Calls to Action

Standard

People of faith: All our lives, we have seen our faith weaponized against our neighbors. We have seen the gospel and the Sermon on the Mount brushed under the rug repeatedly in favor of an idolatrous defense of long-held cultural prejudices. And this week, we saw the Nashville Statement, a manifesto written and signed by many church leaders that was as unsurprising in its creed as it was cruel in its timing. Just as trans members of our armed services wait anxiously to hear if they will be able to continue to serve, and just as Hurricane Harvey leaves thousands of our neighbors unhomed and at risk, this is the moment that some of our kindred in the church have chosen to publish public statements about which cultural prejudices they hold more sacred than Christ, and whose rights “we deny.” As I type these words, they are offered not in judgment of my fellow Christians but in grief at the brokenness and hurtfulness in many of our religious communities, and in anger at the violence that has been done and is being offered to people I love.

So here is the resistance.

Here are multiple coalitions of church leaders who are no longer content to see their beliefs, traditions, and symbols weaponized. With thanks to Nancy Hightower for the links. These statements are powerful but they are also late. They are a public recognition that our silence is used to support and affirm public acts of hate, legislation that strips away civil rights, and that in our silence, powerful voices will claim to speak for us as they do violence against our fellow human beings.

These statements issued in rebuttal to “Nashville” are a promise, long-delayed, that we will no longer be silent – a promise that now each of us must fulfill. In Charlottesville, interfaith clergy formed a human wall against violent white supremacists. But not all violence is being offered under a swastika, and Charlottesville is not the only place where we must form a human wall between our neighbors and loved ones and those who would attack them.

If these statements below are to be more than affirmations, we need to follow them by flooding Congress with phone calls; we need to follow them up with support for those organizations that are defending LGBTQ+ people. “Faith without works is dead,” and words and prayers without action will not protect the lives and rights of those who are threatened right now, nor will they atone for past silence. We need to show up. We need to love. We need to advocate for others the way the Holy Spirit advocates for each of us.

May these words from many of our fellow churchgoers and leaders inspire us to loving, just, and relentless action:

1. Christians United: In Support of LGBT Inclusion in the Church

Excerpt: “In every generation there are those who resist the Spirit’s leading in various ways and cling to the dogmas and traditions that he is calling us to rethink and reform…. We affirm that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God and that the great diversity expressed in humanity through our wide spectrum of unique sexualities and gender identities is a perfect reflection of the magnitude of God’s creative work; we deny any teaching that suggests God’s creative intent is limited to a gender binary or that God’s desire for human romantic relationships is only to be expressed in heterosexual relationships between one man and one woman. We affirm that those who are born as intersex are full and equal bearers of the image and likeness of God and are worthy of full dignity and respect. We affirm and support intersex individuals in their journey of self-realization and embracing their unique, God-created sexual orientation and gender identity, whatever it may be… We affirm that God designed marriage to be a covenantal bond between human beings who have committed to love, serve, and live a life faithfully committed to one another over the course of a lifetime; we deny that God intended human romantic relationships to be limited to one man and one woman and declare that any attempts to limit the sacred or civil rights of humans to covenant and commit to love and serve one another is an affront to God’s created design.”

2. A Liturgists’ Statement

“As floodwaters still rise in Houston, many prominent Christian leaders released the Nashville Statement. This document released a flood of its own, only this time instead of homes flooded with water, it was hearts flooded with grief. Yet again, powerful people of means use the platform of the Church to demean the basic dignity of gay, bisexual, lesbian, trans, intersex, and queer people…. We believe that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities are fearfully and wonderfully made, holy before God, beloved and beautiful as they are. We believe all people have full autonomy over their bodies, sexual orientations, and gender identities, and the diversity of identities reflects the creative power of a loving God. We believe that God is love, and that ‘anyone who loves is born of God and knows God’. (I John 4:7) God is honored in any consenting and loving relationship between adults, and therefore, all such relationships deserve honor and recognition. We believe that same-sex relationships and marriages are as holy before God as heterosexual marriages. We stand in solidarity with LGBTQ folks, and commit to standing alongside them in the work of resisting those who persecute them. We don’t believe LGBTQ folks need our approval or affirmation–they are affirmed first and foremost by God.”

3. The Denver Statement

Excerpt: “We affirm that God has created humanity out of love and for the purpose of love. We deny that God intends marriage as a gift only to be enjoyed by those who happen to be heterosexual, cis-gendered and fertile.”

Discovering Khun Chang Khun Phaen

Standard

A few days I ago, I posted this:

Exuberant at unpacking the library…finding books I have been missing (and wanting) for a while. Just unboxed my copy of Khun Chang Khun Phaen, the Thai epic. Relieved I hadn’t lost it. Time to sit in a comfy chair and read for a bit.

No automatic alt text available.

Now, an update on my (re)discovery of Khun Chang Khun Phaen: I heart this epic so much right now.

