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Painted Screens & Painted Stations: A Secular and Sacred Art Report

August 16, 2014

Crossposted from Gaudete Theology

Last Sunday afternoon, I spent a couple hours at the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center, one of the two interfaith centers in which my parish has a presence. The building has a central area resembling a courtyard, with plenty of natural light, opening out to various worship spaces and meeting rooms around the perimeter, and the walls of this courtyard-like space are used as an art gallery. Sunday was the final day of an exhibition called Picture Windows: The Painted Screens of Baltimore.

I’ve been intrigued by painted screens since I first learned about this Baltimore folk art form, but this was the first time I’d seen them. Like many domestic arts, it was intended to be both practical and pretty. In the days before air conditioning, the row houses of Baltimore would get pretty sweltering in the summer, and folks wanted all the windows and solid doors open to get as much ventilation as possible, with no curtains in the way to obstruct the air flow. But then what do you do about privacy, especially in an urban environment with folks walking right past your windows?

Well, it turns out, if you paint a picture on the front of the window or door screens, then that effectively blocks the viewers’ gaze through the screen. Your eyes focus on the picture, instead of looking through the screen; at least, if the area behind the screen is not illuminated. What a clever way to solve the problem! And what an opportunity it creates for beautifying a city street. Time was, most houses in some areas of Baltimore had painted screens on the windows and doors, so walking down the street was much like walking past a gallery of paintings.

The exhibit included screens that had been painted by traditional screen painters near the end of the era when the art was flourishing, and contemporary screens (for sale!) by currently practicing screen painters, some of whom had been trained by traditional painters. There was a little biography of each painter mounted among their works. The sizes ranged from small screens that might cover a ventilation window, to medium/large screens that would fill a normal sized window or the top of a screen door, to full door-sized screens (in some cases, mounted in the door frame, into which the painting extended).

What struck me at first inspection of these pieces is that they reminded me of cross-stitch. The screen, of course, is a fine rectangular grid to which the colors are applied; visually, this creates an impression similar to the fine rectangular grid used for cross-stitching.

The older, traditional pieces had some common themes; I don’t recall whether these were themes that were common to screen painting generally, or to one particular screen painter. They were landscape themes, mostly: a cottage, a stream, a flowering tree nearby. Quiet bucolic images, gentling the urban landscape in which they resided.

My favorites among the traditional pieces, though, were the ones that depicted a block or two of Baltimore rowhouses, each with its windows and doors covered by painted screens, as well as people scrubbing stoops, selling vegetables from a horse-drawn cart, or just ambling along. Delightfully self-referential, as well as showing how these screens looked in their native habitat.

Some of the contemporary pieces were painted in traditional styles; others took traditional themes but rendered them in a more contemporary style; still others ignored tradition entirely, and simply used the screen as canvas. It seemed to me that the modern pieces tended towards a more pastel palette and an airier feel. There were lots of Baltimore scenes, often harborscapes, or showing city landmarks like the Bromo-Seltzer Tower. My favorite, though, was much like this whimsical piece that portrayed a cat clinging to the screen door from the inside, obviously after the butterflies she could see outside. What fun!!

The same artist, Anna Pasqualucci, exhibited a few small (5×7, maybe? 8×10?) pieces in shadowbox frames, in which the screen had been shaped to create a 3D effect. A scene of the Baltimore harbor, with buildings standing out from their surroundings and waves rolling up onto shore, was my favorite of these.

After taking my time with all the painted screens, I decided to check out the Catholic chapel. While weekend Catholic masses are celebrated in one of the large worship spaces, both interfaith centers have a dedicated Catholic chapel for the reservation of the eucharist. I normally worship at the Wilde Lake interfaith center, and I’ve been in its tiny eucharistic chapel a number of times, but I’d never been to the one at Oakland Mills.

Well, it was lovely. It was larger than the one at Wilde Lake, and clearly intended for small masses and prayer services of 30-40 people. The chairs were arranged choir-style, in rows along the left and right walls, facing each other across a central aisle, as they are in the large worship space at Wilde Lake; the altar, centered in front of the far wall, was small and plain; there was an electric piano off to one side. But it was clearly designed for both communal and private prayer: there were a few prie-dieux here and there.

A characteristic artistic feature of most Catholic churches are the Stations of the Cross. These are fourteen artworks, each of which corresponds to a moment in Jesus’ passion, beginning with his condemnation to death and ending with his burial in the tomb. How the stations are depicted may vary, which is part of their charm as works of art. They may be lavish or simple; they may represent the entire scene, or just a symbolic element. They are typically placed along the outer wall of the worship space, so that as you pray the devotion, you move from station to station and thereby walk with Jesus on his via crucis.

That wouldn’t work in this small chapel, which has a large central aisle, but no outer perimeter through which one might walk. I was delighted by their solution: the stations of the cross in this chapel are presented as tall narrow paintings, each containing a single key word (“condemned”, “falls”, “meets”, “dies”, “buried”) painted vertically in black capital letters ending at the bottom of the painting against a purple background, with the remaining vertical space, above the word, filled with swirls and smears of purple paint. (The stations are a particularly Lenten devotion, and purple is the liturgical color for Lent.) They are hung close together, on the front wall behind the altar, so that while they take up relatively little linear wall space (maybe 12 feet?), it would still be possible to stand in front of each one to pray, then step to the next.

My initial reaction was to be pleased by the text-oriented nature of these paintings: I’m about the most text-oriented person I know, and it’s rare indeed that I find a visual presentation that feels like it was made for me. But the more I think about it, the more I’m appreciating the non-text aspects of this art and its presentation. Each word has a different length, so the black text reaches up to a different height in each panel. This gives the visual suggestion of a rising and falling path, subtly reinforcing the notion of walking. And it hangs on the wall behind and slightly above the altar: a space that, in Catholic churches, is normally occupied by a crucifix. This artwork expands the crucifix, so that we have before us an image of the crucifixion from condemnation to burial. I would never have thought of this, and it probably wouldn’t pass muster for a lot of liturgical purists, but I think very highly of it.

Centered on the right-hand wall (as you face the altar and this representation of the crucifixion) is hung a medium-sized square textile artwork in shades of yellow that abstractly suggests a sunrise. Because it’s off to the right from the left-to-right ordered stations, and because there is a gap of unadorned wall between the stations and the sunrise, it also suggests the continuation of the story: the time Jesus was in the tomb, and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

I don’t recall that there was any art on the lefthand wall.

Immediately to your right as you enter the chapel, in the corner formed by the righthand wall and the wall containing the door, is a statue of Mary as our Lady of Guadalupe. It’s a medium-sized statue, perhaps three feet tall, on a low wooden stand; she is dressed in green, brown-skinned, holding a chaplet (a real one, not a painted one). A prie-dieu is placed in front of her. On another low stand, off to her left, is another small statue: Juan Diego, on one knee, looking up at the lady, with his cloak full of roses. I love this little tableau, and the fact that Juan Diego kneels alongside a person who kneels before our Lady.

