This series of nine gatherings uses the book of Ruth from the Hebrew Bible to explore some of the pressing issues of these uncertain times. It has been produced by the Corrymeela Community as a public theology initiative.
The Book of Ruth details the story of Ruth, her mother–in–law Naomi and Ruth’s eventual husband Boaz. It’s a story of borders, tensions between neighbouring territories, stereotyping narratives between people long divided, law, how laws change when people meet people, hunger, resentment, shame and love.
The series is designed to address our need to belong to each other and what is the nature of that belonging – across the Irish border and in the changing experience of Brexit. It’s our full expectation that people who participate in this project will have voted differently on Brexit, changed their mind or kept their mindset. This resource and project does not seek to establish consensus on what form Brexit should (or should not take), but rather seeks to open up the conversation about how the sacred and ancient Book of Ruth can speak to our contemporary politics and relationships across difficult borderlands.
While we’d prefer that folk attend all nine sessions (see Cost & Registration below) in order to get the most from the series, it is possible to come to individual evenings.
See below for course cost registration.
Section 1 – Reading The Story
(1) Crossroads Decisions
Chapter 1: After a life of successive tragedies Naomi decides to return home to Bethlehem and her own people. Her widowed daughters-in-law, both Moabites, seek to return with her, but Naomi tries to persuade them to stay, after all, what is there for them in a foreign country? One decides to return home, and one, Ruth, insists on continuing with her back to Judah, and will not be persuaded otherwise. Important decisions are made at the crossroads.
(2) The Migrant Worker
Chapter 2: The two women reach home at the beginning of the barley harvest and Ruth finds work gleaning in the fields of a man called Boaz. We are introduced to the fragile lives of those who are poor and to the potential dangers that face those who are migrant workers. And we are surprised by the kindness of Boaz, the landowner, who is moved to be generous by the character and kindness of Ruth. Nevertheless, there is no permanent fix to the economic and social circumstances of the two women.
(3) Who Is Family?
Chapter 3: Naomi takes charge now to try and fix their plight and we are exposed to the risks vulnerable people often have to take to survive. Ruth takes the physical and reputational gamble of visiting Boaz at the threshing floor in the dead of night and a curious encounter takes place. The result is that Boaz is finally persuaded to act to restore Naomi and deal finally with Ruth’s status in the community.
(4) A Complicated End
Chapter 4: The final chapter opens with an elaborate ritual which takes care of the issue of land and in the process confirms the marriage of Boaz and Ruth. She is now welcomed into the community and it appears that the whole town is delighted with the development, all the more so when Ruth gets pregnant and gives birth to a boy. Now Ruth disappears from the story entirely and it ends with the patrilineal line of King David.
Section 2 – Thematic Studies
(5) Liturgical Setting
When the book of Ruth is viewed in its Jewish liturgical setting at the feast of Shavuot or Pentecost, a fascinating hermeneutical possibility emerges. Ruth is always read alongside the great epic setting for the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, placing an intimate story of survival alongside the great world-shaking events of Sinai. It presents us with the possibility that the story of Ruth is the appropriate lens through which to view the Law and that kindness and love for the Other, rather than ritual purity is the proper intent of the Law.
There will be no meeting this evening.
(6) Counter Narratives
There is no clear agreement among scholars about who wrote the book of Ruth, nor about when it was written. Some say Samuel wrote it to set the scene for the introduction to kingship in Israel and the family line of David, the great King. The book also introduces some ambiguity into the notion of racial purity by the inclusion of a foreigner in the kingly line. Some say it was written in the post-exilic period, when leaders like Ezra and Nehemiah were trying to reconstruct national identity. If this were so, then the book of Ruth is again a strong counter-narrative to the idea of racial purity and the imposition of forced divorce of foreign women in the post-exile era.
(7) Addressing Stereotypes
The story constantly reminds us that Ruth was Moabite, a people whose relationship with Judah is characterised by a deep and historical antipathy. The story also tells an unexpected and surprising narrative, that a family from Judah found a welcome in Moab. But would this welcome be reciprocated when Ruth reaches Bethlehem? The book of Ruth begins the process of challenging stereotypes and invites the reader to consider a new understanding of community based more round character and relationship rather than blood and ethnicity.
(8) Compassion & The Law
The story of how Ruth is wrapped up into the people of Bethlehem involves a community review of the laws and traditions that shape it. In the end the people agree to reshape their laws to expand the scope of those who are included within their protection. And so, by the end of the story a foreign woman is included within the embrace of the community, and becomes an ancestor to their greatest king. But a principle is also established, that the law should ensure compassion, and if it doesn’t it must be changed.
(9) Enlarging The Circle Of Kinship
There are big questions in this book about the basis on which one can belong to this people, but also about the social responsibility that attaches itself to national identity. The book uncovers for us a startling possibility that belonging can come not simply from blood but also from behaviour. In fact, socially responsible behaviour may even trump the rights of blood belonging. The narrative presents us with a scenario in which kindness and good character draw reciprocal kindness from others which results in inclusion for the stranger and the foreigner.
We’d appreciate if folk wishing to come to the series could register in advance (see Cost & Registration below) in order to get the most from the series. However, it is also possible to come to individual evenings.
See the weeWONDERBOX 2018-19 listings page for more information about these.
Cost & Registration: Suggested cost £30/ £20 (concession) for the whole course or £4/ £3 (concession) per session.
To register for the course, see Tickets below or contact WGRG/ Wild Goose Resource Group at [email protected] or by phone 0141 429 7281.
Time: 7.00 – 9.00pm
Venue: 21 Carlton Court, Glasgow, Scotland G5 9JP, Scotland.
Access to the event space is via one step. Inside there is a low-stepped ramp. We are happy to provide assistance.
To receive updates of weeWONDERBOX events, sign up to the WGRG and weeWONDERBOX eNews here.
weeWONDERBOX is a programme of events organised by the Iona Community’s Programme Worker and the Wild Goose Resource Group.
0141 429 7281