The Audacious Call: A Sermon on Hannah in 1 Samuel

Sermon given at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Austin, Texas on November 18th, 2018.

Text: 1 Samuel 1:4 – 20, 2:1 – 10

“There is no Holy One like the Lord,

no one besides you;

there is no Rock like our God.”

 

For as foreign a story as our Old Testament reading feels at first glance – a family with two wives, and yearly visits to the Temple to sacrifice animals that then become a sacred meal – for as foreign as all of this can feel, there is something achingly familiar in the story of this woman who wants, more than anything, to have a child.

Year after year, Hannah, and her husband Elkanah, and his other wife, Penninah, and her many children, go to the Temple to make sacrifices. Going to the Temple as a family was a time carved out to be particularly close to God, and a time that was marked by a special meal – not so unlike our own Thanksgiving holiday. And every year, as the family made the trek Penninah would mercilessly mock Hannah for her lack of children – not so unlike family dynamics at the dinner table during Thanksgiving. Continue reading

Girl Hate & Wild Worth: A Sermon on 1 Samuel 1:4 – 17

[TW: fertility grief]

1 Samuel 1:4 – 17

On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” [continue reading…


I want to talk about girl hate.

Girl hate is when a woman gets a promotion and instead of her fellow womyn and gender minorities celebrating her hard work, they see her as a threat.

Girl hate is when facebook is plastered with womyn making a mockery of all those ‘dumb girls’ who just got engaged because instead of celebrating another’s happiness, pseudo-feminist bitterness is seen is clever and cool.

Girl hate is tearing down other womyn so that we can buffer our own insecurities and jealousies with a line of fire sure to hurt other womyn worse than their success scares us.

Girl hate is (at least partially to blame) when mothers say a child deserves to be body slammed at school for speaking her mind. 

Girl hate is not the only expression of patriarchy, or racism, or injustice – but it is an engine that drives patriarchy forward. And girl hate is not solely perpetuated by womyn. Girl hate reinforces the idea that womyn are each other’s competition, girl hate instantiates that a woman’s worth is in relation to men or to masculine power, and girl hate keeps us fighting each other instead of standing in solidarity.

In the text today I see a classic example of girl hate.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Mother Wisdom: A Sermon for Epiphany

Nativity, Loreta, Prague.

Nativity, Loreta, Prague.

Texts: Matthew 2:1 – 12 & Book of Wisdom 10: 15-21

Our texts this morning are drawn from two sources: one I imagine is familiar to you all: the Gospel of Matthew. The other, however, is a little less known – The Book of Wisdom, or Wisdom of Solomon, which is from the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha is comprised of biblical texts that are included in the original catholic canon but have not always been used by Protestants. I, however, think the Book of Wisdom can richly inform our faith and as it was suggested in the lectionary for this week thought to share it with all of you.

The Book of Wisdom, along with other Apocryphal literature, tells us that Wisdom has been with God since the very beginning of time. The Book of Wisdom itself retells many stories of the Old Testament explaining how it was She, Wisdom, who moved with famous patriarchs to fulfill God’s will. Our text today comes from the retelling of the Exodus, explaining how it was She, Wisdom, who dwelt in Moses’ heart as much as She split the Red Sea.

Continue reading

God is not my Father

For Mother’s Day this year, a group of Christian theologians and musicians created an alternative liturgy honoring the motherly aspects of God. The central piece of this motherly worship was an apophatic meditation – an ancient form of prayer meant to simultaneously acknowledge the breadth of God and the limits of our language and understanding of this breadth. One of the main examples of such a meditation (used in this liturgy to challenge father-only metaphors for God) is this:

God is our father.

God is not our father, for God is more than our father.

God is not not our father.

I’m a fan of this crew of people – The Liturgists, as they are aptly named – and the work they are doing. As someone who actively tries to engage churches in feminist discourses, i’m always glad when people reputable in more conservative circles talk about faith in a feminist bridge-building manner.

Though i find it most worshipful to refer to God in feminine terms, i understand that it is important to give space for all people to speak about God in metaphors that are most authentic for them.

But it really irks me when churches only use gender-neutral language for God.

I’m not opposed to androgyny; i love and affirm gender-fluidity, breaking gender binaries, the boundless spaces my trans* siblings dwell in. Godself created us in a multiplicity of gender images in Genesis – naming male and female as ends of a spectrum, like saying one looked high and low to mean one looked everywhere.

Yet i still don’t like using gender-neutral language. Partly, because i don’t think neutral language actually embraces the gender binary challenging aspect of androgyny. Using God and Godself as a pronoun can make our language strange to us. Clumsy sentences not only challenge our language structure, but can pointedly illuminate the prevalence with which masculine imagery is used in Christianity. The foreign-ness of Godself as a pronoun embodies God’s wildness.

