A Sermon on Judges 19

[TW: rape, murder]

This semester, i am enrolled in my first Preaching class. This sermon was delivered on the 24th of September, 2015.

Text: Judges 19: 1 – 30 CEB 


I am a lectionary preacher.

I love the rhythm of my Episcopal services where we have ordered texts, something from each part of the ordered Bible – an Old Testament, an Epistle, a sung psalm if we’re feeling extra high on the church ladder and a Gospel.

I love the lectionary. I love that we go through the whole Bible every three years – years of completion, years spent with the texts in a waltz with one another – how Paul is speaking to Moses, how Hagar is drawing water with the Samaritan woman – i love that the lectionary weaves all our stories together.

Except.

Except that the lectionary – my beloved, ordered, sensible lectionary – is not the whole story. There are pieces of the Bible missing from the lectionary.

I knew i had never heard a sermon in church on the infamous rape and dismemberment of the concubine in Judges. I had asked a lot of questions about why these horrifying texts of terror were in the Bible.

But i had not thought to ask why they were not in the pulpit.

I wonder what our silence is saying.

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On Being Interview

What do you with doubt?

It’s hard, in this moment, sitting in my studio-slash-guest-room-slash-closet, to think about doubt. My cat is curled on my notes (excuse not to re-read them). I’m still humming on the high from this past weekend. The Why Christian? conference refilled me – trans womyn, queer womyn, womyn of color, white womyn all leading, together. It felt like the red tent – womyn who had been told a hundred and one times why they were wrong, or unclean, or unwelcome, and instead of breaking we’d bonded together.

And, tucked in a little corner of this big cathedral, were four NPR womyn asking us: what do you turn to when you struggle? I think there was no more important question to pose to a group of us gathered in the struggle. The struggle of trying to stay faithful when we’re told we’re not allowed. Not allowed to preach. Not allowed to wear that. Not allowed to say that. Not allowed to be that.

This was my answer:

Brave Goose

IMG_4866He sat in the front seat of the rickety golf cart. “This your first time to the Goose?”

I swear, his white beard was past the nipple line.

“Yes,” we tittered. My knuckles were tensing around the seat.

“Well spread your wings and let the Holy Spirit make you fly!” He lifted an arm out of the cart for emphasis. I worried the cart would tip, that we’d splatter on the trodden dirt of the campground.

But that was about all the conversation we had time for in our ride to the check-in booth, my friend Erin and i. She was speaking, i was entourage-ing, and we were both nervously anticipating our first time at the Wild Goose Festival in the mountains of NC.

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one good church

One Good Thing I Learned in Church

one good churchI became a feminist first because i am a Christian.

I’ve always loved the fiery Jesus. The Jesus who turned tables, the Jesus who spent time with sex workers and valued them as human beings, the Jesus born of an unwed teen mom.

My feminist heart can get down with this rebel Jesus.

But the pill i’m learning to swallow with my unapologetic feminism is that Jesus wasn’t all table-turning. And Jesus, for all his brood-of-viper shade-throwing, spent a lot of time in conversation with people who neither understood him nor cherished him.

And still, Jesus loved them. He loved the Pharisees, men asserting power in a marginalized community desperately trying to forge an identity and gather numbers they saw being erased by empire. Jesus loved people who probably depleted his emotional energy and time. Jesus loved his friends who hurt him, who abandoned him, who betrayed him.

And this kind of love is a love grounded in a deep, deep humility.

Jesus humbled me this week in an awful seminar on colonialism and missions.

A white man asked – i think innocently, but blunderingly – if the “Africans” were grateful for the Christianity brought by colonial missionaries. In my head, (and on my face) i was screaming “like being grateful for 40 acres and a mule after years of being told they were un-human, un-beautiful property?!” (It was not my finest moment of Christian charity.)

Before i could blurt out my furious response …

To finish reading this post, please join me over on HolyHellions.com where my dear friend, mentor, and editor Erin Lane is running a series on what good things sticking it out with the church has taught us! 

Marriage.

On Tuesday morning i woke up with gravel in my throat. Gone are the days of student health, of moping in my dorm and calling my mom until she convinces me i need a doctor.

At least, that’s what i told myself.

So up, showered, to the doctor i went; the fever clocked and aches measured within half an hour of the urgent care opening. I did good, i thought. I didn’t sleep in, i sent the emails needed to miss class, i didn’t even make my husband come with me to the doctor. Waited in the pharmacy lobby for thirty minutes until that opened, too. Took my meds, in timely shifts, and tried to not complain and do the Adult Thing and get better.

That was Tuesday.

By Friday evening i was convinced the doctors had missed a record case of the flu, my self-pity a puddle of tissues and cough drop wrappers.

