Archives: Proper 27

Anita Hill, Sexual Harassment, and the 10 Virgins

Trigger warning: this piece contains discussion of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

 

 

The floodgates have opened on the reality of everyday experience for American women.

Sexual harassment is a daily occurrence, and the number of women who have not experienced sexual assault is vanishingly small.

In the circle of women who are most dear to me, several have been raped.

I myself had what I would describe as a semi-consensual sexual experience in college that had deep repercussions for me.

And with regard to sexual harassment, the reaction of most women I know to men who are asking, “Is it really this prevalent?” is, “You mean you didn’t know?”

There are few of us who do not have strong emotions about this cultural moment.

I have talked to straight male colleagues who are frightened.

They are examining years of their lives in retrospect, wondering if they ever crossed a line somewhere and will find out about it on the front page of the local paper.

I have talked to male colleagues who react with scoffing dismissal, insisting these accusations are a fad and a bandwagon for every opportunist holding a grudge.

Other male colleagues have reacted with sensitivity, solidarity, and commitment to being part of a solution.

The female colleagues I have talked to have had a range of reactions as well.

Some have had to shut down all news and social media in their lives because the constant barrage of sexual harassment allegations has triggered their own memories and swamped them with PTSD.

Some who have not dealt with outright abuse or assault have felt guilty or privileged compared with those who have.

Many are deeply cynical that any real change can occur in a nation that elected as president someone who freely admitted to sexual assault in what he called “locker room banter.”

And this doesn’t even begin to address the additional levels of harassment and assault experienced by those rendered even more vulnerable than those in my dominant milieu of middle class white women.

People of color and LGBTQ colleagues I’ve spoken to have shaken their heads as they’ve affirmed that my privilege has shielded me from additional layers of poisonous harm that bombard them from the outside world every day.

I think one of the questions everyone is asking is, “Why now?” Continue reading

Out of Our Poverty

Good morning, everyone! Let’s talk about sex.

Perhaps not what you were expecting to hear from me right off the bat in the pulpit.

Well, we’re beginning with our story from Ruth, and you need a little cultural context to get the full meaning of this story.

Ruth has followed her mother-in-law Naomi to Israel after the death of Ruth’s husband, and they’ve been living from pillar to post.

They have no source of income. They cannot open a small business or draw social security.

They subsist on the gleanings from the field, which are the little bits of grain leftover from the harvest that get left behind.

They are literally living on scraps.

It’s not a sustainable situation, and they know that.

So Naomi says to Ruth: “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.”

This is a euphemism. In this culture, to uncover a man’s feet while he was sleeping was to make yourself available for sex.

This is not the proper way of doing things, in case you haven’t noticed.

This was not an aboveboard courtship with polite chaperoned dates.

Naomi told Ruth to go to Boaz after Boaz had been drinking and make herself sexually available to him.

And she did it!

Ruth said to Naomi, “All that you tell me I will do.”

Ruth is taking an enormous risk. Continue reading

As For Me and My Household, We Have Decision Fatigue

Today is a day of choice in our lesson from the Book of Joshua.  And it’s also time to talk about choice for ourselves.

In the Book of Joshua, the people of Israel have a very a simple choice: worship the gods their ancestors worshipped in their former lands, or worship the one true Living God who had called them by name.

Our choices are a lot more complicated than that, but they come down to the same issue in the end.

We as modern Americans are bombarded by choice not just every day, but multiple times an hour.

The combination of our many resources, our fast-paced lifestyle, and our plugged-in technological interfaces subjects us to information overload.

We experience what psychological experts call “decision fatigue.”

Decision fatigue describes the phenomenon in which our capacity to make good decisions wears out if we have to make too many decisions, too often and too quickly in a row.

The more decisions we have to make, the poorer the quality of our decision making.

We begin by being very rational and careful about our decision-making, but by the end we’re choosing based on our desires rather than our values. Continue reading

Can You Lose Control?

Most of the time when Jesus is arguing with someone in the gospels, it’s the Pharisees. But this time, he is confronted by a group that we only see once in the Gospel of Luke: the Sadducees.

The Sadducees were a group in the upper social and economic strata of Jewish society who jockeyed for power with the Pharisees. They are known in our story today for what they don’t believe: that there is such a thing as resurrection.

It’s a cold and strange life to contemplate, living with the idea that our souls are as finite as our bodies.

The positive part of it for the Sadducees is that it makes them emphasize that what we do on Earth really matters because it is our only chance to make things right. There is no pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by for the Sadducees. You have to take responsibility for your life and your society now because there is no afterlife.

But it’s clear that at least this particular group of Sadducees in this particular moment are not exactly focused on “living your best life now.”

They are concerned only with tripping Jesus up on orthodox Torah interpretation so they can humiliate him and threaten his power and his standing with the people. And so they create this bizarre hypothetical scenario in which a childless woman has to marry a series of seven brothers as each of them dies without leaving an heir.

They think they’re so smart with their tricky question. Continue reading