Wednesday, September 15, 2021

A Lectionary for Our Current Time

For the next several months, our church will be using the newly published A Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church.  Why switch to a new lectionary?  Hasn't the Revised Common Lectionary been good enough for all these years?  What can the new one do that old ones haven't?

Some of you might be asking a more basic question:  "What's a lectionary?"  It's simply a grouping of religious readings for any given day in the religious year. It's a way to ensure that communities of faith hear a variety of readings, and it's a wonderful feeling of solidarity, knowing that a majority of communities are considering the same texts on any given day.

In an ideal world, having a common lectionary is a way to make sure that religious texts aren't used to wound others.  We know it hasn't always worked that way.

So why switch to this new lectionary?  The introduction to the book says it best:  "What does it look like to tell the Good News through the stories of women who are often on the margins of scripture and often set up to represent bad news?  How would a lectionary centering women's stories, chosen with womanist and feminist commitments in mind, frame the presentation of the scriptures for proclamation and teaching?  How is the story of God told when stories of women's brutalization and marginalization are moved from the margins of canon and lectionary and held in the center in tension with stories of biblical heroines and heroes?"

Here's an example, taken from my seminary class this week.  Most of us grew up hearing the story of Adam and Eve, where Eve was presented in a variety of ways, none of them good.  Eve was stupid or ditzy or conniving.  Eve was the one responsible for bringing sin into the world; Eve was responsible for the fall of all of humankind, and therefore all women must be punished, century after century.

But what if we told the story differently?  What if we saw Adam as the passive one, the one who just did what he was told, while Eve was the one who took an active role in managing the Garden, talking to the animals, considering their arguments.  Let's take it one step further.  What would happen if we saw Eve as being convinced by the serpent, not as being tricked?  Perhaps Eve made a decision to eat the fruit, deciding to risk the possible downside to get more knowledge.  Perhaps Eve decided that a life with more varieties of knowledge would be better than being a manager in God's garden.  Maybe Eve was trying to better herself, to improve her situation--who among us cannot relate.

Of course, that's not usually how the story is told.  And we see the result:  centuries of oppression of women, often brutal oppression.  The world is a worse place because of the version of Eve that we have proclaimed. 

A Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church isn't a hack effort, created by feminists who are trying to hijack the mission of the church.  Wilda C. Gafney, the creator, is a Hebrew biblical scholar--the translations we'll be reading are hers.  Along the way, she's spent time in careful consideration of word choice; I know that she has because I've been part of a Facebook group made to support her and the work.  I loved seeing her progress and being a part when she would ask us which word made the most sense.  I can attest that Dr. Gafney has done this work with love and a fierce loyalty to the larger Christian community.

It will be interesting to see how this work shapes our individual community and the larger world.

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