Reflection: 08-09

For this month’s reflection, I ordered two books, Feminist Theology: A Reader edited by Ann Loades, and The Celtic Way of Prayer by Esther de Waal. I determined that I would read and reflect upon whichever one came in first (since they were coming from different sources). Personally, I didn’t really want to deal with Loades’ book because of my previous experience with other feminist books. Most of my exposure to feminist material (and most feminists) left a lot to be desired. They were not very supportive of males. In fact, a lot of them have basically painted the white male as the incarnation of the devil. So I was really hoping that de Waal’s book would come in first. I have her book Every Earthly Blessing and was looking forward to a second dose from de Waal. Besides, by watching the shipping orders, it sure looked like her book would arrive first. However, God seems to have had other ideas. When I arrived home and noticed the package on the table, I quickly opened it full of excitement. My heart sank a little. The first book to arrive was Loades’ (de Waal’s came in the following day). Since I had made a vow to read and reflect on the first book, I put aside my prejudices and starting reading Feminist Theology: A Reader. And is that old proverb ever true, ‘Never judge a book by it’s cover’. In my case, it was never judge a book by it’s subject. So far, this book has been incredible! (I’m about 3/4 of the way through.) Very eye-opening. It has made me want to start a Bible study of women and men, just so we can hear what the others are saying about the issues. I might even see if I can attend the Women’s Bible study group (if they’ll have me – what with being a guy and all).

The book can best be summed up by a line from the Introduction to Part One. In fact, it should be the mantra for all feminists, whether female or male. It is simply this: ‘[Woman] is man’s equal – was intended to be so by the Creator, and the highest good of the race demands that she should be recognized as such.’

The first section is on the interpretation and exegesis of Scripture. This was truly fascinating. I liked how not only the various writers dealt with the text but talked about what the text inferred. One thing that this book did for me was reinforce what I have been saying for some time now and that is that some (most) of what we read in the biblical story reflects how things were not how things should be. Some seem to be of the belief that if it’s in the Bible then ‘god’ approves of it and even sanctions it. Therefore, they feel that they could never be part of the biblical story. As Phyllis Trible put it, ‘Some people denounce biblical faith as hopelessly misogynous, although this judgment usually fails to evaluate the evidence in terms of Israelite culture’ (pg 24; emphasis added).

Another interesting point about interpretation, and one that I made while talking with a young woman on the bus the other day, is that the church really faltered when it came to biblical equality. That is, too much of the church today only goes back to Genesis 3 – they see the ‘roles’ established there as the model for all time. I have believed (and this book has reinforced my belief) that the resurrection of Christ took us all the way back to Genesis 1. That is, at the resurrection, God’s New Creation Project began. If that is so, and the rest of the New Testament seems to be fleshing that out, then we should be living each and every day implementing that Project. And that project is nothing short of ‘returning to the garden’ before the ‘fall’. This seems to be St Paul’s take on it as well when he wrote that there was now no difference between females and males in Christ. The trouble is that it has been from those ‘outside Christ’ where most advances for equality have taken place. The Church continues to squabble on the inclusion of women in it’s highest offices. As I told the young woman the other day, young girls are told that they can be anything they want – even president of the United States. But then the Church comes back and says that they can’t be bishops of priests or hold other high leadership positions. My stance now has more ammunition because of the statements of Rosemary Raford Ruether. On pages140 and 141, she is quoted as stating, ‘[If] women cannot represent Christ, then Christ cannot represent women. Or, as the women’s ordination movement has put it, “either ordain women or stop baptizing them”.’ To which I give a hearty ‘Amen’!

Some of the historical stuff was just astounding. Karen Armstrong and Genevieve Lloyd had essays regarding the teachings of the early church. And the views they highlighted were appalling. They show all too well how we need to think afresh our theologies and ideologies. Each generation needs to go back and wrestle with the questions of justice. The quotes that they supplied from the early church prove the point. For example, Jerome is quoted as stating,
As long as a woman is for birth and children, she is different from man as body is from soul. But when she wishes to serve Christ more than the world, then she will cease to be a woman and will be called man (pg 87).
Ambrose was just a clear when he wrote, ‘...she who does not believe is a woman and should be designated by the name of her sex, whereas she who believes progresses to perfect manhood’ (pg 87). What I find interestingly disturbing about this is that this was the very same take on things by the Jesus of the ‘Gospel of Thomas’. As I’m sure you are aware, there we have this conversation between Peter and Jesus:
Simon Peter said to them, ‘Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.’ Jesus said, ‘Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven.’
Both of these views (and the view of a lot still in the Church today) espouse the view of Genesis 3 as being firmly planted as the ‘sanctioned way’. But, as I stated previously, if Jesus really did start the restoration of all creation, the New Creation Project, if he really did reconcile all things back to God (2Corinthians 5), then we need to go back to Genesis 1 where men and women are God’s image-bearers. It seems today that society has grasped this much better than the Church. It’s as if God is stating, ‘Since the Church has lost it’s mission of reconciliation, I will turn to the societies of the world and bring justice and reconciliation through there.’ The Church should have been the ones who supported this throughout it’s history. (As an important aside, for me anyway, is that there wasn’t too much from the Celtic tradition in these articles. If the comparison was made between the two, the differences would be very illuminating.)