How God is like us, not like us, and not not like us.

Churches and seminary classrooms and conversation where i do encounter gender-neutral language for God, gendered pronouns do eventually wiggle in. And they are almost always male. The metaphors remain of masculine fortitude, of a king lording over his people, of a father who materially provides. The imagining of God – with few exception – remains masculine, reinforces the idea that creator and author of all is personified as male.

So when i hear people using God in neutral language in church and in conversation, it mostly comes off to me as people wanting to be “PC” but fearing the feminine.

Fearing what it means to call God – all-powerful, all-merciful, all-mighty God – female. Feminine. Tender. Vulnerable. Motherly. Capable of carrying life.

watermarked loreta betterTo associate God with the feminine with one hand expands our understanding of God and gender-full and gender-less, and with the other turns the lens on our broken, sexist society that essentializes human beings to gendered stereotypes. A God who submitted to death on the cross, but who calls womyn out of man-made subservience. A God who does not mandate womyn be servile and men strong, a God who denies our human-wrought binaries. 

I know that churches using gender-neutral language in liturgy theoretically enables people to imagine God in ways outside of the white-man-with-a-beard model. The best model i’ve encountered is when the pastor invites the congregants to use the language most worshipful for them.

I like this invitation to use what is worshipful, because i don’t think father-language or kingdom language has to be thrown out with the bathwater. Father-language can be healing for someone whose father was less than loving – but it can also reinforce destructive hierarchies for people who have been abused by their fathers.

But even using Father-language alone is not Biblical. What of Jesus who yearns to gather us like a mother hen protecting her chicks in Matthew 23 or Luke 13? Consider Wisdom, who is the mother and fashioner of all things in Wisdom of Solomon 7:22, the very “breath and power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty,”  in 7:25, who sits by the throne of God in 9:4.

Fundamentally, if we rely on the faith of the apophatic meditation, we have to know our language of gender cannot ever fully cover God’s expanse.What i want from the pulpit and the classroom and conversations that actively engage with and preach a mother God. And a genuinely androgynous God. And a father God who weeps for Zion and a mother God who cloaks us in Her own armour.

A God who is father, and not father,  and not not father.

A God who is mother, and not mother, and not not mother.



The Choice in the Valley

Sermon, March 30th, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, South Hadley, MA.

Readings: John 9: 1 – 41, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8 – 14, and 1 Samuel 16:1 – 13

10152680_2252741083333_490793048_nIt was only after my own grandmother passed away, almost exactly a year ago, that i began to really appreciate MaMa.

MaMa is as vibrant and as strong as the red North Carolina clay she was raised on. I remember when we first met: i had gone to my now-fiancé’s hometown to meet his extended family. I was immediately grateful then for how easily she beckoned me into their family, her matter-of-fact country sensibility making me feel right at home.

I had loved MaMa from the moment we met, but in that sad irony of not knowing what you have until it is gone, it was only really after the loss of my own grandmother that i began to deeply appreciate her presence and gift in my life.

Continue reading

First, Destruction: Ash Wednesday

What ensnared me about Picasso’s trajectory of work was not, at first, his manipulation of human bodies into geometric shapes. It was how such contortions, such inhuman contraptions could evoke the most human of responses.

Picasso.Guernica2

I remember the first time i saw an image of Guernica, Picasso’s brutal rendering of the bombing of Guernica, Spain, in 1937. It was the first lecture of my AP Art History class, my teacher flicking through some of the most notable works in the canon to illustrate how we were to speak of line and color and shape. I don’t remember how to write about line and shape, but i do remember feeling my face flush and eyes burn at the angle of the screaming woman’s neck, the baffled expression on (of all things) a bull.

“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”

That’s my favorite Picasso quote. Perhaps he meant the transformation of art, how he learned to paint like a Renaissance master and then decided to break all the rules. To create, he had to first destroy. Or maybe he meant that the birth of anything new means first an old way of being must die. From decaying matter sprouts come forth, that sort of thing.

I’ve been ruminating on this cycle of destruction and creation today, on Ash Wednesday. Marking the beginning of our Lenten practice is nothing other than words taken from the Christian burial rite: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Just as spring is starting to whisper comes this macabre reminder that we are mortal beings.

The line itself – dust to dust- comes from Genesis 3, as God is telling Eve and Adam the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit. There are so many feminist ways in which this text can be read – Phyllis Trible’s tackling of gender subordination as a perversion of God’s intended equality being one of my personal favorites. And yet when i hear this text preached i always hear our damnation, our inherent tendency to be sinful.

