Learning to Read the Untold Stories of Scripture (A Guest Post)

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Meredith Crigler is an Episcopal Priest serving in the Diocese of Texas since 2010 and currently as the Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Baytown, TX (25 minutes east of downtown Houston). She is also a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator, a Community Wellness Advocate with The Living Compass, and has received training through the International Conference of Police Chaplains. This is her fourth year with Backstory Preaching™, where she serves as a Mentor, presenter, and co-author of The Preacher’s Planner.

Earlier this January, I joined with sixty-two other women through RevGalBlogPals for a time filled with good food, soul friends, sunshine, sloth-hugging, boating through mangroves1, and listening and learning from The Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney, the Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas and author of several works, including Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne.

Welcomed as a collaborator and co-conspirator2, I sat down and tucked in for Dr. Gafney’s supper3 of Womanist Midrash:

“a set of interpretive practices, including translation, exegesis, and biblical interoperation, that attends to marginalized characters in biblical narratives, especially women and girls, intentionally including and centering on non-Israelite peoples and enslaved persons” (Womanist Midrash 3, emphasis mine).

Scripture—lectio divina, the Daily Office, biblical scholarship, and community study—has been a passion of mine before I knew the words to call it.

This part of my Preacher’s Trust has held a privileged place in my schedule for so long, that I came up surprised and saddened to begin to realize just how much of our scriptures I had been neglecting.

The Voices We Don’t Realize We’re Missing

Near the beginning of her presentation, Dr. Gafney invited us to list as many as we could out of the 111 named women in the Hebrew scriptures4.

How many of the 111 named women in the Hebrew scriptures can you list?

Twenty-three. That’s how many I could list originally.

Now, as I looked at the table of contents and triggered my memory, the number grew, but off the top of my head I could only name about 20%.

Like the others on our trip, I accepted the challenge to get to know 5-7 women in the text I did not know before.

As I read the portion of their stories captured in the text—imagining what it may have been like for them and how they may or may not have related with our God—I found myself engrossed in rediscovering parts of our scripture.

I confess if you would have told me I would spend six hours of my day (outside of class) on a cruise ship intentionally diving into the scriptures, reading biblical scholarship, and wrestling with the stories, I would have laughed.

And yet, there I was, and here I am. I am proud to say I have no sunburns. 

Facing Racism and Misogyny as Part of the Human Condition

As I read and study and imagine, I consistently come face to face with the human condition of sin—in its many proclivities and iterations.

In particular, I am consistently reminded that racism and misogyny are real and rear their ugly heads—on cruise ships5, in our pews, from our pulpits, and, yes, even from within our Holy Scriptures. And as Dr. Gafney frequently referenced, like Jacob at the Jabbok, when we engage in the holy act of wrestling with our texts, we best be prepared for both bruising and blessing.

While our lectionary (RCL Episcopal, for me) often skips over or altogether ignores many portions of our texts, if we have the ears to hear, stories from the margins are still very much present.

What it Looks Like to Listen to Stories From the Margin

Take a closer look at the Gospel reading from this past Sunday, the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, from John 2:1-11.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

I’ve often spoken about this story as Jesus’ first miracle/sign of abundance at the wedding of Cana.

Yet taking the tools and lens of a collaborator and co-conspirator, what I notice now is that Jesus’s first miracle in John’s Gospel occurred in front of slaves who were chastised for bringing out the best wine last.

Often we (and the NRSV) want to translate doulos as “servants,” for it makes the text more comfortable and palatable, but the word can be translated as “slaves.”

Consider further the immense heavy labor that went into this sign.

If those six stone jars do indeed each hold 20-30 gallons of water then with each gallon weighing 8.34 pounds, that translates to just over a 1,000 pounds of water that the slaves filled.

Furthermore, if we remember that often in that context, it was women’s work to draw water from the well, then it is fair to imagine and consider the unnamed women who were enslaved and their mighty labor.

It was those enslaved women who were the first in John’s gospel to witness this miraculous sign.

What were their reactions? What did they think of the one called Jesus who told them to fill all those jugs with water? Did they finally— perhaps even for the first time in their lives—get to taste the fruit of their labor and experience for themselves the good wine since all the inferior wine was gone?

Even before we are told the disciples believed in Jesus, did these women?

The text is silent. Need we preachers also be silent?

The text is silent. Need we preachers also be silent?

I believe that the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s saving, reconciling love is for all— today and in the days of our scriptures.

And because I believe this Good News, it matters whose stories I share from the text and whose stories go unspoken or unpreached.

All manner of privilege and power, known and unknown, keep us from proclaiming.

I invite you to use the privilege and power of the pulpit to share, not only from our lives but also from the text, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed for all.

 

 

Footnotes:

  1. Yes, this year’s was on a cruise, and yes, I’ve been part of these continuing education opportunities for nine years

  2. Dr. Gafney’s term for those of us who are not as melenated and thus can learn from this area but cannot speak from this area.

  3. Dr. Gafney’s metaphor (Womanist Midrash, 1)

  4. A good companion for this work, which was recommended to me, is Carol Meyer’s Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament.

  5. More will be shared from RevGals regarding this soon.


Next Steps

In addition to reading the Scriptures through the lens of marginalized voices, we have much to learn from contemporary voices whose race or gender offers new, different, and important perspectives.

One way to become a co-conspirator is to actively seek out and listen to voices in the margins: in particular, people of color and women.

  • Listen.

  • Follow them on social media.

  • Buy their books.

  • Reference their insights in your sermons.

  • Introduce their work to your own listeners.

  • Invite them into leadership positions in your churches.

  • Invite them to speak.

  • Invite them to participate in your panel discussions.

Unsure where to start?

Check out the Facebook pages or Twitter handles of Wil Gafney, Sandra Van Opstel, Austin Channing Brown, Kaitlyn B. Curtice, and those whom they follow and share.

And in the comments, please share those you are listening to so we can learn from them, too.