Thursday, April 12, 2012

Martha and Mary: United

I am reduced to tears by today's flurry of accusations and defenses about "stay-at-home moms" vs. women who work outside the home.

My day started well, reading Psalm 37:
Delight in YHWH, and you'll be given the desires of your heart. 
Commit your way to YHWH, and trust in YHWH...
Rest in YHWH and wait patiently....

But at breakfast instead of reading newspapers I decided to turn on CNN to hear whether the UN-negotiated cease fire in Syria is actually taking effect. Big mistake.

Instead I heard sound bites of Hilary Rosen saying Ann Romney "hasn't worked a day in her life" and Republicans attacking Rosen and all Democrats for not respecting women who stay home and raise kids.

Michelle Obama weighed in via Twitter, and the president's news secretary was holding a press conference to list everything President Obama has done to support women who work outside the home, women who stay home and need the WIC program, women on Medicare, women who are teachers, etc.

So much for delighting in God's presence, trusting, resting, etc.  As I cleaned up the kitchen and dining area, (roses from Easter dinner now dying, dishes in the sink from the last couple days when I had to rush off to work at my part-time job), I felt depressed.

Not again.  Not this debate from the 1970s, accusing feminists of only valuing work outside the home and not respecting women who put their time into child care and housework. 

There's a reason why my blog is titled "Martha y Maria," in addition to my desire to honor the death of Martha Puebla in 2003 and the suffering of Maria Riveros and her daughter, whose life was endangered by an abortion done at home in Paraguay in July 2008.

Martha and Mary are the two women who were sisters and close friends of Jesus.  He stayed in the home of Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus when he visited Jerusalem.  They lived in Bethany, a few miles outside the city. 

This blog's subtitle is "Women's Lives, Women's Rights."  That could have been the name of the blog, but I wanted to announce that Mary, Martha, and the Bible would be the touchstone of all my writing.

Both were probably among the women present at the crucifixion and  the women who announced the resurrection to the other disciples.  Luke says, "Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles" (Luke 24:10-11).  Mary of Bethany is also known for anointing Jesus at dinner shortly before his death.

But the most well-known passage with Martha and Mary is Luke 10:38-42, where Martha says, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me."

Jesus answers, gently but carefully, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

Martha, like me this morning, has been distracted from that peace of mind that is every believer's goal: "Delight in the Holy One, commit, trust, rest in God's presence."

Jesus recalls her to the One Thing that is important: a heart committed to joy in God's presence. 

He also affirms choice.  Martha has chosen, Mary has chosen.  On this day when Jesus is present and teaching in their home, Mary has made the choice that most people looking back on this day would want to have made.  She is sitting at Jesus' feet, drinking in his words. 

"Recently, the phrase 'at his feet' has been reinterpreted as a term for learning from a teacher as a disciple (compare Acts 22:3, where Paul claims to have been educated 'at the feet of ' the famous teacher Gamaliel)," comments Mary Rose D'Angelo in Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Bible (Houghton Mifflin, 2000). 

This pull between Martha and Mary, between the kitchen and the arena of ideas and public action, has been part of the movement for women's equality, both in the 19th century and in the 20th-21st century. 

Women who ask for the right to vote, the option to do paid work outside the home, the right to be part of government, business, education, etc. have usually done so while being mothers.  The extended family has helped with child care and housework, or a husband has shared that work, or help has been hired, or day care facilities have been used.

The anti-feminist effort to keep women only in the home has been supported by claims that those who support women's work outside the home do not respect women who devote their lives to child care and homemaking.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, in the passion of the fight for equal rights including the ERA, I and others scorned the option of staying at home seven days a week while our husbands went out to their demanding but sometimes exciting work in the public sphere.  Yes, we talked about "working women" and meant "working outside the home."

Since then, however, the women's movement has been careful to note that women's work at home is challenging and demanding and important--and it is work. 

But every now and then, someone slips up and refers to "women who don't work" instead of "women who don't work for pay" or "women who don't work outside the home." 

If you listen to the full text of Hilary Rosen's commments on CNN, you will find she does affirm care for children and care for the home as Work--but there were those ten seconds where in criticizing Mitt Romney's frequent references to his wife as his source for the views of women, she says Ann Romney doesn't work.  Rosen is arguing that Ann Romney's views are those of a privileged, wealthy woman--they do not represent all women, especially those who are both raising a family and working outside the home to make ends meet. 

Those ten seconds are grabbed by Republicans who want to gain women's votes next November. Ann Romney says raising kids is work.  Other stay-at-home-but-activist women chime in.  

A free-for-all ensues. 

Righteous Demoncrats shout that Republicans have opposed legislation helping welfare mothers (who choose to stay home with their children), equal salaries for women in the paid work force (the Lily Ledbetter Act), etc. 

Righteous Republicans shout that Democrats don't respect women who stay at home, don't value The Family and Marriage, etc.

Women are the rag doll being yanked about by both sides.  We are used and torn in the battle for presidency of the world's most powerful nation, just as men yank women about in the battle for power in some Muslim contexts:  "You must be completely covered (Iran).  You must wear the hijab (Shiites in some countries)... You must not wear the hijab (France)."

I am saddened to see women being used in the clash of ideologies. I lost some momentum in my day by taking time to comment on the exploitation of women occurring today in the presidential race. 

But now I will return to the work I had planned--both at home and in teaching--and try to keep my mind and heart focused on God's presence.

Commit your way to YHWH, and trust in YHWH...

Rest in YHWH and wait patiently....

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