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The Faceless Mother

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By Josiah, RMM worker in North Africa, excerpted from a weekly newsletter

The following are four recent encounters related to women: 1) last week I attended an international agriculture fair in our old city with some farmers. It was a hot day, and—besides the farm implements and livestock—there was on display a range of women’s dress one doesn’t see in the countryside. A particular woman caught the attention of one of the more pious members of the group, a man I’d never met before, and he turned to me and said, “She needs…,” and then wagged his hand with the sign for discipline, usually corporal; 2) a few days later as I passed a park, I saw a middle-aged man, his wife, their teenage son and 10-year-old daughter posing for a family picture. The daughter was dressed in shorts and trendy top, the mother appeared faceless wearing a hijab with an ankle-length dress with hand-concealing sleeves and a face-concealing veil; 3) a day later I saw a billboard whose dominant image was the stereotypical face of a female model, that unsmiling, shrunken-cheeked, hollow-eyed stare. It was an advertisement for a car, available “at a seductive rate”; 4) on Sunday we gathered with a few others for a time of worship, and as part of that time we acted out the story of Jesus and the disciples’ interactions with the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15): a desperate mother pleads for help, the disciples express their disdain, Jesus appears to voice their (disturbing) unspoken thoughts in several responses to the woman, but then resoundingly affirms her faith.

The dissonance of these pictures weighs on my heart tonight. The “faceless mother,” it seems, is the best law-based solution to the “seductive woman”—a burden all the heavier when coupled with the assertion that women are inherently inferior to men. My wife Sarah finished a series of health lessons with local women this past week, ending with a lesson on self-esteem that grounds the value of women in their creation by God. Someone has said that God so identifies with his creation that sometimes he gets strapped with its sin. As a woman, Sarah has carried the burden of the sins of this context in order to share good news. She’s a remarkable model for our daughters of subversive grace in the midst of disgrace. I’m grateful for her, and for my grandmothers, mother, and the many women who mothered and modeled Jesus to me over the years.