Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Don't Call Me a Guy

This is a speech I gave last week at Toast Masters (Mavens) 

 Equality of the Genders

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all women are created equal, that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  

I want to be clear about who is included in the group of women created equal.  We are the white, educated women of property and means.  Men, the working class and poor women are not created equal to us.  They must labor to support themselves, their families and to provide goods and services for us in our pursuit of life, liberty  and happiness.  

Now, I know there are some men who believe that, as we form this more perfect union, women should not rule over men.  John Adams, bless his heart, in a letter to Abigail, while we were writing the Deceleration of Independence asked, "In the new code of laws I know it will be necessary for you to write, I ask that you remember the men, and be more generous and favorable to us than you ancestors. Do not put unlimited power into the hands of  the wives.  Give up the harsh title of mistress for the more tender and endearing one of friend.  Do not give power to vicious, lawless women to use us cruelly with impunity.  Women of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat men only as vassals of the female sex."  Abigail was swift to let John know that the revolutionary war was not fought to prove that all men were created equal.  Abigail replied, "As to your extraordinary code of laws, I cannot but laugh."

Argument From Creation

Man clearly was not created equal to woman as demonstrated by the second story of creation, found in the book of Genesis.  He was created from the dust of the earth,  He was put in the garden of God to tend it, but was incapable of the task, so woman was created.  She was created superior to man, not from the dust of the earth but from living flesh.  She is the final and crowning achievement in God's act of creation!

Woman was endowed with the almost God-like ability to produce life, with the assistances of the tinniest male seed.  And where would we be if one women had not been courageous enough to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  She wanted to be more like God.  She wanted to be wise and so she took and ate while the man sat passively by and ate the fruit she gave him.  The fruit he had been told not to eat.  Woman had not been created when that command was given.  The truth is, life as we know it, could not have existed within the confines of the garden.

Using Our Brains

Does this argument sound absurd?  The Declaration of Independence written only for white, women of property.  Men created as lesser human beings than women.  Women divinely ordained to rule over men.  But the reverse of these arguments are some of the arguments used by patriarchy to marginalize and control women.

Women and people of color read the gender specific language of the Declaration of Independence and think, "Oh, that means me."  But it doesn't.  John Adams thought it was laughable that his wife Abigail requested that laws be written to protect women from the cruelty of vicious, lawless men and to this day the Equal Rights Amendment has not been passed.

The second story of creation, in the book of Genesis, has been interpreted to prove that men should rule over women.  That women are responsible for the sin in the world.  That it is God's will that women should suffer in childbirth.  This interpretation also implies a literal, historical understand of an ancient story told and reload by an ancient people to explain the world they experienced around them.  It also ignore the simultaneous creation  of female and male, in the divine image, in the first story of creation.  

Language creates reality and "those who control how language is used control the most powerful instrument for shaping human consciousness."  (Kevin Giels. Priscilla Papers vol. 29, no. 1)  If we call human beings mankind, we make invisible everyone who is not male or does not conform to societal norms of what a kind of man is.  If we were to use woman kind to refer to all humanity, men would know they were not included.  It is considered acceptable to insult men by calling them girls or ladies.  Women want to believe that unmanned, manmade, chairman and mankind somehow includes us.  It does not.  Addressing a group of women or a mixed gender group as, "You guys" is culturally acceptable.  Addressing a mixed gender group as, "You gals" is not and you guys is used to refer to groups of women.

Many of us worked in the seventies to change male generic language.  Fireman became fire fighter.  Policeman became law enforcement officer.  Mailman became mail carrier and with the change of language came new career opportunities for women.

The erasure continues.  The original Star Trek used inclusive language but second generation Star Trek does not.  I was in Victoria's Secret and heard a woman's voice say, "Dude, look at this bra."  I looked up expecting to see a girl and boy shopping together.  I saw two girls.  Their culturally encouraged language had erased their gender.  Male generic language, dude, guy brotherhood, mankind simply express male as normative and female as other, non-normative.

To quote Albus Dumbledore, "Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, are our most inexhaustible source of magic.  Capable of both inflecting injury and remedying it." It is sad that John Lennon was killed at such a young age.  He might have learned that we are not a "brotherhood of man." IMAGINE

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Puppy on the Leash

God Leads By Your Heart's Desire

But sometimes the heart is like a puppy on a leash.  The puppy is really happy to be out with her person and really wants to go on the walk but she sits down or she tries to go the other way or she whines.  Somehow she doesn't trust that the hand holding the leash will take care of her or knows which way to go.  My heart was the puppy on the leash.  Religion, especially feminist theology, has always been my passion, my heart's desire.

