Friday, March 4, 2011

Rod: Ain't He a Womanist?

Ain't I a woman?

Man cannot speak for her.

Woman, where are those thine accusers?
[stoning the sinners by tweeting "Farewell"
quoting my translators as if proving "Hell"]
hath no man condemned thee?

What is written in the Torah [Law]?
How do you read it?

Somehow, I hope you will find in this post some encouragement for yourself.

(Is this my Rob Bell post?  Heck no!)

With this post, I'm hoping to review somebody who's influenced how Rod of Alexandria reads the Bible and to get at some how she's influenced him.  I'd also like to review someone else who's influenced how J. K. Gayle reads the Bible and just how she has influenced him.  That "she" for Rod is Dr. Katie Cannon.  That "she" for me is Dr. Krista Ratcliffe.

Then I'd be absolutely delighted and encouraged if you'd take a moment to consider who has influenced how you yourself read the Bible and how she has influenced you to do so.

Just do it.  But first...

First, read Rod's post for yourself.  (Don't worry yet that Suzanne, in her admittedly "Scattered Thoughts," calls it Rod's "exemplary post on Rob Bell."  If you also read her post for yourself, then you'll get all the rest of what she sees in "Katie’s Cannon(ization): Inerrancy As White Evangelical Folklore.")

Now, how do you read it?  Did you get "the shackles of the hermeneutic that comes with affirming the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy"?  Did you see the "body in the [Sunday School] classroom who didn’t belong?"  Did you follow the block quote with Rod's own underlinings?
“The doctrine of infallibility reinforced and was reinforced by the need for social legitimization of slavery.  Thus racial slavery was accepted as a necessary fulfillment of the curse of Ham This had the effect of placing the truthfulness of God’s self-revelation on the same level as Black slavery and White supremacy.”
Do you see Rod's modifiers of this "inerrantist hermeneutic"?  Can you look up the words pro-slavery?  Are you able, moving forward, to get past Rod's borrowing of other adjectives for a few "women for women" (whom the pro-slavery, pro-kyriarchic ones once considered to be heretics)?   Are you able to get past Rod's reading of them as "courageous" and as "Christian" and as women "preachers"?  
Are you reading this?  Rod is reading Katie Cannon reading Mae Henderson reading the Bible.  And she is reading "bodies as texts."  And "[b]lack women’s bodies as texts."  So Rod reads the Bible, the book of Colossians, the book of Ezekiel, 1st Corinthians 1, and the translating gospel's Christ, the Son of Mary and the Son of God, who is our Perfect Bio-text.

"I'm not sure I'm a womanist," we hear somebody say.  Is it Rod?  Is it Dr. Monica A. Coleman, the founding Director of Womanist Religious Studies at Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, NC, the first undergraduate religious studies program to focus on the spiritual experiences of women of African descent?  Yes, it's Coleman expressing uncertainties, not about some dogmatic construct of "hell" to keep some out and others in, some above and others down.  Yes, it's Coleman asking questions:
Just as the field of womanist religious scholarship has grown in convergence with and departure from [Alice] Walker's life and definition, so the term womanist may now be larger than the women who initially claimed it. Can womanists reclaim the term? Do they even want to? Is this commercialization a sign of advancement? Or have hierarchical (often white and male) entities co-opted it, as yet another way to brand and classify black women and our thoughts?  ....We can identify ourselves as male and female [can't we?]
[see page 93 of her "Must I Be Womanist?" (Lead Roundtable article) Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 22.1 (Spring 2006): 85-96.]
So it's not just "hell" but it's also "bible" and "body" and "womanist" that are terms used "to brand and classify."  And we see that Rod is not so using these terms, is not so using the words this way.  He's rejecting the "hierarchical," is casting off "the shackles of the hermeneutic that comes with affirming the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy," is listening to and is reading from, a woman with a body that is black and free because of the Son of a Woman with a Body, a text.  See how?