Just a little further along that right hand wall, there hangs a wall-mounted tabernacle, centered slightly above eye-level for me, which meant I could get a really good look at it. It was quite beautiful: the sides of the case were silver, and the doors were clear glass covered with small square simple line drawings, rendered in silver or gold, arranged in a grid like patchwork. So you could see through the decoration to the simple gold ciborium, which thus contributed to the beauty of the tabernacle. Looking through the artwork to the ciborium reminded me that we look through the bread and wine with eyes of faith to see Jesus. The line drawings in some cases represented loaves or fishes, which are traditional tabernacle art, and in other cases seemed to be simply pleasing abstract shapes, often in groups of three. This was a lovely yet sparse use of the fine metals to give luster and beauty without a hint of opulence.

To the left and slightly above the tabernacle is mounted the usual red sanctuary lamp; before it is another prie-dieu, and beneath it is another wooden stand, in the center of which stands a medium-sized carved and painted wooden crucifix, so that a person kneeling there can look directly into the eyes of Christ. I noticed particularly that he seemed to be wearing a crown woven both of brown thorn and green laurel, and I very much liked that artistic representation of the resurrection victory over sin and death.

Overall I was very pleased and impressed by the sacred art in this chapel, both its quality and the care and thoughtfulness of its installation. It is a welcoming and peaceful space that I look forward to visiting again.

Ferguson, Missouri

August 14, 2014

Today, it’s finally made the mainstream media. But terrible things have been happening in Ferguson, Missouri — a small municipality in St. Louis County — since Saturday afternoon, when 18yo Mike Brown was shot and killed by police. According to multiple witnesses, he was shot multiple times despite being unarmed and having his hands in the air; and the interaction was police-initiated, who aggressively confronted Michael and his friend because they were walking down the middle of the street instead of walking on the sidewalk.

His body was left lying in the street for hours, while police kept everyone, including the youth’s mother, at a distance.

Trudy tweeted:


[TW] After a lynching, the body left on tree for a while. 3 reasons. To make images of it. To entertain Whites. Psych warfare on Black ppl.


And this reason, this context, this history, and this power, *directly* connects to Michael Brown’s execution and his body left in street.

Please note that Brown’s family has requested that pictures of his body be taken down from the web and not further shared.

In response to the resulting peaceful protest that afternoon, and the peaceful prayer vigil that evening, police responded with a show of force: bringing out dogs (dogs!! police bringing dogs in response to black protesters!!), showing up in riot gear, huge numbers of police cars converging on the area, presenting an extremely aggressive posture that I could only read as deliberately provocative. Later that night, there was some property destruction against local businesses, including a fire at a local gas station. Police responded, and the next day there was some minimal coverage in the media focused on the “looting” (scare quotes because really, it only seems to be called looting when black people do it) rather than the original issue of police killing an unarmed black teen.

Sunday the police finally held a press conference, but still didn’t release the name of the officer involved in the shooting, which they had previously said they would do then. They did, however, describe a scenario that was at odds with witness accounts.

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday: …

Read the rest, including links to more information and actions you can take, over at Gaudete Theology.

The 9th of Av, 1914

August 4, 2014

Anthem

 

ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH by WILFRED OWEN

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
—Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Pagnini and the Brest Bible

August 2, 2014

I have argued for many years that the Pagnini Latin translation is the basis for Prostestant translations into the vernacular languages of Europe. The Brest Bible is an interesting example. But first let me provide a little timeline as background.

Erasmus Latin New Testament 1516

Luther German New Testament 1522

Tyndale English New Testament 1526

Le Févre French Bible (from Vulgate) Old Testament 1528, complete Bible 1530

Pagnini Latin Bible 1528

Brucioli Italian Bible 1531

Zurich Zwingli German Bible 1531

Luther German 1534

Coverdale English 1534

Olivetan French 1535

Each of these Bibles was translated with the benefit of the preceding Bibles. Luther worked from Erasmus Latin translation, Tyndale from Erasmus and Luther, Brucioli and Coverdale openly credit Pagnini, Olivetan worked from Pagnini and Le Fevre, Luther used Pagnini at least in part, although not predominantly, and so on. No complete vernacular Bible in Europe claimed to be from the original Greek and Hebrew, was actually done without the use of Erasmus’ Latin New Testament and Pagnini’s Latin Hebrew Bible.

Neither Erasmus nor Pagnini were Protestant. They were both Christian humanists, with a commitment to knowledge and scripture, but not Protestants. I am somewhat concerned that Protestants, on this continent, at least, do not often acknowledge the enormous debt owed to these two Latin translations by Catholics.

Back to the Brest Bible. For anyone interested in the debate regarding the debt owed to Latin translations,Hebraica veritas in the Brest Bible by Rajmund Pietkiewicz.

Here are paragraphs from the introduction and the conclusion.

Budny claimed that he could exemplifyit by means of  many examples, some of which he presented inthe preface to his own translation of the Holy Scripture of 1572 (BSzB). This problem was also undertaken by Irena Kwilecka in her research, who came to the conclusion that the translators from Pińczów used, to a large extent, the new Latin translation of Santes Pagnini, which was made directly from the original. The basic auxiliary source in this respect was Latin edition of the Bible done by a well-known French editorRobert Stephanus (Estienne) of 1557, containing the Old Testament in faithful translation of Santes Pagnini,with added comments by an em
inent Parisian Hebrew scholar François a Vatable and the translation of the New Testament based on the best Greek codes by Théodore de Bèze with his own comments. 

On the grounds of to-date studies on the Bible we can be sure that the translation of Santes Pagnini played a crucial role in its creation (if not a paramount one). It seems tremendously intriguing because of the fact that the BB is evangelical-reformed in character, whereas Pagnini’s version is decidedly catholic. It came into existence on the basis of manuscripts collected since the times of Pope Nicholas V at the Vatican Library, and pope Leo X was the patron and sponsor of Pagnini’s works – the very one who on 3 January 1521 excommunicated Luther. The first edition of Pagnini’s Bible (Lyon 1527/1528) was equipped with a preface and approval of two popes: Adrian VI and Clement VII. On the third page we encounter the words:Datum Romae apud sanctum Petrum, sub annulo piscatoris twice. The author of the translation, Santes Pagnini, Dominican from Lukka, never joined reformation, and during his stay in Lyon (in the years of 1524-1536), where his greatest works came out, he vehemently combated the Lutherans and the Waldensians. It should be emphasized, that the catholic version of the monk, played a significant role not only in the emergence of the BB, but also in other translations made into national languages e.g. English and French, created in different factions of reformation.The same version constituted the basis of the translation of the reformed Bible, and at the same time found its way into the renowned Antwerp Polyglot (Antwerp 1569-1572) called „Counter-Reformation in folio” (figure 7). Hence, we can say that Pagnini’s work was of service for both Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Quality was the key element contributing to the significance of Pagnini’s translation, among the mentioned 16th century ones, new translation of the Hebrew Bible into Latin, which ideally met the requirements put forward before the translators of the Bible (especially those who felt inadequate as for their knowledge of Hebrew):Versio haec, quae verbum de verbo exprimit, propter sinceritatem maxime laudatur; Versio isthaec est grammaticalis, sed tamen fidelis.

Your Male Privilege: “God” & other “Biblical characters”

July 31, 2014

10. God will be pictured as male and described in masculine terms 90% of the time.

8. Biblical characters of your own gender will be featured as primary subjects and as positive examples  90% of the time in the educational curriculum.

