Sunday, April 19, 2015

Patriarchy is Alive and Well!

Yesterday, I drove a young teenage boy to the YMCA. As we neared the building he turned to me and said,

“Jane, women can’t go in the army and I know why.”

I replied that actually women could go in the armed forces.

“No” he argued, “They can’t, it is because of gender, they are defective. You know, it is like they are disabled.”

I was flabbergasted!

I just had time to tell him that to say things like that was sexist and akin to racism and other prejudices before we reached our destination.

Yet I had to wonder where had he got those ideas. He has some learning difficulties and words like “gender” and “defective” would not be part of his normal vocabulary. He was obviously repeating something he had heard.

The whole exchange left me frustrated and saddened. Here we are in 2015 and patriarchy is still alive and well. And not just remnants in an older generation but a new generation who still believe that to be male, is to be superior and to be female is–well, as we just heard– defective.

Then I read the lectionary readings for today, Luke 24:13-49. The beginning of the text is the story of two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The story tells that Jesus joined them on the road, conversed with them and, ultimately, they invited Jesus into their home to spend the night.

A popular story, and one which shows how we have read the scriptures through patriarchal eyes. There are lots of major art works that illustrate this story. I looked at some of the pictures.

To name just a few . . .

Duccio (1308)
Caravaggio (1601)
Rembrandt (1648)
Zund (1887)
De Maistre (1958)

They are all very beautiful. One thing they have in common is they all depict the two disciples on the road as two males.

I have to question why it has been assumed, through the centuries, that these two disciples were men. Of course, the story tells us that one of them was a man. He was even named, Cleopas. Yet, the other remains unnamed. It is often the women in the Bible who remain unnamed and invisible.

A little bit of study shows us that Cleopas had a wife, Mary (John 19:25). Note that Clopas and Cleopas are variations of the same name. The early church father, Eusebius, believed that Cleopas/Clopas was the brother of Joseph, the legal parent of Jesus.

So, we are told that Cleopas’ wife, Mary was in Jerusalem. She was named in the gospel of John as one of the women who remained at the foot of the cross. Therefore, it would seem easier to assume that the couple of disciples walking towards Emmaus were Cleopas and Mary, rather than two men. One of whom had left his wife behind in Jerusalem! Therefore, it was a married couple who urged Jesus to spend the night at their home.

This story is well worth thinking about in the light of patriarchy. It can serve as a model of how we approach the scriptures. There is a need to recognize that the patriarchy of that time is reflected in the Bible. A patriarchy which has often been picked up whenever the scripture is read. Hence two disciples = two men. If we approach the readings with that in mind there are lots of hidden gems showing the presence and participation of the women of the time.

Lindisfarne is an inclusive community. Being aware of patriarchy in our lives, workplace and ministry is a small part of that inclusivism. How we approach and read the scriptures is a key component. It is important that we acknowledge the place of women in our spiritual tradition. As Anne Thurston said, twenty years ago,

“I have struggled with the attempt to integrate the insights from feminism with the Christian tradition. This struggle continues but with greater assurance that integration is not only possible but necessary for the transformation of the whole church. I believe, however inadequately it has been realised, that Jesus established a radically inclusive community . . . It is not simply a matter of including the voices of women but of creating inclusive community symbolised by an inclusive ministry. The centre is transformed as the context of women’s lives becomes part of the text of revelation.” (Anne Thurston, Because of her Testimony, p.4-5)

Of course, I may have it all wrong. Maybe it simply was a same-sex couple on the road to Emmaus who invited Jesus to stay at their home!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Terror and Amazement

Easter Sunday Broadkill Beach DE
Christ is Risen
Christ is Risen Indeed.

I hope you all have a wonderful Easter. I am sitting writing this early on Easter Sunday morning overlooking the ocean at Prime Hook Bay, Delaware. The sun has just risen casting a wonderful reflection over the water. It is all very peaceful.

Yet, that first Easter morning would have been anything but peaceful. After the events of the previous few days, lives would have been disturbed and a feeling that of turmoil would have persisted.

When Andy and I read the lectionary passages for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday a couple of days ago we, too, were disturbed. It didn’t feel right to read about a God who was going to destroy a whole people group, a whole nation (Egypt). It caused a lot of heart searching. We still have no answers. But today, we are not thinking of death but of life.

The lectionary offers us two alternate gospel readings, John 20: 1-18 and Mark 16: 1-8. They are two different accounts of the same event. Yet, there are similarities. A wonderful example of what James Dunn calls in his book of the same name, “Unity and Diversity in the New Testament

 In the Gospel of Mark three of the women went to the tomb to anoint Jesus. In the tomb they found a young man who told them Jesus had risen. He instructed them to go and tell the other disciples. In the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene came alone to the tomb. After she found the stone moved, she went and found two of the other disciples. They saw the empty tomb but returned home while Mary remained to grieve. Ultimately she had a conversation with an unrecognized man, who was revealed as Jesus, and she returned to tell the disciples that Christ was risen.

As always with the Easter stories I love talk about the verses which show the women in such prominent positions. The women (three in Mark and one in John) were the apostles to the disciples. They were the first sent ones to bring news of the resurrection to the others. The dialogue between the risen Christ and Mary contains a real message of inclusion. Women were equally valued, they can be witnesses, they can be trusted.

Yet, the words that drew me today were those in the last verse of the Gospel of Mark. The women fled from the tomb, “terror and amazement seized them”, they were afraid. This seemed such an honest reaction.

 I’m sure my reaction would have been the same, if I had discovered an empty grave of someone I loved, especially if that loved one was a persecuted minority. There would be a first reaction of terror and amazement.

Actually, as I thought more about the two words, terror and amazement, I realized that the two go together quite often. These emotions can be present in any event. Think of the arrival of a baby (either by birth or adoption). There is amazement at the gift of the little person, yet fear about whether one is adequately able to parent the baby in a good and healthy way she deserves. Or think of any new responsibility, perhaps a new job, marriage or other significant event, again the mixed emotions of terror and amazement are often felt.

I try to imagine the thoughts of Mary, Salome and Mary. Their terror; has the body been stolen? What will this mean for us? Have we really got to go and tell the others what that man said? Will they think we are crazy?

But also their amazement would reflect their great hope. Could it be true? Could we have seen an angel? Could we be the ones who are going to tell this great news? Will we be able to convince the others?

Perhaps, that is the message of Easter for us today. Great hope!

I always love that nature reflects this for us in the Northern hemisphere.  The flowers starting to bloom (or push through the snow if you live in upstate New York), the trees are budding and the birds are singing and nesting. The atmosphere is pulsating with new life. They bring us great hope of the future things to come.

Of course, if, like my cousins, we lived in the Southern hemisphere we would now be preparing for winter so nature would be reflecting things preparing for hidden life as energy is stored.

But wherever you live, enjoy your Easter day.  May it be bursting with life and with great hope for that which is to come.