I had a moment at church last week. The reading was Proverbs 31, and I had to read it to the congregation. Just a few days before, at book club, I listened quietly while we discussed two books on feminism. Proverbs 31 came up and the women in the room expressed frustration with the expectations that passage has put on them.
So, this frustration fresh on my mind, I had to step up to the podium and read Proverbs 31. For those who don’t know, it’s the account of the nearly perfect woman. In many Christian circles it’s held up as the example women are to aspire to.
The Word of the Lord
This conflicted feeling with Scripture reminded me of a few months earlier when the reading covered the incident where David rapes Bathsheba (note: I’ve never heard it described as rape until recently, which makes sense. Given the power dynamic, how could that have been consensual?), then covers up his crime by sending Bathsheba’s husband Uriah to his death.
At the end of the reading, the lector says, “The word of the Lord,” and the congregation is supposed to respond, “Thanks be to God.”
Instead, there was an awkward pause. Then a few mumbles as we struggled to respond with gratitude to such words of terror. Then laughter as we recognized our shared discomfort.
I’m used to having my own uncomfortable feelings with the words of the Bible. I’m not so familiar with having that discomfort acknowledged in church. It makes me feel a little less alone.
A Dangerous Ideal
So back to reading Proverbs 31 last Sunday. I finished reading the passages and sat down, wondering how to reconcile this biblical example with the frustration several women expressed.
And then our priest, Lydia Huttar Brown, started her sermon:
“So how about that woman from Proverbs? Do you love her? Do you admire her? Or do you secretly hate her because she’s perfect? Nobody can measure up, she is the original super mom, the woman who has it all and does it all… I’ve tried to be her, tried to be that super mom, and all I got was super tired. Here’s the good news—I think it’s really good news—she doesn’t exist.
“…It’s a dangerous ideal to hold up, because it encourages us to believe that our worth is found in what we can accomplish.”
She goes on to talk about how Jesus aligned himself with the most vulnerable and the least powerful. And then she told the story of the darkest day of her life.
It was a sermon of such honesty and vulnerability. It offered a helpful response to the frustration and conflict, and managed to reconcile two difficult ideas.
It was a perspective on Proverbs 31 that I have never heard before in all my years in church. In fact, I knew very little of the frustration I had heard a few days before, and I knew even less of this reconciliation.
And then it dawned on me why: A female priest.
In all my years in church I’ve listened to men give sermons. It’s only been in the last 15 years or so at my current church that I’ve actually been somewhere where women are allowed to preach, and only in the last few years when I’ve regularly heard women preach.
This perspective on Proverbs 31 is probably something I’d never (or very rarely) hear from a man.
Amid Allegations of Sexual Assault
This moment in church comes to mind in the middle of the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. My social media feed is filled with the anger and hurt of so many women who feel ignored and rejected by powerful men.
I share their anger, though I suspect on a lesser magnitude.
While seeing this anger in post after post on Twitter, I came across a video that offered something else.
Faith leaders have a message for survivors. We believe you.
Posted by Sojourners on Thursday, September 27, 2018
Here Sojourners has gathered a collection of female faith leaders offering a message for survivors of sexual assault.
It’s a necessary response, words that many people are yearning for.
And again, it came from women.
I don’t want to proscribe anything, because I clearly don’t know it all. But one thing I am learning: We need to listen to women.