Male characters will be featured in the children’s curriculum, and in the youth group curriculum, and in the Sunday morning sermon, and in the small group studies…you get the idea.

The above are 2 of the 10 Ways Male Privilege Shows Up in the Church, in a recent post by Ms. Gail Vaughn Wallace at the Junia Project.

 

Fabiola, the 4th century divorcée

July 30, 2014

Probably lots of women were divorced in the 4th century. But Fabiola’s story is particularly interesting. I couldn’t find her written up in any history of previously ignored Christian women. She lived at the time that Jerome was teaching Roman matrons Greek and Hebrew and studied these languages herself but not from Jerome. HOwever, she did meet him later. She was married off as a teenager to an abusive and adulterous husband. She then initiated a divorce from him under Roman law. Jerome was later to say that this man was so abusive that not a prostitute nor a slave would put up with the treatment he gave her. So, all is good for the divorce.

Since under Roman law women had the right to remarry, Fabiola married the man she truly loved, but she was then excommunicated from the church for adultery. She was cut off from the life she aspired to. As a wealthy women she wanted to participate in the studious and reflective life, and in a life of pious activity. However, her second husband died young and Fabiola became a widow, although not considered so by the church. She was naturally thought of as an adulterous woman because the abusive first husband was still alive.

However, after the death of her second husband, she paraded in penitential clothing in front of the Lateran Basilica and was eventually reinstated in communion with the church. Considering her wealth, it probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Then Fabiola carried out the plan that was closest to her heart. She built the first real hospital in the western world, and a nursing home beside it for those whose stay would be permanent. She worked in the hospital, going out herself and sending out staff to bing in the sick, who had no idea what a hospital was.

Now, she thought, now she could seek the meditative life of study and reflection that she desired. So she packed up and went to Jerusalem to stay with Paula and Jerome and study Greek and Hebrew again. She stayed a year only. There are two theories of why she left. One is that is was unsafe as there were rumours of an attack from the east. But the other theory rings true, that she just couldn’t stand the ongoing controversy about whether Origen was a heretic or not.

On her return to Rome she built a hostel for Pilgrim’s and settled down to work in the hospital, taking the most difficult cases, acting as administrator, nurse and surgeon. She is recognized here and there in books on public health but does not get much press as a Christian woman and leader. She was not associated with any great Christian man, nor was she a martyr. She was an independent, strong-willed, intelligent and productive woman.

Disclosure: I have not read the 19th century novel about her.

 

 

Pagnini and the welfare state

July 28, 2014

I have tried drafting a few posts lately but none of them seemed interesting enough. So I gave up and retreated to reading French books in Google books on Santes Pagnini to see where he has been hiding out. This time I found out that he is not best known for having produced the most influential translation of the Bible in the western world. He did that. But he did something else for which he was more celebrated. He and a friend of his, Jean de Vauzelle, another of the preaching brothers, not monks, but Dominicans, who are not cloistered, the two of them were the inspiration and driving force behind the establishment of the first public welfare system in France. They wrested the feeding of the poor out of the hands of the church, which wasn’t doing such a great job, and founded a public system run by the city of Lyon and funded by local wealthy merchants and nobles, the church, and a tax rebate from Paris. He persuaded a relative, a fellow Florentine, to build a new hospital and make sure the poor were cared for. Someone went around house to house in Lyon and registered the poor, handed out bread once a week, set up homes and schools for poor children, and hired doctors for the hospitals, one of them being François Rabelais. Approximately 5% to 7% of Lyon was on welfare at the time due to recent crop failures and famine.

Pagnini went to Lyon because he knew there was a printing press with Hebrew fonts and a patron who would support his work. But ostensibly, he was sent to Lyon by the pope to suppress Lutheranism. Luther was calling for the abolition of the mendicant, (begging) orders, such as the Dominicans, since they were doing such a terrible job of caring for the poor. He supported the secularization of welfare.

So, Pagnini, against the wishes of his own prior, Nicolas Morin, an inquisitor no less, simply advocated for the secularization of care for the poor as well, preached compassion and education, mixed socially with the populace and made sure that Lutheran influence in the city was always low key and did not gain ground. No one could complain about the Dominicans of Lyon not caring for the poor. As well as secularizing welfare, he had wealthy citizens build and staff new hospitals. In this way he supported humanism and moderate Catholicism in Lyon during his lifetime and the city rewarded him by making him a citizen, giving him a living allowance and all he wine he could drink, so he was no longer a “begging” priest, but one who was well supported and could give his free time to teach Hebrew to his students, some of whom later became Hebrew professors themselves. Many of the same men were medical doctors, and wrote medical pamphlets on surgery, etc. mixing theology and medicine.

It happens that in these same years, 1520 to 1550, women poets were first published in France. The Lyon school of poets included many women, who participated with men in a salon of poetry readings, also producing poetry for publication. I fell into flights of fancy and wrote a poem which reflects Pagnini’s translation of the Psalms, in particular the first few lines of Ps. 42 and Ps. 22.

Here are the disputed lines,

כְּאַיָּל, תַּעֲרֹג עַל-אֲפִיקֵי-מָיִם–

כֵּן נַפְשִׁי תַעֲרֹג אֵלֶיךָ אֱלֹהִים

As the deer (masculine) desires (feminine) the springs of water

So my soul (fem.) desires (fem.) you, O God.

The problem is that the feminine of deer ends with the letter ת tau, and the verb  “desires” in the feminine begins with the tau. Since there is only one tau in the first line, the reader has to chose, either the tau is mistakenly added out of nowhere and the deer is really masculine, or two tau’s are reduced to one tau, and the deer is feminine. This is called haplography, writing a letter once when it should be written twice. Most exegetes see the point, but in English the word “deer,” gender indefinite, is just too handy. However, in Hebrew the feminine “doe” has an echo in the feminine soul, so the feminine is more poetic. Here are some of the translations,

  Vulgate

Quemadmodum desiderat cervus ad fontes aquarum,

ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.

Pagnini

Quemadmodum cerva desiderat ad torrrentes aquarum,

ita anima mea desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.

Luther Bible

Wie der Hirsch schreit nach frischem Wasser,

so schreit meine Seele, Gott, zu dir.

KJV

As the hart panteth after the water brooks,

so panteth my soul after thee, O God.

Geneva Bible

Comme une biche soupire après des courants d’eau,

Ainsi mon âme soupire après toi, ô Dieu!

  Conferenza Episcopale Italiana

Come la cerva anela ai corsi d’acqua,

così l’anima mia anela a te, o Dio.

The French and Italian have translations which reflect the Hebrew, “doe,” but for English and German, I haven’t found any translations with “doe” or the equivalent. Perhaps I will later. Pagnini also introduced the expression, the “doe of dawn” in the heading of Ps.22. For this reason, I wrote a poem imagining what it would be like to be a woman during the Reformation. It was not uncommon for girls from wealthy families to have a Greek tutor, but never a Hebrew tutor. That was mostly taught in other venues, inaccessible to women. My friend was over for supper a few days ago, and we reminisced about how we had studied, one of us Greek, and the other Hebrew, for 7 years, along with several years of the other language as well. We were lucky. Here is my poem,

Dawn’s doe desires the rushing water
She is not filled by the stagnant pool
Ancient wisdom’s anxious daughter
Will not be this ages fool.