1. I have a weakness for long epics anyway. (Yes, I’m looking at you, magnificent 20+ volume I-executed-a-forest-just-to-get-printed Mahabharata).

2. Reading it aloud soothes Círdan. Because nothing says daddy time like love affairs and warfare in sixteenth-century Siam.

3. YOU GUYS, the first 100 pages are about families.   . Those chapters are about childbirth and toddlers and getting kids to eat things they don’t want to eat and about fleeing with your son through the woods because your government wants to enslave you. And about the discomfort of sleeping in trees. And about outlaws riding war elephants into town while spahgetti Western music plays in the background (or that orchestral score might just be in my head) and about standing in front of a charge of water buffaloes with just a spear in your hand and true grit. And about getting an omen of your death and saying goodbye tearfully to your kid the next morning because otherwise you might not get to. It’s a story about parents. I haven’t enjoyed an ancient epic that much since the Odyssey (which is also about wives and husbands and kids and parents). This is no Iliad or Beowulf (not that I don’t love both of those). This is the Epic of Oh Shit Your Father’s Not Coming Home and There Are Guys With Torches Coming This Way And We Have To Go Right Now RIGHT NOW SON And Crap Now We’re in The Forest And You’re Throwing a Tantrum And What The Hell Do I Feed You Out Here, I Used To Be Rich, I Have No Idea, Don’t Cry Son, We’ll Make It.

And I can totally get into that kind of story.

Stant Litore

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting and baby

Elisha

Standard

Oh to have the visions of Elisha, and see the chariot of fire, and the horses of fire blazing across the land; to hold up my hand to shield my eyes and cry, “abba! abba!” The courage I would have then! and the tears, weeping at such beauty.

But, living a goodly long time after the ages of myth, I will encounter the Creator of the heavens and the earths in the sound of a baby’s giggle.

Stant Litore

What We’ve Forgotten

Standard

Hello, friends. If this post interests you, please consider getting a copy of the book–Lives of Unforgetting (What We Lose In Translation When We Read the Bible, and a Way of Reading the Bible as a Call to Adventure). This puts food on my family’s table, and it makes me very happy to know the book is being read and used. Thank you for enjoying my posts!

Banner

Now on to the post…

—————————————————-

In reference to Marg Mowczko’s article “4 Facts That Show That ‘Head’ Does Not Mean ‘Leader’ in 1 Corinthians 11:3″:

Research of this kind fascinates me. So much of how we translate and interpret the Bible is driven entirely by Roman ideologies and Roman cultural obsessions that we have inherited, and by the fact that Greek and Hebrew have been filtered to us through Latin. (Even our modern Greek dictionaries and lexicons tend to offer Latinate English vocabulary for translations.) Thus we almost completely misunderstand what the New Testament means by ‘truth,’ as I get into here in my post on aletheia.

Thus: we completely miss that the diatribe against homosexuality in Romans 1 is a paraphrase of Paul’s opponents in the Roman church and a parody of their over-the-top judgmental rhetoric (the whole point of Romans 1-2 is to dismantle the idea that Christianity and judgmental rhetoric are at all compatible). You can read a bit more on that here. And, bizarrely, we never think to question why this issue only comes up when Paul is speaking to Rome, the ancient world’s most homophobic culture, and never once when he is speaking to various Greek cities in which homosexual and bisexual relations, and an array of gender performances are both normal and expected.

Thus: we mis-translate passages on gender in the Pauline letters in a way that’s completely ahistorical (but that serves the status quo in our own society), as the early church was spread, organized, and facilitated by women. The connection of “head” to “leader” or “authority” is a specifically Roman idiom that we’ve inherited. That idiom didn’t exist in Koine Greek.

Thus: we mis-translate passages as instructing women to ‘submit’ to their husbands, when ‘hupotassomai’ doesn’t mean to submit; it means to deploy yourself in support of; it is a military metaphor. ‘Obey’ is a completely different word in Greek (hupakoe — and even ‘hupakoe’ doesn’t mean ‘obey’; it means to listen attentively to; it is a word used always for children, never for spouses, in the New Testament). And we miss the context (because we’re fond of reading communal letters in isolated little chapters and verses and chunks), so we forget that first-century Christian women are being asked to deploy in support of their spouses because most of their spouses were not Christian, most early Christians were women, and Christian wives of non-Christian men had to figure out how the heck to deal with that situation. It is situationally specific advice about not trying to convert the spouse but instead bring love to the table. It has nothing to do with obedience at all, and the verses that follow roll out an idea borrowed from Judaism that was profoundly subversive in Rome’s ultra-patriarchy: the idea that women “are fellow heirs in the grace of life.” Rome takes the idea of heirs very seriously. In Roman law and custom, women were not heirs; women were property. This idea of “fellow heirs” was radical and threatening to the Roman patriarchy.

Thus: we misread Genesis 2 as describing women as a “helper” sex. But “helper” (ezer genegdo) in Hebrew does not mean maid or servant; it means something a bit more similar to the modern phrase “partner in crime.” It is also the only case in the Old Testament where the word is used to describe women. In every other case, the word is used for God. Chavah (Eve) is a helper in the same sense that God is a helper. It is our post-Roman anachronism that translates ezer genegdo as “the help,” the servant class.

