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Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

So, Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog has a piece up titled: “Stop Reading This and Get Back Into the Kitchen“.

The article is behind a paywall, so I can’t read all of it, and CT seems to have fixed its problem where you could see the whole article by doing a print preview. But based on the tagline and first few paragraphs it seems to be about “why our Christmas domesticity matters more than we know.” That’s actually a topic worth exploring if they do it right. I honestly can’t read enough to be sure. So my problem here is almost exclusively with the title rather than the piece itself. And to be fair to Ms. Michel, I’ve recently discovered that when you post to multi-member blogs like this you often don’t get to choose your title. I’m sure someone was trying to be cute here.

That said, this title is toxic. Majorly so in my opinion. There’s a pretty longstanding train of thought in Christian (esp. evangelical) circles that women’s “place” is in the kitchen. To be fair, it’s a longstanding train of thought in pretty much every institution that goes back more than a century or two. But if you’re choosing a headline for a major evangelical press you really need to think about how a headline like this will come across. It definitely dropkicked my mind into exactly the wrong spot. I don’t mind them saying that hmemaking and domesticity is important; it definitely is and never moreso than at Christmas. But I am 100% not okay with the idea that this is a “woman’s place.” Especially when it’s a Christian press doing it, because this gives Christian misogynists (they come in all flavors) an excuse to treat women like homemakers without a brain. It lets them off the hook from wrestling with what their religious tradition teaches.

And Christian feminists have resources we can tap into here. Not that they always have, to be sure. I’ve heard “wives, submit to your husbands” abused as many times as anyone. But I’m talking about what Christians should do if they’re being faithful to their religion, not what they actually do. So I thought it would be useful to mention the Bible stories and teachings that made me a feminist.

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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 11th, 2013 12:41 pm (UTC)
This is a really interesting post. I've often been tempted to go back and read female roles/perceptions in the Bible for a refresher, because female roles seem to be the religious debate I enter into most frequently. This is a really good refresher and reference for me to begin my focus with. Thanks! (I particularly liked your comments about Mary's choice).
Jan. 11th, 2013 01:56 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you liked it. It was helpful to me to put my thoughts in order on those stories. That's what I love so much about blogging - thinking things through, laying them out, and then sharing it with friends.
Jan. 12th, 2013 10:21 pm (UTC)
Was very interested in your reading of Mary and Martha, because that is one incident in the Bible I've always really struggled with - more so since I became a mother and someone who spends quite a lot of her time on domestic chores, and often feels pretty unappreciated for it.

If it had been one of the male disciples who had complained about Mary's presence and Jesus had rebuked them, I'd be cheering. Ditto if his response to Mary had been along the lines of "You're quite right, Martha, you need some help - here, Peter, John, get in there and give our hostess a hand!" But I've never known how not to read "Mary has chosen the better part" as saying "What you're doing - the meal you have just prepared and served up to me and my friends and are now clearing up - isn't something I value and I don't appreciate it."

Maybe that's just my domestic martyr complex speaking, and I valued your alternative perspective - but I always really identify with Martha and find it hard not to share her irritation!
Jan. 13th, 2013 01:37 pm (UTC)
It's a tricky passage to be sure. I think there are a few things that validate Martha more than you might think at first glance. First, Martha is very much in charge of this dinner-party. It's her house, and she actually goes out into the village to invite Jesus over. When the Bible talks about her serving it uses the Greek word we get deacon from (I forget the exact word offhand). There's a real sense that Martha is taking on an official role providing a space where Jesus could teach.

Most commentators and sermons I've heard/read on this passage talk about Martha in a good way. She's usually treated as a good woman, working hard to set up a situation where Jesus can teach. I never saw that in the text itself, but it's interesting that Jesus never calls her out of the kitchen and has her sit down to listen to his teaching. The fact that she's focused on running the party isn't a bad thing; it's only when she tries to pull someone else away from Jesus that she's rebuked.

The way I read it, in the beginning Mary and Martha are doing two halves of the same thing: Martha is making sure there's a space for Jesus to teach (seeing to the physical needs) whereas Mary is actually listening to that teaching (seeing to the intellectual/spiritual needs). Martha isn't rebuked for focusing on hospitality rather than listening to Jesus. And Mary isnt praised for her listening. Martha's problem is that she's stopped focusing on her work and is instead resenting the role Mary is playing. So the thing that's needful is to keep focusing on what we're called to do, rather than trying to make others contribute in the same way we do.

Let's say my sister (who's much more domestic than I am) and I were sitting in that Palestinian house. The main course has been served and eaten, and Jesus is starting in on a teaching. I would want to sit there and listen; that's simply the way my brain works. Desert could wait. My sister, on the other hand, would probably be driven to break away and start getting things ready for cake and coffee. If I told her to sit awhile and listen to Jesus, or if she tried to guilt me into helping her in the kitchen, I think both would have been equally wrong. Not because being a good student is better than being a good hostess (or vice versa), but because we're focusing on how things aren't fair rather than the goodness of what we're each drawn to do.

Of course if Martha really was overwhelmed by the work she has to get done that's a different matter. But that's not the impression I get. She was the one who invited them in, and the text makes it seem like Mary's presence was almost incidental. (Martha wasn't counting on Mary's help, or at least it doesn't seem that way to me.)

I'm with you, though, on all those disciples just sitting around. I do kind of wish one of them would have volunteered to help with the dishes. ;-)
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