Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

(Damage to memorial in St. Margaret's Church in London, from being hit by an oil bomb during WWII.) 

(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, August 12, 2012) 

Readings for Sunday, August 12, 2012:

Psalm 66, 67 (Morning)
Psalm 19, 46 (Evening)
Judges 11:1-11, 29-40
2 Corinthians 11:21b-31
Mark 4:35-41

Judges 11:1-11, 11:29-40:

Now Jephthah the Gileadite, the son of a prostitute, was a mighty warrior. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. Gilead’s wife also bore him sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah away, saying to him, “You shall not inherit anything in our father’s house; for you are the son of another woman.” Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. Outlaws collected around Jephthah and went raiding with him.

After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. They said to Jephthah, “Come and be our commander, so that we may fight with the Ammonites.” But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Are you not the very ones who rejected me and drove me out of my father’s house? So why do you come to me now when you are in trouble?” The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “Nevertheless, we have now turned back to you, so that you may go with us and fight with the Ammonites, and become head over us, over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you bring me home again to fight with the Ammonites, and the Lord gives them over to me, I will be your head.” And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The Lord will be witness between us; we will surely do as you say.” So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord at Mizpah.

Then the spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh. He passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering.” So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them; and the Lord gave them into his hand. He inflicted a massive defeat on them from Aroer to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty towns, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel. Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her. When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.” She said to him, “My father, if you have opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has given you vengeance against your enemies, the Ammonites.” And she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: Grant me two months, so that I may go and wander on the mountains, and bewail my virginity, my companions and I.” “Go,” he said and sent her away for two months. So she departed, she and her companions, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. At the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to the vow he had made. She had never slept with a man. So there arose an Israelite custom that for four days every year the daughters of Israel would go out to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

The sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter is, frankly, one of the most awful and misongynistic stories in the Hebrew Bible, and it's very difficult for me to read it and hope for finding much of anything redeeming in it.  Even Phyllis Trible's attempt at deepening this story in Texts of Terror doesn't do much for me.  The part that particularly irritates me is that the girl was just dancing and singing like folks of that time normally did after a great victory (think of a cross between what happened after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and escaped the Egyptians mixed with people chanting, "USA! USA!" after Olympic events) and she just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time with regards to Jephthah's vow.  If that's not enough, Jephthah speaks to his daughter like this is somehow HER fault.  (What's with this "YOU have brought me very low; YOU have become the cause of great trouble," garbage, anyway?  Let's all sing another verse of Blame the Victim.)

There are so many things in the Bible that my first thought is "What bright light bulb allowed THIS to be left in as Holy Scripture?" that I do not like at all.  This story.  The rape of Tamar. Paul's statements in the Epistles about women and the ones people now use to claim the "sin" in stable, loving homosexual relationships.  Several things in, I take that back.  Pretty much all of Revelation.  I think I'd even let the three or four good verses in there go by the wayside to get rid of all the apocalyptic stuff.

But then I step back and think, "Well...maybe that's the point.  Maybe it's there to remind me I don't have to like everything that happened in the Bible in order for it to be a transformational experience in my life or in my community of faith.  Everything doesn't have to go my way to feel closer to God."  In fact, maybe I'm not supposed to like it, in the same way I no longer have to like the seamier side of American history in order to appreciate being American.  I probably should not like what happened at Wounded Knee, nor what happened under the Jim Crow laws of the South, nor what happened to Carrie Buck under the eugenics laws of the early 20th century in Buck vs. Bell.

It rings hollow, truthfully, when we try to justify everything that happened in Holy Scripture as actually being holy acts, or try to skirt around them by means of Christian apologetics.  It's also just as hollow when we attempt work-arounds with the failings of Christianity.  We don't have to like what the Jesuits did to the natives of the southwestern U.S., we don't have to like Martin Luther's anti-Semitism, and we don't have to like how the Episcopal Church "converted" Native Americans by making them feel sinful about their own cultures and traditions, only to, sometimes, abandon them after they did it, much as our church did to the Alaskan natives to some degree.  Pretending that the institutional church's icky past is not icky, is...well...even more icky than if we would just fess up to it.

Perhaps our call is merely to sit silently with these things and feel them, and only then postulate what actions would help us to do better and then act accordingly.  I think about a time I worshiped in St. Margaret's in London.  There's a place where a German oil bomb damaged one of the walls in 1940.  The folks at St. Margaret's didn't try to cover it up or rebuild it; instead they opted to make the repairs necessary to preserve the integrity of the building, and they worship there now, scars and all.  Perhaps the challenge for us on many levels is to worship anyway, despite the scars, and to focus on the integrity of our "building," the body of Christ, in the present moment, allowing our corporate past sins to be what they are.  Perhaps our task is not to attempt to justify their existence, but instead to embrace a new one.



A (per Phyllis Trible) "Text of Terror".

There's a place where a German oil bomb damaged one of the walls in 1940. The folks at St. Margaret's didn't try to cover it up or rebuild it; instead they opted to make the repairs necessary to preserve the integrity of the building, and they worship there now, scars and all.

As at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, they've left one bullet hole. Kyrie eleison.



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I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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