A fascinating look into the first and second centuries, if you’re ever curious, is the book God’s Self-Confident Daughters. Or, if you’d like something short to read, try “Rebel Virgins and Desert Mothers,” which you can find here.

You will be awed (and horrified) at how thoroughly the history of agrarian Europe’s first feminist movement was excised, erased, and finally hijacked and replaced by the Roman patriarchy.

There is a wealth of scholarship on this and has been for years, and there is more all the time, but … for reasons that are probably self-evident … this research rarely trickles into mainstream religious culture.

The reason that Rome was so fervently opposed to Christianity in the first and second century was that Christianity was seen as a profound threat to family values. “Family values,” in the sense that we usually mean it, was originally a Roman idea.) Roman law required women to have children and to do so by a certain age; Christianity created large sisterhoods of unmarried women (the “holy widows,” who were not secluded at that time but socially active, running nonprofits and neighborhood schools).

Rome placed the man in ownership of the household and gave him – at one time – the legal right to execute family members who shamed the family; Christianity undercut that structure. Rome relied on a strict caste system; Christianity insisted on the essential equality of all people regardless of ethnicity, gender, or social class (while exhorting its members at times to obey the law of the land to the greatest extent possible, because Roman torture-death penalties were no joke, and though there were things they were willing to die for, these people wanted to survive – so Christians found loopholes, lots of them, like the legal loopholes that allowed for women to enter holy sisterhoods and gain a marriage exemption if they were priestesses. And since in early Christian doctrine, every Christian woman was a priestess of Christ, this provided a very large loophole, one the government usually couldn’t close because doing so would disrupt other Roman religious institutions that were seen as supportive of the state).

Pliny whines to Emperor Trajan in the early years of the second century about his work torturing ‘two slave women, who in their church are officials.’ The underlying tone of his letter is a frustrated “What the hell, Governor, they have slave girls leading their religion.” Christians were called “the atheists,” because they worshipped at no shrines or temples. And most of all, they were hated because 1) the religion had its origin in foreign immigrants, especially groups of first-century emigrating Jews (Rome was very anti-Semitic), and 2) Roman women converted in massive numbers, and then taught Roman children their superstitious, unmanly new faith. Christianity, to the Romans, was a woman’s religion and “the eunuch’s faith,” prizing compassion over honor, and love over duty, and relationships over hierarchy; there were popular superstitions and prejudices that men who converted out of love for their wives would lose their virility.

We miss out on an exciting episode in history that has tremendous relevance to our own time — a moment when a radically egalitarian ideology and way of life threatened to upend hierarchical and oppressive structures — because men a few centuries later found it useful and convenient to erase that history while appropriating some aspects of the early faith in service to power. (This may sound far-fetched…that in three and a half short centuries, a religious institution might come to stand for many things that were the exact opposite of the teachings three centuries before, but it actually happens all the time and in much briefer spans of history … just look at the way Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words today are appropriated and twisted to sound like they support the status quo, in fact to support statements that are the very opposite of MLK’s arguments and convictions. Ditto, the American founding fathers.) Mistranslate or misconstrue a few abstract concepts in ways that support the status quo, or rip a few passages out of their context, and you can turn a radical faith movement or a new ideology into a nice, tidy, stagnant institution pretty quickly.

We miss out on an exciting episode in our history because certain men a few centuries later chose to erase it and rewrite and replace it (in some cases literally chiseling the faces of female bishops off of monuments), and we still believe their version. Their version still drives our politics, our prejudices, and our cultural norms. But their version was a hijacking of something that looked very different, something worth remembering, something inspiring and provocative, something that calls into question who we think we are.

This is part of what I write about.

Stant Litore

———————————————–

Want to read more? Get Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose When We Read the Bible in Translation, and Way to Read the Bible as a Call to Adventure.

Book Cover - Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible by Stant Litore

Charlottesville

Standard

Charlottesville hurts more than I know how to say.

This is what happens when we treat racism, white supremacy, and nationalism as something that can be ‘tolerated’ or ignored or just talked down. It’s what happens when we don’t listen to our neighbors when they tell us that black lives matter and they need our help. It’s what happens when the vandalism at the mosque down the street is someone else’s problem, not ours. It’s what happens when we see a gunman kill fifty people at an LGBTQ+ dance club and we still watch from the sidelines while bathroom bills and gay discrimination bills get passed. It’s what happens when we don’t take fascism and hate seriously, when we treat it as a mere joke. It’s what happens when we ignore the radicalization of white youth, or when we let racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia just slide. It’s what happens when we stand by and let violence occur in our absence for year after year. Our complacency adds up to this.

Today hurts too much.

If you think this is it … that this is the worst it can get … you are wrong. I wish you weren’t, but you are.

Stand up for your neighbors.