Warning- adult language.
Maybe it’s the politics right now, but all I can see is women.
We are hip-deep in the bits of the Bible that remind me why I so often feel the need to apologize for my Christian faith, and all I can see this time through are the women. Deborah, the judge- Jael, who kills a murdering general in a very hands-on way. Jephthah’s daughter, who goes sadly, but willingly, to the pyre. Delilah, Philistine temptress, the Concubine who is raped, then dismembered. Ruth and Naomi, gamely tempting death and rape to make the best of a very bad lot.
Hannah, my namesake, who knows that her worth as a woman is predicated upon the viability of her womb.
You know, growing up, I kind of thought that pretty much the only woman in the Bible was Mary, Mother of Jesus. And then maybe if I thought about it, I could have come up with Mary and Martha, the New Testament odd couple that act as a Goofus and Gallant illustration of How to Love Jesus. But Deborah? Never heard of her. Delilah? Isn’t she like Jezebel? Hannah? …maybe someone’s mom? Everyone knows the only people in the Bible who are important are men. Just like everyone knows God is an old man with a white beard, and Jesus was ruddy cheeked with dark auburn-blond hair.
When I was in seminary, I took a course from an absolutely world-class professor, Gina Hens-Piazza, who is not only brilliant and feminist, but also Catholic which (sorry Gina) takes more spiritual and intellectual contortionism than I can make happen. I deeply respect her beliefs, all the more because I completely don’t understand them, but I know that she doesn’t hold them lightly. In any case, she taught a deeply powerful class on interpreting and using narratives of Hebrew Bible women in modern society. The class was amazing and heart-breaking- about 25 women, only four of us Protestant, and four Catholic men. Very diverse ethnic, cultural, economic backgrounds. All talking about the treatment of women in the Bible (beatings, rapes, dismemberments, societal scapegoats, forced marriages) and the treatment of women today (beatings, rapes, honor killings, forced marriages, polygamy, etc).
It was a hard class. A very hard class. And through it all, I remember us saying over and over again variations on “you know, at least there has been some improvement”.
Which was, and is, true. I can vote. I can be educated in the same room as men. I can be educated, period. I serve communion at my church. I could be ordained, or run for political office if I wanted to.
I can also be beaten by my male relatives. I can be sexually harassed. I can be denied employment or health care because of my gender.
I can be raped by a large plastic wand if I consider for any reason terminating a mutating blob of tissue adhering itself to my organs and using my oxygen, blood supply, and metabolism.
The song of Deborah, like the song of Mirriam, is one of the oldest, if not the oldest piece of the Bible. So tell me- if the oldest pieces of Judeo-Christianity are the works of women, when did we turn on them? Why have we made the bravery of Jael and Ruth, the willingness to act of Delilah and the Concubine and Jephthah’s daughter, the pride of Naomi and Hannah, footnotes in a male-dominated society?
I want to rub ash on my face, clothe myself in sackcloth, and run in the streets crying “What happened? For the Love that is G-d/ess, what the fuck happened?”
Wisdom stands in the street crying out, and we cannot hear her. We are all equal and beloved in the eyes of the divine, and yet we insist on perpetuating cycle upon cycle of violence against ourselves. Sisters, brothers, unstop your ears- take up your plowshare and beat it into a sword.
I highly recommend these two pieces of writing by one of my priests, Jay Johnson, on why being a gay white man obligates him to care about the rights of women and minorities. I also highly recommend Gina Hens-Piazza’s book Nameless, Blameless, and Without Shame.