Reflection: 09-10 (Part 1)

This month’s reflection marks a first for me. It is the first time that I have used an e-reader. Specifically, I have the nook from Barnes & Noble. It was a birthday present. There are a couple of reasons that I wanted this. First, I wasn’t really an e-reader kind of person. I didn’t really see the point. I’m a book guy. I love the smell of books. I love the feel of books. I just never thought that I would be happy with an e-reader. But, when the Lindisfarne Community published it’s prayer book for nook, well, I took another look at the idea. What I found out was very intriguing and brings me to my second point.

For those who don’t know, the nook is based on Google’s open source Anroid Operating System (OS). That is the same OS that runs many phones (including my own) and tablet PCs. That was a huge plus for me! As many of you know, I’m a big open source supporter. The fact that the nook runs on an open source platform was icing on the cake.

Because I knew that I was getting a nook for my birthday, I looked through the reading list to find books that we available for the nook. I actually went through each item looking to see if there was an ‘eBooks’ edition available. This changed my reading list dramatically, as one can imagine! All of this leads me to this month’s reflection.

God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality was written by Phyllis Trible. In it, she explores the view of God male and female within the the Bible, ‘a pilgrim wandering through history to merge past and present’ (pg. 19). She comes at the text from a feminist perspective claiming that this perspective does not

. . . dominate the scriptures. Instead, I have accented what I consider neglected themes and counter literature. Using feminist hermeneutics (the art and science of biblical interpretation - J+), I have tried to recover old treasure and discover new ones in the household of faith (pg. 16).

She does this by showing how ‘stylistic and rhetorical features of the language illuminate its interpretations’ from the text itself (pg. 17). She then sets out by focusing on three separate account: the creation accounts in Genesis (and, if you haven’t ever noticed, there are two different stories there!); the Song of Solomon; and the book of Ruth. This book was a joy to read! Her approach was very scholarly and thorough and her exegesis was remarkable. It led to such new insights that I want to try and see if I can use this way of seeing within other parts of the biblical text. But I will leave that for another time. We will begin where she began - Genesis and the creation of what she calls the ‘earth creature’.

In Genesis 1, after creating everything else, God stated that human kind would be created in the image of God:

‘Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.’

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1.26-27).

What has been in the forefront of a lot of peoples minds of late is that fact that both ‘male and female’ are the ‘image of God’ - not just the male. As Rosemary Raford Ruether put it, ‘If women cannot represent [God] then [God] cannot represent women’ (quoted by Ann Loades in Feminist Theology: A Reader, pgs 140-141, see my reflection here). But according to Trible, metaphor best describes ‘the poetic mode of Genesis 1.27’ (pg 33). And poetic language is the key to understanding Genesis 1.27:

A sensitivity to poetic language is basic to an interpretation of Genesis 1.27 . . . poetry is “like a finger pointing to the moon” . . . To equate the finger with the moon or to acknowledge the finger and not perceive the moon is to miss the point (pg 32).

She expounds,

In Genesis 1.27 the formal parallelism between the phrases “in the image of God” and “male and female” indicates a semantic correspondence between a lesser known element and a better known element. In other words, this parallelism yields a metaphor. “Male and female” is the vehicle; “the image of God,” its tenor (pg 33).

That is, God is the ‘lesser known element’. But we can get a better understanding of God by looking at people - ‘male and female’, the ‘better known element’. Or, as she states on page 36, ‘In other words, “male and female” is the finger pointing to the “image of God”.’ And yet, it has not been until recently that the idea that ‘female’ can be seen as, indeed is, an image of God. Especially from those who view the Bible as a legal document or a constitution (see Brian McLaren’s book, A New Kind of Christianity, and my reflection of that book here). Such people are quick to point to the ‘Fall’ and ‘curse’ upon women in Genesis 3 and state that women are now ‘in subjection’ to men. But, as Trible points out, this is a picture of a broken relationship, not a healthy one. And it most certainly was neither the way it was intended nor created. And I wholeheartedly agree. The idea that women are ‘subject’ to men has been ‘over-turned’ by Christ. According to the fleshing out of that story we call the New Testament, God’s reconciliation and restoration project - the New Creation - began at Christ’s resurrection. Throughout the New Testament we see this idea that ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us’ (Galatians 3.13, TNIV). Furthermore, because of this ‘redemption’ ‘[there] is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female (Galatians 3.28, emphasis added). In other words, all cultural divisions, social divisions, and gender divisions have been removed because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Although this is not a reality for all parts of the world (or even in our part), it is becoming this way. More and more people are breaking down the walls that separate humanity because of what Christ has done (see Ephesians 2.14). As Carlos Santana once put it, ‘There are not different races. There is only the human race with many different cultures’ (in his speech after winning a Grammy for his Supernatural album).

But change has not been easy. We see this too often in the one place where people should be seen as equals - the churches. Here in the U.S. the struggle for inclusion has been tough. For a long time women have been able to do all sorts of things - except be clergy. But that, too, is slowly changing. Some churches, like the Episcopal Church, have women in their highest offices. And more and more are ‘allowed’ to hold these offices in their local communities. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. Secular society has ‘allowed’ women to hold high offices for a long time but some churches are still having trouble with this idea. And it’s no surprise that this is still a struggle in most of those places where the Bible is seen as a constitution. It makes one wonder what those people think about women superiors in the workplace!

This ends Part 1. Part 2 can be found here.

Jack+, LC


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