marriage

Finding Rebekah–Let’s Ask the Women

The story of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24 goes like this: good old father Abraham asked a humble servant to find a wife for his son, and when she came back, it was love at first sight!

We all know the moment at the well, when God answers (some would say miraculously) the servant’s prayer with uncanny timing, and Rebekah is revealed, through giving water to the camels, as the divinely ordained bride for Abraham’s only son Isaac, both of whom are now totally peachy even though dad almost killed him all those years back. And when Rebekah rides into Abraham’s land and sees Isaac, she gets off her camel, puts on a veil, and Isaac takes her into his mom’s tent and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” 

It’s all well and good for Isaac, but I want to know what Rebekah feels. Especially when she’s asked to suddenly give up her old life (and her old loves) to go find a husband in a man she has never met.

That kind of situation is so foreign to us that I think we should hold off on the hand-waving dismissal of “that’s just how they did things back then, spouses didn’t know each other.” While that’s true, we as North American Christians in the 21st century should not be so quick to dismiss that as a given. What must that feel like, as a woman, as a new bride, as someone with hopes and dreams and likes and dislikes, and most of all, family, to put all those things aside for the sake of continuing your life with a well-off stranger?

And then there’s this part of the story, right before the iconic “love at first sight” verses. I can’t recall ever hearing this part of the passage read aloud in any church setting:

model-2346258_192054 Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank, and they spent the night there. When they rose in the morning, he said, “Send me back to my master.” 55 Her brother and her mother said, “Let the girl remain with us a while, at least ten days; after that she may go.” 56 But he said to them, “Do not delay me, since the Lord has made my journey successful; let me go that I may go to my master.” 57 They said, “We will call the girl, and ask her.” 58 And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” 59 So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,

“May you, our sister, become
    thousands of myriads;
may your offspring gain possession
    of the gates of their foes.”

 

61 Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.”

To be fair, I don’t think we send our relatives off with blessings like “may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes” anymore either. There’s a lot that’s inaccessible about this whole thing to contemporary readers.

But what bothered me is that the servant didn’t even let Rebekah say goodbye to her family. Her mom and brother asked for at least ten days, and instead the servant asks to leave immediately. I doesn’t escape my notice that Rebekah is given the ability to choose whether to go with him or stay, but all things considered, she had few real options. And the servant’s reason for not delaying is that he wanted to return to his master as quickly as possible. He didn’t seem too concerned with what this decision meant to Rebekah.

Family defined a woman’s identity. Rebekah introduced herself as “the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor,” because the servant didn’t ask “who are you?” he said “Tell me whose daughter you are.” The gravity of leaving your family (permanently, no postal service) and joining a new one, in which you will know and be known intimately, can hardly be overstated. Have any of us had to leave behind our living loved ones permanently? 

I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it’s romanticized. Rebekah’s incredible sacrifice and strength of resolve is at least as dramatic an act of faith as Abraham leaving his own family behind when God first called him to go to an unknown land, and I think that should be the focus of what we teach our youth, rather than perpetuating fruitless romantic ideals. 

Let’s return to the last verse, the bow that ties it all together: and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” 

So we know that Isaac loved Rebekah, and that might have been from first sight. But we aren’t told how Rebekah feels towards Isaac. Cue sexist trope of women having no active sex drive or romantic affections, just passively receiving attention from men. Insert proper marriage ceremonial things here, I’m sure, but it sounds like Isaac got to baby-making pretty quick. It’s nice that the guy felt better after mourning his mom, but is that a healthy model for sexuality today? That’s not even healthy self-care, we already know that using a new relationship to replace or rebound from the trauma of a painful one is inherently damaging. If our significant others got with us right after their mom’s passing, and specifically said we comforted them for that reason, would we have no problems? 

Sure, I can see the theological niceties of saying “look how God provides,” and I do think it was on purpose, that God orchestrated a beautiful and loving and redemptive marriage between Isaac and Rebecca. I just want us to hail Rebecca as the heroine of the story. And to stop pretending her story is an easy or painless one.

