Ruth. What a wonderful book. I absolutely love it. But I look at it with a ‘disciplines’ hat on and wonder where on earth to go with it. I’m momentarily distracted by the name thing – ‘call me Mara, for the Lord has dealt bitterly with me’. The importance of names (and one reason why we chose our boys names for their meaning, not simply because we thought they sound nice). But naming children isn’t really a spiritual discipline. So I ponder Naomi and Ruth and Orpah (who offers yet another disctraction by making me think of a certain American talk show host…) And I think of the slight weirdness of the fact that the men in the family are introduced only to be killed off so early in the story, and I think that must have been a bit weird in the culture. And it gets me thinking about community.
Elimelek leaves his community. Sure, there’s a famine going on, but it seems like he jumps ship. But there’s no criticism of this. Then his boys marry women from outside their community. Again, no criticism. By the end of verse 5, the micro-community of Naomi’s husband and sons is lost. She is left with her daughters-in-law. (Perhaps there were some others in the ‘household’, including, possibly, children of Ruth and Orpah, given the length of time Naomi’s family had lived in Moab) But however big the household, there was no man to lead it and provide for it. So Naomi expresses her intention to return to her own community, bidding Orpah and Ruth to return to their own families. Cue Ruth’s remarkable statement in chapter one:
But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.’
Ruth decides to maintain communion with Naomi. She holds on to the family ties she has forged (even though, as Boaz later acknowledges, this involved the sacrifice of leaving her own extended family in Moab).
Between them, Ruth and Naomi then work their way back into the community, and find security and provision in Boaz, through laws which allow him to ‘redeem’ them. Boaz takes his role seriously (yes, that’s perhaps partly because he takes rather a shine to Ruth…) and the story ends with the community praising Boaz, extolling the virtues of Ruth – ‘who is better to you than seven sons’ and, crucially, praising the Lord.
The book of Ruth shows us the risk of operating without a community, the challenge of entering a community and the responsibility of members of a community to one another.
What does this mean for us online? Well, the term ‘online community’ is bandied about frequently. As Christians who operate online, we are called to do so in community. For most of us, this will be rather a small circle, because our online ‘reach’ is fairly limited. But Boaz was part of a relatively small community, and still took it seriously. We need to take our responsibility to other community members seriously. This may mean tempering our words from time to time. It may mean mounting a challenge to those who seek to undermine or attack the community (though a troll-like, retaliatory assault will do the community no favours at all!) It also means being a deliberate part of the community. And one way we can do that is by commenting on other people’s posts (cue tumbleweed…). You may be one of those who is able to pay no attention to site statistics, number of comments, retweets and the like. But if we’re part of a community, are we acting like it? I look at some of my posts and get a bit huffy that no-one’s had the kindness to comment on my masterful words (!) but then will happily read five posts in a row from others without even thinking about commenting on them. Despite the fact that the comments are already in my head and it would take a matter of seconds to type them (though I’m not suggesting hasty comments are the best sort!)
So, how are we contributing to the community? Are we just ‘treating’ everyone to our thoughts by writing yet another post and waiting for no-one to comment, or are we actively engaging with others in our community? Are we, like Ruth, resolutely holding on to our community, however small it is and however precarious we may feel in it? Are we willing to make sacrifices for the community? Are we, like Boaz, supporting and providing for others in our online communities of which we are a part? Do we stand, shoulder to shoulder (or its equivalent in the virtual world…) with those in our community who need our support? And do we praise the Lord because of the goodness we see in our community?
Right, I’d better go and comment on some posts…