t ask for a better solution. He could have saved lives. We don’t know. We don’t know because he didn’t ask for something better.

And sure, things work out for this one widow, but why does she have to give everything first? Elijah doesn’t give anything remotely comparable. And what about the other widows and families in the area? Where is their magic flour and oil? Where are the ravens for them?


People don’t ask enough questions. I keep running into people who tell me, “this is just the way things are” and, “this is all we can do” and, “just make it until tomorrow.”

But why? What if there’s a better way? Why assume this is the best we can do?

We can’t make a better world if we can’t imagine a better one. It’s hard to imagine a better world when we don’t question assumptions in the world we have now.


I find that people get angry when I ask questions. Questions like:

What if you told your students and congregants you will stand up for gender and sexual minorities?
Why did you make that joke?
What if we challenged, publicly, policies that oppress people?
Why is my life worth less than a contract or call to unity?
What if you risked more?
What if there’s a better solution?
Are you really an ally if you keep my identity a secret?
Will you help me?
Will you listen?


People always want some sort of takeaway for stories. I don’t know what the point of this story is. I just know that I’m angry about it. I think there could have been a different ending. A better ending.


Why are you asking widows for their last bit of food?
Because God told you to?
Are you sure about that?
What if you argued with God?


So I don’t know what to do. I feel like I have almost nothing left. I’m not very old and I screw up a lot and things are really hard.

But here I am writing. It’s all I can really give right now.

I don’t know what to do.

But I’m going to keep asking questions. Because it doesn’t have to be like this. We don’t have to live in a world that forces gender and sexual minorities to defend their existence. It could be better.

What needs to change so that things aren’t like this for other people?


I have a little bit of flour and a little oil.

I don’t know if we will run out or if things will be alright if I share, but if we are all going down anyway then we can at least go down trying together.

And hey, if you’re not down to your last bit of flour and oil, maybe reflect before you ask someone starving to share with you. Be creative. Ask a better question. Do your own work. Argue with God*.

What if you could save lives by asking better questions? Would you do it?


*God = your boss, your professor, your racist friends, your sexist family, your church that can’t decide if gender and sexual minorities are people, your university, your parents, maybe actually God, etc.


If you are in crisis and need help, please reach out.

If you’re an LGBTQ young person and are in crisis or contemplating suicide, you can call the Trevor Lifeline 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386 (http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/get-help-now)

If you are in crisis (if it’s a crisis to you, it’s a crisis – you don’t have to be suicidal) and would prefer to text, you can use the Crisis Text Line by texting “Home” to 741741. Available 24/7. (http://www.crisistextline.org/how-it-works/)