Monday, December 11, 2017

That Damn Icon: All About Eve and Something About Mary

“Not Today”
Why won't you grow up & be a man someday
I can't believe that you're still playing silly games
Now why do I put up w/ all this child's play
Now if your word is all you have
Then you ain't worth a damn thing
Eve and Mary J. Blige

Every year, when I least expect it, this damn icon makes its way to the various surfaces of my social media feeds, and my reaction is always visceral. It makes me angry. Actually angry is too genteel.  It pisses me off.  Now, I know there are many who love this image of Eve and Mary.

Yet, every year I hope that those who let their sentimentality regarding the season and this image, those who are the feminists I know them to be, will come to their senses and decide that they won’t plaster their social media with this image.  I hope that this will be the year that this misleading icon falls onto the trash heap that burns like the fires of Gehenna, you know the one that is reserved for bad theology, but here we are.  One of my friends who posts this image, every year, without fail is, Laura.  Laura is a friend and colleague. Every year we talk about how much she loves this picture, and how much I hate it. So, I’m accepting her invitation to write about this icon because we have different points of views, and we’re each hoping to see what the other sees. You can find Laura's post after mine.


All About Eve
Let’s talk the Fall. The story about how of all humankind fell into sin based on a decision made by our friend, Eve.
 It. Is. A. Myth.
A harmful myth that has been used to perpetuate the subjugation of women for eons. It’s also the reason we have the problematic doctrine of Original Sin... because a woman ate an off-limits piece of fruit after a conversation with a talking snake. (Before any church folk freak...I do believe that we all do things every day that separates us from our Creator, and I do call those things sin. Again, I just don't buy into the crazy-ass story that it was because a woman ate a piece of fruit because she was tempted by a TALKING SNAKE in a story that was NEVER supposed to be taken literally in the first place.) And besides all of this, let’s talk about how Eve’s transgression is linked to the belief she is the cause of painful menstrual cramps and painful childbirth (holy and beautiful biological occurrences that are specifically centered in women’s bodies), as well as one of the many, ridiculous reasons some cling to the belief that women can’t be pastors.

Something About Mary
Let’s talk about Mary. Mary, the unwed mother whose agency has been stolen from her over time by making her a perpetual virgin, because heaven forbid that the vagina that birthed the baby Jesus would also know the pleasure of consensual sex. Mary, the woman who was so clueless about what her son would become that she forgot that she said yes to the angel that visited her, AND the words that she defiantly proclaimed in the Magnificat as perpetuated in the horrible, and biblically illiterate song Mary Did You Know. (Y’all, she f-ing knew! She said yes! She had agency! SHE F-ING KNEW!)

If it Had Been a Snake it Would Have Bitten Me
Let’s talk about the serpent.  The one whose neck is being stepped on by the barefoot Mary in the icon in question. In ancient cultures, the serpent represented new birth and fertility and the continual renewal of life; feminine attributes. Serpents were often the familiars of goddesses, and in some cases, they were the representation of the Divine Feminine. Back to the story of The Fall of all humanity, I find it an interesting coincidence that the serpent in this cultural myth has come to represent Satan and death.
(In the words of Fox Mulder, “If coincidences are just coincidences, why do they feel so contrived?”)
 Genesis chapter three begins, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made.”
And in verse 15 of the same chapter, YHWH says to the serpent,
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

What was once a symbol celebrating fertility and female empowerment became a symbol of evil. In the Midrash, the serpent represents sexual desire, and here that desire is being crushed, by the offspring of Eve, but also here in this icon by Mary, (lest we miss it) a virgin.