The servant also deserves a closer look. Swipe back a few chapters, and we see the motivation for finding a wife who would have to uproot and travel back to Isaac: you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but will go to my country and to my kindred and get a wife for my son Isaac.”

In order for the promise to continue, intermarriage with local women was not an option. Abraham made the servant swear an oath, placing his hand under Abraham’s thigh (apparently that was a thing back in the day), and was adamant that Isaac remain with Abraham while the wife was to come to him. Any mention of mutual feelings or compatibility? Nah, marriage for love hadn’t been invented yet. Marriage for family purity though, that was super in style. Tribalism in peak season. 

So is there nothing to be said of the servant at the end of the story? What did he get out of this situation? What was the conversation like when he went back to Abraham, not just Isaac, with the story of his success? Was he lauded, celebrated, given due praise? Or did Abraham, his worries assuaged, brush aside his excitement and send him off on some other errand, just like us readers are encouraged to forget him as soon as he relays his message to Isaac?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but just asking them, giving space for other voices to be heard, can energize our witness and our engagement with Scripture. And if we really believe that the word of God is living and active, we should expect a dynamic message that meets us right where we are, in this time and place.

Who’s ready for a Sunday school lesson about the courage and faith of the matriarchs?

Three Posts And A Blog

Two weeks ago, by some magic coincidence of the Internet, I came across three links, one right after the other on my facebook feed, and was struck by their deeply clashing messages.

The first was a picture of the “Fagbug,” along with the following story: “Erin Davies, once a victim to a hate crime in Albany, New York where her car was vandalized and left with the words ‘fag’ and ‘u r gay’ on the driver’s side window and hood of her car, decided to embrace what happened by leaving the graffiti on her car in efforts to educate others about the continued presence of homophobia that is still woven in the fabric of society. She took her car, now known worldwide as the Fagbug, had a documentary featured on Netflix and Hulu, and embarked on a 58-day trip around the US and Canada. After driving the fagbug for a year and taking on LGBT advocacy full-time, Erin decided to give her car a makeover and in 2013 stopped by the Equality House. On Saturday she stopped by again to share more stories and to give us a sneak preview of her second documentary, Fagbug Nation, that chronicled her last pilgrimage.” (Equality House)

Fagbug1

Reading this encouraged me about the state of our nation: that queer people experience this kind of hate is not surprising, but that Erin Davis was so quick on the comeback made me hopeful that in this generation things really will get better.

On a deeper note, I also look forward to the day when the Fagbug is no longer needed: when queer people are accepted to the degree that we no longer have to fight for basic human rights in a country that boasts of “liberty and justice for all.”

Then I read the comments.

I probably shouldn’t have, everyone knows that comments on facebook and youtube are like a black hole of despair for humanity. I saw comments that scoffed at the redneck idiots who had the audacity to hurt Erin Davis. Comments that decried the hateful bigots in this country and complained at the ugliness of Christian and American culture. While I completely understand the basis for these comments; there are certainly idiots, some of them rednecks, some of them Christian, some of them American; I’m sure Erin Davis is not trying to tell us about the haters when she rides the Fagbug.

My question to those commentators would be, “How can we expect a change in attitude towards the queer community if we return hate for hate and reinforce the polarization of our communities?” The message of the Fagbug is overcoming hate, not returning it; standing up under insults, not throwing them back at the senders.

As victims of social discrimination, we as queer people have a strange opportunity: we get to be more Christian than some Christians. We get to turn the other cheek, we get to love our enemies, we get to pray for those who persecute us. Instead of using our (very legitimate) victim status as an excuse to lash out against our enemies, as the “weak” ones we get to prove everyone wrong by the overwhelming strength of our character.

As we step into conflict, unafraid to blend colors together, to live alongside each other peacefully, to acknowledge and celebrate our differences, we reveal why rainbows are absolutely captivating. The world was not made in a monochrome: it was created to reflect the beauty and diversity of the divine Artist.

