Memoriam

 In Featured, Pastor Paul's Blog, Uncategorized

By Pastor Paul Gauche

 

Today’s Word: ‘Memoriam’ as in… remembering the life and public service of Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

There is a framed plaque on the wall of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court chamber office with just five words on it. Five words that framed the mission of Ginsburg’s entire life, distilling a million little moments of a life that has impacted each one of us. The words come from the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 16, verse 18:

“Justice, justice you shall pursue.”

Those five words sum up most of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life as a young girl growing up in Brooklyn, New York, then later as a student at Cornell University, Harvard and Columbia Law Schools, and then serving as justice on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for 13 years and as a Supreme Court Justice for just over 27 years.

The larger context of that passage deserves some reference. It’s in a section of Deuteronomy that’s titled “Municipal Judges and Officers.”

18 You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. 19 You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. 20 Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

I want my three granddaughters and our grandson to know what this 5’ 1”, 100 pound giant of a woman did for the land that they live in, for the lives that they’ve been given and the futures each of them will create.

But I have a fear.

My fear is that as a Supreme Court Justice who died when they were all under the age of 8, Ruth Bader Ginsburg will seem “Other-Worldly” to them in the way that some people take on a “posthumous Other-Worldly-ness” after they’re dead and gone; a rock star having left this rock, star that we call earth.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg wasn’t “Other Worldly.” She was very much “This Worldly.” She was a daughter, a sister, a wife and mom, a student, a teacher – a woman who was turned down for positions for which she was eminently qualified simply because she was a woman, and a woman who – because of that, became a force of nature.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg wasn’t “other worldly.” She was very much “this Worldly” and because of that, known widely. She was known as the “Lioness of the Law.” She was nicknamed “The Notorious R.B.G.” by a law student, a reference to the late Brooklyn-born rapper The Notorious B.I.G. It was a nickname that she later embraced and had a bit of fun living into.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s “This-Worldly-ness” is evident in hundreds of stories, but this one is especially good:

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg was getting very little sleep. It was the early 1970s, and she was teaching at Columbia Law School while founding the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union and litigating historic gender discrimination cases nationwide. She was also a parent, raising two children with her husband Marty. Their youngest child, James, was a handful. And when James had a problem at school – which was a common occurrence – it was Ruth’s phone, not Marty’s, that would ring. One day the school called Ms. Ginsburg’s Columbia office after she had been up all night writing a brief. She’d had enough. Picking up the phone she said, tartly, “This child has two parents. Please alternate calls. It’s his father’s turn.”

Then she hung up.

That was The Notorious R.B.G.

“Justice, justice you shall pursue.”

Writers for The Salt Project reflecting on her spiritual formation in the Jewish faith write these insights:

“When Ruth Bader was a teenager, her mother, Celia, died of cancer just two days shy of Ruth’s graduation from high school. In keeping with Jewish custom in those days, only men could be counted as part of a minyan or quorum – so Ruth wasn’t allowed to pray the mourner’s prayer for her mother (a rule since changed in both Reform and Conservative Judaism). Ruth was both heartbroken and outraged – and as a result, felt alienated from synagogue membership for much of the rest of her life. The Bible, however, remained a lifelong touchstone of insight and inspiration. Throughout her childhood, her mother regaled her with biblical stories of “women of valor,” heroes who were ambitious, wise, and successful. Ruth drank deeply from these stories, learning them by heart.”

Personally, I’ve wondered what the conversation might have been like if Jesus and Ruth Bader Ginsburg had sat together under an olive tree or more appropriately at the city gate where the 1st century judges heard cases. Jesus’s treatment of and respect for women was shockingly counter cultural in the first century. I imagine him listening to RBG reminiscing about how she was discriminated against because she was, A, a woman, B, a mother, and C, Jewish. I don’t wonder at all what the rabbi Jesus would have done with that. If she had lost her job as a scribe in the first century like she lost her job as a typist when she became pregnant with her daughter in the 20th century – Jesus would have been second in line to make sure that sweeping changes for women would define the path going forward.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg would have been first.

“Justice, justice you shall pursue.”

There’s a powerful post circulating on Facebook; a tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s worth our time here…

“If you are a woman and hold a job, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.

If you got to keep that job even when you became pregnant, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.

If you hold a credit card or a bank account or a house in your name, without the permission of your husband or your father, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.

If you were able to marry the person you love, regardless of their gender or yours, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.

If you don’t even know the number of rights that you have, because there are too many to count, or maybe because you just take them for granted, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.

Every single woman stands on the shoulders of this tiny giant, every second of every day; there are not enough thanks in this world for Justice Ginsburg.

“Justice, justice you shall pursue.”

It is significant that the first female Jewish Supreme Court justice died on Friday, September 18th, 2020 … the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which is seen by Jews all over the world as a day for new beginnings.

Questions for you:

  • If the plaque that hangs in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s office was on the wall of your office, room, or home, how would that move you into someone else’s life?
  • For whom are you a voice, a force of nature, for whom do you make decisions? How do you work for justice for them?
  • How does pursuing justice for all people everywhere inspire the way you live and inform the way you occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you?

#100days50words

Paul Gauche is the Pastor of Life Transitions at Prince of Peace. His posts are part of his #100days50words project, where be blogs about a different word each day. You can follow his project on Instagram (@pgauche), or on his blog, Thriving Rhythms.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Gloria Swanson
    Reply

    Thank you, Paul, for your memorial of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I want my grandchildren to grow up knowing and living the values of the Notorious RBG too! This grandma needs to role model them—a purpose for us elders!

  • Beverly Brucciani
    Reply

    Reading this blog about Ruth Bader Ginsberg in the middle of a sleepless night, Paul. So much to think about these days. Thank you for your special insight into the life of this person whom I so greatly admire.

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