For When Christmas is Hard

A ‘Blue Christmas’ Service Sermon

A woman – no, a girl, a teenage girl – is miles and miles from home, away from her cousin and her mother and with only her husband for company- and he is really just a stranger to her.

The pains in her womb are tightening, her breathing is sharp. No one has room for her, for the burden she carries in her belly, this weight that will bring her to knees. At last, someone takes pity on her, and her husband, and their mule, and they are given the barn – where her crying won’t disturb anyone else. Continue reading

Trans-Figuration of the Lord

Matthew 17:1-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Petimg_1625er and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”


“Six days later,” our story begins.

“Six days later.”

If this were a novel, the prologue would go something like this: Jesus has been sparring with the Pharisees and Saduccees, the religious elites of his own native Judaism. They’ve heard wind that he might be a prophet. They want to see for themselves.

And Jesus does his usual thing, of telling them exactly what they already know and exactly what they don’t want to hear and generally mystifying everyone.

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God, the Persistent Widow

In the Gospel of Luke, there’s this parable. (I originally wrote: “this bizarre parable,” but i realized that was redundant.) And in it, there is a judge who “neither fears God nor respects people,” and there is a widow seeking justice.

Widows are kind of a big deal in Scripture; they are one of the few categorically specific people whom God tells the people over and over they must care for.

Widows were also the most commonly targeted people in medieval witch hunts. Widows were women bereft of a patriarchally-sanctioned identity – that is, a husband or father to claim her.

Widows, too, are an emblem and embodiment of grief: as much as they threaten power structures with their liberty, in this parable her namelessness seems to speak to the cavern of loss. She is a spare, an excess – a bereaved excess. Maybe she loved her husband; maybe she didn’t. But in this story she is known only by the absence – widow – and her grief is no less significant than her gender or her powerlessness.

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On Our Anniversary

 

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By Urban South Photo

“Right now, I love you forever. I love you for the hardest mile we walked together.” Andrea Gibson

I don’t know if i can in good faith call it my most favorite part of our wedding day, only because i can’t choose a slice of the whole cake and call it the most sumptuous.

But this is definitely the story i love most today.

We woke up on August ninth to a downpour. My mother had always told me how they had wrapped her train and head with trash bags as she walked to the church, to keep them from soaking. Saran held my hand and told me it was good luck.

Jonathan and i had always loved the rain. I told our photographer – who had managed to sneak engagement portraits in between drizzles some nine months prior – that this was just our lot. We learned to love in the downpour; we’d been engaged just two months when a plane crash took four people from our family forever, when i was in biweekly therapy for clinical OCD and anxiety, when we looked at each other and said, “are they right?”

“Are we too young?”

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A Sermon for Trinity Sunday

A few qualifiers: this sermon was delivered in a Methodist church on both Trinity Sunday and the Sunday following the grueling two weeks of General Conference – a once-every-four-years gathering of the worldwide leaders of the United Methodist Church. At this Conference, there were powerful disruptions wherein the Black Lives Matter movement and LGBTQIA clergy and laity joined forces to confront the church’s racism and homophobia. The church nearly split in half over whether or not to eradicate harmful language towards “homosexuals” in the Book of Discipline – the Methodist rule book, essentially. As a guest preacher in a church that I know well – it is my mother’s church, a church i attended while still Methodist, i wanted to be sensitive to my position. They, too, are facing their own transition: my mother is taking a new parish and in a matter of weeks, this congregation will have anew pastor.

I also left the Methodist church because i could not handle the heartbreak of continually being told being queer meant i was not “compatible with Christian teaching.” And yet, i wanted to offer words of encouragement for those brave leaders who had joined forces confront racism and homophobia. And i wanted to care for the people, equally loved by God, who choose not to love the LGBTQIA community and radically confront racism. Because being a priest means loving your enemies and recognizing when you are the pharisee and when you are the outcast. I know it is not a perfect offering. But it was from my heart.

Reading: Romans 5:1-5

Transcript:

Today is Trinity Sunday, a Sunday for recognizing and specifically discussing what it means to worship a triune God – a God who is Holy Spirit, Son, and Parent, and a God who is all of this as one Being.

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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.

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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! 

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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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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How to Have a Feminist Christian Wedding

To the first: if you self-identify as that beautifully paradoxical and frustratingly poignant mix of feminist and Christian, AND now you’re planning a wedding, bless you. 

And please know that, contrary to the title, this post is not a one-size-for-all guide. We contain multitudes, and in those multitudes is the very understanding that feminism (and womanism) liberates us to choose, and contain contradictions, and that the elusive “feminist” and “Christian” essence is perhaps so elusive because essentializing anything causes allergic reactions to Jesus and Audre Lorde alike.

Urban South Photo

Photo by the effervescent Urban South Photo!

In August, my cis-male partner and i got married, in a big Southern church, with an exchange of rings and big organ music in the background. I wore white(ish), he a tux, and ordained preachers married us.

