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It’s a profession!

via Daily Prompt: Paragon

 

A paragon is a person or thing that represents the standard of excellence for a particular quality or behavior. People with shared values agree that the qualities are beneficial to the group and will support those possessing them in various ways. One of the most visible is inclusion into a community: people who have similar values and aspirations will tend to interact with each other frequently, ultimately alienating others, even if not done intentionally.

Everyone is groomed to some extent to fit into the society in which one is born. The more one is prepared, the more one is guaranteed for success, and the more seamless is one’s transition from birth to adulthood. Nature has endowed some with qualities, gifts, and talents that surpass their peers; and others have been lucky to receive the nurture to make them fit. And then there are those who have to fight to find and keep a place, while others teeter on the periphery of society. The latter are just faces, and no one pays attention to their existence, but a few from this group are considered as “necessary evils.”

The necessary evils live in the shadows, but society knows their names. They have survival skills, and they are aware of the community norms, but they don’t follow them. Modern day drug lords, corrupt lawyers; ruthless politicians; loan sharks; prostitutes and others who are apparently no paragons of virtue fall into this category. Prostitution, by its very nature, is a stigmatized profession because it defies what is supposed to be an act of love, honor, and commitment between two adults.  It is considered “the world’s oldest profession” because it has been existence for an inordinately long time in virtually all cultures of the world. Moreover, men and women have earned a living from it. Many people may be shocked to learn that male prostitution was practiced in the Ancient Near East and Greco-Roman antiquity because women have dominated this institution for centuries.

Even more surprising, prostitution originated as a ritualistic sexual activity that was performed within the context of religious worship to appease the many fertility gods found in ancient cultures. Exchange of money for sexual intercourse between two people occurred over time. Prostitution was a common practice in Ancient Greece and Rome, and it is known that some patrons paid handsomely for the sexual services they received.

Today, outright prostitution is somewhat reviled and prohibited to some extent in Western society. How much of the law enforced against it depends on how law enforcement officials view its existence: whether it’s a crime or harmless vice. Furthermore, some of the well-heeled paragons of society are covertly involved in this trade. They cover their tracks well while exploiting young girls and “renting” them out to men seeking sexual pleasures. People know that prostitution occurs in various ways in society, but it is not something someone discusses in polite society. Although Christianity is still the dominant religion in many of these societies and prohibits sexual sins, needless to say, their citizens do not abstain from engaging in them because secularism is on the rise.

Talking about Christianity, if one examines the Bible, there are references to the subject of prostitution. There is the story of Tamar who posed as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law in sleeping with her.  He impregnated her, and she gave birth to a son who became part of the lineage of Christ. However, the most well-known of the two women is Rahab, the harlot. She was the woman who allowed two Israelites to escape from her countrymen by first hiding them on her roof and later letting them down from a wall with a scarlet rope. Because of her heroism and faith in the Hebrew God, she saved her family and the Jewish nation from annihilation. She married a Jewish man, and God blessed her (and also Tamar) to be one of Christ’s maternal ancestors.

Rahab led a life of immorality before her conversion to Judaism. She was a necessary evil in her society because she catered to the many travelers who stopped over at her brothel in Jericho. Not only did she bring revenue, but she could learn secrets from wayfarers that she could pass on to the authority and protect them from potential danger. Although her vocation was not socially acceptable, she was tolerated. The Book of Joshua records that the king of Jericho sent a message to Rahab to turn over the Israelite spies to his messengers:

The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land (Joshua 2:2-3, KJV).

Had the children of Israel not succeeded with their plans to destroy Jericho, Rahab would have been tried for treason. She was a prostitute, a liar, and a traitor: qualities that were the antitheses of virtue. However, through the work of grace, she was mentioned with the Hebrew matriarch, Sarah, as a paragon of faith(Hebrews 11:31). Shernett Ford states in The Scarlet Thread: Tainted Women that:

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a man’s world

via Daily Prompt: Brassy

Somehow the term “brassy” never conjures up the image of a man in my mind. Perhaps my social conditioning has trained me to expect a man to be tough, strong, and even crass because those adjectives align with brassiness. Therefore, it generally goes unnoticed if he lives up to those expectations. On the other hand, its feels like a let-down when our male counterparts do not display or fit the John Wayne brashness that we often see him portray in many of his movies. In fact, we admire the rugged individualism, grit, daring, bluntness, and “I-don’t-care-what-you-think” attitude of his characters. So what if a man breaks the rules? There is no negative consequence because a man’s a man.

