When you think of the Adam and Eve story, what is the first thing that pops into your mind? Did you notice that there is not a single mention of an apple? And yet, I bet that image is imbedded in our minds.
Whether or not we believe that the story of Adam and Eve in the garden happened just the way it was read, or whether we believe that the story is more symbolic, there is truth and power in the story that continues to this day.
As Lindsay Hardin Freeman writes in her book, Bible Women,” Some see Eve as a mythical figure, others see her as the first woman on earth. Either way, Eve seems to get the blame for leading humanity astray, forever.”
Just to be transparent, I believe that this is a story, told by ancient people, trying to explain and understand how evil came into the world.
To paraphrase Marcus Borg, it may not have happened just in this way, but there is truth in the story. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake, and God banished them from the garden.
What are some of the characteristics you would use to describe Eve? You can type your responses in the chat box or in the comments on Facebook. These are some of those responses: Curious… vulnerable… curious… easily influences… easily misled…
lack of responsibility… innocent… curiosity… wondering… appreciative of beauty… tempted… curious…curious… didn’t know.
Some of the words I would use to describe her are:
Those are often characteristics which are applied to men… and for which men are rewarded. And yet, this story, with Eve displaying those same characteristics, is used to blame women. If it were not for her, we would still be in the garden… This story, of Eve’s disobedience, is imbedded in our collective history, even if not consciously.
I remember participating in confirmation classes around age 35, along with a bunch of teenage boys… They were convinced that Eve was to blame for bringing evil into the world, I am sure they never heard that in church, but somehow, they had absorbed it.
Merlin Stone, author of When God Was a Woman, writes, “Even as a young girl I was taught that, because of Eve, when I grew up, I was to bear my children in pain and suffering. As if this was not a sufficient penalty, instead of receiving compassion sympathy or admiring respect for my courage, I was to experience this pain with guilt, the sin of my wrongdoing laid heavily upon me as punishment for simply being a woman, a daughter of Eve. To make matters worse, I was also supposed to accept the idea that men, as symbolized by Adam, in order to prevent any further foolishness on my part, were presented with the right to control me —to rule over me. According to the omnipotent male deity, whose righteousness and wisdom I was expected to admire and respect with a reverent awe, men were far wiser than women. Thus my penitent, submissive position as a female was firmly established by page three of the nearly one thousand pages of the Judeo-Christian Bible.” (Facebook posting May 2019)
We may think that this has no bearing on us any longer. But if we stop and think of how many Christian denominations, other religions and institutions, whether deliberately or not, reduce women to lesser class status, we see how this does have bearing on us today. We may see how Eve’s story is still used to determine what role women may play in our churches. If all of us, men AND women, and those who identify as neither, are made in the image and likeness of God, then surely we cannot believe that God would hold any of us down. None of us would be prevented from becoming the fullness that God created us to be.
And for us in the United Church, who have been ordaining women for decades, we often think we are past this thinking, and in some ways we are. But, my female colleagues and I still encounter sexism… and bias… and attitudes that our male counterparts are not subject to. We deal with people’s unconscious perceptions of what a minister looks like and sounds like and acts like. We are often referred to as women or female ministers rather than just ministers. And of course, sexism and bias isn’t confined to the church.
We need to look no further than the political climate in the USA, the huge difference in pay between male and female athletes and the policing of girls clothing at school to realize how deeply embedded it is.
But since we are in church, let’s return to sexism in the church. Most of us were brought up thinking of God as father… and even as most of no longer believe that God is some old white man with a beard… that image is embedded in our subconscious… But what happens when we use female names for God? What is your visceral response when and if we hear Mother or ‘she?’
Jann Aldredge-Clanton, minister, author and professor, writes, “Some people argue that inclusive language is a “trivial” issue and that those who advocate for it are just too “sensitive.” But if language is unimportant, why do they react with such anger, as though we have brought pornography into worship, when we refer to God as “Mother” or “She”?
No better proof could be found for the bias against the feminine and the need to overcome it by calling God “She.”
Marg Herder, writer, singer and artist, writes: “Think it doesn’t matter that God is referred to almost exclusively as ‘He’? Sure, you’re enlightened enough to think of God as a force, or a presence, or as Spirit. But when you need a pronoun, what pronoun do you reach for? It matters. It is huge. Try calling God by female pronouns in almost any Christian church sometime. See how that goes over. Try referring to God as ‘She’ in your own speech. Feel kinda like you are breaking a rule, being bad?”
Ah, but if we are breaking rules, we are in good company… It is only those who go beyond what is known, who break the rules, who question the status quo who discover greater and greater potential… and so we reap the benefit of their exploration and challenge.
So, what are we do with this story of Eve and how it has been used? What is the good news for us? Bruce Sanguin, a United Church minister who hosts a website called A Home For Evolving Mystics, says something like this. If we believe that the world is continually evolving and becoming more complex, if we believe that the universe and life is continually expanding, then there was no garden… there is nothing to get back to… and so there is nothing for which to blame Eve. There is our own free will… with which we were created. Our will can do great good… and it can do great evil… Eve was a woman who was not content with the status quo, who dared to go beyond what was expected.
Lindsay Hardin Freeman has a number of questions for reflection, which I offer to you.
And before you men dismiss them as only being applicable to women, remember that we as women are asked to see ourselves in the stories of men in our Bible, so I invite you to see yourself in Eve’s story.
- The garden is described as a stress free, protected environment. What might have been missing for Eve? Why did she take the fruit?
- Eve became a mother only after leaving the garden? What does this say about motherhood and maturity?
- Do you share any of Eve’s traits? How do they help you? How do they hinder you?
- What would our world be like if Eve hadn’t eaten the forbidden fruit?
- Eve acted before she spoke with God. What temptations are you struggling with today? How might you ask God for help?
- If you are moving out of what has been your comfort zone, what might the angels advise? Continue or turn back? Retreat or forge ahead?
I’d love to hear your responses to those questions in the coming week!
Thanks be to God for the challenge and opportunity of being God’s people. Amen.
September 13, 2020 – SMUC