The Salt of Women's Stories

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

In Sunday School this week we talked about the bible story of Lot and his wife. The teacher kept the lesson on track and relevant to our time. They stuck true to the manual and taught with the focus that has always been kept - be in the world, but not of it.

The lesson ended when Lot's wife turned back, and was turned into a pillar of salt. I found myself thinking, "I hate this lesson."

"Lot was saved because God loved him." one class member said.

"But not his wife." I whispered.

There was no love, no saving for her. At least not this time. Not in that room. Not in that text. She stays etched as a nameless, faceless defector. "Don't look back" is her lesson and she is condemned for learning it.

Even as I felt the rise of anger in me, truth was kicked up from the dust of her story. There is something more here. Dig deeper, it said.

"Ye are the salt of the Earth, " I remembered Christ said to the righteous in Matthew 5. "Salt is good," he said again in Mark 9. If salt is good and righteous why was the sinful wife of Lot turned into an entire pillar of it? I held my tongue and my heartache until I got home.

I opened Walking with the Women of the Old Testament and found not only beautiful art depicting a previously obscured woman, but entire pages of information and insight into Lot's wife. Author Heather Farrell writes,

"Behind [Lot's wife], in Sodom, were her daughters, their husbands, and her grandchildren. How many of us, even running for our lives, would be able to forget that and not, even just in our hearts, look back?" 
"The Hebrew word for 'pillar' means... a statue... or someone positioned as a guard or sentinel... Salt is a symbolic substance in the scriptures and was often used in making covenants. If we think about Lot's wife becoming a "sentinel of salt," that changes our understanding of her story." 
"I don't know if any of us would have acted differently if we had been in the shoes of Lot's wife. I hope that as we think of her - not as a disobedient woman but as a loving mother - her story can rise in our estimation and that we will see her as a symbol of the type of love our Savior has for us."

She ends the chapter on Lot's wife with a quote from Michelle Stone,

"Lot's wife did not choose her children over Christ, she chose them over her own self-preservation. She did not follow them into sin - she reached out in an infinitely loving attempt to save them from the sin of their society. She is a type of Christ, and that is why he wants us to remember her. She does not judge and turn away, she loves and turns back, and by so doing gives us permission to do the same."

I was relieved reading those words. The face of a loving woman rose to meet the judgement of those who assume to know her whole story from a few short verses in the bible. It is important to me to point out that the teacher and class were not wrong to approach the story of Lot's wife they way they did. There are many lessons to be gleaned from a story, and that is the truth I am speaking to. When there is only one narrative for a two-part story, it is no longer balanced and whole. Its salt loses savor. Article of Faith number 8 states that "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly". I believe some of the plain and precious truths lost to centuries of patriarchy are the fullness of the stories of women.

There are those who say "Oppression? Not in my church. Not in my life," as if their experience discounts those like me who see the invisibility and silence of women in my church, in my scriptures, in my life. Certainly progress is being made, but when I sit through a lesson on Lot's wife I can't help but ask, "Why can't they see what I do?" When I see only male Sunday School teachers and wonder: if women are given permission to expound on scripture but not equal opportunity to share their findings, is that really equality? What is there to celebrate about that? When out of the 50 lessons in the Primary lessons about the Old Testament, only six mention women, how can the imbalance go unnoticed? How long can we pretend like those who voice their concerns about gender inequality in the church are crazy, misinformed, or lacking in faith?

The stories of women matter. It is important to tell them with truth. If they were bad, tell them in all their badness but remember their good, their motivations, their pains. Tell their whole story. If they were good, speak their goodness and share their failings, their doubts, their struggles. Tell their whole story. When their name is known, use it without qualifiers. They are more than Jacob's wives. They are more than Samuel's mother. They are more than sinners or saints. They are whole women. Though the pages of history have forgotten them, still they speak.

The voices of my mothers
sink deep into the earth.
they whisper to me in dreams,
their voices carried by the dry summer wind.

I come to the desert,
shovel in hand.
there are those who laugh behind their hands,
but my secret is my strength:
I am not digging for bones.

I am bringing up water.

Edouard Debat-Ponsan [1847-1913] Truth Escaping From the Well

© Channing B. Parker. Design by FCD.