That seems to be the consensus – tacit agreement. James Brown, et al (1966), the popular American singer, expresses it very well in one of his songs – It’s a man’s, man’s, man’s world. Well, if it’s a man’s world, he sets the rules, and everything else is an exception. As a consequence, a woman who is expected to be mild-mannered, delicate, nurturing, and submissive deviates from the norm if she displays behaviors that are similar to those named above. She may be endearingly dubbed as brassy if she possesses other socially redeeming feminine qualities or she may be seen as overbearing if she does not possess any. Physical beauty is one sure way to receive the lighter sentence of being called brassy; while a lack of this blessing will receive “an overbearing conviction.”

The latter is in many cases a euphemism for crudeness and manliness – two terms that are denigrating to women. These words carry their own baggage by themselves; they have literal and connotative meanings that will not be discussed here. However, language is contextual, and even stand-alone words carry an implied context. Therefore, when we hitch these terms with overbearing and women, we create various tentacles of social stigmas.

However, my goal is not to lambast anyone who may hold a negative view of a brassy woman but to highlight the virtues of a brassy woman in a positive light. This woman is of Moabite descent and her name is Ruth. She later adopted the Judaic religion and culture and became a citizen of Bethlehem.

Ruth and her sister Orpah married the sons of Bethlehemite immigrants to Moab named Elimelech and Naomi. Unfortunately, her father-in-law died, and later his two sons suffered the same fate leaving three widows. Her mother-in-law Naomi decided to return home to Bethlehem and leave the younger widows in Moab with the hope that they would remarry. However, Ruth resolved to go with Naomi to Bethlehem without knowing what her fate would be. Naomi was past childbearing and had little or no prospects of remarrying. Moreover, she had nothing to care for herself or Ruth.

Despite her mother-in-law’s desperate situation and Ruth’s better prospects of remaining in her homeland with family and friends, Ruth vowed her loyalty to Naomi. Her famous words are quoted over and over today:

16 And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:

17 Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me (Ruth 1:16-17).

Not only did she swear to give up all that she knew, but Ruth honored the oath that she made. She placed the need of Naomi above her own and went out in her new country to find a way for them to survive. God saw her righteousness and blessed her efforts. As a result of her perseverance, she met Boaz, a wealthy and respected relative of Naomi’s husband. Boaz would redeem the lost property of Naomi’s husband and return it to his widow so she would have the means for supporting herself. Moreover, he married Ruth because he loved her and also to “raise up seed” through her in remembrance of her dead husband. It was customary in Jewish culture for the brother or male relative of a deceased man to marry his widow and the first child from the marriage would be named as the deceased’s offspring for the perpetuation of his lineage. This practice was called the levirate custom.

What I have written here does not do justice to the magnitude of virtuous Ruth and it would better serve the reader to read the book of the Bible that bears the same name as the heroine. Through the loyalty and nobility of the actions of Ruth, the passage for Christ’s genealogical journey continued. Ruth and Boaz produced Obed; Obed became the father of Jesse; Jesse fathered David, and Jesus would be the son of Joseph who is from the line of David.

Ruth had to overcome many obstacles to do what she did. She had to overcome the psychological effects of losing a spouse and a brother-in-law. There were not many options for a woman to make a living in her society and it was even harder for an immigrant widow living with a mother-in-law who was also a widow without means. Ruth took a big risk relocating to a foreign land with her mother-in-law who was unsure how she would be received in her homeland since she was returning worse off than she had left. Most likely, Naomi had prepared her for some cultural differences, but not for all the things she had to learn. And she had to learn them immediately after arriving while trying to eke out a living!

Even in a post-modern world where some of the conditions for women are better than in Ruth’s time, it would have been overwhelming for anyone to accomplish what she did. However, she rose to the challenge and became one of the women who would make way for the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

*For further reading on Ruth and the levirate custom, check out “The Scarlet Thread: Tainted Women.