an assault on creation

The air abounds with allegations of sexual harassment and assault. Mostly by women against men. The responses of the accused have fallen into two primary camps. Admissions of responsibility coupled with expressions of accountability and apology. And abjurations of impropriety and, equally sadly, following a now age-old, morally bankrupt playbook of the best defense being a good offense, further attacks on the character and motives of the accusers.

As I continue to reflect on the stunning social phenomenon of the #MeToo movement, I think, I hope that it harbors the potential, indeed, that it is the portent for grand cultural change; moving us – humankind – farther along the path of the equality of women and men…

equal

Instantly, as I reflect on what I just wrote, I realize that moving us farther along is truly moving us back to the path of equality; therefore, making the #MeToo movement inherently radical (that is, from the Latin radix, taking us back to the root, the origin, the beginning).

As a Christian whose worldview is fundamentally biblically-based, I refer to the Book of Genesis; principally the first creation story of chapter 1, and especially: God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.(1)

The Creation of Eve (1508-1512), Michelangelo (1475-1564)

It is later, after the disobedience of the man and woman in the Garden of Eden, after their fall from the state of grace of creation, that God, in response, speaks, in part: To the woman he said… “(your husband) shall rule over you.”(2)

In a word, man and woman were, are made equal. The inequality of man’s domination and woman’s subordination is an insidious sign of the human sin of the rebellion against God, the rejection of the divine intention of creation, and the repulsion of human nature itself. May the #MeToo movement help us to go back to the way it was meant to be back in the day.

 

Illustration: The Creation of Eve (1508-1512), Michelangelo (1475-1564)

Footnotes:

(1) Genesis 1.27

(2) Genesis 3.16a, c. As I read it, “your husband”, by extension, can be interpreted “man” (as in all men).

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stigmata

This past week, I underwent surgery to correct longstanding, ever-worsening GI concerns. It was a success. I look forward to a future free of the past two year’s sudden, serial, severely debilitating intestinal attacks.

When Dr. Richard Rinehardt, as fine a person and as competent a surgeon as life occasions and skill provides, explained the procedure, I knew it would leave permanent marks. The day after, I wouldn’t look, choosing to forego immediate verification that this body I have inhabited for 60+ years, this body that I have watched mature along aging’s universal arc, overnight had been altered.

(I’m not vain. Well, not Muhammad Ali-vain, who, bless his puckish wit, once said, “I’m actually a pretty man. I’m not conceited, I’m just convinced!” Still, for much of my adult years, I wrestled with my body image, yo-yoing down and mostly up the scale. Recently, by some latter day biological accident or metabolic miracle, I find myself stabilized at the weight I carried during my college days 40+ years ago. Finally, I like and can live peaceably with the way I look.)

Tentatively, I ran my hands over my belly, stopping at each new protrusion and indentation. The next morning, I roused my courage to look…

My first thought. “This puts an end to my beach going days!” Then I laughed. The last time I publicly stripped to bare waist at water’s edge (or anywhere!) was far beyond my memory’s reach.

Then I thought of two dear friends, Loretta Woodward Veney and Leslie Ferguson (Fergie) Horvath, who, long having undergone major surgeries, have spoken with passion about their senses of their altered physical realities, each with a broadly expansive self-awareness and deeply grounded self-respect.

Then I thought of an article Fergie wrote last year for our local newspaper, Spartanburg (SC) Herald-Journal, Scars are Outward and Visible Signs of Life Changing Events, in which she writes with poignant eloquence of significant moments involving the risk of death and the possibility of life and her consciousness of her connection with Jesus who bore the painful scars of his crucifixion and death, truly signs of his life-giving love.

Then I thought of the Apostle Paul’s stirring testimony: “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.”[1] The Greek, stigmata, also translated “wounds”, referred to the brand borne by slaves signifying the ancient deity to which they belonged. Paul, through the trials of his apostleship,[2] his flesh bearing the signs of his faithful service, declares his unassailable loyalty to Jesus, his Lord.

Verna Thomas McGehee’s poem, I Carry a Cross in My Pocket, attests, in part, “When I put my hand in my pocket…The Cross is there to remind me of the price He paid for me. It reminds me too, to be thankful for my blessings day by day and to strive to serve Him better in all that I do and say.”

I have been a Christian all of my life. As I review my history, I confess countless moments when I fell far short, in Richard of Chichester’s words, of seeing Jesus more clearly, loving him more dearly, following him more nearly day by day.[3]

My surgery reminds me afresh of my mortality. In this, I reaffirm that I have more life in this world behind than in front of me. In this, I resolve that every time I see my torso or run my hands over my belly, whether in naked privacy or in public secrecy through my clothes, I will remember that I am doulos, a servant, a slave of Christ.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Galatians 6.17

[2] In another epistle, Paul enumerates his tribulations, speaking of “greater labors…imprisonments…countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received…the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked. For a night and a day, I was adrift at sea. On frequent journeys, in danger from rivers…bandits…my own people…Gentiles…in the city… the wilderness…at sea…from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked” (2 Corinthians 11.23-27, abridged).

