Who Told You?

Texts: Genesis 3:8 – 15 & Mark 3:20 – 35

During that day’s cool evening breeze, they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God in the middle of the garden’s trees. The Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

The man replied, “I heard your sound in the garden; I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree, which I commanded you not to eat?”

The man said, “The woman you gave me, she gave me some fruit[c] from the tree, and I ate.”

The Lord God said to the woman, “What have you done?!”

And the woman said, “The snake tricked me, and I ate.”

The Lord God said to the snake,

“Because you did this,
    you are the one cursed
        out of all the farm animals,
        out of all the wild animals.
    On your belly you will crawl,
        and dust you will eat
        every day of your life.

I will put contempt

    between you and the woman,
    between your offspring and hers.
They will strike your head,
        but you will strike at their heels.”

 

Good morning St. Luke’s. For those of y’all who don’t know, my name is lizzie, and I am an Aspirant for Holy Orders supported by all of you and this parish. And we, my spouse and I, are preparing to move to Austin, Texas, in August, so this will be my last sermon for you all for a little while.

And I really wanted this, my last sermon, at least for now, here with you to be about God’s love, about God’s tenderness, you know, I was just so inspired by the buoyancy of Bishop Curry’s Royal Wedding sermon but, uh, the text for this week is Genesis 3 so… here we go: original sin!

If the Bible were a series of movies, this story – the story of the first people God made, the story of  “Adam” and “Eve” – this story would FOR SURE be in the “Top 40 Classics.” This is a story taught in Sunday School classrooms from wee ages, a story illustrated in stained glass windows of churches around the globe. This is a story we all know

… Or do we?

Sometimes, stories in the Bible take on a life of their own. This is kind of the point of Scripture: this is why we call it the “LIVING Word.” These stories – stories of Eve and Adam, of Mary and Jesus – these stories are not just dried-up old tales. They are alive. This is, by and large I think, a good thing. When the stories really “live” we know we are working to know the LIVING God through a LIVING Word wherein God still has something to say to us.

But this also means that, sometimes, the retelling – and retelling, and retelling, and retelling –  of the story starts to overshadow the original story.

For example: it was not until I was in college that I had a critical revelation about this story of “Eve and Adam.” My whole life, I was told that Eve was a TEMPTRESS. That she, with long luscious Renaissance locks lured Adam into eating the forbidden fruit.

And you know what Genesis 3 actually says?

The snake was the most intelligent of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?”

The woman said to the snake, “We may eat the fruit of the garden’s trees  but not the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. God said, ‘Don’t eat from it, and don’t touch it, or you will die.’”

The snake said to the woman, “You won’t die! God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”The woman saw that the tree was beautiful with delicious food and that the tree would provide wisdom, so she took some of its fruit and ate it, and also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then they both saw clearly and knew that they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made garments for themselves.

… And this is where our reading for today picks up. They have BOTH chosen to eat; they BOTH listened to the serpent and they have both decided: it would be good to be like God.

They decided it would be good to be like God.

Have you ever been tempted? I don’t mean by a Renaissance Eve with her well-placed long hair because, good riddance, can we give that trope a break?

I mean to be tempted be lured by your own cunning, your own insight, your own intelligence or beauty or power, to think you knew better than God?

There are times, certainly, when we do know what is best for someone else. I think of every parent who has ever rushed to stop a child’s hand from touching the stove, of every child who explains, again, to their aging parent why the nurses are here.

That is not the kind of “knowing better” that I’m talking about. I’m talking about the temptation to play God. I’m talking about thinking we know who deserves to be in the garden, who most certainly must be cast out.

I’m talking about lust for power. I’m talking about a greed. I’m talking about envy. I’m talking about desire to be in control.

I’m, well, I’m talking about sin.

Here it is: the moment of original sin. Eve and Adam have eaten of the forbidden fruit and – immediately – they see that they are naked.

And then they hear God approaching in the time of the cool, evening breeze.

So they hide – they hide themselves in the trees, hidden in the very foliage of their folly. It strikes me that the snake told Adam and Eve the fruit would help them know good from evil, but what they see is that they are naked. They decide to cover themselves because they have decided their vulnerability is evil even though they have been naked the whole time.

And God calls: “where are you?”

Does God know? Does God know what is about to happen? I mean, surely, yes? God is all-knowing. God has a vision to cast the universe into place, and yet – what happens next feels like a shock. The man emerges, sheepish, from behind a tree and confesses: “I heard your sound in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked.”

It’s like he is saying: “I knew you would see me as I now see me. Flaws, bumps, lumps, bruises, scars, stretch marks and all. I knew you would see me, vulnerable. So I hid myself.”

And God aks: “how did you know?

“How did you know? And why did you hide, when I have made you just the same in that body before you ate and after?”

And then, the man, not only wanting to hide himself from God – he decides to shift the blame. “The WOMAN, whom you gave me, she gave me some fruit and I ate!” The woman is not much better; she admits that the snake tricked her. But she doesn’t speak of her desire to be like God, too.

Sin is choosing to hide from our own vulnerability. And sin is blaming someone else – anyone else – our spouse, God, the snakes in the grass – for our decision to hide.

Sin is choosing to turn away from God. Sin is choosing our anger, our fear, and our shame, instead of facing God.

And yet, God does blame the snake, in part. God tells the serpent there will forever be enmity between its offspring and the woman’s. Take note: God specifies the offspring of the woman; Gods claims all humanity as coming from Eve.

I don’t think the “point” of this story (if such a thing can be sussed out) is that these two people were factually the first people who lived, and I certainly don’t think the “point” of this story is that women must forever suffer the fate of Eve who was clever enough to talk to snakes and foolish enough to believe them. I don’t even think this is a story of how humanity was always doomed to fail.

I think perhaps this story asks us to dare to believe that God believes in us.

Do you hear that shock, that pain, in God’s voice when God realizes what they’ve done?

And don’t you remember what God does for us? God comes into the world through another mother, Mary. Mary who is fully one of Eve’s offspring, and Jesus who is Mary’s child – and Jesus Christ as fully human and fully divine stands today in our Gospel lesson, in the thick crowd of hungry, irritable, sick, pushy people and says: you are my mothers.

You, who were told by my own self that there would be pain, and suffering – you are my mothers, and my brothers and my sisters. You are my family. No matter what.

I said at the beginning I wanted this to be a sermon about God’s love. And, actually, I think it is. I think this story of sin and sadness is ultimately a story about God’s love for us. God’s ridiculous belief that we can be good, and God’s shock and hurt when we choose otherwise.

We are God’s family. No matter what.

 

A Love Letter for Mount Holyoke.

It began with a trip visiting my aunties in some place called Amherst, Massachusetts, and my father speaking sternly to me over the formica kitchen counter.

“While we’re up North visiting them,” he said, “I want you to look at Mount Holyoke College.”

“Mount Holyoke? What is that?”

“It’s a women’s college,” my father replied. I think he even braced himself for my reply.

“A women’s college?” I spat. “Over my dead body!”

Famous last words.

Continue reading

Senior Symposium Presentation

I wrote about my baby last week – my senior thesis, capping off at 120 pages on a womanist/feminist interpretation of the Christian Liturgical year. While ten minutes feels like an inch of what i had to say, here’s the presentation i gave at the Senior Symposium on Friday, should you like to watch it!

You might want to turn up your volume to hear. Many thanks to Alex (whom i reference in the film as having presented right before me on God and the Holocaust) and Nora for filming!

Caring for the Needy: On Ailments and Adulthood

(Those with queasy tummies: turn back now. You’ve been warned.)

I have the stomach of a Victorian lady.

Assuredly, the rest of me resembles nothing of that sexually repressed, hoop-skirt bonanza, but when it comes to ailments i’m downright dainty. At least once a week i’m pumping the vending machine for a ginger ale or, better yet, sending J down to the Walgreens for more advil. I don’t get colds. I get pneumonia. For two months.

And i don’t do sick pretty, even though i do it damn often.

Which is why, last Thursday night, i was strapped onto a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance, blue puke bag in hand.

Even for me, this was a first.

The illness had begun innocuously enough. But by the end of hour one of tummy cramps and heaving i was laying belly-up on the floor of the second floor bathroom wishing for a swift death, my mom on speaker pleading with me to call the EMTs.

“Nooooo,” i groaned, a flush in the stall next to me. “I’ll be fiiiiinnneeee.” It was the needles. I knew they’d hook me into an IV and i’d be better within hours (at least, not puking anymore) but … the needles. I’d take my arduous death on yellowing, tiled floors in a public bathroom before needles.

“Hey – uh, are you okay?” a chipping pedicure in blue flipflops asked outside my stall fortress of woe. “You know what, i’ll go get you a glass of water,” she asserted before i could protest.

Two minutes later i fumbled with the latch and a tremendously sweet hall mate prodded a mug my way. “Thanks,” i whispered, taking a sip out of courtesy. I knew it wouldn’t be in me more than five minutes, but i was feeling horribly lonely and disgusting and here was someone unafraid to offer help. The least i could do was take it.

That’s what sucks the most about adulthood, i’ve found: being sick and alone. I never want my mom there more than when i have to go buy medicine myself or i’m trying to arrange my pillows so that i can watch Netflix without neck cramps. Mom was on the phone with me, of course, but all i could do was curl up in a ball in the handicap stall and pretend she was stroking my hair.

Wouldn’t dream of asking anyone else to do that. Seriously, gross.

Kind Hallmate left, assuring me i could knock if i needed anything. Instead i’d dragged myself along the wall of the corridor back to my room, pulling of pajamas covered in sick. I just need a shower, I thought. That’ll make me feel better.

“A shower?! No, honey, you need to call the police and have them take you to the ER.” Mom’s tone was getting thinner. She was on speaker now, because i didn’t have the strength to hold the phone to my ear. “And call a friend. You don’t have to do this alone.”

So i caved and called the emergency line, voice crackling with a swollen trachea pleading for help.

I managed to change clothes and then was limp-running back to the bathroom. Too late. I’d lost all strength in my legs and was sprawled on the floor, heaving and heaving.

The door to the stairs opened, EMT in sight.

“Oh,” she said. “Must be you.”

I nodded, then tried to puke. If i hadn’t been assured i was facing armageddon, i would have peed myself laughing.

Her nose wrinkled, but then she gently took my pulse and asked me how i felt. “Like shit,” i cackle-hacked. More EMTs started coming, including my own angel: Tracy, who was an EMT and lived one hall over. She wasn’t on duty but she’d heard the call, so she walked over. She’s considerate and compassionate like that.

When i called the police i’d also called Austin – amazing, fearless, dependable Austin. She loved me even after sharing a room with me for three years, so i knew she’d see me through tonight. Barreling through the double doors in sunflower yellow, i vaguely saw her pulling her hair down before she was pulling my hair back into a ponytail.

Talk about clothing the naked putrid and pathetic.

“You’re gonna be okay, sweetie,” she propped me up off the floor. That’s Austin: diving into the fray because there is a practical need she can fix.

Everything after that is blurry, but i remember Austin coaxing me to say yes to the hospital, and Tracy riding third in the ambulance with me. Tracy stayed, even when i was hurling and hurling and squeezing her fingers purple over the IV. Austin, who’d been handling the calls to both Jonathan and my mom, was finally let back to see me in the ER, after they’d given me enough meds to kill a horse.

Angels, i tell you.

When i was finally breathing normal we cracked jokes about the helluva toast this would make at the wedding. I thanked them and thanked them and thanked them, but i still cannot thank them enough. Tracy hitched a ride back to school with the ambulance, but only after ensuring i had a spare pair of hospital pants.

Around 4 AM, i told Austin to go home. The nurses tried to send me too, but then i puked in the lobby (charming) and asked to stay. At last, at last, i crashed into a dreams about 19th-century London, curled under three hospital blankets.

I woke up again at 6:30, IV out and alone in my room. I’d been so lucky to have a bed at all, and even luckier to have a room. The room was part storage, the walls stacked six-deep with crutches in plastic packaging.

And there, alone in hospital pants and shirt and having survived hell the night before, i finally started to ugly-cry. I couldn’t stop. As panicked as i’d been the night before, i hadn’t cried. I’d known it was the line of no return, the hysteria that plagued the ladies of the Victorian era from which my tummy was taken.

But man, i was bawling. Couldn’t stop. It wasn’t the pain, or the loneliness, or even the fear that thirty crutches might fall from the wall skewering me at any moment.

It was a release, and it was gratitude. When i’d been moaning and dying (ok, not dying) in the handicap stall, Kind Hallmate stopped in. Tracy came to the second floor just because she was around, not because she was on EMT duty. Austin came because i called.

While i’d been wallowing in self-pity over my lonely state as a twenty-something, people surrounded me. So that morning i just cried and cried, no moisture in me but somehow walloping out sobs, the shock washing off and the gratitude settling in.

By the time my auntie came to get me, i had run out of water. It would be a solid few days of bed rest and cheesy rom-coms, but my friends brought me snacks and my auntie took incredible Saltine-cracker care of me.

I was thankful, am thankful, that adulthood didn’t have to be as forlorn as i thought.

On Being Bold

The first thing i ever wanted to be when i grew up was a dolphin trainer. Who also wrote books. And sang songs. And invented things.

The hybrid of this all in my imagination looked like this: i was the musical star of the Sea World dolphin show, using my inventions to train dolphins in singing along. And then i’d write of adventures in books with plots that suspiciously resembled Harry Potter, but with dolphins.

Lots of social skills as Harry Potter for Halloween, circa third grade.

Lots of social skills as Harry Potter for Halloween, circa third grade.

The hybrid of all of this in reality looked like this: a large cardboard box in the corner of my room overflowing with “inventor-y stuff” (matchbox cars, duct tape). As my friend Becca so fondly recalls, i had a plastic toy dolphin named “Trixie” because she did tricks. (Becca will also tell you Trixie’s tricks were a big flop, but that never stopped me from trying). I actually went pretty far with the singing gig – two years of voice lessons and five years of more choir than anyone with any sense of social skills should hope to take. (Actually, i loved choir, but that’s not the point. I still have no social skills.)

But what has outlasted even my tacky-ass black chorus dress and books of Italian arias is the writing. The desire to write books, perhaps without Trixie-as-Harry-Potter plotlines, remains central to my ten-year plan. It’s kind of why i keep a blog: to keep in practice, to keep writing. To preserve material for my someday egocentric and totally indulgent memoir about my romp through a historically women’s college and semester mucking about Europe.

But if i’m honest with myself, my writing about traveling is not the substantial stuff. It’s tremendously fun, and i know come next year when i have the missing-Edinburgh-blues i will be grateful for making the effort to memorialize what i have experienced. And i love travel writing best of all for keeping in touch with neighbors-as-good-as-kin, my parents, my friends back home.

The substantial stuff, though, that’s what i want to do. I remember telling my best friend in high school i wanted to write a classic – a Tolstoy, a Fitzgerald. She facetiously (and rightly) pointed out that no one sets out to Write a Classic. I look back now with a grain more of humility and heartily agree: people write what is meaningful and beautiful to them, and the power that comes from such truth-telling is what defines a classic.

I’m pretty sure i’m never going to write a War and Peace, as much as my self-important teen self may have wanted to. But i do think it is time for me to truly start embracing that fundamental asset i have seen in all the Good and Great Books i have read, from John Green’s teen fiction to my beloved Toni Morrison’s work.

I have to be bolder, take the risks that terrify me with my naked honesty. This doesn’t make me a Phenomenal Writer – it doesn’t even make me a great writer. It means i am writing, truly and deeply, from my gut. And the best i can hope for is that my vulnerability and lexical expression communicates those questions and feelings with authenticity.

So that is what i’ve done.

Tomorrow, friends and family and good-as-kin-neighbors, i have some exciting and anxiety-inducing and wonderful news to share. I hope you’ll come back to read about it, and i hope it doesn’t flop quite the way Trixie used to.

And, hey, even if it does, i’ll just keep trying.

current jam: ‘san francisco’ the mowgli’s (thanks, radha!) 

best thing: #talkingtaboo.

also: HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM, YOU’RE THE GREATEST. Thanks for the dolphin wallpaper and putting up with my “dolphin call” for the whole of second grade.