I think I can only remember one incident where I wanted to cause physical harm to someone while in a church. In college, I attended a small, conservative, southern Baptist church. We were tearing down after the service. In jest, my male friend quoted 1 Tim 2:11 at me (A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.) and told me to be quiet. Oh my god, I wanted to slap him. My church had so many lessons for me, specifically for me as a woman. To be meek and modest, lest I make my brother stumble.
In today’s Old Testament reading, we have two sisters who serve as pawns in a game of deceit between two men. Jacob is on the run from his brother Esau after stealing his inheritance. Jacob runs into his relative’s, Laban’s daughter, Rachel, falls instantly in love and wants to marry her. He works for seven years for her, but on the wedding night, he discovers Laban has switched the daughter, and he is married to Leah, the not so pretty older sister. Laban tells Jacob, if he stays a week with Leah, he will get Rachel at the end and owes him another seven years of service. Moral of the story according to Sunday school, “if you don’t want to be tricked, you shouldn’t trick others.” Hold up, these women are humans, not livestock.
Poor Leah, the ugly, older sister. I wonder if she was heartbroken watching all her friends get married and settled down, and so longed for a partner, she jumped at her father’s plan to deceive Jacob and get herself hitched. Had she come to terms with her singleness and viewed it as a blessing, an opportunity to invest in herself, her family and community without the demands of a husband? And what of Rachel? Was it a mutual love at first sight? Did she view her beauty and grace as a curse because no one saw the strength and skill she possessed as a shepherd? And what of the jerk, Jacob. Jacob is like a child in a toy store saying “oo, oo, I want, I want!” without regard for the human lives involved. Already having screwed over his brother Esau, what of a few women. Once tricked by Laban, he pushes aside his “sacred wedding vows” to get his prize. What wisdom is lost to history by viewing Leah, Rachel, and later their two handmaidens as objects to be traded? What strength must they have had to put up with the bullshit of those men? How do you read this story in a feminist light and give these women back their power, particularly when a few verses later you have the age old story of two women fighting for the love of one man?
Starting with this story, got me all defensive while reading the rest of the scriptures for today. An alternate Psalm reading says
“Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways.
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.
The Lord bless you from Zion.
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
May you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!”
I have neither children nor am I anyone’s wife, so screw your blessing of prosperity. Screw you, God of Scripture that views me as a pawn in men’s stories, where my only value lies in the number of children I can produce to my husband and to remain silent and timid while I’m at it. (I know there could have been better ways of viewing that Psalm, but I’ve got baggage.)
With all that animosity, I started reading Romans. “If God is for us, who is against us?” Which God? The God that subjugates women to be but property to their husband? The God that permits the disregard of Scripture and deports immigrants and locks up people of color because the “other” is dangerous to their beliefs? Who is God’s elect? What sins have we committed because we believe that God justified it? In my southern Baptist days, I would not have come to this church because that God said affirming churches were bad and condoning sinners. How have I, like Jacob, disregarded my fellow brothers and sisters to do what I thought God had glorified. And then, like a ton of bricks, “who will separate us from the love of Christ?” Neither death, nor life, nor angel, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor asshole Christians with bullhorns and signs outside of Safeco Field, nor Mark Driscoll’s teaching of what it is to be a godly man or woman, nor Westboro Baptist Church, nor politicians who refuse to understand America is not a Christian nation therefore cannot dictate their expression of Christianity to its citizens, nor my baggage from true love waits, nor my darkness in a society that prefers whiteness, nor my singleness, nor my childlessness, nor my use of profanity at the pulpit, nor my loudness, nor my strength as a woman, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God. Well shit, that blew out my indignation. We aren’t talking about the type of love that comes from a shallow god that only loves me when I do right according to his rules, which requires suppressing everything in my carnal being. On Trinity Sunday, someone’s reverb mentioned four ways of thinking of God (from Peter Rollins), God as a being (God is just a super version of ourselves with a megaphone), God as a hyper being (God is that than which no greater can be conceived), God as Ground of Being (God is that which everything arises from), and God as Event (God is the name we give to that which calls us to greater love).
Occasionally, I wear contacts. When I do, I still try to push up my glasses, as if they were still there. Even though I have pretty much left behind the teaching from my conservative, “hate the sin, love the sinner”, God as a being mind-frame, I still feel the lingering ghost of the glasses I used to wear. When I read the bible, I often read about the God as being, with his rules, so black and white, and I’m so afraid of being caught on the wrong side, not gaining access to the Kingdom of God due to my sins, and so mad that I can’t read these words with fresh eyes. So in the gospels, Jesus asks, “ya’ll tracking with me?” Um, no Jesus, not really. But whatever you mean Jesus, I want the God that reigns to be more rainbow coloured. A god as hyper being that is that which no greater can be conceived, that is no longer limited to my definition of God, or for that matter, Goddess. A god as ground of being which everything arises from. All that is beautiful, sacred, carnal, ugly, and gritty. A god as Event, a divine force that calls us to greater freedom, greater hospitality, greater compassion, greater hope, and greater love. A god that invites us to join in on their work of bring the kingdom of god, for all people, here to earth.