Sunday, March 8, 2009

So today is International Women's Day and I've been invited to join in with other bloggers who are reflecting on women in the Bible. This is an interesting exercise for me, one that I'm afraid may be somewhat pointless because I honestly don't know WHAT I think about Biblical women. I don't really know them.

Oh, but that doesn't mean that I haven't "studied" them. Ever since a conversion experience at the ripe old age of 19, I have been infused with a myriad of ideas about the women in the Bible. I have sat in sermon after sermon, Bible class after Bible class, where certain things have been drilled in me:

- Eve was bad. She is the spiritual ancestor of all who are female, and if we're not careful we'll f*%# up the world just as badly as she did. Stick with the men… they are the ones who are endowed with the wisdom and authority to run this place.

- If you want to be beautiful and commended as "right," then you'll be like Sarah, who called Abraham her master. (1 Peter 3:4-6)

- There's a logical explanation for all of the abuse of women in the Old Testament. It was somehow culturally acceptable for Lot to offer his daughters to sexual predators; for a man in Judges 19 to not only save himself by letting his concubine suffer rape and horrid abuse, but also to dismember her (literally cut her into pieces) to somehow make a point. No need to be outraged, just trust that it's not as bad as it seems and there was a divine purpose behind it.

- Despite the fact that in both the old and new testaments women rarely had legal rights or a status of their own (it was always conferred based upon her relationship to a man - her husband or father) she has immense power in the "higher status" given her by God to serve and help men. This is the proper "Christian" order of things, and if you don't buy in you either don't understand it properly, or worse, you're a rebellious and sinful woman.

I could go on, but quite honestly I don't have the energy to. I'm already imagining the protests from some of my conservative friends, who apparently need these ducks to line up or they will feel threatened. Don't start talking about the feminist uphill climb, they say, because you're just not getting the big picture. And maybe I'm not. But I also don't need to perpetuate some sort of ethereal, blanket explanation that, in my opinion, is mostly smoke and mirrors staged by a long procession of men who like the setup. I'm no stranger to that; I marched in that parade for nearly 25 years.

The other night I spent a few minutes reading blogs and websites about different perspectives on women in the Bible. That in itself was problematic because I haven't been reading the Bible lately. That's because I've been feeling like I can't read it anymore without the words being attached to a mass of ideas that have been drilled into me by well-meaning but intensely dogmatic people. As my boyfriend would say, back then I was drinking the Kool-Aid. But I've given up that toxic beverage and for now all I'm trying to find is some clean water. Anyway, about 10 minutes into my search I grew weary because most of what I found was people squabbling over the meaning of words. There is talk about the Greek and Hebrew languages, how they have been translated, how they should be translated, what the Apostle Paul meant, what the context was, blah, blah, blah. Don't get me wrong - I am grateful for people who will take the time to delve into the deeper meaning of things and challenge long-held systems of belief. But I'm not there. I'm tired of my gender putting me in a position of defense - especially in circles where the Bible comes into play: defending my worth, defending my value, defending my intelligence, my spiritual significance, my competency and my ability to navigate my own life without having to check in with those who have penises to make sure I'm not whistling off to Eden to consort with Eve. And no, I'm not a man hater, a Nazi, or a militant feminist. It's just that this whole exercise has left me sad and a little angry.

In short, I don't really care about Biblical women right now because I have very little hope that I'll ever know their true stories. Yes, I have heard 101 sermons or lectures that take extreme license in "interpreting" these women's hearts and minds. But I'm weary of it all. I am sure there are a myriad of inspiring narratives from the lives of women like Sarah, Zipporah, Bathsheba, Esther, Naomi, Ruth, Mary, Elizabeth, Mary Magdalene and Martha. But today they seem hopelessly lost behind centuries of thick, sealed walls, walls designed to cast women in the dingy light of the sub-status assigned to them by an unrelenting patriarchy intent on maintaining control. What did Sarah really feel when her husband passed her off as her sister? What did she do with that? What was it like for Ruth to have to lay at a man's feet and hope to be "redeemed" because without a husband she had no social worth? How did Bathsheeba deal with the death of her infant son? What really went through Mary's mind when she found out she was pregnant? How did she handle the public shame? How did Elizabeth deal with a son like John the Baptist - especially when he was an adult? Why was Martha the "busy" one?

Today I suppose I'm grieving that their nitty gritty stories are lost. We'll never really know. And that, above all, is why I want to tell stories.


Anonymous said...

I love your post and can relate to your words and feelings. I feel like so many times people take stories from the bible and try to make them say things that don't fit. I feel that way about the story of Martha and Mary and think we have missed the meaning of that story. I would be interested to know what you think about my take of their story and how I don't think it had much to do with how busy Martha was but everything to do with Jesus liberating Mary from her socially defined status of inferiority and marginalization by offering her God's Radical Hospitality. You can read it here:

Gary Delaney said...


Thank you for the honesty in your post. I agree with you that men especially in the church have taken scripture out of context concerning women. There are male pastors who have wrongly used scripture to make women look and feel inferior.

While I can't know what that feels like, I do sense your pain. As a christian man, I would like to apologize for those abuses perpetuated toward you and other women. It was and is wrong.

It's my desire that one day the Church would wake up and get a clue about a lot of things.

It's been my experience that women have gifts and talents that are at least as dynamic as those held by men. My wife would be one of them.


Laura said...

Thank you for your kind generous reply. It has been a little overwhelming to wake up to this, and to tell the truth by writing about it has been more than a little scary. I have three adult daughters, and I fear one of them is giving up hope that there are any decent, egalitarian men left in the world - ESPECIALLY men of faith. My boyfriend has been an incredible healing force in our lives, and it is good to know that there are more like him out there!

My best to you and your family -

kathyescobar said...

laura, thanks for your honesty. i think you have put to words what many women sometimes feel. i wonder what it would be like to have so many more gaps filled in for us in the stories. no idea, but i do believe strongly that we must tell women's stories, no matter where we hear them or where they come from, stories of power, and strength, and courage, and vulnerability, and against-the-status-quo to give others hope. thanks for sharing. your post was one of my favorites :)

Anonymous said...

I hate and detest the foulness of some of the old testament formuals as in Lot's daughters also. It's haneous, and wasteful. Also when God is only existing solely to see our true selves come alive when he enters in with his fleshly son. It's taken me over 40 yrs to engage 100% or more in the realness Christ's life and death and resurrection meaning. I will not look back, and it's an uphill battle. Just like the song ''the climb'. I think we are always going to have remenants of wars.