Lot’s Wife

This article by guest contributor, Seff R. Davis, originally appeared in a different version in Impact Magazine, September 27, 2017.

Summary: How is the smiting of Lot’s wife compatible with a God of love? One possibility is that the story works as an allegory for all people trapped between the life they know and the fuller life God intends for them. Through an interpretation of Hawksley Workman’s song “Safe and Sound” and the personal experience of her mother’s death from early-onset dementia,  Seff R. Davis considers that perhaps Lot’s wife was mercifully protected from her suffering until such a time that she’s ready to move on to the better place God has promised. 

 

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Lot and daughters escape the destruction of Sodom. Mosaic at Monreal Cathedral.

The character of Lot’s Wife has always been a difficult one to reconcile with a God of love. Why does God smite this woman for looking back on the burning city that was her home? Can such a story reveal anything loving about God?

According to Jewish tradition, Lot’s Wife, who is given the name Edith, was watching for her daughters, who were married to Sodomite men.  If God smote her for disobeying God’s command, God seems like a monster, killing a mother for worrying about her daughters’ lives or mourning their deaths. Could God really smite her merely for being sad to see her city die? Don’t we all love people who aren’t righteous, and doesn’t Jesus?

One way to avoid that interpretation is the possibility that she’s punished for being like Jonah, hoping to catch a glimpse of vengeance, thinking, “I want to watch those rapists burn!” This seems in keeping with the Jewish commentary remembered in the Passover service that says that when the angels cheered the Red Sea falling in on the pursuing Egyptians, God said, “How can you cheer when my children are drowning?” But unlike Jonah and the angels, who are merely reprimanded for their blood-thirsty thoughts, smiting her for wanting vengeance while raining fire and sulfur on others makes God not only monstrous but hypocritical.

Another possibility is that maybe this is just God in a weak moment. God is doing dirty work and is embarrassed to have it witnessed and acts out of that shame. How much murder is done because we can’t stand there to be a witness to our sins, in a paradoxical attempt to murder the murderer in ourselves reflected in our victim’s eyes? But that reading doesn’t make the story any better, does it?

In the essay “The Outskirts of Sodom” in Rainbow in the Word: LGBTQ Christians’ Biblical Memoirs,  Tyler Heston offers a much more appealing alternative, with Lot’s Wife being an allegory that applies to queer Christians, “frozen at the intersection of two supposed conflicting realities– sexual orientation and faith.” I’d like to see the church that did not accept him for his sexuality respond to seeing themselves recast in the role of Sodom! Quoting Jeanette Winterston’s novel Oranges Aren’t the Only Fruit, he says, “Pillars hold things up and salt keeps things clean, but it’s a poor exchange for losing yourself.”  Lot’s wife then need not be seen as a horrible person, and neither is God. She is merely not ready to accept the blessing of a new life in a new, less violent place, and God is unable or unwilling to force her into that choice.

There’s a song that Hawksley Workman sings, written by Matthew Ryan Corrigan, that offers a related alternative. In “Safe and Sound”, a couple drives into the night, the voice of the song the driver, “you” the passenger, who sometimes trusts the driver to get to the destination but sometimes consults a map. “You slept through the last small town… your eyes are closed like you truly believe you’re safe and sound with me.” Later, ‘you’ wake and cry and we’re given the first hint that though the song works if it’s about two lovers or a parent and an older child, an allusion to the story of Lot’s wife hints that it could also be God speaking to a human: “No turning back, no turning into salt. Behind us the city was crumbling but baby, we’re not to fault” and we are reminded yet again, “you’re safe and sound with me, just like you always will be.” And yet, despite these assurances, “You read the map like you’re reading poetry. And it might just take you forever to believe you’re safe and sound with me.”

God tells her not to look back because it’s not her fault: maybe Lot’s wife was looking back out of guilt and was trapped by it, unable to move on. What if Lot had done a little better in the bargaining with God? What if she had been able to convince her daughters and sons-in-law? Even in cases when it’s very clear a person isn’t at fault, like a natural disaster, survivor’s guilt can be agonizing and keep a person from enjoying the blessing of a new life after the event that killed others.

Instead of smiting as they escape Sodom, God is incredibly gentle with your traumatized state: “my shirt sleeve dries your eyes”. The escape is the fulfilment of a promise of care, as God says, “When things got too rough, I promised you we’d leave.”

