about Eve

The serpent was craftier than any other wild animal the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman answered, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die’.” The serpent said, “You will not die, for God knows when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw the tree was good for food, and it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.(1)

The Fall and Expulsion from the Garden (1508-1512), Michelangelo (1475-1564)

And ever since, Eve, the first woman, thus, the metaphorical mother of humankind, has borne the mark of guilt for committing the first sin, a veritable trifecta of lost wagers – falling prey to temptation, disobeying God, and seducing her husband, Adam, into sharing her betrayal.

More than 2000 years ago, Yeshua ben Eleazar ben Sira wrote: From a woman sin had its beginning and because of her we all die.(2) At the close of the first century, the Apostle Paul added his disapprobation: I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.(3)

These views, o’er centuries, when, indeed, as illumined and magnified as truth in the teaching and preaching of the church, have been used, rather misused to substantiate the idea of the inferiority of Eve to Adam and, by extension, women to men.(4) This unjustly and wrongly perceived inherent inferiority, I believe, has contributed to the individual and societal assessment and treatment of women as powerless subordinates to men.

As I read the Genesis account of the first sin and the fall from grace, I interpret it as a mythological – that is, not a false, but rather an ahistorical (it didn’t happen!) – story that expresses a number of truths about life in this world, among them:
• That we humans, women and men, are equally endowed with a knowledge of right and wrong.(5)
• That we, women and men, are called in the chance and circumstance of life to choose between the two (alway being mindful that life is laden with ambiguity).
• That when we, women and men, choose rightly, wisely, there are blessings and consequences for choosing wrongly.
• That we, women and men, in choosing wrongly, are equally subject to the temptation of disavowing our responsibility and casting blame on someone or something else.(6)

Thus, it seems to me that it is not Eve’s image that needs rehabilitation, but rather the restoration of humankind’s…mankind’s view of women as equal. For so it was in the Garden of Eden.

 

Illustration: The Fall and Expulsion from the Garden (1508-1512), Michelangelo (1475-1564), Sistine Chapel, Rome. Note: In The Fall (the left side of the panel), Michelangelo depicts the serpent (following medieval custom, portrayed as a woman; thus, amplifying the woman-as-temptress theme) handing a piece of the fruit from the tree to Eve, and, notwithstanding the Apostle Paul’s declaration that “Adam was not deceived” (1 Timothy 2.14), Adam, not waiting for Eve to offer the fruit to him, reaches for his own!

Footnotes:

(1) Genesis 3.1-6
(2) Ecclesiasticus (or The Wisdom of Jesus, Son of Eleazar, Son of Sirach or Sirach, for short) 25.24
(3) 1 Timothy 2.12-14
(4) In this regard, sometimes I think that traditional church teaching about Mary as perpetually virginally pure and wholly virtuous in her obedience to the will of God that she become Theotokos, God-bearer, is intended not only to make a statement about who Jesus is as God’s Son, but also to redeem the image of Eve.
(5) By whatever sources and means, e.g., civil code, natural law, religious ethical instruction.
(6) The Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3.9-13, emphases mine).

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a call and a claim

a sermon, based on Matthew 9.35-10.23, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, June 18, 2017

Jesus called his disciples, before saying, “Follow me”,[1] declaring the purpose, the reason for the call, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is near.”[2]

Jesus Commissions Disciples, James Tissot (1836-1902)

This same good news he sends them out on a missionary journey to proclaim. But his accompanying instructions are hardly as appealing. A declaration dripping with danger: “I send you as sheep among wolves.” Then a mystifying, difficult (impossible?) to operationalize message: “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Then a terrifying statement: “Beware…you will be beaten…and dragged before rulers.” Then a consoling, but, given what has been said, confusing word: “Don’t worry.”

Jesus, the way you treat your friends it’s a wonder you have any followers!

Now, in Jesus’ time and in the historical context of Matthew’s gospel, a half-century after Jesus when the church was under persecution, these words of warning were necessary. To go into the world with his counter-cultural, contra-status quo message of unconditional love and justice inevitably would lead to trouble with secular and religious authorities. And Christian conversion could erupt in discord within one’s family.