I found Merry Weisner’s article on Luther very intriguing. She raised some good thoughts which lead me to my own questions. To over-simplify, Luther, like most of the other theologians (and other males) of his day, didn’t have a good view of women. In the medieval period, this view was countered somewhat by the lifting up of Mary the Mother of Jesus (and others). But in Luther, he didn’t like what he thought of as ‘Mary worship’ so there was nothing to balance out his (mis)understanding of women. As she stated:
The God of medieval piety was a Mother/Father, Sister/Brother, Lover/Child, a God of demanding and accepting love, a God who is born within each one of us and who bears us into life as a travailing mother. Women could thus not only identify with and emulate Mary, but could directly identify with the feminine of God.

For Luther and most other Protestant theologians, this was impossible. God and Christ were male and transcendent, not androgynous and immanent
(pg 132).
But this lead me to my questions: Was Luther’s view of Mary based on his view of women in general? Or, was his view of women based on his dislike of ‘Mary worship’? I’m not really certain that one can ever find the answer but there is no doubt in my mind that the two are related.

There were very few points of contention. For example, general statements like women are characterized by their relationships to men – daughters, wives, widows. But nothing is stated regarding how men are also characterized by their relationships to women – sons, husbands, widowers. One that was really difficult was the essay by Mary Daly. As Beverly Wildung Harrison noted, her piece was ‘very angry’ and some of the imagery was ‘misguided’. Daly’s article was more in tune with what I have encountered with most of the other feminist material I have read and some of the feminists I have met. It seems that the only way forward for some is through anger and hostility. While we should not ignore what has happened before, we can not change the past. The best we can do is learn from it and make certain we don’t repeat it.

Most males believe that the problems that Daly addressed can easily (!) be brushed aside because of her anger. It takes some doing to read past the anger and hurt and hear what is actually being said. A lot of the article, to me, seemed irrelevant. She referred to how things were done (or not done) and how she perceived the way God was being imagined. Now, granted, this may be the way in which she experienced things (similar to Sue Monk Kidd’s experience in The Dance of the Dissident Daughter), but to state that this is the way of all of Christendom is an over-simplified generalization. Which, if a male had made – or makes – a similar reference to feminism, he would be labeled as a misogynist.

But this, I’m sure, is how I see things from a male point of view. I didn’t hear the same things because I’m a guy and, as amply supplied, the Bible is full of ‘guy’ language. But my questions would be, did these women ask the questions in their churches? Did they go to other women (and to the men) and asked how God is viewed? Did they seek to be understood and heard? Where they actually told to ‘be silent’ in the Church and not ask such silly questions? Perhaps some of them were. Maybe even most of them were. But, to generalize all Church as this way is to go too far in the other direction. It is to become exactly the thing that needs to be changed. And this is the critique that some of the articles address and address very well. This conversation is important and needs to continue without going to extremes.

And, speaking of extremes, another take on the exclusive biblical language, one that women haven’t taken, is that the problems seem to be with men only. That is, the Bible is forever talking about the sin of ‘man’, the depravity of ‘man’, that the heart of ‘man’ is full of evil, etc. In other words, women may not be addressed as equals to men in the biblical story (again, reflecting how things were/are and not how things should be), but that also means that women aren’t seen as the problem, either. Feminists should grab those passages and say, ‘See? The problem really is with you men! We women don’t seem to have any issues at all!’

Seriously though, I know that for me, Feminist Theology: A Reader has really made me aware of several things, not least of which is the use of masculine language. I find myself counting how many times ‘he’ or ‘Father’ is used when referring to God. Of how many times biblical texts use ‘he’ when referring to individuals. Of how, if one were to replace that ‘he’ with ‘she’, the men would be uncomfortable and yet the men don’t even think about if ‘he’ makes the women uncomfortable because it’s the norm. These are pieces of an ongoing conversation that needs, nay, must continue, for the sake of ‘the highest good of the race’. The Church, the Body of Christ, needs to be a place of egalitarianism. A place where people are seen as equal human beings. A place where all people are seen as ‘...children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.’


~~~
In the Grace of the Three in One,

Jack

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