Open those pages to her as well
And keep not the seal of unknown forms
The wandering mind will not dwell
In shelter from the word-waged storms

Text is the tumbled torrent where
Three flow together in equal share.

David Capes’s Assault Against the “Assault” Against “the male-female distinction”

July 22, 2014

We live at a time when people want to deny or erase the male-female distinction: to do so is to assault humanity itself and diminish God in the process.
– David Capes, 21st century

There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no “male and female”; you are all one in the Messiah Jesus.
– Paul, 1st century (translated by N.T. Wright in the 21st century)

At the blog for “The Voice” Bible, David Capes posted yesterday “They Come in Pairs (no, it’s not about Noah’s ark)” to correct, or perhaps to clarify, posts from Creig Marlowe. Capes also says he’s been inspired by the Marlowe posts and also by comments elsewhere made by N. T. Wright. The gist of Capes’s post is to acknowledge what Marlowe does with “binaries” in Genesis, but he wants to move away from what Marlowe does to make a greater acknowledgement of some sharp inherent distinction between male and female as part of God and as part of humanity. His post is written to assault the assault against “the male-female distinction.”

Here’s the paragraph in which Capes gives Marlowe’s “binary” method the nod:

Dr. Marlowe is correct that some of these binaries form a hendiadys (literally, one through two). A hendiadys is an expression of a single idea by the use of two words often connected with “and” or some other conjunction. “His legal case is not black and white” uses a hendiadys. “Black and white” is not describing the color of the case but essentially that the facts of the case are not clear. If a case is “open and shut,” on the other hand, it is clear. In Genesis 1.1 “heavens and earth” describe not so much two things but one for which there is no Hebrew word,”the universe.” “Heaven” means everything above your head and “earth” means everything below your feet, in a sense then both words together mean “everything.” That is why we translated Gen 1.1 in The Voice: In the beginning God created everthing [sic], the heavens above, the earth below . . . “

Here’s the conclusion of Capes, his assault against this alleged assault on humanity itself:

The final binary “male and female” deserves special attention. Male and female make up one thing, humanity, and this humanity reflects the image of God. But it is in their differences, their complementarities that male and female reflect the imago dei. Male has no greater claim than female on imaging God. It is in their union together and distinctions from one another that God’s likeness is on full display. We live at a time when people want to deny or erase the male-female distinction: to do so is to assault humanity itself and diminish God in the process. Here is the commentary embedded at Genesis 1:27 in The Voice:

The crown of God’s creation is a new creature, a creature that can sound the heartbeat of its Creator. That creature, made male and female, reflects God’s own relational richness. The human family is to join God in the ongoing work of creation. The earth below and the sky above with all their inhabitants are too beautiful and too good to be left alone. They need the tender care and close attention that only God’s favored creature can give.

In Genesis 1:28ff. God blesses the humans and gives them the prime directive: be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. In other words, humans are now directed to participate with God in the ongoing work of creation. God no longer creates ex nihilo. He uses preexisting elements and persons in order to fashion the next generation. Through the sexual union male and female become one flesh and life as we know it goes on.

What is interesting is how much more space and “special attention” Capes gives to this “final binary” of six total that he reviews. He need not apply his logic of distinction to any of the other five “binaries.” For the “the male-femalebinary, Capes feels the need to assert “their differences, their complementarities.” For the “the male-female” binary, there needs to be “the sexual.”

N. T. Wright, who “inspires” Capes, has said that these special binaries are indeed the most special. They are the ones that must be complementary. The metaphors of difference, the constructs, therefore, whenever there is sexual difference, must be realities of difference, even if the Lamb (a male) and the Church (a female) are married.

Here are just a few problems:

  1. With the sexual in the binary of special attention to save all humanity, there is this idea, a hint of it anyway, that the Creator Being is sexual in the same way a human “male and female ” must be to keep the creation of “the next generation” going. Capes cannot go that far, of course. The best he’ll let himself do is to admit the following:  “Good points, Emily. There are some wonderful images of God in the Scriptures that clearly describe the feminine side.” But he has to distinguish sharply the god-human binary (as a male-female binary) from all the other binaries, for the sake of the next generation.
  2. The logic of a “hendiadys” ostensibly must be abandoned when there is sex. The assertion of “both/and” categorical binaries, for Capes, becomes an assault, towards a denial or erasure of the male-female distinction.
  3. Genesis 5 and the story of Noah is still close by, despite what Capes wants for his funny blog title: “… Pairs (no, it’s not about Noah’s ark).” So when Paul uses “ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ” as a frozen phrase to his Greek readers in 1st century Galatia explicitly in order “to deny or erase the male-female distinction,” he’s likely not forgetting that old story of salvation that requires pairs on the ark, where in the LXX the same phrase is used. Paul is saying that his “Messiah,” who never was a male-one-flesh-with-a-female kind of savior, makes this very special sex binary a hendiadys.

 

Debts or Trespasses? And Other Riffs on the Lord’s Prayer

July 20, 2014

Crossposted from Gaudete Theology, as I expect and hope that the commentariat and my cobloggers here may take up rather different points in their responses. :)


Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil. Amen.

Those are the words I learned as a child, and still most frequently use when I pray. But sometimes I riff on it.

At some point in young adulthood, I encountered a translation that used “debts” and “debtors” instead of “trespasses”, and a commentary asserting that when Jesus talked about forgiveness, he was typically preaching to the people at the top of the wealth/power hierarchy. It was the people in positions of wealth and privilege who were called to forgive the debts of those who owed them money: not the other way around. This made sense to me in a “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable” kind of way.

The economic metaphor also helped me understand more concretely what forgiveness meant. I knew what it meant to forgive a monetary debt: it meant tearing up the IOU, wiping out the debt entirely, declaring “you don’t owe me that money anymore.” And, at least if you’re not an asshole, you also don’t bring up how generous you were in writing off that debt whenever there’s a conflict or negotiation between you and the person whose debt you forgave. A debt that’s forgiven is done, it’s over, it’s off the books.

In my first scripture course in grad school, I learned about the parallelism that permeates much Hebrew poetry, and I began to look for it everywhere.

Our Father in Heaven, / may your name be holy.
May your reign come / and your will be done
on earth / as in heaven.
Give us today / our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts / As we forgive our debtors.
Don’t lead us into temptation / But lead us out of evil.

I could even see some nested structure: “Our Father in heaven, holy is your name” has an ABBA structure (name/holy/holy/name).

Parallelism isn’t just aesthetic word games, though; like any other literary device, it accents the important concepts and brings out relationships between ideas. So I found this a fruitful reflection.

This form makes clear that “debts” beats “trespasses,” at least in English, by having a properly directional noun for the acting subject that makes sense with a possessive. “As we forgive our debtors” is perfectly clear. “As we forgive our trespassers”… not so much. Those might be our trespassers, that we sent out to trespass on other people’s lawns to go stir up trouble or hand out leaflets or sell Girl Scout cookies. And the connection with lawns (which is where I mostly saw “No Trespassing” signs as a kid) and the associated trivial level of infraction was also unhelpful.