Moreover, Jesus’ message of hardship was part of a prophetic tradition woven into the cultural and spiritual fabric of his people’s understanding of what happens when one stands up, stands out in the name of God.

Still, what sense do we make of these biblical insights into the hard texture of discipleship?

In our day and time, Jesus’ words seem, sound alien. Mainline American Christianity, in which the Episcopal Church is firmly rooted, generally knows little about bold prophetic proclamations that provoke persecution. Verily, there have been historical moments when Christian reticence to speak in the public square from the stance of faith to the raging cultural, political, and social issues of the day justifiably has led to the charge that the church is a non-prophet organization! However, our Christian sisters and brothers in some regions of Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East can testify to the truth of Jesus’ words. To be his disciple can and does put them in direct, at times, violent confrontations with governments and the followers of other faith and secular traditions.

Nevertheless, I believe that we can attest to the vivid reality of Jesus’ warning that proclamation brings trouble, particularly in the recent past and current generations when the divisions between conservative and progressive Christians have been and are so pronounced; the right denouncing the left as so inclusive and relativistic that it stands for nothing and, indeed, is no Christianity at all and the left decrying the right as narrow and doctrinaire, far from Jesus’ all-embracing love.

Today, putting all this aside, I focus solely on Jesus’ message. For if we take it and him seriously, there is, in his instructions for the missionary journey, an unmistakable and immutable call and claim on any, every disciple, of any and every age, in any and every age. A call to us, a claim upon us to go forth into the world – and, in the concrete daily circumstances of our lives, through our profession in word and deed of God’s love and justice – proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven is near.

 

Illustration: Jesus Commissions Disciples, James Tissot (1836-1902)

Footnotes:

[1] Matthew 4.19

[2] Matthew 4.17a

Of life in the still-Christian South (a retired cleric’s occasional reflections)…

On public prayer

In South Carolina, folks pray publicly (hence, doubtlessly, I imagine, privately). Saying grace at mealtimes, oft joining hands in a physical and psychic circle of union. Giving audible air to petitions and intercessions at events of commemoration and celebration, moments of tribulation and tranquility, instances extraordinary and mundane. And alway expressing thanksgiving to the God in whose hands abide all times and from whose hands all blessings flow.

Now, with sincerity’s speed, I neither suppose nor suggest that inhabitants of other regions of America do not pray, privately or publicly (or even that the discipline of prayer, given my sense of the manifold individual and, at times, wholly self-serving intentions of those and I who pray, necessarily makes one a better person). I do contend that, here in South Carolina, I have observed more people on more (most!) occasions praying.[1] In a word, in my view prayer is an inherent and ineffaceable part of the sitz im leben, the social context or life setting of the South.

 

Footnote:

[1] Honesty compels my confession that prior to coming South my public profession of prayer usually was restricted to those circumstances when I functioned in a clerical role, whether within the church on Sunday mornings, officiating at weddings, presiding at funerals or other ecclesiastical rites or in the world offering an invocation or benediction at some community gathering. On reflection, I think my reticence stemmed from my desire not to discomfit others – or myself in the company of others – who, consonant with their beliefs, either eschewed devotional practices or reserved them for their individual and familial moments.

a World AIDS Day tribute

wra-1976

Wayne Roberts Abernathy, December 21, 1950-March 20, 1995

numbered among the 1st generations of martyrs slain

by a killer, then, by most, barely known,

tho’ still, by some, bravely named,

Wayne,

with mind and heart, soul and spirit,

weathered the firstly gradual, then rapaciously fleet

& inexorable descent

into death’s shadow;

yet neither cursing nor clenching closed his eyes to the enveloping darkness,

rather gazing fast at his Lord’s, his greatest Love’s Light;

Whose promise of eternal keeping

he ne’er spent a moment doubting;

tho’ some – e’en family and church,

oft misunderstanding and unaccepting –

questioned, given his “lifestyle” choosing,

which he boldly, surely knew

was no more his free electing

than any other manner of God’s creative bestowing…

 

in this, aye, verily, Wayne, in his dying,

damning not the imposing, yet impostering darkness,

loved, longed, lived into Life’s unbounded Light

and now forever walks by blessed sight.