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

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The Opposite of Fear is Faith, a Sermon on 1 Peter 3:13-22

All readings from the day can be read here. Preached at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, May 21, 2017.

1 Peter 3:13-22 Common English Bible (CEB)

13 Who will harm you if you are zealous for good? 14 But happy are you, even if you suffer because of righteousness! Don’t be terrified or upset by them. 15 Instead, regard Christ as holy in your hearts. Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. 16 Yet do this with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience. Act in this way so that those who malign your good lifestyle in Christ may be ashamed when they slander you. 17 It is better to suffer for doing good (if this could possibly be God’s will) than for doing evil.

18 Christ himself suffered on account of sins, once for all, the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous. He did this in order to bring you into the presence of God. Christ was put to death as a human, but made alive by the Spirit. 19 And it was by the Spirit that he went to preach to the spirits in prison. 20 In the past, these spirits were disobedient—when God patiently waited during the time of Noah. Noah built an ark in which a few (that is, eight) lives were rescued through water. 21 Baptism is like that. It saves you now—not because it removes dirt from your body but because it is the mark of a good conscience toward God. Your salvation comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at God’s right side. Now that he has gone into heaven, he rules over all angels, authorities, and powers.

“Now who will harm you if you are eager to do good?”

So opens our reading from 1 Peter today.

“Who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?”

While this letter is attributed to Peter, the Apostle famous for denying Jesus and then walking on water with wobbly feet, this letter is from the first century – some fifty years, or so, after Jesus’ resurrection. Continue reading

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.

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

Sermon: Resurrection in the Dark

Sermon, April 27th, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, South Hadley, MA.

Text: John 20: 19 – 31

Resurrection happens while it is still dark.*

Our text this morning picks up immediately after last week. It is evening of the same day, the same day when earlier that morning Mary Magdalene had found the empty tomb. She had run to tell the disciples – and though Peter and the Beloved Disciple saw the tomb, they returned home. Jesus appeared to Mary, calling her by name. But the disciples, we are told as this story unfurls, are gathered in a locked room, afraid.

Resurrection happens while it is still dark.

Even though the disciples have heard the good news, even though some have seen for themselves the miracle of the empty tomb – they are gathered in a locked room, filled with fear. Fear of what has happened to Jesus, fear of the Pharisees, yes.

But what if the disciples were also afraid of the empty tomb? What if they were afraid of what the resurrection meant?

Continue reading

The Relief of “I-Thought-It-Was-Just-Me”

There have been a slew of reasons why this blog – WanderingWrites – has remained vacant until now. But certainly one of the most life-giving reasons for my hiatus has been this group of energetic, electrifying, and eager young woman. It’s been a delight and a privilege working this summer at the Resource Center for Women & Ministry in the South and working behind-the-scenes with the (almost ready to publish!) Talking Taboo anthology. Here’s more about Courageous Conversations, reposted from the Talking Taboo website!

pre-order my book, talking taboo, here!

talking taboo

post by contributor elizabeth mcmanus

When Erin Lane, co-editor extraordinaire, asked me to submit an essay for the Talking Taboo collection, my first reaction was to leap-dance around my room to Whitney Houston.

My second reaction was spine-curling panic.

Panic, for two reasons. One: i had to choose a single taboo to write about, when the options before me filled a book three times over. And two: whatever i wrote about was going to go public. Something everyone from my favorite professor to my future in-laws could peruse.

I felt like i was about to do a strip tease for everyone i knew, and for everyone i didn’t. Rationally, i realized that the possibility of everyone i knew reading my essay was slim, but rationality isn’t my strong suit when Whitney Houston is at a decibal-shattering volume.

So i met with Erin. Armed with a plate full of Daisy Cakes…

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The Sisterhood of the Crapping Pants.

A few days ago, i hurled myself off a (metaphorical) cliff in one of those Lifetime-movie Leap-Of-Faith moments. It kind of made me want to hurl in a definitely non-metaphorical way.

The 24 hours leading up to the Big Announcement (which, in case you haven’t heard, is that i’m being published in an anthology called Talking Taboo) involved a lot of frantic Skype calls to J, juxtaposed to dancing around my room in my underwear. Mostly to Whitney Houston. Sorry, flatmates.

