You might say it’s been a really bad time for really bad men these days. Really poor, if not criminal, male leadership in all sorts of corridors of power (and revelations of just how bad its been for a really long time) have caused people to look more than ever for the causes.
One place I’ve seen more and more people look to, and blame, is the Bible. Because of its patriarchy and insistence on our allegiance to a sole, or at least supreme, male Deity.
It’s certainly true that the Bible tells its stories about spiritual realities in the context of super-stratified, traditional ancient Middle Eastern culture, where men are always placed in higher status than women. (And hence given more weight....)
And the God overseeing and controlling everything in the Universe is male. In part that’s because of the biblical insistence on monotheising, so there can’t be a He/She “Them” to whom to pray, and for any number of reasons Israelite culture stayed far away from anything resembling the goddess and fertility worship that often surrounded them.
While I totally appreciate how the constant focus on male dominance in the Bible can easily lead to assumptions that this is to be always celebrated, even sacralized if the community wants to show its faithfulness, when applying the Comic Lens to the goings-on in scripture, something different seems to be happening, imho.
Seems to me that the men, even “Mr. God,” are bumblers a lot of the time. If its a message of “heroic maleness” that we’ve been created to emulate that we expect the Bible to be giving us, we will find ourselves sorely disappointed.
Or shaking our head snickering.
After all, when we think about what classically perfect men should be like (over and above hand-size) what characteristics should we include?
He’s perfectly brave, a mighty warrior who’s not afraid of anything!
He’s perfectly wise, always right, unwavering in his cause!
He’s well spoken and inspires those he’s tasked to lead!
He’s always in control because…he’s always in control!
I’m sure you have others.
We can assume that this is the way the patriarchal world of scripture expects faithful men to act, especially if they are led and fill themselves with the Spirit of God, who is perfectly EVERYTHING, especially perfectly male, right?
However, this is rarely what we get in our scriptural stories. Take for example our Old Testament lesson from last week’s lectionary, Exodus 32:1-14. One of my faves!
Here is a story almost exclusively about male leadership in the middle of the Bible’s most significant journey, the exodus from slavery in Imperial Egypt to freedom and flourishing in the Promised Land of Palestine.
The story begins as we hear Moses and God are delayed upon Mt. Sinai and the people are getting antsy. So Aaron, appointed by God to help Moses in his leadership tasks, is now leading the way to creating a golden calf that the people can worship instead. If God had perfect wisdom, how could He have picked such a fickle spiritual lightweight to serve as second-in-command?
Then, when God finds out what Aaron is doing, He becomes enraged. ENRAGED! Not that He shouldn’t be, but wouldn’t a perfect - perfectly male - Diety know how to handle his anger, besides insisting everyone now must die? Didn’t He create a rainbow a few generations before to remind him that this wasn’t the way He wanted to solve His problems with humanity? Too bad He can’t remember…it was such a beautiful moment with Noah, et al.
And besides, didn’t God just make the commandment that there was to be no killing? The smoke hasn’t even cleared from the stone tablet, and its Great Author is already in the “Do what I say and not as I do” mode that wrecks the credibility of many a leader.
Poor Moses, who never wanted to take the leadership mantle in the first place, finds himself in the unenviable position of trying to get God to change His mind and not kill everyone on the spot.
Whaaat? Try and get God to change His mind? Isn’t God always right? And even if He isn’t, how can a lowly human attempt such a thing?
It’s pretty crazy, but Moses is able to get God to flip-flop! He has God think about how He will look the fool to the Egyptians, killing His people after He made such a big deal to rescue them.
When did God eeeever care about what the Egyptians think? Or any imperial power? Isn’t God Lord over everything, even and especially the world’s empires, who dissipate like grass compared to the One who lives and reigns forever?
But it works! He caves! God gives in and changes His mind. Just like a woman, right? He reneges top status to listen and learn and thereby elevate the status of one of His children. Sheesh!
These kinds of sudden status and role reversals are the bread-and-butter of comic storytelling. Especially when things result in a happy ending, we love to see beloved authority figures like Andy Taylor, Ward Cleaver, Colonel Klink, Mike Brady, Ray Barone et al et al et al, get knocked off their high horse and scramble around trying to figure things out like the rest of us.
Sometimes I think what the Bible is trying to do is offer up a satire about the world of patriarchy and male God-ness. At just about every turn it's shown to be not what it’s cracked up to be. The qualities that save the day for God - and for us - in this Exodus story are the willingness of the men (and male Deity) to be flexible, quick-witted, repentant, interdependent, and willing to laugh at themselves - or at least acknowledge their irony. These aren’t traits of warriors, be they human or god. They sound more like the kind of characteristics ascribed to wives, slaves, and jesters and jesters!
Unfortunately, when we don’t let ourselves see the Bible through the comic lens (which Icontinue to believe was the text’s original thrust), we fall into a trap of assuming the Bible is giving us a straight-forward account of maleness that, when you read it with an honest focus, leaves a lot to be desired.
But put on those funny lenses, and let the hope flow above, below and through the words!