Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Brotherhood at feminist theology with a God who breaks the rules of primogeniture

We had a brilliant time at our feminist theology group last night with professor Lévi Ngangura who is dean of the faculty of theology at Goma in Congo. Levi has been on two months study leave at the Institut Protestant de Théologie in Montpellier and was in Geneva to speak to our group which he was part of while studying for his doctorate in Geneva. His book on Esau and Jacob is due to published by Labor et Fides later this year. La fraternité de Jacob et d'Esaü (Gn 25-36) Quel frère aîné pour Jacob? Lévi Ngangura Manyanya, Préface d'Albert de Pury.

Lévi began his presentation of the story of Jacob and Esau by talking about the situation around Goma in the months before Christmas last year, as conflict led to the town's population being cut off from the source of staple foods in the surrounding rural areas. He began by talking about Goma and the terrible situation that people in Congo have lived through in the past 15 years as a way of countering the silence and international indifference th that seems to accompany the fact that in those 15 years more than 5 million people have lost their lives in conflict.
In many ways it was also living as a theologian and pastor in this context that pushed him to research the relationship between Jacob and Esau. His guiding question was "how do we manage conflict in a way that it doesn't turn to into a bloodbath?" What models of being "brotherly" does the Bible offer and in particular what can be learned from what takes place between Esau and Jacob?(Anglophone readers should note that "fraternité" means of course brotherhood but if you look up "sisterhood" in an English-French dictionary you will also find the word "fraternité"!)
Lévi entitled last night's reflection "Jacob wins the whole blessing, yet Esau does not lose anything - respect and separation, a different model of the experience of being brothers". In one of his opening convictions he pointed to the way that the Hebrew term 'âh for brother or 'âhôt for sister is not only used to refer to blood relations but also for the relationship between members of the same community. One of the key questions is the juxtaposition between "having" a brother or sister and "being" a brother or sister - not just to our blood relatives but also within the wider community.
As we studied the text in depth and got into our usual questions and answers it was interesting to see how Rebecca began by having a rather bad press amongst many of the women present - the machinating mother manipulating events. Yet as our quite heated discussions continued we came to see how much Rebecca loses, she has to send away the son she would seem to prefer - perhaps in order to protect both of her sons from one another. After she encourages Jacob to steal his brother's blessing will she ever be able to reestablish a relationship with her son Esau? Interestingly Levi kept on defending Rebecca while many of we women were rather down on and judgemental of her, another interesting dynamic that the story gives rise to!
Throughout these stories in the Hebrew scriptures God does not act in the way society expects, God breaks many of society's laws and expectations. The law of primogeniture is broken by choosing not the manly hunter but the more home-loving Jacob. Yet it is this choice that also sends the home-lover out into the wilderness to seek his future elsewhere. Don't expect getting a blessing to give you what you want or expect!
We ended with Lévi telling us about that 10% of the people training for ministry in Goma are women, but that the churches still have problems calling women to positions of pastoral charge. It is much more usual for women to work in church run health or social work institutions.
Anne Coïdan ended our evening by saying how much we wanted to ask for God's blessing on Levi, his family, church and continuing research. A sisterly blessing for our brother.

1 Comment:

Hansuli John Gerber said...

Great reflections on a great story. Somehow it wakes up memories of me doing a meditation on the story with the board of IFOR many years ago and someone got very angry for using such a male story. I still chuckle as I think of how much humor and tragedy touch...