What I Did On My Summer Vacation 2004
“…you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourself with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Sythian, slave, free, [male, female]; but Christ is all in all.”
This is not the only place that Saint Paul reflects on the nature of Baptism and what it does to us, making us new, renewing us in the image of our creator where none of the distinctions exist that we come to believe are so important in making us “who we are.”
That is, if God is perfect unity, all in all, and Christ is perfect unity all in all, than those of us who are baptized are united all in all.
Now just what does this have to do with my summer vacation a long time ago? Oddly enough, nearly everything!
July 2004 began in New London, New Hampshire on the shores of Lake Sunapee. For nearly 20 years it has been our pleasure to spend time there. In the early days I would volunteer to take the matriarch of the family who makes this all possible to church early on Sunday mornings to Saint Andrew’s chapel by the lake. Since her passing I continue to attend that service whenever I am in New London.
Even in the heart of July the Saint Andrew’s chapel can be the coldest of places on earth, so dress warmly! And the congregation can be described as flinty, conservative New Englanders. I usually would hear a supply priest since July seems to have been the rector’s holiday, but there was a new rector that year, a woman, who was on hand the fourth of July. She preached well on the gospel, and judging by the number of times she laughed a jolly belly shaking laugh, she seemed to find a lot to be humorous about the human condition before God! She got that right!
But what caught me off guard was at the Prayers of the People. There was a flinty, conservative New Englander leading the prayers, and right off the bat we prayed for Gene Robinson, the relatively newly consecrated openly gay bishop of New Hampshire. She did not flinch. No one stood up and walked out. In fact everyone seemed to like their new bishop.
And did I mention that the place was packed? Not a seat in the house at the 8 am service! Standing Room Only! I could only guess that the good people of New London had not received the memo to leave the Episcopal Church immediately upon Bishop Robinson’s consecration! Or, perhaps they really understood what Paul is talking about when he writes about there being no distinctions in the body of Christ.
That summer I was reading two very different but somewhat related books. Protestants: Birth of a Revolution by Steven Ozment, and The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.
In Protestants, Ozment observes that although Luther’s reform of the church was meant to break down the sort of “insider” attitudes and resulting abuses of outsiders characteristic of the Western Church at the time, inevitably as the reforms became the law of the land in Germany, the outsiders of the reform movement became the “new insiders,” with all the same kinds of problems. Not the least of which, of course, has been the near infinite shattering of the Body of Christ into smaller and smaller factions. More and more distinctions. Denominations: a pitiful representation of the Body of Christ which persists to this day.
The Red Tent is a very different kind of book in nearly every sense of the word. It tells the story of the biblical Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob. And it tells the story in her own voice. Some have suggested it is like finally having a “Bible” written by a woman!
It needs to be remembered that this is a novel. It is Anita Diamant’s imagining of what Dinah’s story might be, since the biblical Dinah gets barely mentioned in the Bible itself.
This is in so many ways a difficult, yet very important book, for us to read and consider. For it sketches in very rich images the life of women not just in the biblical age, but throughout the ages. The Red Tent itself is where the nomad women would spend those few days of the month away from the men. It is also the place for childbirth and miscarriage. It is a microcosm of life and death in the deepest and richest sense possible.
Beyond issues of ritual purity, the Red Tent is a sanctuary from the world of men, a place where women can be themselves, support one another and glory in their own sense of what we might today call spirituality.
The story examines issues that are still with us today around the role of women in church and society, religious pluralism, tribalism, the nature of faith to mention only a few.
Particular attention is given to what distinguishes one person from another: birth mother, circumcision, economic status, nationality, family lines and divisions, etc.
Because of its setting in the Middle East, and it focuses on birth, water plays a central role throughout the narrative. Water, which of course, is what incorporates one into the Body of Christ through baptism.
At the near conclusion of the entire book, Dinah, who had become a midwife for most of her life, concludes that something her sister-in-law Zilpah had told her as a child was absolutely true, “We are all born of the same mother.”
To rephrase that we might say, we all pass into this world through the same water. Perhaps that is what Saint Paul is getting at after all. Despite all the distinctions we make about our selves and between ourselves, we are in the end all born of the same mother.
It is a startling sort of a statement. It is an arresting sort of truth. Perhaps one day we can begin to embrace this truth about our selves and others. All others.
Only then will we begin to strip off the old self and clothe ourselves with the new self Saint Paul is writing about. And with that stripping off, all the distinctions we find to be so important will disappear into the total unity of God in Christ, all in all. Amen.
Proper 13-C/Colossians 3: 10b-11
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Chaplain, Saint Timothy’s School for Girls