Where are the women? That was the first thought I had as I read the lectionary passages this morning. The passages include questions by Thomas and Philip (John 14: 1-14), teaching by Stephen (Acts 7:1-60) and an admonition by Peter (1 Peter, 2:2-10). Stephen even began his lengthy discourse with the words, “Brothers and fathers listen to me” (1). Where are the women? Are they silenced? Are they invisible? Are they irrelevant?
It seemed strange that on the day the U.S.A. celebrates Mother’s Day that women are absent in all the readings.
I should note here that the U.K. celebrated Mother’s Day in March. In the U.K. it is always the fourth Sunday of Lent. Briefly it dates from the sixteenth century when people returned to their mother church and families got to be together. In the U.S. in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation designating the second Sunday in May as a national holiday to honour mothers. Regardless of the origins of the two days they share the same emphases.
I want to consider mothering. I have been reading a book by Sara Ruddick, Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace (Beacon Press, 1995). In the book there is an interesting linking of mothering with peace. This is not new. The U.S. mother’s day initiative was started in 1905 by Anna Jarvis to honour her mother who died that year. Anna continue her mother's work. Ann Reeves Jarvis was a peace activist and as early as 1868 organized Mothers’ Working Clubs to gather soldiers on both sides of the civil war to promote peace and reconciliation.
Ruddick does not see “mothering” as exclusively female. Mothering is about caring, nurturing, fostering growth and bringing about reconciliation. Society is at its best when these are valued.
I want to return to the story of Stephen. His story begins when a complaint was made about widows being neglected in the daily distribution of food. The twelve male disciples called the community together and said it was not right for them to neglect the word of God to serve tables (6:2). It is a sad statement, I wonder if at this point the male disciples missed the point of Jesus teaching which was about care, often reflected in feeding people. Certainly, an example of male dominance in the scriptures.
The solution was to select seven men to attend to the task of waiting on tables. I read this and excitedly think, “Great, they are disrupting the mould” (Or mold if US spelling is preferred). Waiting on tables, as with other domestic tasks, have traditionally been considered the work of women. Men are being selected to do it in this story of the early church. The mould of women’s work is being broken. Mothering was a task for all.
Sadly, my excitement only lasted a moment.
Mould disruption or male dominance?
As I re-read the passage, I must consider the latter as the more likely option. Although the seven men were appointed to mothering, to feed people and to care for widows, there is no mention of them fulfilling that task. Was it done? Or was it not significant enough to be mentioned again? The women’s work is denigrated.
The passage continues mentioning signs, wonders and enticing words spoken by Stephen. The importance of mothering is ignored. A great opportunity was missed.
Ruddick says, “As men become mothers and mothers invent public resistances to violence, mothering and peacemaking become a single, womanly-manly work —a feminist, maternal politics of peace’ (244).
Happy mother's day to all.
(Photo: Our back garden, June 15, 2015)