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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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 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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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.

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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.

Bitterness, Balls-Busting, and Seminary.

1525368_2532026305289_7201001417806567651_n“To what extent are we all afraid of angering people?”

She was talking about the fear to broach the race question in church. Fears that when white pastors tell their old white parishioners (who give a collection-tin full of money) that their old ways are plain old-fashioned racist, that collection-tin will disappear. Fears to disrupt the white-code,  the code that says  when we (the royal, White We, the we presumed but never explicitly stated) are all in the same room it’s finally okay to bash Affirmative Action, make dialect jokes, microaggresions that aren’t so micro.

Fears as clergypeople that aren’t necessarily rooted in worries about a comfortably paycheck found in those tins – fears that a paycheck will come at all, fears that the church doors will not stay open. Fears that wonder how we can be pastors to even the most racist, sexist, homophobic, and prejudiced of people.

My husband often gently reminds me – when i’ve gone off again on Hobby Lobby and whiteboys and how it’s all a conspiracy to disempower anyone who isn’t white and male and hetero and wealthy – that everybody hurts.

I’ve been walking this line of anger – and how much of it to show – for as long as i was being told girls couldn’t do all that boys could. My friend Erin has written an incredible piece on the spiritual power of bitterness. She writes about uncompromising anger, the anger that does not flinch the way Christian discipline and Christian guilt may teach us to doubt. But there’s the double-edged sword of bitterness for us Christian feminists:

“Bitterness, I’ve been told, is to be avoided by Christian feminists who must wrest themselves from the reputation of both angry activists and fuming fundamentalists.”

I live this in the classrooms where i’m one of three womyn, when i feel my own internal pressure to speak so that it’s not an all male voices, but worry that once again speaking as a feminist will be met with more  grimaces and eyes rolls. It’s fear of letting down my own internal riot-grrl-engine (which, yes, i’m also quick to trace to its capitalist feminist individualism) and fear of being That Girl (which is also maddening, because i’m a woman and not a child).

As Erin writes, bitterness can also be another word for heartache.

Dr. Eboni Marshall Turman spoke briefly during our Divinity School orientation, primarily to explain why we are required to take a course in Black Church Studies. “We are not the black church because we chose to be,” she stated. “We are the black church because we had to be.”

The intersections of race and gender are complex, and the more i assert my stance as a feminist/womanist in classes where only 35% of us are womyn, the more i understand what she meant within my own social location. The culture shock of coming from a school full of gender minorities to an institution that has historically been (and still is) hostile to womyn has run deep in me these first few weeks. No matter how much i celebrate the feminist hermeneutics we read, no matter how grateful i am for friends who are also womyn’s college alums, it is exhausting to work day in and day out assert your right to be where you are and think what you think.*

And the balance of anger and bitterness, heartache and peace-seeking, it’s this impossible walk i’ve never really learned. Because on the one hand, as a feminist, i want to be authentic and true and unapologetically assertive. A woman who fights impostor syndrome, who knows my own value and ability and right to ask the first question or push back against the accepted way of thinking.

But on the other, i’m supposed to be walking this walk in the humility of knowing my own humanity, and its fallibility, and that even the most conservative white cisgenered heterosexual man is still created by God.

(I really do actually sort of know that last part; my husband is from Wilson, North Carolina. He still has to remind me that i know this.)

My mother calls it the “Divinity-School-Shakedown.” The peeling open, scrambling around, and puking out all you know and all you think, a jenga-puzzle game of identity and call. So today, still thumbing through scattered notes on bitterness and heartache, my professor asks us this question:

“To what extent are we all afraid of angering people?”

I still don’t have an answer.

*(I also feel it pertinent to mention here that it’s still the first month, and all us ickle firsties are in various forms of culture shock, and anyone who says they aren’t still adjusting is slurping down that liar soup)

No More Equality for Me.

Maybe it’s the fuel in the gaslights, or maybe my if-i-had-a-dime jar has just cracked from the weight of the coins. You know, the jar for every time i have to endure “Well, I am not a feminist but I believe in equality.” Followed by how womyn who care about dismantling oppression inherently hate all men, and fuss too much, and really, what’s with the armpit hair?

I’m done with “equality.”

I’m done with people thinking a woman for Bishop means sexism isn’t still real in the church, that the apple cart shouldn’t be rocked so the church can grow (and get whiter and richer), done with the idea that in our post-racial society talking about prison and the new Jim Crow is bad dinner manners.

I really don’t like bashing other womyn, especially when i’m venting to a keyboard and not to breathing bones. But Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In phenomena (however passé that is in summer reads) just doesn’t cut it for me.

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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?

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