Lately, though, I’ve been riffing on the Lord’s Prayer with a brain well soaked in mimetic theology.

Our Father in heaven / holy is your name.
May your reign emerge / and your will be enacted
On earth / as in heaven.
Give us today / what we need for today
And forgive us our trespasses / so we learn to forgive those who trespass against us
Do not put us to the test / but free us from evil

“Trespasses” is making sense again, in this theological framework in which defining my identity over against somebody else is sinful, and pacifically receiving my identity from God is holy; in which my righteous indignation is a surefire giveaway that I’ve been scandalized and hooked into mimetic rivalry with somebody who has done whatever it is they did to make me say “how dare they”: how dare they trespass against me or mine like that.

Forgive us our trespasses
So we can let go of that bristling defensive posture,
that tendency towards escalation, that mirror-imaging of sin.
Forgive us our trespasses
To remind us how it feels to be welcomed,
To remind us that we are no better no purer no holier
Than those who trespass against us.

Keep us out of that temptation
And free us from that evil

For yours, not ours, is the reign, and the power, and the glory:
Foreverandeveramen.

Paulo Freire in and on Translation

July 16, 2014

Abram K-J posted today his wonderful Spanish language “poem-prayer” inspired by his study of the works of Paulo Freire. Abram in comments below his post explains why he didn’t use Portuguese but used Spanish instead: La clase para que escribí un papel sobre Freire (la poema apareció al fin del papel) estaba una clase enseñaba en español. In other words, the professor and Abram and his classmates spoke and wrote in Spanish to study Freire in translation. And yet, he clarifies, in English, that when he read Freire’s most famous work it was in English translation.

Here’s a cover shot of the cover of one of the editions of this famous book:

Freire.translated.byMyraBergmanRamos

This is one of the few covers of Pedagogy of the Oppressed that gives credit to the English language translator, Myra Bergman Ramos. What did Freire think about her and her translation?

Well, in Pedagogia da Esperança, co-written with Nita Freire (aka Ana Maria Araújo), he tells his thoughts about Ramos’s translating, and more.

Freire.Pedgogia.da.Esperanca

Below we get some of that in the Freire’s Portuguese and in the English (translated by Robert R. Barr as Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed):

Freire.WashingtonDC

 

Freire.CambridgeMA

Freire.NewYorkNY

Additional detail of Freire’s work with Ramos is given by James D. Kirylo in his essay, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed: The Publication Process of Paulo Freire’s Seminal Work“:

Freire.translated.Kirylo

 

I do not know, but I would imagine, that when in the United States teaching, Freire spoke with audiences and taught classes of students at Harvard in English (even if through an interpreter of his spoken Brazilian Portuguese). Given his play with and his practice of the power of language of the oppressed, it seems he had a great admiration for how young people — learners as pedagogues and pedagogues as students — would struggle with texts. He stays with this question, and I think he would appreciate what Abram has prayed in his poetry en español, as a translation of Freire’s language and ideas.

“one more step”: Women to be Bishops in the Church of England

July 14, 2014

“I am overjoyed for the Church of England as it has finally consented [today, July 14, 2014] to the ordination and consecration of women as bishops. I believe that the inclusion of women in this order will bring new gifts and possibilities for its partnership in God’s mission in England. This represents one more step in the long transformation of church and society toward the Reign of God.”
– Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first female primate in the Anglican Communion

Full news:

Church of England says ‘yes’ to women as bishops

Church of England to have women bishops

“Falling into the Holes in Their Own Thought”

July 13, 2014

Fred Clark at Slacktivist this week has contributed more to the blogosphere conversation we also contributed to in the Noting Abusive Theologians post.  Clark’s post is in response to Roger Olson’s question, “Should a theologian’s life affect how we regard his/her theology?” Leaving aside for now the issue of whether all sins should be viewed in the same light (that we should, as Clark thinks Olson does, put excessive beer-drinking in the same category as advocating the slaughter of peasants), I found Clark’s post very helpful in providing an alternative to either dismissing a person’s theology because of his personal life, or dismissing a person’s personal life because of her theology.

Clark says:

It is, rather, a vitally important matter of identifying the way these men fell into the holes in their own thought so that we can avoid falling into those holes ourselves. We can’t shrug off Yoder’s sexual abuse or Jefferson’s slave-owning as, in Olson’s compartmentalizing phrase, “sides to their personal lives that we cannot be proud of”. . .

Did Luther’s anti-Semitism “affect” his theology, or did his theology foster his anti-Semitism? Yes, both. Did George Whitefield’s slave-owning shape his otherworldly revivalism or did his otherworldly revivalism rationalize his slave-owning? Yes, both.

The inability to recognize that cause and effect can flow both ways makes it unlikely that Olson will be able to “use it but highlight those areas” where the taint of this “scandalous action” can be identified as a discrete, separate compartment of thought. That’s not how humans work.

I think it is important to avoid the ad hominem fallacy when considering this question.  After all, the truth or falsehood of a statement is not changed by the nature of the person who makes it.  But (and this is an important “but”) individual statements of truth or falsehood don’t exist in a vacuum.  They are each one bit of a whole system of thought subscribed to by the person making them.  And often, human beings being what they are, inconsistencies and even outright contradictions can exist within a person’s system of thought.  These inconsistencies and contradictions often come from unexamined assumptions and prejudices within the person who is writing or speaking.  The cognitive dissonance thus created is often assuaged by some small cheat, such as an unacknowledged change in the definitions of the words being used.  For instance, Thomas Jefferson’s idea that all people are equal is one tenet of his thought. The idea that certain kinds of humans aren’t really people is another tenet of the same man’s thought: the one that justified both slaveholding and the ongoing rape of certain of his female slaves.  Both ideas have to be taken into account in order to make proper sense of Jefferson.  The fact that equality depends on how “people” are defined is a weakness in his system of thought that needs to be recognized. In fact, it’s a weakness that he either introduced or allowed, in order to justify his personal behavior to himself.

We can’t ignore Jefferson’s weakness relating to who gets defined as fully human, if we want to avoid falling into similar traps in our own thinking.

Roger Olson’s reasoning on the subject is as follows:

If we were to discount the value of every theologian whose life was in some way scandalous our library shelves would be much less burdened down. And perhaps our theological thinking poorer. And I didn’t even mention all the German theologians and biblical scholars who supported National Socialism!

Having said all that, I have to add this. If those German theologians allowed their pro-Nazi sympathies to infect their writings we would all, I suspect, decline to use them in our courses. So, to the extent that a theologian allowed his infidelities, racial prejudices, wrong political views, to affect his scholarship, I believe we must inevitably either 1) discard his scholarship, or 2) use it but highlight those areas where the scandalous parts of his life affected it.

However, to the extent that the theologian’s scandalous actions did not affect his theology (or biblical scholarship) I see no reason to make much of them. They should probably be mentioned in a biography but there’s no need to reject his whole theology because of them.

Olson’s writing here, I think, reveals his tendency to think in just the sort of binaries I have been trying to avoid– that either a theologian’s theology has been affected by his personal life, or it hasn’t; and that it’s possible for it not to have been.  And where it has been so affected, if it’s not too pervasive it’s possible to cut away those places like a bit of mold on a piece of cheese, leaving the rest good and usable.  However, if the taint of the theologian’s personal life is too pervasive, the entire theology must be discarded.