What community is better equipped to communicate this than one that has chosen the rainbow as our image of pride?

~~~

The second post on my feed, directly following the first, was an article on the Daily Signal about two ministers possibly facing fines and jail time because they refused to marry a gay couple. The story illustrated unnerving behavior on all sides: questionable government interference, a gay couple’s confusing decisions, and unbelievably dense Christian heads.

blogGayMarriage1

This story concerns me on a number of levels. First of all, it is unacceptable for the government to coerce anyone’s hand in any marriage. This is why I share Mr. Anderson’s indignation that the government would force a chapel to perform a gay wedding. This is also why I believe gay marriage should be legalized nationwide.

I agree that the city cannot claim their course of action is pursuing the issue in the least restrictive way. And I also find it strange that the gay couple would go to the Knapps to be married if they thought they might be refused, and why they chose this more difficult path instead of finding another chapel.

However, Mr. Anderson reveals his ignorance of the significance of marriage when he points across the street to a county clerk’s office, saying “There are numerous other venues where a same-sex couple could get married.” A gay couple wanting to get married would naturally want to be married in the same way straight people are married: in a church setting, with all the recognition of the beauty and seriousness of their commitment. Getting a piece of paper from a clerk’s office is not the same. How this is not patently obvious defeats me.

But the clincher came when I read this:

“[A]s a result of the courts redefining marriage and a city ordinance that creates special privileges based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the Knapps are facing government coercion.”

As if, in a surprising turn of events, people in governmental authority have suddenly redefined marriage and passed an ordinance, and as a result the church body finds itself disadvantaged in relation to a certain population granted special privileges based on sexual identity.

This, of course, is a wildly inaccurate view of the situation. A broader vision of social reality in the United States reveals that the queer community has for at least a century suffered violent discrimination at the hand of normative American culture, most often Christian. To suggest that Christians are the marginalized group and the queer community is the privileged group is ridiculous, just as it is to suggest that Affirmative Action privileges minority students and marginalizes white students.

But on a deeper level, doesn’t the fact that we’re blowing up over fines and jail time and ordinances and government policies show us that we’ve mixed up our priorities? Personally, I get much more out of discussing how faith informs sexuality than how policy informs my marriage prospects. I should be able to get married if straight people can get married. But the relationship between my Christian faith and queer identity is complex and compelling.

In fact, I would prefer to get over the hurdle of sexuality, and simply discuss how to be a good Christian; gay, straight, trans, cisgendered, bisexual, black, white, red, yellow, purple, or rainbow-colored.

If someone were to ask me, “You’re gay? That’s awesome. How has God revealed himself to you in a way that maybe those of us who are straight might not understand?” I might just die of happiness.

~~~

And then, immediately following these two stories, I saw this picture:

blogShalom

From “Jesus Christ is KING” Page on Facebook

I see so much chaos today in the divide between the church and the queer community. My prayer is that both sides would see that chaos has authority as long as we refuse to be humble, to listen, to see the “other” as a human being with a full and painful story.

To my Christian friends: as followers of Christ, indwelled with the Holy Spirit, it is our responsibility to take the first step towards reconciliation. Queer people have not hurt us; not systemically. We are the privileged, the powerful, the spiritually wealthy. So if we don’t humble ourselves, as our Lord did, and come to the queer community on equal footing, how on Earth can we have the audacity to say to queer people that they are welcome at our churches?

To my queer friends: I know it’s hard. Forgiveness sucks. Sometimes hatred feels good, especially if it masks a world of pain. You are completely justified in your rejection of the church. But I’m asking you to believe better of people. I’m asking you to consider that even if Christians may fail, maybe the Person they’re trying to emulate won’t. And if nothing else, we should live by the respect we ask of others, and give to those who have persecuted us the same dignity and freedom that we ask for ourselves.

To my queer Christian friends: The time to speak is now.

Let’s do this thing!!