My oscillating between paralytic fear and booty-shaking happiness basically boiled down to two things. One: i was tea-totally-terrified of what was about to happen. Two: i was ecstatic with possibility-itis. It’s a frightening and beautiful thing to realize a dream. It’s effing overwhelming to share that dream with the world as you know it.

The book itself asked its contributors to be vulnerable – imperfect, honest, and fierce in conviction. “Truth-tellers,” is the phrase our fabulous co-editors use. So, on a basic level of the material itself being published, i was nervous. My essay is tremendously imperfect. Imperfect because writing is a malleable and elusive art, but mainly imperfect because what i have to say centers around my own fallibility. In some ways, my elation came from a sense of release. It’s a weight off to own what everyone else already knows: we’re all imperfect, no matter how hard we may not want to be.

While i was – and am – obviously thrilled to share the news with people, i also wanted to accompany every proclamation of excitement with: “but please tread carefully! That’s my naked heart you’re going to be handling!”

And then the emails and facebook messages started to pour in with congratulations and we-believe-in-you’s. My dancing turned into hands-hiding-weepy-eyes laughter. Teachers from years ago, friends of my parents, people i never expected to take notice. It’s been humbling and beautiful and the best kind of response i could hope for, naked heart and all.

But the best part of this whole process hasn’t been the ego-boost (though let me be perfectly clear: that is really, really nice!). It’s been reading the blog posts of my co-contributors, hearing and feeding off of their excitement and buzz for the Big Day.

In a multitude of ways, this book is the perfect authorial debut for me. The essay is compact, the editors fabulous, and the book’s premise is a belief i 100% uphold. Most of all, though, there has been such a sense of community in the truth-telling from the get-go. Grace Biskie, one of my co-contributors (and one of the ladies featured on the cover of the book!)  said in her blog she felt like crapping her pants, her piece in the book was so vulnerable. I left a comment saying we could form a Sisterhood of the Crapping Pants.

I’ve known, from day one, that this writing-from-my-core was risky business. People will not universally love what i have to say – even people whom i love very, very much. But whether they toss it out with the rubbish or not, i know i’m not alone in being brave. And that is the best kind of consolation.

So, thank you. Thank you for your reads, views, comments, liked statuses. Thank you for your thoughtful and uplifting messages. Thank you most of all for the outpouring of love. It means the world.

preorder the book on amazon here!

current jam: ‘summertime sadness’ lana del rey.

best thing: friends in all the expected and totally unexpected places.

On Being Bold

The first thing i ever wanted to be when i grew up was a dolphin trainer. Who also wrote books. And sang songs. And invented things.

The hybrid of this all in my imagination looked like this: i was the musical star of the Sea World dolphin show, using my inventions to train dolphins in singing along. And then i’d write of adventures in books with plots that suspiciously resembled Harry Potter, but with dolphins.

Lots of social skills as Harry Potter for Halloween, circa third grade.

Lots of social skills as Harry Potter for Halloween, circa third grade.

The hybrid of all of this in reality looked like this: a large cardboard box in the corner of my room overflowing with “inventor-y stuff” (matchbox cars, duct tape). As my friend Becca so fondly recalls, i had a plastic toy dolphin named “Trixie” because she did tricks. (Becca will also tell you Trixie’s tricks were a big flop, but that never stopped me from trying). I actually went pretty far with the singing gig – two years of voice lessons and five years of more choir than anyone with any sense of social skills should hope to take. (Actually, i loved choir, but that’s not the point. I still have no social skills.)

But what has outlasted even my tacky-ass black chorus dress and books of Italian arias is the writing. The desire to write books, perhaps without Trixie-as-Harry-Potter plotlines, remains central to my ten-year plan. It’s kind of why i keep a blog: to keep in practice, to keep writing. To preserve material for my someday egocentric and totally indulgent memoir about my romp through a historically women’s college and semester mucking about Europe.

But if i’m honest with myself, my writing about traveling is not the substantial stuff. It’s tremendously fun, and i know come next year when i have the missing-Edinburgh-blues i will be grateful for making the effort to memorialize what i have experienced. And i love travel writing best of all for keeping in touch with neighbors-as-good-as-kin, my parents, my friends back home.

