By Laurel Coolbaugh
Reconciliation Series: Invisibility in a Culture of Patriarchy (September 2015)
In Jodi Piccoult’s novel, “House Rules”, the young adult, Jacob Hunt, has Asperger’s syndrome and though quite brilliant, he will not look people in the eyes, which is a one of many resulting social issues caused by Asperger’s. The author rotates writing each chapter from one of the main character’s perspectives, so when Jacob talks about being coached in social cues by a female university student with whom he thinks he might be in love, he talks about the reason he does not look into people’s eyes when talking with them. Jacob relays that looking into someone’s eyes is like precipitating an internal explosion (not a quote). When we look into another’s eyes, according to Jacob, their thoughts and heart become transparent. Jacob likens it to reaching in and pulling out a person’s innards and exposing them. And he thinks this is uncomfortable, in the least, and shaming, in the worst.
When the Triune God created humanity, God created male and female in God’s image, “and they were naked and unashamed” (Gen. 2:25). Both male and female were given the same charge to rule and subdue the earth, and that to be done in friendship with God as they all communed in the Garden together. There were no prescribed roles for male and female. There was no rivalry between God and humans, nor between male and female.
Wm. Barry in his book, “A Friendship Like No Other: Experiencing God’s Amazing Embrace”, talks about God’s commissioning of Adam and Eve in the Garden, especially when God tells them to “be fruitful and multiply, from the point of view of the German language in Haydn’s oratorio, “The Creation”. The German phrase for this is “Mehret euch!” Barry says that, mehret is a verb formed from the adverb mehr, which means “more”; euch is the reflexive pronoun “yourselves”. So God tells the living creatures, and later the first man and woman, “More yourselves.” Now, this obviously is a call to propagate. But you can also hear more in the words, “Be more!”, “Grow!”, “Be all that you can be!” There is no hint of stinginess in this creation story, or God being careful or hedging bets. There is no sense, in other words, that God is afraid of having rivals in creativity.” (pg. 12)
It is the serpent that tries and succeeds in setting up the rivalry between God and humans, and that rivalry not only infects the relationship with the Creator and creation, but it infects the relationship between humans. “The lie at the heart of human sinfulness is that we can gain control of our existence by some action of our own and that God does not want us to have this power….So instead of accepting the friendship with God that was offered, human beings chose to enter into rivalry with God. The consequences of that disastrous choice plague our world and us still,” according to Barry.
When humans chose rivalry with God over love, shame entered the picture. Once they ate of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Gen. 3:7-8 says that, “the eyes of both were opened and they realized they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loin cloths for themselves”. Just after this, God calls for them in the Garden, and they both seek to hide from God. Covering up and hiding are responses that come from underlying shame. Wm. Barry states that, “One could take this nakedness for more than physical nakedness; it can stand for psychic and spiritual transparency before God and each other. But once their eyes are opened, they are ashamed and go into hiding. They are no longer transparent before God and each other.” (pg. 18)
If you think of a spectrum with rivalry on one end and shame on the other, this is the suffocating and destructive confinement in which both the man and woman are now trapped. They are doomed to live out of this spectrum for the rest of their lives but for God’s saving Grace. God never meant for the man and woman to live in such a destructive relational pattern with the Trinity or with one another.
How does God save us out of our broken relational pattern of living within this spectrum? God initiates friendship with us, as God began with Abram and Sarai in Gen.12. God came to them and made a covenant with them that God would love them, provide for them, listen to them, and care for them always, HELPING them to, “Be more!”, “Grow!”, and “Be all that you can be!” The key for this in relationship with God and others is practicing transparency with God and others, which begins to help us “see” God, ourselves, and others for who we really are, our “true selves”. When this happens, we begin to really look at and see ourselves and others for who God made us to be, with the imparted gifts and the areas of enduring vulnerability that lie within each of us. We can look into each other’s eyes and let go of rivalry and shame and truly love our neighbor and celebrate them for ALL of who God has made them to be and help them grow into their fullness for the Kingdom of God.
Gilbert Bilezikian in his book, “Community 101: Reclaiming the Local Church as a Community of Oneness”, talks about the unity of the Trinity. It is the unity experienced within the Trinity from which all unity flows and which is our model for relationship between God and human, and human and human.
