Running for My Life
|Photo by Mary Mathis|
I haven’t run on my treadmill for months, longer than I can remember. But I ran for an hour yesterday morning. I ran because it is one way that I can process all the pent up anxiety that I feel inside. Usually after I run for an hour I feel better, the endorphins kick in and I feel more myself. But this time it did not work. The thick layer of anxiety mixed with despair was stronger than any endorphin I could produce. I live in a kind of chronic fog of depression. It is not clinical depression, not caused by some chemical imbalance. No, this depression is situational, and it’s cumulative and directly correlates to what is going on the world around me. I don’t know how many of you are living in a similar state of chronic anxiety and depression, triggered by the state of our country and our world, and existing regardless of which political polarity one may lean toward.
It’s a tough time to be a man or a woman and even difficult to live as a non binary person. For those of us who identify as women, however, it is a particularly challenging time. These challenges are fed by a long history of systemic and institutionalized views of women that tell us that women are liars, deceitful, untrustworthy, deceptive. These impressions of women were articulated by men, known as church fathers, in the early centuries of the church. Here is some of what these men said about women:
“What she cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. One must be on one’s guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil.” — St. Albertus Magnus
Tertullian: “Women are the devil’s gateway.”
Thomas Aquinas: “As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten.”
St. Clement of Alexandria: “Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman…the consciousness of their own nature must evoke feelings of shame.”
St. John Chrysostom: Women are “weak and flighty…For what is a woman but an enemy of friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a domestic danger, delectable mischief, a fault in nature, painted with beautiful colors?” and “Amongst all the savage beasts none is found so harmful as woman.”
St. Jerome: “Woman is the root of all evil.”
15th century document Malleus Maleficarum that served as a manual for dealing with women who had been accused of witchcraft offered this:
But the natural reason is that she is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many carnal abominations. And it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed from a bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in a contrary direction to a man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives.
It’s no wonder many women and some men are uncomfortable with today’s reading in Genesis, which offers a second creation story and alternate version of the creation of men and women. This reading has been used to inform those teachings from the church fathers and to suppress women for thousands of years. As a result, these teachings on the evilness of women reside underneath and in unconscious ways in all of us. Its called the Stockholm Syndrome when hostages and other people who have been oppressed align themselves with their oppressors.
This is the second time this year that we have reflected on this reading from Genesis. It also showed up last summer at the beginning of our time with the Faces of Our Faith curriculum. The creators of that curriculum used this version of the creation story as a way to begin the conversation on equality and partnership as it was designed and designated by God. Rather than the understanding that woman is less than, is the belief that women are full and equal partners. The same word to describe woman as man’s helpmate is also used to describe God as Israels’ helpmate. In other words there is an equal partnership between men and women and God and God’s people.
My birth parents married when my mom was 15 and my dad was 17. They were married in the temple in Salt Lake City, which means their marriage is sealed in heaven for all eternity. When my parents divorced my mom was 23 and my dad was 25, and they had three kids. My mom divorced my dad because she claimed he was unfaithful and he couldn’t hold down a job. I have no idea if that is true. That’s what she said and I never had the chance to ask my dad for his side of the story. When my mother remarried a couple of years later my birth father gave up his three kids to be adopted by the man my mother married, the man I have called my father for over 51 years. The Mormon church does not allow for divorce, or at least it didn’t then, and so it still recognized my family as that original unit, and has never recognized our new family, even though we were made a legal family by the courts and the laws of this land.
Jesus, as we hear in the Gospel of Mark today, is no fan of divorce. It was legal for men to divorce women and for women to divorce men in Jesus’ day. But Jesus, leaning into the readings from Genesis, believed that marriage was forever. That’s a tough thing to reconcile, if one claims to follow the teachings of Jesus. Its tough to take these 2000 year old teachings from the world that existed then, and reconcile them in meaningful ways with the world we live in today. And, while I have often wondered what my life would have been like if my birth parents had never divorced, I can’t say with certainty that it would have been better for any of us. Divorce is a reality and often a necessity for the well being of all involved.
So here’s what I believe. I believe that God calls us to be in relationship with other people - men with women and women with men, men with men, and women with women, and if you don’t identify with one of the binary categories of male or female, one is still called to be in relationship with other people.
These relationships are to be grounded in the primary principle that is evident in Genesis and in the teachings of Jesus: that we are to treat one another with dignity and respect, with love and compassion, and that no one is better or less than another. We are to love God, love self, and love others.
I believe this. Which makes it difficult to live in times when this is not happening in the public arena. Its difficult to not feel chronically tired, helpless, and hopeless. There are days when I wish, that as a white woman of privilege, I could just close myself off to all of what is happening and just ignore it. But I can’t. I can’t live with myself with any level of integrity, if I allow my privilege to be the cause of another’s oppression.
And so I’m stuck running on a treadmill as fast as I can, hoping to garner enough stamina that I can keep going. Enough hope that I can keep going. Enough grace that I can keep going. Because each one of us is made of the other, bone of bone, and flesh of flesh, and even in all the ways that you and I, and you and you, will disagree on any thing, may we strive to be partners in our sameness and through our differences. May we find the capacity to be less anxious, less angry, less fearful, and more loving, kind, and compassionate to one another. May Jesus open his arms to bless us with grace and mercy, may we actually live as beloved people of God, partners one with another.
A reflection on the readings for Proper 22B, Genesis 2:18-24, Mark 10:2-16