But I’m afraid we humans really don’t work that way.  We are all a mixture of bad and good acting and thinking.  Our thinking does affect the way we act, and the way we act does affect our thinking– and this is particularly true of the kind of people whose words, spoken or written, are wise enough to have been remembered down through the years.  Wise people don’t usually leave their actions unjustified by their thinking, because they are thinkers and they can’t function that way.

Therefore, it’s important to take a theologian’s private life into account when reading his or her writings, and note where cognitive dissonance may have been compensated for by changes in definitions and other such things. If Tillich abused young women at Union Theological Seminary, then his attitude towards women certainly affected what he wrote (or didn’t write) about Eve.  The key is to keep that in mind when reading his Systematic Theology.

 

Guest Post by Dagesh Forte – “Rhythm And Poetry”

July 2, 2014

Dagesh Forte is the blogger pseudonym of a scholar in biblical Hebrew. You may recognize him as a regular contributor of posts to the blog unsettledchristianity, including a provocative piece noting how “biblioblogs creep into places that maybe they shouldn’t be.” (In the same post, he reveals his part in the “now defunct Hebrew and Greek Reader weblog,” a site that interacted with some of Suzanne’s posts, and mine also, at our other respective blogs.) We are delighted that he has contributed the following guest post here at BLT!
– J. K. Gayle

—-

RAP is a powerful tool. RAP comes from Hip-Hop, the cultural movement that birthed DJing as its own type of music (instead of just a record spinner who introduced songs), break dancing, graffiti art, and RAP music. RAP has come to be stereotyped as crass, sexually and violently explicit, misogynistic, and a host of other negative things that have caused America to label many RAP albums with the tag “EXPLICIT”. Even so, RAP dominates the music scene here in the USA and internationally. I think its high-time that Bible translators begin to explore RAP as a vehicle for translating biblical poetry.

So let me introduce you to four of my favorite rappers. I think they can provide a foundation for how to make good rap.

Gil Scott-Heron

Gil is not what we think of when we think of RAP. Gil was a blueman, a jazz musician, and a beat poet. But unlike other beat poets, Gil’s poetry was about race, specifically black Americans. Gil died in 2011. The latter part of his life was marked with multiple jail sentences for powder cocaine possession and possession of a crack pipe (Until recently, crack cocaine offenders were given lengthier sentences than were powder cocaine offenders). His greatest hit was The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

The music of Gil Scott-Heron is important to me because its beautiful and honest and painful. Anyone who has ever had to deal with the modern (and very American) constructs of “black” and “white” will identify with or feel convicted by some of Gil’s words. Gil showed me how I benefit from institutional racism. And he did it in a way that I could accept because his way was poetic. As Bible translators, I think the lesson we can learn from Gil is that poetry can offend and convict and bring what is in the dark into the light and it can do it in a way that is undeniable.

 

KRS One

KRS One is from the early days of Hip Hop and the RAP that came from it. His music is an excellent blend of rhyming techniques with powerful content. He challenges black Americans to reject labels put on them and he invites all people to think before they speak. He is a scholar of Hip Hop. Sometimes when I want to listen to KRS One, I have a hard time deciding if I want to listen to his music or one of his lectures. KRS One shows that sermons can be rapped. Here’s his early hit My Philosophy.

KRS One also give regular lectures. You can find them on YouTube. Here he is commenting on guilt and Genesis 3.

 

The Wu-Tang Clan

I love The Wu. Wu-Tang is the soundtrack to my undergraduate years. The Wu-Tang Clan is the longest surviving (minus O.D.B.) RAP group from New York. In my opinion, they are the best. The Wu-Tang Clan makes blues music in RAP. This is the voice that says, “If there is a God, he doesn’t love me.” The Wu is a look at the underbelly of American life. Their music makes me think of hard-to-hear psalms like #137. Here is “Heaven and Hell” from Raekwon’s solo album “Only Built For Cuban Linx N*****”. Though his solo album, the whole Wu-Tang Clan joins in the album and this song.

 

Mala Rodriguez

For decades, Spanish RAP was terrible (in my opinion). Spanish rappers mimicked the techniques that they heard from American gangster RAP. For the most part, that technique was rhyme with a very predictable cadence. In the last few years, I have been impressed with the RAP of Maria “Mala” Rodriguez. Her RAP does not sound like American RAP in Spanish. She plays with Spanish as a Spanish speaker would, not as an American would. Her lyrics are biting and raunchy. And sometimes she growls like a death metal singer.

Mala’s music reminds me that poetry is different from language to language. Rhyme is entertaining in English, but in Spanish it can be incredibly boring (and easy since nouns end in either -o or -a). Here is the single “33” from her 2013 album “Bruja”.

 

Could RAP translations of Psalms be a useful exercise? I think when we hear a translation of a psalm that causes the foot to tap and the head to nod to the beat, then we’ll know.

 

 

 

Book review as comic strip: Jenna Brager’s review of the graphic book “Mendoza the Jew”

June 29, 2014

Click over to the Los Angeles Review of Books for this interesting way to review graphic books.  Jenna Brager reviews the recent graphic book Mendoza the Jew:  Boxing, Manliness, and Nationalism – A Graphic History.

Here is how it starts:

Mendoza

Snowpiercer: Vagaries of commercial art

June 29, 2014

I saw the amazing film Snowpiercer this weekend, and was absolutely stunned by this striking interpretation of the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige.  It is a rare bird: a cerebral action thriller.  It has an impressive cast:  Chris Evans, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Alison Pill, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton  and the excellent Korean actor Song Kang-Ho.  And, you probably have not seen it – it is only showing in a small number of theaters.  It is only playing in eight US theaters at this time although it will open at approximately a hundred theaters by next weekend.

The film is an extended allegory on religion, North Korean absolute control, and revolutionary movements set within an action thriller genre.  The basic premise is that in an effort to end global warning, science accidentally unleashes a brutal ice age that has killed all of humanity except for a tiny remnant living aboard a massive train that circumnavigates rail lines that circle the globe (with extended bridges connecting, for example, Alaska to Siberia).  The train is strictly segregated with the wealthy in the front, with every luxury imaginable – from sushi bars to hot tub pools – and the masses piled into cattle cars at the back.   A team led by Curtis and Gilliam (a clear nod to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil) attempts to launch a revolution to take charge of the engine car – facing a long series of obstacles and challenges.

“Snowpiercer” is a CGI feast – one that normally would play best on the big screen.  And yet, as a result of a controversial deal with Harvey Weinstein’s video-on-demand unit, the film seems destined to be seen by most on the small screen.  Is this the future of cinema in America?

The Boston Globe gives the fascinating backstory behind the release – a story that has a great deal to say about how movies are distributed.  Here are some excerpts:

“Snowpiercer” is a mesmerizing science fiction/action film that moves like the bullet train on which it takes place.[…] “Snowpiercer” isn’t a perfect movie but it is an astonishing one. Bong takes the dystopian fantasies of such movies as “Blade Runner” and “Brazil” and compresses them into an elongated space that rushes forward on speed and story. The film’s visual imagination is baroque, insane, inspired, with each railway car a newly revealed universe of beauty and peril. […] “Snowpiercer” demands to be seen.

