After listening day after day to the morning news, I can only conclude that American society is still structured by patriarchy. Despite many positive strides forward for women’s equality, we are still a male-dominated society. I reach this conclusion because of all the top-down language I hear about how decisions are made, how people’s needs are met, how work is accomplished. I long for the re-ordering of American society away from competition, greed and aggression, toward mutuality, equality, interdependence, compassion, cooperation, and consensus.
Matthew Fox, an Episcopal priest and author of more than twenty books, identifies patriarchy with the image of “climbing Jacob’s ladder.” Remember the story in Hebrew Bible, where Jacob dreams of a ladder stretched from heaven to earth with angels ascending and descending on the ladder? Some of us grew up singing We are climbing Jacob’s ladder, Soldiers of the cross. For centuries, patriarchy has borrowed this biblical image to describe and support patriarchal structuring and ordering of society. Aren’t we all familiar with the notion of “climbing the ladder” toward power, prestige, success, and economic advantage. The problem with climbing the ladder is that some people are always on top and others are always on the bottom. On their way to the top, many use and step on others in a careless and indifferent manner.
Fox proposes a different biblical image for doing theology and for ordering and structuring society – dancing Sarah’s Circle, drawn from the story of Sarah laughing at God’s promise of a baby.
Dancing Sarah’s circle invites us to see our lives interrelated with God, other people, and all creation. It is a life of laughter, joy, creating, birthing, and fruitfulness.
All beings, human and non-human, have a place in the circle. Deep in the whirl and shift of the dance, we arrive at the truth that “the first shall be last and last shall be first.” Ever as the dance unfolds, our roles change and our places shift constantly.
Ladder climbing is about independence; dancing in a circle is about interdependence. Reaching out and holding hands is what dancing is all about! Picture a nation in which Americans see themselves in a great planetary dance together with all other beings on the planet, rather than in a mad scramble to get to the top of the heaps of money, resources, power, and influence. Picture a world in which nations see themselves in relation to other nations in the same way. How different life would be for us!