[3] Richard of Chichester (1197-1253).  A fuller text of his prayer:

Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ

For all the benefits Thou hast given me,

For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.

O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,

May I know Thee more clearly,

Love Thee more dearly,

Follow Thee more nearly.

whose marriage? – a biblical reflection on culture, church, and change

Supreme CourtYesterday, the Supreme Court denied cert, issuing a written notification of declination to hear cases from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin, all challenging previous rulings of appeals courts that declared state laws banning same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Allowing the decisions of those lower courts to stand, same-sex marriage, already permitted in a number of states and the District of Columbia, soon will be the law in the aforementioned five and additional states governed by the appellate courts’ rulings, including Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Thinking of marriage, I reflect afresh on Jesus’ words, quoting Genesis, “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female, thus shall a man leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” I also recall a line from one of my favorite hymns, “New occasions teach new duties; time makes ancient good uncouth.”

The world has, is changed. So, too, marriage mores. Yet so it always has been.

In times past, there was a nearly universally-held (if not always observed) ideal of marriage between one woman and one man for life to which sex for purposes of procreation was reserved. The abandonment of this paradigm was accompanied by an almost wholesale public acknowledgement and acceptance of…

Sex, largely premarital and non-marital, for pleasure…

Co-habitation before marriage or with no intent to marry; once prosaically termed “without benefit of clergy” or judgmentally, “living in sin.” (Nearly forty years ago, when I was first ordained, clergy customarily advised co-habiting engaged couples to “separate for a season,” usually a month before their wedding day, to preserve the integrity or the illusion of the marriage ceremony that presumed consummation of the relationship had yet to take place!)…

Divorce. What God hath joined together, we humans regularly have put asunder…

Serial marriages (following the human rubric of persistence, trying ‘til we get it right)…

Children born sans marriage and, through birth technologies, conceived sans the procreative sexual act…

And the blessing and marriage of same-sex couples.

Change is constant in society and in the church; again, leading me to reflect on Jesus’ words.

He was asked whether divorce was lawful. “What,” he replied, “did Moses command?” The answer: According to Deuteronomy, divorce was allowed if the wife was found objectionable. Whether that involved adultery or any displeasing action, many in Jesus’ day, convinced that divorce was lawful for the man, wanted to know whether Jesus upheld or contravened scripture.

Jesus focused on the human dynamic that gave rise to the law. “Because of your hardness of heart” (human failure to honor the ideal intention for human relations) “Moses wrote this commandment” (divorce being a lesser evil than abusive marriages). Then Jesus moved from legal precept to spiritual principle: “From the beginning, God made them male and female…and the two shall become one flesh.”

This word, I believe, acknowledges the relationship between a woman and a man in marriage. Therefore, in Jesus’ day, it did not address the legality of divorce. Jesus was no legalist reciting “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” to cover all cases and conditions. Nor does his word, in our day, answer definitively, indeed, at all whether gays and lesbians can marry. Even if Jesus was a legalist, he, as human, was bound to his time and place. Thus he hardly could offer authoritative instruction (nor should his words be stretched or strained to do so) about an issue that in his time did not exist. This word does one thing only. It speaks of the relationship of a woman and a man in marriage. It is silent on all other questions.

Still, this word does speak to a larger concern than the sex of the marriage partners. This is a theological declaration (“In the beginning, God”) with a spiritual intention (“and the two shall become one flesh”). Jesus declares what marriage is from heaven’s perspective. Marriage is not a legal contract assuring ownership and inheritance rights and the fluid transfer of property. Although, in our world, we often make it so. Nor is it primarily a social institution providing stability for families and the wider culture. Although, in our society, we often make it so. It is a dynamic, organic union where God joins in covenant with two people who, in the oneness of their love for God and each other, become for each other and the world an incarnate sign of God’s unconditional love.

We have the law. Its function is to govern human conduct. We need guidance precisely because of our intrinsic individual will to power, our desire to have our way and, thus, our susceptibility to the hardness of heart that inures us to the harmful consequences of our choices in our relations with others. The law, however, is more than its function, for its intention is to point not to an aspiration, not to a standard of existence that is not yet, but rather to what already is, that state of being that the community has discerned leads to fulfillment.

Thus laws that decide for whom marriage applies can and do change, indeed, have changed, for communities can discern that a new occasion has come making an ancient good uncouth. However, no matter the changes, what remains, at least, for Jesus’ followers, whoever we are, LGBTQ or straight, and with whomever we live, is our calling in our relational living to be one with another in love and in our daily living to bear and share that love in the world.