So, here’s the thing. From my perspective, this icon perpetuates the damaging and oppressive narrative fueled by the desire to keep the patriarchy safely in place; a narrative which, by the way, has been bought into wholeheartedly by many women! Eve, as the first to sin is part of this narrative.  Mary, the perpetual virgin, is part of this narrative.  Remaking symbols for the Divine Feminine and calling them evil is part of that narrative.
This narrative includes men like Roy Moore and one of his supporters, Alabama State Auditor, Jim Zeigler, downplaying Moore’s predilection toward teen-aged girls by saying, “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus...There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.” This narrative is also perpetuated by Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, (and a Catholic) when he says that Roy Moore should not be allowed to be in the US Senate. Yet when he was pressed to comment regarding the many allegations of sexual assault against President Trump, he wasn’t sure that those claims were credible even though the President was caught on tape bragging about grabbing women’s vaginas without their consent.
Women are rarely believed when it comes to making claims about their own bodies and what has happened to them, thus they aren’t often the participants in their own narratives, so stories matter.   Narratives regarding women and their culpability, and their ability to be the keepers of morality must be rewritten and the script must be flipped. Images matter, too. Images such as this one where Eve is cloaked in shame looking at Mary’s belly as the solution continue the narrative of sexism and subjugation, not to mention the damaging messages of purity culture.
The worst part of this icon, for me, is that it is posted and celebrated by representatives of the Church, which sadly is a patriarchal culture that orders bodies, especially the bodies of women, in an attempt to “help” keep us all in our rightful place. This ordering is done out of fear. Fear of powerful women who already do most of the heavy lifting in churches, and the fear that women will reject the patriarchal structures that have long kept us bound to subjugation and shame.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

An Open Letter to Congresswoman-Elect, Karen Handel

Ms. Handel:

America is waking up to the news that you have defeated Jon Ossoff in the special election to become the Congressional Representative for the 6th District in Georgia.  While the rest of the country will begin to analyze what this means for our new Administration, its agenda, and what this means in a very divided nation, it is my hope that you will take moment to pause and reflect on what being elected in the place where you are, in a time such as this means to those people that you represent.  I’m sure that no one has to tell you the election results were much closer than anyone would have predicted when this race began. And while you are the winner in this race, you do not have a clear mandate.
I am writing to you as someone who doesn’t live in your district, but as someone whose job has put me into a situation similar to the one in which you find yourself in now.  I am not a politician. I am a pastor. I am one of the pastors of a large church that has people on both sides of the political spectrum and all of those in between. I am a pastor to many individuals who live in your district, some who supported you and some who worked very hard to #flipthe6th. With that said, here is what I would ask you to remember: You serve and represent ALL of them. ALL of them, whether they supported you or not. All of their concerns are now your concerns.
As someone who has made missteps in leadership in this divided time in our nation, it is easy to ignore the divisions that exist in our political districts and even our churches.  Every Sunday, I stand before a congregation that, along with their hopes and joys, bring their burdens and especially their fears with them into the church.  Some fear they will lose their healthcare, and some fear that the ACA will continue.  Some fear that the current immigration laws will allow the US to be overrun with terrorists, while some fear that if our country does not allow for broad policies of immigration the humanitarian crisis in our world will become a crisis of an epic scale.  Some of my parishioners fear the pervasiveness of guns in our society, while some fear that their second amendment rights will be stripped of them and they will lose the right to protect themselves and their families. Ms. Handel, I often have to remind myself that I have been called to be a pastor to all of them, with all that they bring with them. But here’s an even more important lesson that I have learned, while the people that I serve are all over the political spectrum, they are all part of a Christian congregation.  They all stand shoulder to shoulder on Sunday morning, confessing their sins, confessing the Apostles Creed, and they all come to the altar to receive Holy Communion. The people that you are now elected to serve have diverse political beliefs, but they are all Georgians, and they are all Americans.
My hope for you is that you will begin your service to the people of this State with the courage to make fair and just decisions that will benefit all of your constituents.   I am sure that it will be tempting, and perhaps even easy, to go to Washington and live inside an echo chamber with those who believe exactly the way that you do. As pastor, I can tell you that temptation exists even for myself. Again, it is my hope that God will give you the courage to govern with wisdom to do what is right instead of what is easy.
Finally, I want you to know that each week my congregation prays for our elected officials.  We will be praying for you.

The Rev. Karen Stephenson Slappey 
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Atlanta, Georgia