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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hospitality and Unholy Women

I've been thinking a great deal about the lessons from the Revised Common Lectionary for tomorrow.

I'm not preaching tomorrow (thanks be to Jesus) and this isn't a sermon, but it is simply irresistible for me not to say something when so many women fill so many lessons - with the words of St. Paul (Galatians 2:15-21) sandwiched in among them as, I suppose, a justification of sorts.

The choice of lessons from Hebrew Scripture is either the story of Jezebel and her sulking husband Ahab (1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a) or Bathsheba and that scoundrel David (2 Samuel 11:26-12:10,13-15).

The gospel lesson is from Luke 7:36-8:3 - wherein "a woman in the city, a sinner" washes the feet of Jesus to the outrage of the assembled dinner guests.  It ends with this note:

Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Reading the scripture lessons for tomorrow is a little like watching the "Disney Women":

Cruella de Vil (say it fast: d'evil) whose obsession with fur leads her to do anything to take her nephew's Dalmatian puppies (“Poison them drown them, bash them on the head!”).

Doesn't get much more charming than that, eh?

Then, there's the Evil Ursala, the lip-pouting, manipulative octopus, who collects souls so they can live out the rest of their lives in misery. First she steals the Mermaid Princess Ariel's voice so she might have her handsome prince (don't get me started on THAT one).  Then, she successfully tricks Ariel and steals her soul so she may inherit her father's kingdom.

Once "the fairest of them all" begins to age and lose her beauty, The Queen plots to kill her beautiful step daughter, Snow White, and demands that she have her heart to feed on. (Nice, right?)

When the man she sends to do the deed is too kind to kill Snow White, she flies into a rage and uses her special magical powers to transform herself into an old hag to bring Snow White a poison apple.

My personal favorite is Maleficent who has so much evil in her,  she was even named for it.  (In case you missed the point, look: her hat has evil-like horns.) All of her insidious plans are devised out of spite.  She casts a spell on Aurora ("Sleeping Beauty") to ensure that "Before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she shall prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die."

And you thought Jezebel was evil.  Ha!  She ain't got nothin' on old Maleficent.

Last but not least is Cinderella's psychologically abusive "wicked stepmother," Lady Tremaine.    She ruthlessly toys with the poor girl’s hopes and dreams, treating  Cinderella as a slave rather than an equal.

In an attempt to prevent  Cinderella from attending the grand ball, she locks her away with no  chance of meeting her prince. Lady Tremaine  successfully manages to inflict extreme suffering on Cinderella without  laying a finger on her.

Evil women plotting against innocent women.  Men who are easily manipulated or "just can't help themselves" because they have been so smitten by the beauty of women.

Hmm . . . wonder where "Uncle Walt" Disney got his ideas about women?

I know, I know.  Many very fine essays have been written and college courses taught on the subject of the sexism and misogyny of Walt Disney. I'm not going to go into any great depth here.  This is not a sermon and it's not a definitive essay on the subject of Disney women.

Or, the controversy surrounding the accusations of sexism combined with the racism inherent in Disney films like Pocahantas and Mulan.

Oh, BTW and PS - Y'all know the story about the supposed 'gay purge' during the writing of "The Little Mermaid", right? 

And, how the LGBT community got their last laugh?

Look over there to the right and you tell me if it's not true that "Hell hath no fury like a scorned Quean."

I understand this was on the cover of the VCR release. It has since, apparently, been . .  ahem . . . "cleaned up."
The folks at Disney finally did sort of woke up to their own misogyny - or, perhaps, heard the howls of protest from women and liberated men - and started giving us characters like "Belle" from "Beauty and the Beast", who would rather read a good book than be wooed into marriage by the most handsome, available bachelor in the village.

Generations of young girls and boys, however, have gotten the message. And, are getting it, still. DVDs preserve these stories for generations to come.

And then, of course, there's scripture.

Holy Scripture about unholy women.

Yes, of course, there are exceptions.