It almost wasn’t. Back in 2012, Harvey Weinstein of The Weinstein Co. bought US rights to the film based on its script and a few sample scenes, but when [director] Bong [Joon-Ho]  turned in the finished film the distributor balked. The 126-minute runtime wasn’t as much an issue as the film’s dark tone, often brutal violence, and general creative weirdness. The wide release Weinstein envisioned now seemed risky; secondhand reports had company executives claiming the film wouldn’t be understood by audiences in Iowa and Oklahoma. Bong was told he had to cut 20 minutes or the film wouldn’t be released. In effect, he was being penalized for being too visionary.[…]

Bong refused to make the edits, especially after a Weinstein cut reportedly tested more poorly than the director’s original. Meanwhile, “Snowpiercer” was released in Korea, France, and other countries to rave reviews and massive box-office returns. Finally Weinstein relented: Bong’s version could go out to US theaters — but only in limited release. Instead of playing 600 to 1,000 screens, “Snowpiercer” would be seen in 100 or so art houses and out-of-the-way multiplexes.[…]

A crucial decision seems to have been Weinstein’s relegating “Snowpiercer” to the company’s Radius/TWC subsidiary, which specializes in releasing movies in innovative multiplatform arrays that include theatrical, video on demand (VOD), and other outlets. This practice severely restricts which theater chains will agree to show a film, since most exhibitors believe that digital distribution cannibalizes their customers.[…]  [O]nce “Snowpiercer” went to Radius/TWC — with an as yet unspecified VOD release scheduled for a number of weeks from now — its shunning by theater chains was assured.[…]

What the “Snowpiercer” saga inadvertently reveals is an entrenched industry in the midst of a sea change while paddling against the current as fast as it can. VOD revenues aren’t reported by distributors — meaning there’s no way to compare those numbers with box office grosses — but the anecdotal evidence is clear. More people than ever are dialing up movies on their TVs, laptops, and phones via cable services, Roku and AppleTV boxes, NetFlix, iTunes, and Amazon. The only movies that still draw mass audiences to theaters are heavily promoted studio blockbusters — and even they last only a few weeks — and the occasional art-house hit like “Grand Budapest Hotel.”[…]

What that means for you, the moviegoer, is as yet unclear. At the very least, films that don’t strictly conform to the big-budget studio entertainment model — that are labors of love, or are challenging, or just different — will find it harder than ever to find a big-screen toehold in this paranoid new world. “Snowpiercer” may have been relegated to the exhibition boondocks because it falls between the audience cracks: It’s too violent for genteel art-house audiences, too weird for the mainstream. And yet it’s impossible to believe that an action-packed science fiction movie starring [Chris Evans who previously played] Captain America (with an 86 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, no less [note, as of 6/29, the Rotten Tomatoes rating has risen to 93%])  couldn’t do a decent chunk of business for a few weeks in 600 theaters[…].

Must “the wife of the Lamb” be a Ewe?

June 25, 2014

N. T. Wright has suggested that Heaven marries Earth, that Adam marries Eve, that Christ marries the Church, that this is always and only Nature’s design: the male husband marries the female wife. And so he looks to the prophecies in the NT book of Revelation.

But in Revelation 19:7 and in Revelation 21:9, must “the wife of the Lamb” be a City? Or the Church? Or a Ewe?

If the sex must be different, then must the species also be different?

Below are a few quotations of Sr. Carolyn Osiek, writing to discuss the problems with the male-female marriage metaphor in the NT -

—-

There are other biblical metaphors that have never attained the status or power that this one carries. It conveys the power it does, not only because it taps into the primal human energy of sexuality, but also because it serves certain interests that are closely related to the confusing ambiguity we experience between the desire for connection and the desire to control.
–Carolyn Osiek
It does no good to affirm the full dignity and equality of women with men if our language, our imagery, and our metaphors continue to perpetuate inequality.
–Carolyn Osiek

[N]early all the Hellenistic discussions of household management, beginning with Aristotle, address only one person, the male authority figure (paterfamilias) who must relate differently but always in a superior manner to wife, children, and slaves….  Since Aristotle, the basic types of … analogies have been simile and metaphor….  Metaphor is a more implicit comparison made by direct statement that one thing is another. As Aristotle puts it, when A is to B as C is to D, it is a metaphor to say A is C, or vice versa (POETICS 21.11-12).
–Carolyn Osiek

The spousal metaphor has been a primary one throughout the development of ecclesiology. I need not and cannot document this development. Like any metaphor, it is sometimes carried too far…. One theologian argues on the basis of a social meaning of the Hebrew word basar (flesh, body) that the reference is not only to one’s personal body, but also ancestors, descendants, and particularly, one’s spouse. Thus the husband is considered to have two bodies, his own and that of his wife. Likewise, the wife has two heads, her own and that of her husband. This is supposed to reveal the distinction and the union of Christ and his church….  Since Mary is portrayed as mother of Jesus in the Second Testament and in subsequent theology and devotion, she is also portrayed as mother of the church, or perhaps more accurately, she should have been seen as its mother-in-law. But Mary has also been frequently seen as symbol or representative, a sort of first citizen, of the church. This blurs the distinctions. Thus there has been considerable symbolic slippage between her role as mother and her representation of the church in a spousal relationship to Christ.
–Carolyn Osiek

As you read this little blog post, would you do something?  Would you be brave enough to notice your reading strategies and slippages?  One of my mentors has thought about hers.  And so I’d like us let her help us again with ours.  I’m just interested in how our affirmations, on the one hand, may not always keep up with “our language, our imagery, and our metaphors.”   Just a couple of more items to go.  This is profound stuff, the relationships between what we think, what we say, and what we do.  If you’re a man, a Christian man, a Bible-reading Christian man, then you’ll probably have to think harder than everybody else.  We’re reading now (as with the four epigraphs above) from “The Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33): a problematic wedding,” in Biblical Theology Bulletin 32.1 (Spring 2002), researched and written by Dr. Osiek.  What do you think?:
Male interests predominate in our reading strategies. The implied reader is usually male or represents male interests. This is clear in the case of the history of interpretation of our text from Ephesians. I do not know of any instances in which male readers have deduced from it that as members of the church, which is submissive to Christ, her bridegroom, they should be submissive to their marriage partners. Nor do men generally, on the basis of this metaphor, image themselves as feminine in relation to God, which is the logical conclusion of the marital metaphor. Some older spirituality in English spoke of the soul as “she,” more under the influence of feminine words for soul in Latin and French than anything else, but also perhaps influenced by the marriage metaphor. Likewise, Caroline Bynum calls our attention in her essays on Jesus as Mother to the influence of the submission theme in medieval monasticism: becoming symbolically female meant both the humbling of the self and the assumption of a compassionate attitude toward others (Bynum: 110-69). Here the stereotype of the stern father and the compassionate mother strikes again, to the detriment of fatherhood as well as motherhood, and the stereotype of the dominant male taking on female characteristics by becoming humble belittles the dignity of women. 