The Father is at the forefront of the work of, but both the Word and the Spirit are present and involved with the Father in creation. The Son is at the forefront of the work of redemption, but both the Father and the Spirit are present and involved with the Son in redemption. The Spirit is at the forefront of the work of sanctification, but both the Father and the Son are present and involved in the work of sanctification. …[this] defines the oneness of the Father, Son, and Spirit as pertaining to the essence or being of God. But it also extends this quality of oneness to the activities or functions of the members of the Trinity since they are said to be ‘equal in power’. This summary affirms the essential oneness of the members of the Trinity while disallowing any notion of ranking or of hierarchy among them. Because God is absolute, the oneness of the Trinity is absolute. If any part of the Trinity were less than absolute in essence or function, the Godhead would also be less than absolute. (pg. 18)
How does the culture of patriarchy misrepresent our model of community as seen in the unity and mutuality of the Trinity?
How does the culture of patriarchy encourage the experience of invisibility?
How have you experienced being trapped in living along the spectrum of rivalry and shame?
If hierarchy breeds relational invisibility, mutuality breeds relational transparency, looking into another’s eyes, hearing their story, getting to know who they are and how God’s image is manifested in and through them. Humanity was never meant to be stratified into hierarchical social classes, dividing male and female, rich and poor, etc., and being assigned overt or covert roles by other humans. Humanity was meant to live into the fullness of who God created them to be with the spiritual gifts and skills God gifted to each individual. That’s why the spiritual gifts listed in Scripture are never designated by God according to gender or race; rather they are for everyone according to what God has given by God’s generosity and grace.
Bilizekian expounds on this in his book.
In other words, the dominant teaching about ministry found in Romans is that people who have a spiritual gift should use it fully. It is inconceivable that, in a constitutional document of the church as influential as Paul’s letter to the Romans has been through history, there should be found such strong encouragement for all to use their spiritual gifts to the fullest extent if any kind of curtailment on ministry had been part of the system of the New Testament church. Quite the opposite, the charge is for universal participation in ministry. The strong connection made in the New Testament between oneness and ministries leaves no room for exclusions. A similar linkage between a discussion of the church as the community of oneness and an exhortation about spiritual gifts is found in 1 Cor. 12. In this relatively large section, the apostle Paul insists that God activates spiritual gifts in everyone (vs.6), that, ‘To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given.’ (VS.7), and that gifts are ‘the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.’ (v. 11). Paul goes on to argue that body oneness can become a reality only as each believer uses his or her gift without hindrance (vv,12-21). This is the fullest and most detailed discussion of spiritual gifts in the New Testament. The overriding emphasis is that spiritual gifts are to be used fully as an expression of the oneness of the body. No one has the right to claim exemption from participation for being different (vv.14-16). Nor does the body consist of only one element or of one kind of members. Inclusive participation of the party gives cohesion to the whole body (vv. 17-21). Paul’s emphatic message is that there are no exemptions or limitations to full participation in the life and ministries of the body. If there were any exceptions to this rule, they did not apply to the Corinthian church. In fact, the Corinthian Christians were forbidden by Paul to make exceptions (vv. 15, 21).
How do we break this cycle of rivalry, shame, and invisibility?
What does Jesus say about breaking these cycles?
Our only hope for living into transparency and mutuality is to go back to Jesus’ great commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” In our ridiculously busy culture where technology is supreme, we have all too easily gotten away from looking into each other’s eyes and really listening to one another, with the purpose of hearing their passions, learning about their gifts and literally learning to behold the other similarly to the way God beholds us and listens to and knows us. Isn’t this how we start to love our neighbor, by seeking to truly “see”, hear, and know them in all of their strengths and weaknesses? Don’t we need to continue loving them, as the members of the Trinity love one another, by coming alongside of them in their work for God and the Kingdom, in their God-given design, seeking to work with them, encourage them, and promote them, even sacrifice for them?
How have you personally experienced people loving others in ways that exemplify the members of the Trinity?
Does loving others like that make you feel threatened? If so, how do you deal with feelings of rivalry and shame?
(To be continued...)
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