Sunday, May 27, 2018

Adoption: Then and Now

For my lectionary musings today I am choosing to focus on the gospel passage (Romans 8:12-25). It is all about relationship, what better thoughts for the day designated as Trinity Sunday. 

The text talks about adoption. Although Andy and I have never legally adopted a child we have lived with that word being prominent in our lives for over three decades. In our career as foster carers we have helped prepare many children for adoption. 

I remember one of the first of our foster babies to go for adoption. He came to us at a few weeks old and lived with us for about eighteen months. After a lengthy process, he had finally been freed for adoption and the search for his new family began. I knew the caseworker was going to talk to a couple and ask them if they were interested in the child we were caring for. The next day we were awoken by the phone ringing early. I stumbled downstairs to answer it — this was pre mobile phones! The very excited voice told me that the caseworker had said it was alright for them to phone to ask for additional information about the boy. We talked for nearly an hour, their final words were “we have waited ten years for this, it is our dream come true.”

Since then we have been invited to attend court to watch the judge pronounce the adoption legal many times. We have attended the ensuing parties to celebrate the new family. They are always full of joy and hopes for a good future.

In addition, I co-teach classes for prospective foster and adoptive parents. It has been a joy to do so. Then to see the children placed with them blossom in their new families is always enriching. 

With this background when I read the passage, the word “adoption” jumped out at me. It is all about relationship and the formation of families. However, I am very aware that the concept of family was different in the times the book of Romans was written. Indeed, even in contemporary culture there are many expressions of family, not just our Western concept of parents and children. Yet, even in the West there are many variations. In my limited experience, I have seen children placed with straight couples and gay couples, with single parents, with older people and younger people, with those who are extending their families, those who have chosen not to have birth children and those who have struggled with infertility. 

At the time, Romans was written there were several variations on adoption also. It is a very complex subject with many varying ideas and reasons for adoption in that time period.

Briefly and not so far removed from contemporary times, adoption was used to provide a childless couple with a child. Especially as in those days childlessness was perceived as a shame on a marriage. Yet, adopting infants does appear to have been quite rare. Abandoned infants and children often went into slavery. Therefore, this was not the main understanding of adoption.

In the Roman Empire boys were often adopted by the upper classes to ensure a male heir. Adoption was used to strengthen political, economic and social ties. These males adopted would generally not children but adult males. 

Another reason for the adoption was to help a couple in their old age, including participating in and arranging their funeral rites. The adoptee was often an adult and would receive an inheritance as part of the agreement. In some cases, the adoptee would be a slave and their reward may be freedom.

This makes it difficult for us to understand the passage. The concept that adoption is about love and nurture of a child would not have been at the fore-front of the minds of those early readers of the book of Romans. It is more about a legal agreement, which would usually involve inheritance. The passage hints at this different understanding as it equates becoming children with becoming heirs. 

The passage then makes an interesting turn, and one which I cannot help but draw attention to, it talks about labour pains. While waiting for adoption, both creation and, in writer of the book of Romans words, “we ourselves” are groaning with labour pains. It is interesting in a time when the readers would be mainly males, when adoption was mainly a male experience that a very feminine metaphor of labour pain is used. This was purely a women’s experience and one from which men were completely excluded. Additionally, the woman in childbirth was ritually unclean. Then, after the baby was born, the male then decided whether to keep the child or to abandon it. 

So, an interesting passage, a doorway into another understanding of relationship. For me, one to ponder over the next few days.

(Photographs: Lindisfarne, Ithaca NY. May 2018)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Where are the Women?

Reading the Bible, or indeed the Holy Writings from any religious tradition, usually invokes a response. Wisdom can be imparted, comfort is sought and found, joy may be unleashed, challenges are presented, sometimes confusion or shock are experienced.

Today, as I read the first lectionary passage (Acts 1:15-26) I was frustrated. Not just a little bit frustrated, not just a little niggle inside with the thought this is a bit annoying, but really, really frustrated. I felt let down by the passage. As I read the text I could feel the irritation rising in me.


Because, once again, women were ignored. They were invisible. They were under-valued. They were irrelevant. All their loyalty and courage had passed unnoticed.

Let me explain the scenario as I read it . . .

The disciple, Peter, announced that another should be selected to take the place of Judas and be numbered as one of the twelve apostles (a discussion of twelve apostles will be for another day). He spoke to a small crowd of one hundred and twenty persons. The previous verses had confirmed that women were present. Peter announced that they should choose “one of the men who have accompanied us”. Peter continued that this male person would primarily attest to the resurrection.

As I read the words the frustration rose in me. What about the women? Why not select one of them? Surely, a woman should have at least been selected as one of the potential candidates. 

The names of two men were suggested —Joseph called Barsabbas (Justus) and Matthias—neither of them were previously mentioned in Scripture. I am not, in any way, suggesting that these men were bad people or unfit to be counted amongst the apostles. But I can’t overlook that they hadn’t been mentioned before. Matthias was duly selected as Judas’ replacement. I should note that there is no further mention of him in the Scriptures either. He is purported to have penned a gospel which is lost, but was briefly alluded to in some other writings. (See:

So why choose two men as candidates when there were several women who would have fit the requirement perfectly? Amongst these well qualified candidates were the women who had followed and cared for Jesus. We read of Mary, Susannah, Joanna and “many others” (Luke 8:3) and Martha (John 11).

Certainly, women were integral to the crucifixion and resurrection stories, one of the requirements. There were women who had remained at the cross. Noted amongst them are Jesus’ mother (John), his mother’s sister (John), Mary Magdalene (John, Matthew, Mark), Mary the wife of Clopas (John), Mary the mother of James (Mark, Matthew), mother of the sons of Zebedee, Salome (Mark), the women who had come with him from Galilee (Luke) and many women (Matthew) 

 All the gospels name women were first witnesses to the resurrection. They were named as Mary Magdalene (Matt, Mark, Luke and John), Mary the mother of James (Mark, Luke), Salome (Mark), the other Mary (Matthew), Joanna (Luke), and other women (Luke).

So where were these women when consideration was being given to the person to be named as one of the twelve? Ignored, forgotten, invisible!

In truth, the culture in consideration of women has changed much, especially over the last fifty years. But I still see too many photographs in the newspapers and on other media sources and ask myself, “Where are the women?”