Both men and women do, however, make the connection that the ecclesial marriage metaphor means that women as members of the church should be submissive, however troublesome that realization may be, and whether they accept or reject it. Men certainly do identify not with the church in this metaphor, as members of it, but with Christ, because such identifications suit male interests. Herein lies the great danger posed by this ecclesiological metaphor: it encourages men to identify with Christ, women with the church. As everyone knows who teaches or ministers, for most people the line between Christ and God is very thin. As long as the marriage metaphor is in play, gender symbolism is fixed. Men will, even unconsciously, identify with Christ and women with the church, and feminine imagery for God or Christ then has no place. Then God is the ultimate male.

The above is a reposting from http://speakeristic.blogspot.com/2011/03/tap-that-sexy-power.html. And for full disclosure, Dr. Osiek is one of my own teachers, and she advised me through my dissertation project.

UPDATE: If the link to the article above ( http://btb.sagepub.com/content/32/1/29.full.pdf+html ) does not work, then please feel free to request a reprint of it or to subscribe to the journal or to find the essay in your university or local library. There are some important arguments made, such as this -

I would argue that casting the church as feminine, and above all as bride of Christ, far from enhancing the dignity of women, has in fact done harm to perception of the capacity of women to image the divine, and thus of women’s fundamental human and Christian dignity.

and this –

The “head” analogy for a leader of an army, a city, or some other social grouping was already established and quite common [by the time Paul wrote what he wrote]. What is less obvious in the sources is how “head” came to mean authority of one person over one other person as it does here [in male-female marriage, in Paul's writing], and how “body” could support the meaning of a subordinate yet free individual person. (Slaves were sometimes depersonalized by being referred to legally in Greek as somata, bodies, but a reference to a specific individual slave by this term is unlikely.) These are precisely the points of greatest tension in the simile of this passage. The dissonance of the headship of one person over another occurs previously in 1 Corinthians 11:3, where Christ is the head (kephale) of man, man of woman, and God of Christ. But it was not a well-established metaphor in its day. How is Christ head of the man in 1 Corinthians 11:3, and of the church here? Not as military or political leader, but in a new way here, as savior ([Ephesians] 5:23). Bracket for a moment the accumulation of theological, eschatological, and individualist meaning attributed to the title “savior.” In the first century a savior was one who healed of disease and restored to community; one who protected the weak from the oppression of the strong; a military hero and ruler who was responsible to keep his people from harm. In this last sense a savior could also be head, and in a collective sense, head of the social body. But for an individual man to be head of an individual woman is a very new application of the metaphor of headship.

The comparison of wife to body is more shocking. There is nothing immediately obvious even about the similarity of wife to church, except that wives make up some of the members of the church. But so do husbands. Only by extrapolating from biological to ecclesiological functions can we begin to see some figurative similarities: wives become mothers who produce children, etc., and the
church can be figuratively personified with a somewhat similar role. But there are other more subconscious similarities that produce this metaphor: the ideal shy, pure, therefore inexperienced, virgin bride who submits her body to the waiting bridegroom and is reserved for his pleasure alone, for him to initiate her into the joy of sex in whatever way he would like. I do not mean to titillate, but I think all of these undertones are there, especially in the highly unusual suggestion that the bridegroom is the agent of the bride’s prenuptial bath and purity inspection. The
metaphor comes close to asserting that female biology is destiny. However, it is typical of the kind of projections of the feminine that are based solely on women’s sexual status in the male world: virgin, mother, or whore.

We have seen that the background metaphor to the simile of wife:husband::church:Christ is that of head as leader. The foreground metaphor is the application of the sacred marriage. It is quite an irony that the historical Jesus, of whose celibacy so much has been made in Christian history, has been transformed into the glorified Christ who is bridegroom ready for the bridal chamber, preparing to be a faithful and self sacrificing husband! Yet that seems not to have stopped the continuing power of the metaphor. “It’s only symbolic,” we say. Yet there are other elements of the metaphor that are taken with complete seriousness, like the need to conform gender symbolism in eucharistic presidency to reflect the sacred marriage of Christ and the church.

ANOTHER UPDATE (IMAGES ADDED) -


Meaning, Marriage, and Allah

June 24, 2014

For centuries, Arabic speakers, both Christians and Jews, have used the word “Allah” to refer to God. As I understand it, that is the apparent etymological meaning of the word’s morphemes: the god.

Recently in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, a court order declared that a Catholic newspaper may not use the word Allah to refer to God. This decision claimed the word “Allah” as distinctly and exclusively referring to the God worshipped by Muslims God as God is understood by Islam.

For centuries, English speakers in the West have used the word “marriage” to refer to a legally recognized relationship between a man and a woman, establishing a household.

The etymological meaning of this word’s morphemes is more obscure, and its semantic field is broader. But the relationship is presumptively and normatively sexual, monogamous, lifelong, and includes the birthing and raising of children.

In reality, none of these things have been universally true; there have always been marriages that did not include sex, that did not last lifelong, that were not monogamous, and that did not include children. Indeed, it is presumed that most marriage will include at least one substantial period without children, and will eventually enter a period during which sex is rare or entirely absent. (The reality may be otherwise, but the popular imagination is typically either amused or disturbed by the idea that elderly people are sexually active.) Over the last 50-100 years, with the destigmatization of divorce and the availability of effective birth control, “lifelong” and “intending children” can no longer be taken for granted, even though the norms persist. Increasingly, in this country, the meaning of marriage has come to indicate a legally recognized, presumptively sexual and emotional relationship between two adults that establishes a household. Increasingly, both the majority usage and the law are broadening to embrace such a relationship between either two men or two women.

Recently, a religious minority in this country has vocally claimed the word “marriage” as distinctly and exclusively referring to
the traditional meaning of marriage
relationships that conform to the church(es)’s definition of marriage
relationships between a man and a woman that can have children
relationships between a man and a woman.

Logically, there’s no reason to draw the line there, instead of somewhere else; doctrinally, this is actually a really poor place to draw the line, at least for Catholics. I’ve argued before that the Catholic church should willingly yield all claim to the word “marriage”, withdraw from civil discourse on the matter, and concentrate instead on teaching its flock the distinctly Catholic understanding of sacramental marriage, for which it might use the term “matrimony.”

The majority claim about “Allah” in Malaysia, and the minority claim about “marriage” in this country, both attempt to plant a flag on a particular hill in a word’s semantic field and claim that this hill is the one and only authentic, legitimate meaning of the word. But that’s just not how language works.

Metaphors are not equations

June 24, 2014

Argument by metaphor is always logically perilous, but a particularly severe error can be made when a metaphor is treated as an equation, equating the referent with the metaphorical expression.  When Longfellow compare’s the skipper’s daughter’s eyes to Linum catharticum or when Burns describes his love as a red, red rose, they are talking about humans and emotion, not about botany.  They are not equating eyes or love to plants.  One would not seek gardening tips from their poems.

In a highly-commented on post below, BLT co-blogger Suzanne comments on N. T. Wright’s use of a metaphor – that creation was a marriage of heaven and earth.  There is plenty of discussion about the biases that N. T. Wright brings to the table, but first and foremost, we need to remember that a metaphor is not an equation.  A metaphor comparing creation to the marriage of heaven and earth may shed light on the nature of creation, but it is hardly is useful in understanding marriage.

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