Esther, wife of King Xerxes of Persia and the Queen of her people, who saved them from certain death because she, of all women, knew that "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

I'm talking, the whole Magilla here, if you know what I mean.

I always try to get myself invited to someone's Purim party.  They are the BEST.

The courage and tenacity of Ruth and Naomi have inspired generations of women and men.  Their journey from Bethlehem to Moab and back could only be accomplished by the mutual reliance that comes from a relationship based on a love that knows know boundaries of country or kin.

No wonder it is often read at weddings.

There are many others, but my personal favorite is Judith.  I love the moral complexity of the story - the ethical dilemma it presents in the ever-unfolding story of God's actions in the world.  It is often seen as a parable or, as Wiki notes, "perhaps one of the first historical novels".

You know the story, right? Judith is the beautiful young widow of Manasseh who had died of sunstroke during the barley harvest while the armies of Holofernes were advancing on the nation of Israel.

Chapters nine and ten of the Book of Judith contain some of the most beautiful, complex passages written about women in all of scripture (indeed, I had parts of it read at my priestly ordination).

Judith prays fervently to God for direction and guidance. She mourns her husband, Manasseh and then arises from her sack cloth and ashes, bathes herself in her best perfume, dresses in her finest clothing, puts on all of her jewelry, and gets the maids of her household to help her pack up her things so she can get Holofernes good and drunk and seduce him before she kills him.

In the beheading of Holofernes, the Assyrians have lost their leader and the nation of Israel is saved.

You know, it just doesn't get better - or, more morally complex - than that. 

So, of course, a woman is involved.

I'm quite certain that tomorrow, the safe bet is on hearing a sermon on hospitality. Indeed, there will probably be no end to the number of safe sermons preached tomorrow about hospitality.

I, on the other hand, would probably be preaching about the holiness of women who are considered "unholy" and "possessed of demons".

I'd no doubt be talking about how women have always provided for the Body of Christ out of the meagerness of their resources.

I would absolutely be talking about Jezebel, Bathsheba, Mary of Magdala, Joanna, and Susanna as morally complex icons of the radical hospitality of women.

Oh, and I probably could not resist talking about Disney women.

It would be quite a sermon - if I would write it and preach it.

I'm thinking some place, somewhere in Western Christendom, someone is breathing a deep sigh of relief.

Then again, didn't St. Paul say,
"For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing."
Somebody in the church - somewhere - give the man an "Amen."

(Oh, and give a listen to the Presiding Bishops talk about Mission or "Incarnate Engagement" here.) She is clearly speaking in the tradition of that 'unnamed woman' who washes the feet of Jesus.


claire said...

Dear Elizabeth,

Please tell us more about these morally complex icons of the radical hospitality of women :-)

A really neat post :-) Thank you.

Saskia said...

All I can say is, amen.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

One person wrote this offline: "Please add to your list of historical/heological misreadings: Rebekah (fulfilling a prophecy heard at her sons' birth). Jesus' geneaology:Tamar (and her second husband Onan both of whom got a bad name), Ruth (the pagan who seduced Boaz on the threshing floor at her mother-in-law's suggestion), and Bathsheba...well, we all know about her. the bunch of Marys amalgamated into Magedene...the list goes on and on. Calls for an all-nighter on a beach with a gentle surf and a whole of Chardonnay, hoping and praying that the sun-rise will bring a seriously new day."

There are so many amazing women in Scripture. I'm so glad this has sparked interest in them.

The "moral complexity" has to do with how men have named the issue of sin - and built the structure of power and authority - and how women's morality is shaped by a different world view and experience.

That's a post for another time.

Geeklet said...

Jezebel is my favorite Biblical hero. She was true to herself and her beliefs, and she wasn't taking any snot from that prophet dude! Way to tell the patriarchy of the time to SHOVE IT. :D

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

The moral complexity of women in Scripture has so much more depth than any of the Disney characters, n'est pas?