Not Following God's Lead

When it was time to go to college I knew I had to go to Chapman and study religion. I got my BA in religion.  I was called to go to graduate school or seminary, but like the puppy who tries to go the other way I did not trust that the hand on the leash knew which way to go.  Instead I moved back to the desert to substitute teach.  The stated goal was to pay off my student loans before going to graduate school.  A couple at the church I attended went to seminary.  I could hardly stand to be in the same room with them because I wanted to go to seminary so badly.  A pastor at a church in Big Bear left her congregation to "follow her call" to a church in the mid-west.  I couldn't read the article in the newspaper.  I knew I wasn't following my call.  

Eventually I got my multiple subject teaching credential and began a career in elementary education.  When it came time to get an MA, so I could move over on the pay scale, I said to my husband, "Well, I better find an MA in religion program.  It is the only thing I have ever wanted to study." I got that MA from Liberty University.

I continued to feel called to the study of religion.  I thought it was a Ph. D. I was called to until one day I saw an advertisement in a publication titled, Christian Century. The add seemed to have my name on it.  It said, "Paula. do you long to study international feminist theology with women from around the world?"  Oh, yes please! So I got my Dr. of Ministry in International Feminist Theology and went back to kindergarten.

I have a favorite quote from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas.  It says, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."

Sometimes God Has To Tug On The Leash

My last two years of teaching were very difficult.  I won't go into details about my next to last year except to say I had a very difficult group of children.  My last year I had the most wonderful group of children and the most difficult group of parents I had ever experienced.  One afternoon, after a particularly difficult encounter with a parent I walked from my classroom to the office and said, "God, why am I having such a hard time with these parents?  With children like these I could do this forever." That still, small voice that I am getting better at listening to said, "Paula, you are not supposed to be here."  "Oooooooh!"

So I retired.  I think of it as I finally graduated from kindergarten.  I wrote the book that had been banging on the inside of my chest to get out.  I brought forth what was within me and it saved me.  My book recently received a gold medal from Illumination Book Awards.  I am realizing my heart's desire.  

The puppy on the leash is no longer sitting down or whining or trying to go the other direction.  The puppy on the leash is trotting happily along, trusting that the hand on the leash knows the way to go and will take care of her. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Sacrifice of the Virgin Daughter of Jephthah

Where to find the story of Jephthah's Nameless Daughter

Jephthah's daughter is found in Judges 11:1-11 and 29-40.  Her father makes a vow to God that if he is successful in battle the first person to greet him, on his return, will be sacrificed   

Jephthah's Daughter Tells Her Story

I could see him coming from a long way off. I put on my dancing skirt and picked up my tambourine. I am his only daughter, his only child and I wanted to be the first to welcome him home in victory.  

"Why have you done this to me?" he yelled.  He started tearing his clothes and throwing dirt on his head. "You have caused me great trouble!  You have brought me very low."   

All I could do was stand there and listen to him rave about what I had done to him. He blamed me for his vow, for the violence he was about to do to me.  Who did he think would come out to greet him?  My mother and I were the two most obvious choices. He had vowed to sacrifice the first person to greet him and it was me.  He must have know it would be me or my mother.  

I hated him in that moment!  I knew that he would not relent.  I was doomed and I had to get away from him.  I left for two months. I told him I was going to bewail my virginity. That was something he could understand. My life was of no consequence to him.  He had decided how I would die but I decided when.  

The women of Israel will remember me. They will lament the sacrifice of a virgin daughter to a God who does not demand human sacrifice. 

Observations on the story of Jephthah's Daughter

Abraham vows to sacrifice Isaac but God intervenes at the last moment and Isaac is saved.  No such luck for the nameless daughter of Jephthah.  Ironically, Jephthah has just defeated the Ammonites who worship the god Molech.  The Ammonites practiced the sacrifice of their children to Molech.

Leviticus 18: 21 warns the Israelites not to sacrifice their children because the act profanes the name of God.  Leviticus 20: 2-5 prescribes the punishment of stoning to death for anyone who does sacrifice a child.  Where is the justice for Jephthah's daughter?  Not only is her father not stoned he is made the head of the elders and commander of the army.

One can only wonder at the motivation of a father and husband who vows to sacrifice the first person to greet him on his return home. He seems to have his, "Look what you have done to me" blaming the victim speech, all made up.  The story of Jephthah's daughter is tragic and the male biblical writer seems to believe that the fact that she is a virgin is even more tragic.  He sends her off to bewail her virginity, not her life.  But the women know and Judges 11:39b-40 says, "So there arose an Israelite custom that for four days every year the daughters of Israel would go out to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite." NRSV      


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Virgins Sacrificed to God in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Are there any passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that record virgins sacrificed as burnt offerings?   

Check next week to hear the story of the virgin daughter of Jephthah.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

God is Good

Wonderful News

Yesterday I learned that Illumination Book Award, awarded my book a Gold Medal in the Bible study category.  I am so happy! I had a long walk with God this morning and thanked her for this award as conformation and assurance that I am following the path I am called to follow.  (FYI, I don't think God is gendered but I like to call her she, just to mix things up.) A link to the award is below.