Melt-y eyed and miserable, i pled with Jonathan for something other than Netflix to stave off my boredom and anxiety of walls in-closing. There were theatrical puffs on my nebulizer. I was moving from gross-sick to panic-stricken-sick, the kind that starts to wonder if i’ll ever see the light of day again.

Gently, laughingly, he plopped me in the car. Thirty minutes later i had what i really needed: a fat stack of coloring books with a replenished stock of crayons.

And Saturday morning he woke up sneezing.

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Madonnas in the Alley

One of the most enchanting aspects of our wander around Central Europe was the profusion of religious art. In allies, tucked under windowsills, nooks on the most mundane of buildings.

loreta madonna

Just outside of Loreto, Prague

I love the reverence for Mary, and for maternal divine images. One of my favorite reliefs was of Saint Francis cradling a Christ child in a small Bavarian village.

friar wandering writes

My absolute favorite was in the graveyard attached to Nonnberg Abbey, the famous nunnery of Maria von Trapp (both in real life and the film).

 collage black madonna wandering writes

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Juxtaposed to the remnants of communism in the Czech Republic, it seemed a small miracle these relics of medieval and Renaissance art remained. I thought it had to be at least part for history, for culture, for their simple beauty.

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Committing + Confirmation: On Finding a Church Home

We’ve committed. Hell, we had our first confirmation class this morning.

After years of waffling, of hurling insults of elitism and masculine language, of denying the abiding current of the liturgy – a current that sustains and challenges – Jonathan and i are committing to the Episcopal Church.

I am not a commitment phobe. I am not afraid of routines or weekly commitments or sharing the peace with people i don’t agree with. I use a label maker for my bureau drawers to delineate socks from underwear, for Chrissakes.  I’m not the cliché anti-labeling (as much as i believe in the danger of a single story).

But i am very, very opposed to monogamy when it comes to church denominations.

It’s not a moral thing. It’s not even really a result of theological meandering rooted in my confused Protestant-Catholic dualistic upbringing. I don’t think any one person believes every facet of the catechism of their denomination. I’ve long accepted that part of being in the Church (and a church) is that i’ll never 100% agree. There are too many people in one community to ask for conformity. As deeply as i want a community to universally support feminism and such, i also know that this desire itself can be skewed to be a desire for conformity of mindset. It is the lack of conformity that challenges me to go beyond my own limited scope.

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Me + Becca at our First Communion.

God as a Child

We moved eight times before my seventh birthday. Chapel Hill was the pin on the map my mother pressed into concrete, telling my father Switzerland and Singapore were perfectly commute-able for him, but her children had friends, and so did she, and that was the end of her moving.

Still, i’d spent hours in the stratosphere, legs dangling over the seat and nose pressed to the oval windows of airplanes. I thought if i looked hard enough, i could see angels in the clouds.

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Postcard from Prague

PRAGUE title slide

In October, Jonathan and i did what we love to do most of all: took off for a new place to meet each other all over again. My brother Thom was studying in Prague for the semester and it was the perfect opportunity both to visit him and to explore a new crook of the world.

If you read my interview over on Viscera Stories, you’ll know that one of my favorite parts of travel is finding that the mundane is made new all over again. It’s also in that newness that i find myself meeting people i’ve known for years for the first time again. Seeing Thom, my younger-but-taller brother, expertly navigate a city in an entirely new language to him (Czech) and participating in his life as an adult was a real treasure.

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Old Town Square, all lit up at night. I loved the Astonomical Clock best, where on the hour the “Death” figure tolls the bell and the apostles process in the windows of the clock. It is, admittedly, mildly underwhelming; a Brit next to me blurted out: “Is that it? I’m off for a pint!”

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ALCHEMISTS

Jonathan and i had some days to wander about by ourselves while Thom had class. We tried to find a monastery, and wound up in a nunnery, which felt prophetic. Loreta, built like the one in Italy of the same name, to honor the alleged brithplace of Mary. [Don’t question the Italian distance from Nazareth]. We had the cloister to ourselves, and every chapel was dedicated to Mary or another woman saint. I wept. We finished the afternoon with the above view and a cup of tea and a long chat with our waitress where we taught her North Carolina English slang and she gently corrected our frenetic Czech attempts at ordering the cheese plate.

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PENTECOST LORETO PRAGUE BUILDINGS

Prague was also clearly a city reeling from communism; Thom was strict that we were not to speak on the trams, to stay quiet in restaurants. There was a joviality between friends, but not an openness to strangers. Religious iconography adorned almost every building, but then there were layers of grimey graffiti around the edges.

