One floor had figures and paintings of the young Buddha. Another was an exhibit of art representing the kings of a mythical kingdom, each of them surrounded by differing numbers of those who had achieved enlightenment. At some point I found I was uneasy that not one of the enlightened ones were women. Later, as I reconnected with my nieces, one of them told me that she was enjoying the exhibits until she realized there were no portrayals of women except as consorts and a couple of dieties, either dancing on a recumbent man or as what we would see as monsters.
This was our experience. Yes, we brought our modern expectations with us. Yes, we saw the art in its own context and appreciated it. And yes, too much of it became oppressive to us as modern day women.
Next, we went to The Tank, a small not-for-profit theatre on the 8th floor of some building off Times Square. We were there to see Scott Blakeman, stand up comic, and a "panel of liberals and conservatives from the media, the arts and politics". It was a mix of comedy and serious political conversation. One of the panel was a woman, a Catholic and a physicist and ethicist, who has been on an important panel that most recently made ethical recommendations to the current Pope regarding stem cell research. Again, my niece, although the woman was a self-described conservative while saying that these labels are no longer useful, found herself in sympathy with what she was saying.
That is, until the young - and she was very young, and very tiny and beautiful - woman, in an interruptive comment to what one man, another Catholic, was saying about the need for abortion to available to women who have been raped, said that, well, the human body is very adept at defending itself and only a tiny percentage of rapes will result in pregnancy.
My niece shut down. Of course. Because even is only one woman in the entire course of history becomes pregnant as the result of rape, that is too many.
So, all this proved to be the background for a sudden, late night challenge to me: How could I, a woman, be a Christian and, worse, serve a Christian church, when Christianity and Judaism before it have been horrible to women, have virtually no positive images of women in their scriptures compared to men, and even in modern times persist in being dismissive of women when, without women, their religions wouldn't even exist because men just plain don't go to church in enough numbers to matter?
Again, this is not an occasion to fact check. Perception is 100% of reality. And I have to agree that we do not have an acceptable record with regard to women. Even when a positive female role model arises in scripture, we dismiss it - ie Mary Magdalene becomes portrayed as a prostitute, where there is no evidence at all that this was the case, and her position as first apostle, the first one sent out by Christ to carry the Good News of the resurrection, is ignored when it comes time to ordain women.
My niece has a point. I am never going to be able to break through her perception. Why should I? She's right.
I can only do what I am compelled to do. I serve Christ as a priest in The Episcopal Church. Sometimes I don't know why. Sometimes I do. I cannot and will not try to defend the record on women in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. There is little defense, and what is there continues to be downplayed.
Meanwhile, I have a sermon to prepare, on The Epiphany. And a congregation to serve at a time in history when the very way we are church no longer works and is changing.