Psalm 66, 67 (Morning)
Psalm 19, 46 (Evening)
Judges 11:1-11, 29-40
2 Corinthians 11:21b-31
The sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter is, frankly, one of the most awful and misongynistic stories in the Hebrew Bible, and it’s very difficult for me to read it and hope for finding much of anything redeeming in it. Even Phyllis Trible’s attempt at deepening this story in Texts of Terror doesn’t do much for me. The part that particularly irritates me is that the girl was just dancing and singing like folks of that time normally did after a great victory (think of a cross between what happened after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and escaped the Egyptians mixed with people chanting, “USA! USA!” after Olympic events) and she just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time with regards to Jephthah’s vow. If that’s not enough, Jephthah speaks to his daughter like this is somehow HER fault. (What’s with this “YOU have brought me very low; YOU have become the cause of great trouble,” garbage, anyway? Let’s all sing another verse of Blame the Victim.)
There are so many things in the Bible that my first thought is “What bright light bulb allowed THIS to be left in as Holy Scripture?” that I do not like at all. This story. The rape of Tamar. Paul’s statements in the Epistles about women and the ones people now use to claim the “sin” in stable, loving homosexual relationships. Several things in Revelation…no, I take that back. Pretty much all of Revelation. I think I’d even let the three or four good verses in there go by the wayside to get rid of all the apocalyptic stuff.
But then I step back and think, “Well…maybe that’s the point. Maybe it’s there to remind me I don’t have to like everything that happened in the Bible in order for it to be a transformational experience in my life or in my community of faith. Everything doesn’t have to go my way to feel closer to God.” In fact, maybe I’m not supposed to like it, in the same way I no longer have to like the seamier side of American history in order to appreciate being American. I probably should not like what happened at Wounded Knee, nor what happened under the Jim Crow laws of the South, nor what happened to Carrie Buck under the eugenics laws of the early 20th century in Buck vs. Bell.
It rings hollow, truthfully, when we try to justify everything that happened in Holy Scripture as actually being holy acts, or try to skirt around them by means of Christian apologetics. It’s also just as hollow when we attempt work-arounds with the failings of Christianity. We don’t have to like what the Jesuits did to the natives of the southwestern U.S., we don’t have to like Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism, and we don’t have to like how the Episcopal Church “converted” Native Americans by making them feel sinful about their own cultures and traditions, only to, sometimes, abandon them after they did it, much as our church did to the Alaskan natives to some degree. Pretending that the institutional church’s icky past is not icky, is…well…even more icky than if we would just fess up to it.
Perhaps our call is merely to sit silently with these things and feel them, and only then postulate what actions would help us to do better and then act accordingly. I think about a time I worshiped in St. Margaret’s in London. There’s a place where a German oil bomb damaged one of the walls in 1940. The folks at St. Margaret’s didn’t try to cover it up or rebuild it; instead they opted to make the repairs necessary to preserve the integrity of the building, and they worship there now, scars and all. Perhaps the challenge for us on many levels is to worship anyway, despite the scars, and to focus on the integrity of our “building,” the body of Christ, in the present moment, allowing our corporate past sins to be what they are. Perhaps our task is not to attempt to justify their existence, but instead to embrace a new one.
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid