Monday, October 26, 2015

That lesbian hymn

Well, girls, it's that time again, the time when we all stand in church and sing how it's totally no biggie if this world takes our wife. Maybe it just felt silly once, but these days it's almost kind of weird, no?

We good Lutheran females are used to it, though! We've been reciting for years how we shouldn't covet our neighbor's wife. I guess neighbors' husbands are fair game for coveting, huh? ;)

But, OK, what does this mean, this language we find in our Bible and catechism and hymnal? Our time tells us it is exclusionary, a relic of a past the present can only see as cruel. But this is silliness. The children of Israel and the children of Wittenberg knew as well as we do that husbands are as off-limits as wives, and that a woman can't have a wife to lose. What does this mean for the Tenth Commandment, "A Mighty Fortress," and all the other formulations we've been trained to hear as discriminatory?

A few things.

1. The truth stands outside of subjective human experience, so the commandments and our hymns do too. They are not about us, they are about the truth. If we can expect someone without a donkey to confess the Tenth Commandment, or someone with no children to sing hymn 656* stanza four, we can confess and sing right along with him even if the particulars do not match our situation either.

2. Wives are valuable. Why covet something that isn't? Why care if something worthless gets taken away from you? This confession is a wall of NO to the idea that women were an ancient/medieval/Modern/everytime until the 19th Amendment version of paper plates, either in terms of their importance to the household economy (where they rank first in #10) or their esoteric worth (as comparable to life or reputation in st. 4). It is wives, not husbands, who were so valued as to receive explicit attention in Scripture and the derivative catechesis and hymnody.

Lutheran ladies sing about their wives.
3. Humanity is oriented in a certain direction. Christ is our head, and the body sees through his eyes. What does he see? The Church coming down out of heaven as a bride beautifully dressed for himself. This vision is encouragement to each member of the Body to remember that she is fit for such pure glory by the blood of the Lamb. Here on earth, the husband is the head, and the family sees through his eyes. What does he see? His bride. She figures so prominently in his personal piety as to appear in his commandments and hymns. Her gain in that prominence (for they are her commandments and hymns, too) is encouragement toward worthiness of the honor. The view is no accident. We cannot switch out wives for husbands in commandment ten or stanza four, because our eyes are in our Head. That is just the truth. It has nothing to do with any one person's sex, or his past, current, or desired marital status. So we all sing it.

Sing out, ladies. We've all got a place in the whole life of the Church. It is given to each of us to sing every truth of God, wherever life has landed us in relation to it.