October 7, 2018
Following the news cycle this week felt like being caught in traffic behind an accident. When it is my turn to pass the carnage, it is hard to resist the urge to slow down and take it all in, no matter how much I want to get through the bottle neck and get on with my journey. I tried to focus on more time for silent reflection, a long bike ride to see the Fall colors, and watching the bears romp in our side yard. I felt the need for space and perspective, knowing that the Sunday sermon was coming soon. Yet the Senate confirmation hearings (for Justice Kavanaugh) had the feel of an historic moment, not just about control of the Supreme Court, but about the role of women, and how to have fair and just processes as we come to grips with sexual harassment and assault. It is hard to say if this will be a terrible defeat or a turning point, or some of both. There are so many good writers who are better than I am to delve into the layers of this week.
I am glad to have the discipline of following the weekly lectionary reading from the Bible, and doing the work of bringing the scripture to bear on our lives. This week’s text from Genesis, the second creation account of human life, is a remarkable coincidence. The story of God creating Eve from Adam’s rib has been a primary text for justifying the subordination of women. It’s worth a deeper look, because the theological truths are open to more than one way of seeing this text.
You may have noticed I said this is the second creation account. Do I mean there are two creation stories in the Bible? Yes, there are. Genesis 1 is the story of seven days of creation; where humans, both man and woman, being created on day six. Both are created in the image and likeness of God. After creating humans, God knew to rest; because, as anyone with an infant knows, new humans are exhausting. Genesis 2 is a second creation story, likely written by another author, with a different style and theological intent. Genesis 1 was written to tell us about the goodness of God’s purposes and the goodness of all of creation. Genesis 2-3 is written to give insight into how it all went so wrong. Let’s take a deeper look.
Preceding todays reading, Genesis 2 tells an intimate story of the creation of the first human. God forms a human body from the earth’s clay. (Think hummus, the very word “human” relates to “of the ground.”) God gives life by breathing into the nostrils of this artistic work. Every breath we take is a reminder that the spirit of God is our source of life.
As God watches this creature, God senses loneliness. It comforts me to know God somehow tunes into the state of Adam’s emotions and soul. God senses and cares about this creature’s well-being. “It is not good for Adam to be alone.” Loneliness is endemic in our time. The UK has created a new government position called “Ministry of Loneliness.”
Let’s talk about Adam (hadam) for a moment. Adam has other beings in their life, creatures like birds, snakes, maybe even dinosaurs. Adam especially has God. God walks and talks with Adam, gives Adam the work of naming creatures, and a rule about from which trees to eat. Let me ask a speculative and maybe irreverent question. Did Adam have a gender in the beginning? As a solitary creature, why would Adam need a gender? I assume Adam did not have a belly button, since there wasn’t an umbilical cord, so why would Adam have, say, testicles, since procreation was not created yet?
Here is a key thing we don’t want to miss. A relationship with God alone is not enough. Just let that sink in for a moment. There are days that I would like to be a hermit and just check out from society. As Jean Paul Sartre said, “Hell is other people.” Granted, we could all use more time alone with God, but God alone is not enough. We need other people like ourselves, flesh and blood, mortal, imperfect, sometimes joyful and often truly annoying. God understands Adam needs more, so God says, “I will make a helper fit for Adam.” The note in my Oxford Annotated Bible says “helper” means, “a partner who is suitable for Adam, who completes his being.”
You know the story from here. God takes a rib from Adam and makes a partner, Eve, and they live happily ever after in Paradise. (Thank God, Disney has not tried Adam and Eve.) Here is where the translation and names matter.
It is rare to include footnotes with the biblical readings in the bulletin, but here I think it is relevant. This is an example where proper translation is theologically essential. In the English translation, we see the same word ‘man” is used when it reads “it is not good for man to be alone,” as it does later saying, “this one shall be called Woman,[b}for out of Man[c] this one was taken.” But in our footnote, we see the first “man” is actually Adam, (hadam in Hebrew) and the second use of man and woman is actually “ish” for man and “ishshah,” for woman.
Adam (hadam) is a being with no human counterpart, ish and ishshah are partners who complete each other. The difference between a solitary being and a being in partnership is so different it requires renaming them. (And we know that naming things is the first job of Adam.) First, there was hadam, then there was ishand ishshah. (Eve is not named until Chapter 3)
Being in a real, mutual, meaningful relationship makes us who we are and completes us. While the text is talking about the first marriage, I don’t think this truth is restricted to finding a spouse. Relationships, like mentoring, parenting, deep friendships, supportive colleagues; all shape us and move us toward wholeness and completion. As we live in all of these relationships, we are experiencing what God intended in creating ishand ishah. It is a much more inclusive vision than just finding ourselves through a soulmate in marriage. No one person should bear the burden of completing you. After all, even God was not enough for Adam.
I’m spending so much time on this point because over time this story has come to mean that women are subordinate to men (the helpers) because men came first, and later Woman eats the apple first, so it’s her fault, and therefore patriarchy is justified by the Bible. And by the way, marriage is only for one man and one woman, and the man shall be the head. I think that is false. Remember the theological point of the story – it is not good to be isolated and alone. We are completed and made whole by entering into mutual, compassionate, caring relationships of all types. Therefore, spirituality is not just about finding and walking with God, is it also creating, nurturing and living in right relationship with other people.
Delving deeply into Genesis 3, including the serpent, eating from the wrong tree, and the Fall of humankind’ is beyond our scope this morning. But it is important to say that this account is not meant to justify the current gender relationships. When the story says the man shall rule over the woman, it is contrary to the theological intent of both creation accounts. This brokenness is the result of human error, human sin, not God’s blueprint.
If we read this in light of the New Testament and Paul’s writings, Jesus is becomes the new Adam, the one who restores right relationships. In Galatians Paul writes, “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but all are one in Christ Jesus.” Paul called into question the major divisions, hierarchies and exploitive relationships of his day, and this challenges us to do the same in our day.
The healing of relationships and community is a long time coming, and it is important to find hope where we can. I want to conclude where I saw hope this week, even in small things, to remind ourselves that we are made for relationship and community, communion throughout the world.
Last Sunday I went to the site blessing for three new Habitat homes being built on Glendale Road. The three families who will live in the homes all spoke and brought us to tears of empathy and joy. They included a single mom who immigrated from Egypt, and abandoned by her American husband while fighting cancer, a family of four whose father is unable to work due to poor health, a Latino family displaced by violence in their home country. Three families who experienced being homeless, due to events we have all seen on the news, will have a home. And we are a part of it.
The same week several you spoke with animation about teaching the Congolese refugee family in our circle of care to ride bikes, and to sew. I saw the video at coffee hour. Several people have expressed this is one way to make some difference amidst the tragedy in the world, for one refugee family.
Wednesday night I was at the Friends of the Homeless Annual Meeting. I was inspired to see people who keep the shelter running. It takes 35 overnight volunteers, 31 meal teams, and a dedicated operations team to wash the sheets, but food and raise the money for these efforts. The treasurer noted that the Happy Frog in front of our church brings in around $7500 a year, which funds Manna to provide meals.
If you are feeling distraught and angry about the news this week, remember that in two months we will join with hundreds of others for the Hot Chocolate Run to raise money for Safe Passages, to assure that anyone experiencing domestic violence in our community will receive help and support.
None of this alone overcomes our political polarization, and it is essential to vote, write your elected officials, lobby and march. But I feel our voices are more strong when we have done the concrete work of alleviating human suffering and connecting to real people, building relationships. Justice is about more than winning political battles, it is also learning to be in real solidarity, to be present to the brokenhearted, and aware of our own brokenness.