The substantial stuff, though, that’s what i want to do. I remember telling my best friend in high school i wanted to write a classic – a Tolstoy, a Fitzgerald. She facetiously (and rightly) pointed out that no one sets out to Write a Classic. I look back now with a grain more of humility and heartily agree: people write what is meaningful and beautiful to them, and the power that comes from such truth-telling is what defines a classic.

I’m pretty sure i’m never going to write a War and Peace, as much as my self-important teen self may have wanted to. But i do think it is time for me to truly start embracing that fundamental asset i have seen in all the Good and Great Books i have read, from John Green’s teen fiction to my beloved Toni Morrison’s work.

I have to be bolder, take the risks that terrify me with my naked honesty. This doesn’t make me a Phenomenal Writer – it doesn’t even make me a great writer. It means i am writing, truly and deeply, from my gut. And the best i can hope for is that my vulnerability and lexical expression communicates those questions and feelings with authenticity.

So that is what i’ve done.

Tomorrow, friends and family and good-as-kin-neighbors, i have some exciting and anxiety-inducing and wonderful news to share. I hope you’ll come back to read about it, and i hope it doesn’t flop quite the way Trixie used to.

And, hey, even if it does, i’ll just keep trying.

current jam: ‘san francisco’ the mowgli’s (thanks, radha!) 

best thing: #talkingtaboo.

also: HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM, YOU’RE THE GREATEST. Thanks for the dolphin wallpaper and putting up with my “dolphin call” for the whole of second grade.

The Work of Grieving.

It’s been a teeth-rattling week.

I’m cozied up in J’s favorite armchair (he’s diplomatically taken the couch) staving off the onslaught of indoor air conditioning. It’s been a glorious day, the kind of North Carolina day when i see old friends and make new friends. The kind of day when the pollen coats your shoes from walking in sun-dappled grass, the kind of day when the flower blossoms make you forget the annoyance of yellow stains.

But my newsfeed is not so sated with Guglhupf chocolate as i am. My newsfeed is full of memes of the Sandy Hook children’s faces juxtaposed to the US Senate, it’s pictures memorializing Boston. It is full of arguments over the atrocities that occurred at the same time as the Boston Marathon in Afghanistan, where thirty people were killed at a wedding. Reasons for tremendously legitimate anger, and tremendously legitimate questions to ask.

And also on my newsfeed, buried within it all, is an obituary my aunt posted of my grandmother.

Grief is a season, my mother always says. Grief, she says, is exhausting, hard work. My grandfather has done little else but sleep, these past few days. The funeral has passed, out-of-town relatives returning to their homes afar. Their support has not abated, but the forefront of the crisis is gone. And so our refrigerator’s stock of casseroles dwindles and life starts to resume a trodden pace.

The grief, though, remains.

I remember nearly needing to leave the sanctuary when, at church, they read off the names of the children at Sandy Hook. How several pews ahead there squirmed an impish little one in a striped shirt, tugging on his mother’s sleeve for attention.

The human connections, the moments i remember with faces and feelings attached, remain. Listening to WUNC with my grandmother on a rare solo visit before i left for college. The sigh of relief at texts from friends in Boston assuring us they were okay. I don’t recall the macroscopic picture so much as i recall the details, details interwoven with emotion and simplicity.

And maybe that’s why we can’t carry grief forever the way we are grieving now. We can’t hold the enormity of tragedy. It is too great for human hands. There is a time to sleep all day. A time to let it crush and consume. And i don’t want to anticipate so much to say it’s time for us to move on – it’s not. For anything. This is the time to mourn, and we don’t always get to decided when we are done mourning. Grief, in some ways, gets to decide when it’s done with us.

But it is in doing the hard work of grief, as my mother says, that i have to choose to remember that little boy in his striped shirt pestering his mother. Being a squirmy kid, probably not understanding why such a pall was cast over his parents. I choose to eat shrimp and grits with my Papa, talking about Granny but also about summer plans. School. The elusive normality we all crave.

I have to choose to see this Carolina day for all it’s possibility, even when at the corners of every conversation lurks a greater sadness. The work of grieving does not need to stay, forever, the only work i see.