That’s about where the tradition ended.

We had a multi-gendered bridal party where my 6’2″ brother held my bouquet; we had a “Blessing of the Families” where all our immediate family laid hands on us, giving us both their blessing instead of giving me away; and Jonathan kicked off the procession with his mother, and both my parents escorted me down the aisle.

Since then, i’ve been asked a lot about how we did it, and here are a few of the big tips i have:

1. Ask supportive people to be a part of your wedding – priests and bridal party alike! We had three officiates who were all amazing feminists. Because they all knew how much we wanted a faithful and feminist wedding, they supported praying to “Our Mother-Father God” and assisted us in finding “biblical marriage” resources from same-gender unions to use in our own. The homily even included some Gene Robinson and Saint Teresa of Avila quotes! As for our multi-gendered bridal party, we were

Chosen Family, by Urban South Photo!

Chosen Family, by Urban South Photo!

careful to ask what people would be comfortable wearing, and we unabashedly loved how uneven and perfect our friends looked surrounding us on the altar. They, too, understood deeply who we are and what we wanted our covenant to look like.

2. Choose your Scriptures thoughtfully. I admit, it baffles me that there are Christian couples who have little to no preference for the Scriptures read at their wedding. It’s easy to get swept up how many mason jar tea lights you need for the reception (guilty) but for us, the ceremony was the centerpiece of our day. Take some time together to think about how the Scriptures you choose reflect the life you want to lead together, and if you want the more traditional Ephesians 5 or 1 Corinthians, take some time to really discuss why. We chose Ruth 1:6 – 18, John 15:1 – 15, and “On Marriage” from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. I’ve been to some other amazing weddings that included quotes or passages from Mother Teresa and Bishop Oscar Romero.

2A: If you’re like me, and you simply can’t choose an economic number of readings, try and integrate these extra readings into other parts of the service; for example, we couldn’t quite squeeze Songs of Songs into our readings, so for the Eucharist we used this Great Thanksgiving based on Song of Songs

3. Make use of the resources your church/officiate knows of. We wanted to ensure a number of heteronormative and sexist doctrines were removed from the liturgy of our wedding, so we wrote our own “Statement of Intent” that made reference to Biblical friendship and love (i.e. Ruth and Naomi, Jonathan and David) rather than to Eve being made for Adam as the original two people destined to be hetero-happy forever. Our pastor recommended the Protestant Wedding Sourcebook which was especially helpful for reading through various liturgies, knowing the liturgy had all the good stuff in it – connectedness to the church throughout time, familiarity – but there was flexibility in the language. Also, i always recommend the WATER Womyn’s Alliance as a good place to start with feminist liturgies.

Yellow shoes & true love, by Urban South Photo!

Yellow shoes & true love, by Urban South Photo!

4. Be prepared for the Emily Post fanatics. I refused to address our invitations to any sort of “Mr. and Mrs. Man-name Man-Surname” on principle, choosing instead to say “Mrs. Lady and Mr. Sir LastName” or throwing all convention out the window when it came to the majority LGBTQIA/single friends we invited. (One friend was addressed as the Future Queen of England, on the fancy printed paper and everything.) We also conscientiously chose local businesses and showed a preference for mostly womyn vendors. Wedding can be massive capitalistic consumerist monsters, and while we chose to have the Big White Wedding, we wanted to be as responsible about our spending and financial support as possible. This raised some eyebrows, but on the whole once we sat down and gently explained why, the rule of Our-Day-Our-Rules kicked in. Mostly.

4B: The best piece of logistical advice i got pre-planning was this: sit down, in quiet, and picture your dream wedding. What are the top three most important things to you? Mine were: solidify the covenant with my love before God and surrounded by our community, focus only on getting married and no last minute drama or planning [so make sure other people know the plan for the day], and throw a raucous party that is casual and fun all at once. In the moments where my mother and i inevitably argued over the mason jar tea lights or why i should/should not have to wear a veil, i remembered my list, and let go what i knew she wanted to be in charge of. So when it comes to the social niceties, sometimes it is okay to keep the peace and make small concessions that you don’t feel violate your core values or partnership.

This is true whatever kind of wedding you’re a part of – no matter how much it may be your moment, there’s always someone else who thinks it is theirs. And when it’s your parents or in-laws or friends, try and remember that they love you and are excited for you and just want the day to be perfect – even if their vision of perfection is not, well, yours.

And take some time alone to breathe, and find a friend who won’t judge when you need a good vent session.

5. Breathe. Pray. Take time to remind yourselves why you are doing this ridiculous and beautiful thing called marriage. Especially during the wedding week – try and find time every day to be alone with your love and just hang out, if only for ten minutes.

This is a sacred and wonderful time, and it will be messy and feathers will get ruffled, but your marriage is between you, God, and your partner, and the tea lights are really the least important thing to worry about.

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