Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Love, Honor, Negotiate

I don't talk about my faith much on this blog because it is a very personal and private thing for me but I did have a revelation, well, an epiphany tonight which I'd like to share with anyone who might want to listen.

This evening I was reflecting on the words Christian and feminist and how, if paired together, it might seem like an oxymoron. This conflict, perhaps, comes from the core of the idea that women should honor and "obey" their husbands and put them, and God, before all else. So naturally a feminist Christian perspective might jar or rankle the litany. It doesn't have to, especially when you consider the role of the two Marys in the Bible--both Mary Magdalen and also Mary the Mother, who is acknowledged in different ways depending on the religious interpretation. It also doesn't have to when you consider that feminism is really humanism as applied to the equality of all people. Radical? Well, no more so than in reading what Jesus said and taught in his own words. He was the greatest egalitarian: of gender, races and creeds of humankind.

We live in an area of the country where there is a sizable Old Order Mennonite community (as well as more modern Mennonites). Many women in this church--especially in the Old Order groups but also the more modern--wear head coverings. I see nothing wrong with this if that is their choice but at first glance it seems a form of submission. I believe the head covering is meant to be an act of humbling in the eyes of God and the church (and maybe why, in addition to fashion, women are allowed to wear hats in church but men are not, unless they are yarmulkes). In Judaism the headcovering is used to signify that "God is above us." Likewise, in Yiddish the word yarmulke comes from the Aramaic, yira malka, which means "awe of the King." There is something fundamentally lovely in that idea when you think of it that way. I could not choose that for myself but respect those women--and men--who do. Equal opportunity head coverings.

Here is another take on the idea of women wearing head coverings, from an interesting blog of a modern Mennonite female seminary student at Stories from the Red Tent -- that it is an act of power. As this blogger notes:

(The Mennonite headcovering) is a symbol that has been used in the past to represent female submission--to God, to men, etc... Liberating that symbol (as a symbol of submission to men) has been a good thing for Mennonite women. But, let's not throw it all out. Rather than meaning a symbol of submission, why can't it represent authority?

I never thought of it that way before. I have many Mennonite friends in the community and have never asked them about their head coverings but now I will see them in a different way. As Amy notes in her blog, it sets these women apart by their own choice and it distinguishes them as women of God.

So I'm up late, as usual, and thinking of these two words in light of many recent conversations with friends via email and blogs: Christianity and feminism (and fashion, I suppose, too). And then the epiphany: that's it! I'm a Christian feminist. I don't mean in the sense of the radical feminism associated with the 1960s but more in a disassociation from the Biblical texts and interpretations that would serve to subjugate women.

All of those readings of Anne Lamott and for some reason it didn't occur to me then, but I get it now. I didn't think about it when I was 12 years old and one of the first female acolytes at our Episcopal church. I didn't think about it when several women were lay readers and some now ordained priests in that church. I didn't think about it when I learned, recently in fact, that the Shakers in their complete embracing of egalitarianism also believed in a duality of God who, rather than a male trinity, is a combined force of Mother and Father. I didn't think about Christianity and feminism as a potentially merged expression of belief because it hadn't really been an issue before. Yet further down in the South where we live now, I think that it perhaps might need to be a way that I have to define myself, my own way of distinguishing myself as a woman of God.

At supper tonight at our favorite regional watering hole, The Bread of Life Café in Liberty, I saw one of those primitive embroidered framed passages for sale in the dining room. It said: Love, Honor, Negotiate. I thought about it several times and took it off the wall and showed it to my husband. He smiled. I put it back and looked at him again. Now I have to tell you, this is the man who jokingly told the reverend who would marry us that he wanted one of the Bible verses read at our ceremony that said something like "cleaving unto him" knowing full well that I wanted to replace "obey" with something less submissive in the marriage vows, as we did.

My husband said, with a bemused twinkle, "you're going to sneak it out to the gift shop, aren't you?" No, I'm going to take it off the wall in front of you and buy it and put it in our kitchen over the sink (and hey, it was about $8.00 framed). It just seemed to be one of those messages that beats me over the head from time to time. God doesn't want us to necessarily obey, he wants us to think for ourselves and to negotiate with each other when there is conflict: whether it is spousal, familial, between friends, political parties or nations. To do our best to get along, to respect, to love each other. It's that simple. In that realm of thinking and being there is no control over others, no right or wrong answer, just what is and what will be. Amen.

[For an interesting well researched article against the more negative stereotypes of feminism as they apply to some Christian women, read this. For one interpretation of Christian feminism read this and another, with three addresses worthy of hearing, click here.]


Terri said...

I always thought that covering was an interpretation of the Bible's admonition to cover your head when you pray as well as the admonition to pray constantly. I never thought of it as being an act of submission to anyone but God.

It is my belief that true feminism has as a very strong basis in traditional Christianity. It is the NOW extremists who have it wrong.

Karen said...

I could have used those words this past week - Love, Honor, Negotiate - if I had them in front of me it probably would have saved me many a sleepless night.

I haven't read your blog in ages, but I am glad I decided to today.

Thanks and God bless.

Carolyne said...

Oh, I love thoughtful posts! These are the kind of conversations that inspire Real women to do mighty things in their everyday lives. When we realize how strong we really are, it makes a big difference in those *small* decisions or unseen tasks.
Blessings to you.

Catherine said...

Thank you for all of your comments. I think there is room at the table for everyone who believes (and variations on those beliefs). One thing that rankles me is that many devout Christian women equate their devotion to God to having to lose their own selves or beliefs in the process. I don't believe that is what was intended when the Bible was written!

Thanks for reading and listening ~


karenfae said...

You have a very interesting site, I have added you to my blogroll so I can see what you are up to now and then. I also liked several of the blogs that you have on your blogroll and have added them to mine.
Karen in Arkansas

Ivy said...

Do you know Sara Maitland's book "A Big-Enough God: A Feminist's Search ..." It's really good -- I led a book discussion of it years ago.