When what really strikes me is God continuing to speak to humanity, even after humanity has wronged Her.

From destruction remains the promise of creation: new creation.

So this lent, i’m joining fellow Talking Taboo contributor Micha Boyett in her #FoundGrace photo-a-day project. She has plenty of excellent reasons for choosing this phrase, which you can read about on her blog. But for me, this process of finding grace is seeking out the creation in the destruction, the life in what has passed and the potential of what is coming. It’s seeing the beauty that can come from such horrors like the bombing of Guernica, the loss of people we love.

Lent is a time to mourn as much as it is to ready ourselves for the resurrection of Easter. And finding grace seems like the perfect way to honor this dialectic.

On Mary & Elizabeth (Rethinking Advent, Days 6 – 10)

We meet somewhat biweekly over home-cooked food for conversation. I’ve been piecing together small lessons and discussion guides on womyn in the Bible; we started with Eve, my notes guided from “Eve and Adam” by Phyllis Trible. Then there was Hagar and Sarah, and last night we did one of my favorite pairings: Elizabeth and Mary, mother of Jesus.

In the wash of Christmas, i think the conversation documented in Luke 1:26 – 56 gets barreled over. Marked as less radical, less important than Mary about to pop on a Donkey in the City of David. I think our neglecting of this passage is because we focus on Mary’s “virginity” rather than her willingness to rebel against society for the sake of her faith. This text, when we grapple with the incredulity of the conversation and the context, is revolutionary. What happens between these two womyn causes us to pause in our assumptions. Forces us to realize that womyn are going to play an instrumental role in the ministry of Jesus, going to challenge and subvert systems of patriarchy that the religion founded in Jesus’ name itself will uphold.

Day 6: Awake.

Day 6: Awake.

Mary, an unwed teenager is pregnant – and her life will be on the line when people find out. Elizabeth, whose husband has gone mute at the announcement of her conception, is apparently in her 90s and plump with her first child. Both womyn are in extraordinary, and painfully marginalized, circumstances. I’m reminded of Kierkegaard, who wrote of Mary in Fear and Trembling: “Has any woman been as infringed upon as was Mary, and is it not true here also that the one whom God blesses he [sic] curses in the same breath?”

Mary may have chatted with an angel about what she is now carrying, but that angel certainly didn’t ensure everyone in her community knew she wasn’t some philandering whore. Elizabeth may have long awaited this child, but her youth is clearly long gone and her husband has such disbelief he cannot even speak with his wife.

Day 7: Ready.

Day 7: Ready.

And yet the conversation in Luke is one of nothing but elation; “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth greets her cousin (Luke 1:42). Words later that will be woven into rosaries, laid at the feet of Mary’s likeness in cathedrals that are literally named “Our Lady.”

But Mary doesn’t get to know all that, in this moment. All she knows is that she is with child, and definitely not by the usual route. She’s young, she probably knows how unlikely her story will sound to her fiancé, and she has been chosen to live up to an enormous task.

And still, still she is filled with wonder.

Day 8: Wisdom. This is  meant to be a sheaf of wheat, symbolizing Ruth & Naomi and their role in Jesus' lineage, put on a Jesse Tree by the children at church on Sunday.

Day 8: Wisdom. This is meant to be a sheaf of wheat, symbolizing Ruth & Naomi and their role in Jesus’ lineage, put on a Jesse Tree by the children at church on Sunday.

“This is like, sisterhood at is absolute best!” commented one of the participants in our discussion. The fact that there are two named womyn having a conversation without a male present is radical enough when looking at the scope of Scripture. But this? This companionship, this fearless faith in each other and that God provides even when the rest of society does not? This is revolutionary.

Day 9: Delight.

Day 9: Delight.

I think this is the sisterhood Mary Daly wanted us to embody, the kind of witnessing and loving and supporting that is needed amongst womanists and feminists. Being unafraid of wonder, even when such wonder is at odds with the world.

Day 10: Holy. A piece from the Psychology of Racism class' project: (Re)Defining Racism.

Day 10: Holy. A piece from the Psychology of Racism class’ project: (Re)Defining Racism.

Elizabeth is the first to know whom Mary is carrying; an old, pregnant woman is the first to see the promise given to a teenage girl – a promise then given to all.

And that, that fills me with wonder, too. 

buy our book!

current jam: “christmas is all around” billy mack.

relevant resources: enuma okoro’s beautiful piece, “when a christian and a muslim meet in paris,” my first post on the rethinking advent photo-a-day project.