The Gospels don’t name her, but we know from other historical accounts that Herodias had a daughter named Salome. And history has not been particularly kind to Salome. Is that fair? Christian theologians have interpreted her as a lewd temptress (all that dancing…), conniving, cold, cruel, and feminine.
Classic Western art has used her as an excuse to sexualize and eroticize the body of an (often young) girl, dressed in revealing silks, her face flushed with her Oriental dancing. And Salome was frequently painted receiving the platter with John’s head on it – never Herod or Herodias, but young Salome – looking off into the distance, aloof or silly. Modern Western art has continued the trend – Salome the child has been transformed into the archetypal femme fatale – not merely lascivious, but a sadist and a psychopath sexually aroused by severed heads.
The first time I ever heard about LSD was in my fourth-grade Sunday School class. The class was taught by Mr. Taylor, a middle-aged unsmiling man who still buzzed his head with a pair of clippers every week – years after his military service was over. And Mr. Taylor ran his ship as tight as that crewcut. If you spoke out of turn in Sunday School or even giggled while he was writing at the blackboard, he would throw a piece of chalk at you – HARD. I mean, he would whip it at you. Sometimes it would explode against the wall next to your head. Sometimes it would hit you in the head. He didn’t seem to be too concerned about his aim.
I’m taking a poetry workshop this summer entitled “Won’t You Come Celebrate with Me?” The angle of the class is that the greatest celebrations we can achieve will be the celebrations large enough to contain the grief of the past and the mourning of the present. I think of a funeral – in the midst of loss we celebrate a life. Or, on the other hand, the night that Obama was elected – the way our celebration was all the greater because it seemed to be not the victory but a victory over our country’s racist history. Or the way we felt in 2015 when the Supreme Court made marriage equality a guaranteed right under the constitution – the way that a painful history of violence, discrimination, legal and social separation made that highest legal decision of essential togetherness an explosion of overwhelming joy. The description of the workshop online told me that it would be guided by Lucille Clifton’s lines that it is reason enough for celebration that “everyday / something has tried to kill me / and has failed.” And I thought to myself, “Yeah, that’s the kind of class I might need this this summer.”
I remember landing at Jalalabad Air Base in Afghanistan very early – maybe 2 a.m. – some December morning in 2011. The base was very dark to prevent night-time mortar attacks. As we navigated the small Forward Operating Base to get to our temporary barracks, I remember hearing a very loud, high-pitched hum coming from the flight line. It sounded unlike anything I’d heard during my previous almost six years in the Air Force Reserve – like a very loud swarm of bees. When I woke the next morning, I discovered the source of this mechanized buzz.“So this is what a drone looks like,” I thought to myself, reflecting back on the headlines from earlier that year, which warned of the proliferation of drone strikes under President Obama.
This evening’s passage from the book of Acts takes us to a small crowd of believers, about 120. Not thousands of people from Palm Sunday, not the angry mob from Good Friday. The believers are meeting to take care of business together. Some time has passed since their last meeting. Some folks have left the cause; some folks have passed away. Peter stands up among them and recounts Judas, and the void he has left behind. I imagine some folks are still shocked, completely surprised by Judas’s actions. Why was Jesus crucified? Was that part of his plan all along? Why Judas? Why our friend? These questions didn’t get answered for the apostles, and we’re still wrestling with them today.