Now, briefly let me say again how Dr. Ratcliffe has influenced how I read the Bible.  When I met her, she was listening to and reading from women with bodies that are black while we were being served lunch by others with black bodies.  (I wrote about that some here once).  What Krista Ratcliffe does and has done is recovery work in rhetorics, recovery of listening with intention as a hermeneutic.  She's made clear (and this is one of my own areas of research) how Aristotle robbed women and men of this "rhetorical listening."  (He left us to guess why he didn't listen to women.  And still Maya Angelou, who was raped by a misogynistic gynophobe when she was an 8-year-old girl, listens rhetorically to Aristotle and insists:  "One needs to know Aristotle.... One needs it desperately....  Must! I mean desperately... if one is to be at ease anywhere.")  Ratcliffe has herself recovered and practiced such listening, such rhetorical listening, by hearing and by overhearing and by eavesdropping, as an outsider, on the contention between black feminist Audre Lorde and white theologian feminist Mary Daly.  Ratcliffe says it's "hearing what we cannot see."  It's a "A Trope for Interpretive Invention and a [much needed] 'Code of Cross-Cultural Conduct'."  My friend, Dr. Jason King, has rendered "rhetorical listening" as follows:  "Rhetorical listening is not a refuting of but a rendering of the ones I hear. I may choose a stance of openness towards any person, text, or culture in cross-cultural exchanges."  I like that.  Whether it's the contentiousness of Lorde and Daly, or the rhetorics of disagreement of various experts and parents and "affected" about autism (which is King's research); whether it's Rob Bell's hell or Jesus's or some kyriarchical preacher's; whether it's somebody's co-opted "feminism" or Walker's first or Coleman's third-wave "womanism"; whether it's Colossians or Christ - I'm listening rhetorically.  I may choose a stance of openness toward any body, openness toward "any person, text, or culture," especially openness toward the one Rod says is "our Perfect Bio-text, ... in [whose] body are the marks of all of the world’s suffering."

Can you find here something to encourage you?  How do you find yourself outside what other people tell you is the Bible?  How do you read it?


Katherine said...

Oh hello! All these new posts to catch up on. I apologize for commenting on an old post—new to me?

I really enjoyed Rod’s post, and felt a sense of commonality with his views on infallibility and inerrancy. In my life those who’ve talked the loudest about the inerrancy of the Bible were really talking about the inerrancy of their own interpretation. As Rod points out, the terms have a history, and that history is fraught and problematic. Nowadays if anyone ever asks I say I affirm the Bible’s authority and reliability but I can’t talk about it in those terms. Not that anyone’s asked lately.

In terms of influence in reading the Bible, I’d have to say Julian of Norwich, though she’s an odd influence. I first read her Revelations of Divine Love in college, and had a strong and mixed reaction to her, but her words about God whose love wins in the end seeped into my heart ever so slowly, ever so surely; a creeping vine that grows and twines and luxuriates till it is full and green and shimmering; a hazelnut that is so very small, but in the end means the world. And, it’s not like I’ve reread her frequently, and there are still parts of her work that I’m kinda meh about, but looking back I see her influence nudged me firmly in a different kind of direction that touched many things for me.

So how do I find myself outside what other people tell me is in the Bible? Oh my, that would be a post. I don’t believe in 7-day creationism, so that put me outside the Bible, obviously. My sister is called by God to ordained pastoral ministry, and I believe her, so I’m way outside the Bible there, too. (Where do you GET these things?! an old pastor of ours asks, in disbelief)

(I’m reminded of some lines of Mary Oliver, who I’ve recently discovered and delight in the new-but-familiar: “They could not tame me / so they would not keep me / alas”)

I identify as both a Christian and a feminist, and both in similar ways (covers a broad range of people who can’t agree who all belongs where, not a monolith despite how there’re often discussed, I’m ashamed of some of the things done by the groups but I still think they are names worth claiming). I grew up Southern Baptist but am now an Episcopalian, but I never felt and even now don’t feel wholly a part of those groups.

I’m reminded of the words I read somewhere—I can’t remember who or what book—and she put it as “belonging from the outside”. I fell like I’ve learned how to sojourn in many lands, but none of them quite feel like home. So how do I read it? I suppose I read that part in Hebrews a lot, where Jesus suffered outside the city gate and let us go outside the camp to him bearing his disgrace “for here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come”. So, in aiming for the center of things I should work the margins, and I wait for God’s good future.

. . .

That was a very long-winded comment, or whatever it is in typing. Thanks for your indulgence. Your blog is an encouragement to me, and in it I re-mind and re-member a lot, so I feel more whole.

J. K. Gayle said...

Katherine, Thanks very much for your thoughtful and passionate comment. I'm afraid somehow the blog technology here isn't allowing it to show under the post - although it's showing in the comments feed. You're signing in with your google account? If so and there's still the issue, would you please feel free to email me about how you've posted exactly, and I'll work with blogger to fix this issue.