That line was on my mind when my mother was dying. Her brain was bleeding uncontrollably and that caused a terrible seizure as parts of her brain rapidly died. She was in terrible pain but unable to speak and I asked for more pain-killers. I knew that the amount of pain-killers needed to take away that much pain would mean she’d probably never wake again, never look at me and say, “Sweetheart” again, or even squeeze my hand and know I was with her, but I wanted her to be comfortable even more than I wanted her to be able to comfort me. “When things got too rough, I promised you we’d leave.” This is a mercy God gives all of us, a knowledge that when life becomes truly intolerable, we leave it, and my dearest hope is that it’s for a better place.

Out of love, I asked for my mom to be taken out of the agony she was in. Maybe instead of being punished, being turned into a pillar of salt was an act of mercy— “pillars hold things up and salt keeps things clean”, and a pillar can feel no pain. Maybe Lot’s wife was sort of cryogenically preserved— flash frozen to await a brighter future.

There’s no judgement in this song for not trusting that you’re safe and sound, no annoyance at your need to consult a map, just a gentle acceptance that “it might just take you forever to believe you’re safe and sound with me.” And Christian hope is we do have forever to finally believe. Christian hope is having faith that the Bible has it right when God says that in the fullness of time, everyone will “Turn to me and be saved, Every knee will bow to me, every tongue will swear allegiance” (Isaiah 45: 22,23) and every soul will be ready to be welcomed by God at the better place. I hope that even if it takes forever, Lot’s wife, that all of us, will move on to the better place God has promised, and that the daughters she has waited so long for will finally run into her arms and together, they will walk on to the better place God has promised.

Seff R. Davis is genderqueer. She teaches high school students with developmental disabilities. Her article, “The God Who Said: ‘My Bad'” was included in Rainbow in the Word: LGBTQ Christians’ Biblical Memoirs (Wipf and Stock, 2017). She has a Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy and a Master of Arts in English from McMaster University, a Bachelor of Education from York University, and studied theology at Emmanuel College of the University of Toronto. She is passionate about disability rights, opera, and the novels of Marilynne Robinson. She lives with her partner, one-year-old daughter, and a retired racing greyhound named Lady Gaga in Toronto, Canada. Please contact her @SRLimDavis.

Peterson Toscano

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“Falling for Ebed Melech”

Text: “Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, a eunuch in the king’s house, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. The king happened to be sitting at the Benjamin Gate, So Ebed-melech left the king’s house and spoke to the king,“My lord king, these men have acted wickedly in all they did to the prophet Jeremiah by throwing him into the cistern to die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city.” Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, “Take three men with you from here, and pull the prophet Jeremiah up from the cistern before he dies.”— Jeremiah 38:7-10

Excerpt: “When I finally came to my senses and came out gay, I refused to toss out the Baby Jesus and the Bible with the anti-LGBTQ bathwater. I began to discover Bible characters routinely left out of the abridged versions of Bible stories preached from the pulpit. It was through this creative dialogue with the Bible that I fell hard for eunuchs.”

Bio Peterson Toscano uses storytelling to promote justice and equality. Through original performance lectures, Peterson opens up discussions about lgbtq issues, privilege, the Bible, justice, and climate change. He created the performance lecture Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible, which unearths gender non-conforming Bible characters. His personal essays about his experiences with conversion therapy have appeared in the Gay and Lesbian Review, Liturgy Magazine, and Huffington Post. He contributed to the Lambda Award winning anthology, Gender Outlaws—The Next Generation. Together with artist Joey Hartman-Dow, he has created the illustrated story, The Amazing Adventures of the Afterbirth of Jesus. A self-described Quirky, Queer Quaker, Peterson speaks at universities, conferences, and in the media. As the host of Citizens’ Climate Radio and the curator of ClimateStew.com, he draws on storytelling and comedy to present climate change as a human rights issues. His climate change presentations reveal the interconnectedness of power, privilege, justice, polar bears, and coffee beans. These include his performance lectures, Everything is Connected—An evening of stories, most weird, many true and Climate Change—What’s Faith Got to Do, Got to Do with It? He lives in Central Pennsylvania with his partner, Glen Retief. www.petersontoscano.com

Invitation to a dying Church to free itself. John Dorhauer

“An entire reformation was birthed when the Bible was given to the common worshiper. It’s amazing what the Spirit will do when she is not withheld from those who need her most. In Rainbow in the Word, Ellin Jimmerson invites a dying Church to free itself from the constraints of its long-held homophobia and exposes it to the biblical insights of today’s most marginalized voices. New life will emerge on the other side of this.” — JohnCDorhauer, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ.

