Why not test your servants for ten days? You could give us a diet of vegetables to eat and water to drink.
No one wants to stick out like a sore thumb. But what if you could stick out like a very polite middle finger? That’s what Daniel does in the verse above. This is Daniel before the Fiery Furnace (or, if you will, Daniel B.F.F.). Although Daniel is born and raised in a middle/upper-middle class family in Jerusalem, he has the bad luck to come of age at exactly the point when his nation-state gets obliterated by the Babylonian Empire. Educated and healthy, Daniel gets deported to Babylon to join the slave class of the civil service. Essentially, it’s an invitation to become part of the system that destroyed his life—if he can prove his loyalty to Babylon and reject his cultural and ethnic identity. It’s conformity and cycles of violence marketed as resilience. The first step of his journey is formal palace training, which means formal palace rations—including all the foods Daniel is not supposed to eat as a Jew. Daniel pushes for a nonconforming diet and after ten days he gets approval for this clean eating plan. It’s more than a nutritional win; it preserves his Jewish identity and a small piece of his core values. It’s an F-you to a system that demands conformity with values like wealth disparity, violence, and anti-Semitism. There would be no Fiery Furnace without this small act of integrity. Nonconformity is Daniel’s lifeline back to the values he shares and the person he wants to become. It’s his first refusal to become part of a system of oppression, and his choice to become resilient in a system that threatens to erase his history.
Takeaway: We live in a culture that loves to market the status quo as resilience. Our culture sells oppression back to us at every turn, insisting patterns of systemic oppression are necessary for self-care. Where is it easiest for you to fall into systems of violence, consumerism, environmental degradation, exploitation? Be consciously nonconforming today. Maybe that looks like calling your senator about gun violence or making art instead of watching Netflix or being vegetarian for a day. Maybe it means tipping your Uber driver $15 (congratulations—you may have just doubled their take-home salary for the hour). Do something that gives a polite little F-you to the systems of oppression that structure our lives.
Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).