PRAGUE time eated

You cannot go to Prague and not at least walk to the Jewish Quarter – a once thriving part of the city, now full with ten times more more tourists and tombstones than Jewish inhabitants. Remnants of a not-so-long-ago genocide.

There are numerous famous sites to visit, but we decided our hearts could best handle a long time in one place, and i was most intrigued by the Spanish Synagogue.

jewish spanish synagogue

All the architecture and design is done in a style similar to Islamic art in Spain and Northern Africa – interlocking patterns, calligraphic Hebrew verses, and no images of people or prophets. All the descriptions were in Czech, but the piles of tefillin stripped from faces and mezuzah ripped from doors all now piled behind glass cases told the story well enough.

CHARLES BRIDGE

prague history

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Prague is often described as the new European hotspot; it’s extremely affordable (seriously, the amount of beer consumed for the pittance of pennies spent) and rich in a complicated history. On the one hand, there’s all the color and warmth of Central Europe and the Mediterranean, but on the other, there is the brooding undercurrent of Easter Europe’s communist history. It is a city coming to know itself all over again. Which is the epitome of traveling together, for me. My husband, my brother and i met between buildings of saints and sinners, over goulash and pizza, we met again for the first time and talked as old friends.

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Must-Do’s:

Have a beer in a local micro-brewery. Slash, have a beer with every meal. It’s cheaper than water.

Try goulash or, if you’re brave, point randomly at the Czech menu and smile. This game of mine has not always paid off (anchovies over cooked carrots in Spain – blech!) but in Prague i wound up with a potato-onion pancake with brie melted inside. Aaah-mazing.

Visit Loreto, the nunnery on a hill overlooking the city. Quiet, less touristy than the main squares, and very affordable. You do have to pay for a photography pass.

Pay for the pass to see the inside of the Saint Vitus Cathedral at the Castle. The stained glass is breathtaking.

Meander in the Jewish Quarter, but try to go when the crowds are lighter (early in the morning) to give the place the time it deserves. Don’t plan on doing anything fun after.

Walk across the Charles Bridge at sunset, when the vendors are closing up shop and the tourists dispersed. You’ll have time to look at the statues then, and the Vlatava river sparkles as the city lights splutter on.

Avoid: Wenceslas Square, if you can, unless it’s a date memorializing the Velvet Revolution. Otherwise, it’s an overpriced and overcrowded Times-Square-esque thoroughfare. Also, beware pickpockets and try not to talk on the trams.

Highly Recommend Miss Sophie’s Hostel for cleanliness, location, and unbelievably kind staff.



Viscera Interview

Halloween 2009, when Rebecca and i went as the sun and the moon!

Halloween 2009, when Rebecca and i went as the sun and the moon!

I first met Rebecca Ripperton when i was told she was my twin.

Not really my biological twin, of course, but my twin for the course of the community production of Twelfth Night we’d been cast in as sophomores in high school, she as Sebastian and i as Viola. Later, she would be my own Beatrice when i directed Much Ado About Nothing. Our friendship blossomed from that shared love of theatre and Shakespeare.

Now, Rebecca has launched a wonderfully creative new project: Viscera Stories, a journalistic venture meant to provide insight into people’s innermost selves. As she describes it,

“We, as human beings, are too varied and seemingly-complex to merit anything less ambiguous and powerful. It seems as though it is in our very nature is to be obsessed with stories, and to understand and define ourselves through the telling of tales; it is a way to uncover our innermost selves, our viscera, to the world.”

Ever a lover of a good story, when she asked me to be one of the subjects interviewed i was more than honored and delighted. Her questions were sometimes painful to answer, not because she was intrusive but because they were such thoughtful questions that really sought the heart of my own story.

Below is a snippet from my interview, and you can read the whole piece here. Rebecca is doing some truly earnest, poignant work on Viscera and i cannot wait to see how it grows!

Viscera: In you journey toward faith, what have been some of the hardest pills for you to swallow about God, Christianity, or human existence?
LMD: That everybody hurts.I wish I could say what has bothered me most has been the rampant sexism, racism, and homophobia in the church – which, obviously, bothers me on the molecular level – but I think the more I walk with people who I’m tempted to first write off as hypocrites the more I learn that God loves them, too. And being a feminist pastor means I dance that line of holding people accountable and care for their whole, imperfect selves.

My husband taught me this the most, really; I was ranting against the misogyny of an old white guy in our church, and it was Jonathan who said “Yeah, but when he’s dying of cancer in a hospital, someone has to go and pray with him as he readies himself to meet God. Even racist Christians need pastors to do their funerals.” And I was like, “shit, that’s what radical love looks like.” Leading a Jesus life seems to me to be the pursuit of the impossible.

Be sure to check out the whole interview here and look into the rest of Rebecca’s amazing work!