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Highly recommended! Brian D. McLaren

“In the debate about the place of LGBTQ persons in Christian churches, often only the voices of straight, white theologians are heard. Rainbow in the Word introduces us to the beautiful voices of LGBTQ persons themselves, people who, against all odds, have kept the faith and who can speak for themselves. No conversation about these courageous and articulate Christians should take place without their own voices being heard. Highly recommended!” — Brian D. McLaren, author of The Great Spiritual Migration

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Our sexual identity is not a liability. Jamie Arpin-Ricci

“When so many conversations around LGBTQ people in the church centers around debating our legitimacy, Rainbow in the Word reminds us that our sexual identity is not a liability to be defended but an essential contribution to the Church’s understanding of Scripture and of God. This unique book invites us into richer hues and brighter colors as we encounter the Creator whose divine image is reflected in us all.” — Jamie Arpin-Ricci, author of The Cost of Community

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Viki Matson

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“Foreword”

Excerpt: “Rainbow in the Word includes the marks and memories of LGBTQ peoples’ struggles, particularly as the struggle involves the Bible. Some writers reflect on a particular text, wondering if there are ways to understand it that reveal a liberating rather than a punishing God. Others identify with a particular character in the Bible, diving deeply into their story to unearth what might be hidden or neglected. Some speak of the ways they have been injured by Scripture, while othersspeak of being freed by it. Additionally, within these pages you will find genres as disparate as those contained within the Bible itself: narrative, confession, poetry, biography, and calls to action.”

Prof. Viki Matson is the Director of Field Education and Assistant Professor of the Practice of Ministry at Vanderbilt Divinity School. Prior to coming to Vanderbilt, she served as Chaplain at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville, TN. Prof. Matson hold as BS in Religion from Phillips University in Enid, OK (1977) a Master of Divinity (with distinction) from Phillips Theological Seminary in Enid, OK (1982). Additionally, she has completed a residency year in Clinical Pastoral Education and has done graduate study in Ethics. Prof. Matson’s professional interests and expertise include theological reflection on practice, the global dimensions of theological education, and the capacities needed for religious leaders in our times. Prof. Matson is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She is currently a Member-at-Large on the Steering Comittee for the Association of Theological Field Education.

Can’t wait to share with gay friends! Bravo!

An interesting thing happened to me this week. I met a young man who is down on his luck. We were talking and in our conversation he said to me that he always thought that to say “Be normal” was such a negative thing. He said, “I think we should say be natural”. It really struck home with me.
Then I started reading Rainbow in the Word and the title of an article in it, “The Non-Normative Jesus”, made me think back on this conversation.
I am enjoying the book immensely and can’t wait to either buy one for or share with a couple of my gay friends. Bravo!  — Lauren Knox

 

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Interrogates our assumptions about Queer People. Highly recommended.

“Ellin Sterne Jimmerson is an ordained clergywoman, a film-maker, and a prophet who has spent most of her life asking hard questions and seeking nuanced answers that take the Gospels seriously. Anyone who offers Dr. Jimmerson a facile answer walks away in tatters—her love of the Scriptures and their implications for how we treat each other won’t allow for platitudes and memorized answers. Her Rainbow in the Word: LGBTQ Christians’ Biblical Memoirs interrogates our assumptions about Queer People and their approaches to the very texts that have many times been used as a weapon against them. The bravery that these writers show in their willingness to undergo this task and their answers to Jimmerson’s hard questions should inspire all of us who love the Christian Scriptures. There are works from several genres here: apologetics, confession, poetry, autobiography—all with a strongly personal hermeneutic that draws the reader into a deeply wounded yet joyous approach to our shared heritage. I highly recommend this for any mature reader—but especially for those who are seeking to answer the hard questions about how our love of the Scriptures fits together with our understanding of sexuality, gender, and identity.” —Pamela Hosey Long, Seminarian, Alabama Integrated Ministry School of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, Montgomery.

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One amazing read! Darren J. N. Middleton

” ‘Life stories can remake today’s theology” James Wm. McClendon, Jr. once said, and in this movingly penned, intellectually diverse, and spiritually transformative volume of story-theology, Ellin Jimmerson and her contributors show us how. Rainbow in the Word offers earthbound models of Christian desire for transcendent meaning, which is no small accomplishment. This book’s wisdom has been forged on life’s tough anvil, yet each tale in it will endure, branded by the ability to take theology in some unexpectedly new directions. One amazing read!” —— Darren J. N. Middleton, Texas Christian University

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Hope is on every single page. Fresh, new, and utterly beautiful.

“Hope is on every single page in this book, in each contributor’s piece. I am a stumbling ally of the LGBTQ community, with my own church woundings, and I was filled with audacious hope while reading this book. This book offers a fresh, new, and utterly beautiful way to look at scripture. Makes me want to read it again. The memoirs reveal the humanity of God and love. The bravery of the contributors to share their stories is a gift to their LGBTQ communities, first and foremost, and to the wider community of humanity: God is love. Period. — Heidi, Goodreads.

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