Saturday, September 22, 2007

Spare the Bear, Spoil the Child

Regarding the prophet Elisha, from the several verses following today's lectionary text:

23 He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!” 24 When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. 25 From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and then returned to Samaria.

Mauling she-bears. And not a word of regret.


This is a harsh season. Warm days herald the coming cold. Episcopal Bishops gather in still-ravaged New Orleans, some to invoke Biblical inerrancy to attempt exclude those who are not heterosexual males from full participation in the life of the Church. My own parish held morning prayer last Saturday, and, since it was our town's History Week, used the 1789 BCP -- it was all quite historically authentic, except (as Reverand S. wryly pointed out) for the gender of the priest.

It hasn't been that long since the first guerilla ordination of women in the Episcopal Church in 1974, and now our Presiding Bishop (to the deep chagrin of some) is a woman. Nor, for that matter, all that long since the Episcopal Church whole- heartedly embraced the full, equal inclusion of African Americans. It's been 4 years since the election of Gene Robinson, a partnered gay man, as Bishop of New Hampshire -- occasion, of course, for yet more deep chagrin.

One can find Biblical texts to support almost anything, including the mauling of sassy children by she-bears. The Old Testament, speaking of the sanctity of marriage, blithely accepts royal polygamy and concubines, and its pages are full of all manner of righteous, God-sanctioned slaughter and oppression. And Christ Himself says, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple." So much for the Biblical basis of the All-American Nuclear Family, eh ?

September marks my one year Episcopal anniversary. These ongoing Anglican tribulations are deeply distressing to me. I'm pleased that our Bishop, Thomas Shaw, has called the election of Gene Robinson an instance of "prophetic discernment."

"Run with that," I want to counsel the gathered Bishops in New Orleans. I want to shake some of them by the lapels of their purple shirts. Or even bonk some sense into them with their crosiers. I want to cite the example of the Catholic Church, which put instututional preservation over the safety and well-being of abused children. No, I am not a patient woman. Especially with theological absurdity: why would GOD, the Infinite Ground of Being, the Magnum Mysterium which passes all understanding, be so obsessively and pruriently fixated on gay sex ?

Because the Bible tells us so. And, oh, by the way, release the she-bears.

Faugh. Tomorrow's the first day of Fall. I feel old and creaky, a little more melancholy than usual, brittle and dry as an autumn leaf.

I recently pulled out a poem I wrote a few years ago about being unchurched.


Who has no house now will never build one.

-- Rainer Maria Rilke

The autumn's past. This is the house I've built.
A roof, a floor, four walls, a door, that's it,
sub code, badly measured, unvarnished, raw,
overly apophatic, you'll complain,
but even a window would be luxury,
a campy tribute to an enthused age,

when casements spilled their buttery, mullioned light
into the obscure forests of our selves,
or to last night, when fitful, needling rain
slashed accents graves upon the windowpane
where my face floated, backward, looking in.

Before you know it the bulldozers will come
to plough this shantytown under. Then you'll see,
from freshly fertilized, newly enriched tracts,
glass spires beanstalking up toward eggy gold,
all window, panoptical, endlessly prospecting,
until the light off their fa├žades at sunset blinds you
and you fall to your knees, afraid, misreading GOD.

And then I'll shelter under the startling call
of geese who cross the night-time winter sky
in ragged Vs, dark-of-moon dull, no more
than air wrinkling between the naked trees,
and, at the eye's cold corner, sybilline,
a sudden blinking of the pleiades.

I hear Rilke's "Who has no house now will never build one" a differently, now, but not smugly. I have a house now, not my own DIY spiritual shack, but a place in the Body of Christ. It's not a house that I built; it's a house to which I asked to be admitted, and which has welcomed me inside, and to which I have submitted.

And yet there is still that other shelter, the dark, overarching winter sky with it's startling call of geese and stars and God: this is the church to which I would invite the various Bishops of Chagrin.

Listen, I would say to them. Listen.

No comments: