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

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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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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.

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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.

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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).

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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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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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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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Senior Symposium Presentation

I wrote about my baby last week – my senior thesis, capping off at 120 pages on a womanist/feminist interpretation of the Christian Liturgical year. While ten minutes feels like an inch of what i had to say, here’s the presentation i gave at the Senior Symposium on Friday, should you like to watch it!

You might want to turn up your volume to hear. Many thanks to Alex (whom i reference in the film as having presented right before me on God and the Holocaust) and Nora for filming!

A Little Bit of a Rebel.

I remember when i was given the dress: black, capped sleeves and a full, hoop-ish skirt that looked both bohemian and bona fide all at once. Mom had taken Granny shopping and i, insolent, was dragged along to Coldwater Creek.

Not prime hunting grounds for a fourteen-year-old.

While Granny picked out her usual sweaters with mom and the attendant, i amused myself by trying on the dress. I didn’t expect to like it, and even less did i expect to open a box with the black dress tucked inside for Christmas that year. Granny had seen me prancing in front of the dressing room mirror and Mom had helped her tuck it inside her stack of cardigans.

My grandmother was never an outspoken woman; she was South Carolina sweet-aggressive to her core. Dabbing napkins at her lips even when the strokes had ravaged her mind of so many of the manners she prized. “Whatever you’d like, sugar,” her automatic reply to anything asking her opinion.

At Granny’s funeral, my mother stood in the pulpit, unable to wear her robes because it was a Catholic service and her full ordination at a United Methodist Elder seemed irrelevant to her childhood priest. She was not allowed the Eulogy, either; she had fought to say even a few words to celebrate the life of her now-dead mother.

But half an hour before the funeral, she’d asked me to retrieve something she’d left at her own church down the road. Breathless from my sprint in heels, i’d managed to make it there and back in time for the opening hymn.

My mother stepped up to the microphone after the sermon. She began by describing how docile her own mother had been in life. “But,” she smiled, preacher-smile. Eyes sucking you in and fire catching. “She raised her daughter to be something of a rebel.” Turning her head back to the priest, all South-Carolina-Sass, she donned the white stole i’d fetched for her.

“So if you’ll allow me, I’m going to speak to y’all today as that little bit of a rebel.”

I still have that black dress. It’s a few inches higher above my ankles than when i was fourteen, but i could never bear to part with it. Granny and i may have mostly listened to the Classical Station while eating Lowes fried chicken when the strokes started, but she was still my grandmother.

Which is why, this past International Womyn’s Day, i donned the dress once more.

One of my favorite new nonprofits, Women’s Voices Worldwide, sponsored its second-annual Celebration of Speech. (I’m only a tad biased in my feminist fervor for them, having worked as an intern two falls ago). The event is a day-long rotation of womyn speaking: recreating historic speeches, featuring freedom-fighting womyn in the area’s speeches, and highlighting winners of a contemporary speech competition sponsored by WVW.

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My hair was curled in as 19th-century fashion as i could muster, black dress and pearls the closest i could get to resembling Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

I read a selection from her “Declaration of Sentiments,” which she delivered at the start of the suffragette movement when she was only 32. I was familiar with her speech, opening with lines taken verbatim from the Declaration of Independence, with the key insertion of “men and women created equal.” But what resonated with me the most reading it aloud were some her more poignant reasons of patriarchy’s repeated injuries against womyn:

“He allows her in church, as well as state, but a subordinate position, claiming apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the church.

“He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.

“He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.”

Even as early as 1848, feminists weren’t “just” tackling voting rights. There is a fundamental challenge in Stanton’s words both to “Biblical” male authority and to the denigration of womyn’s self-worth because of this perceived cis-male authority. Of course these early waves were imperfect; though born out of the abolitionist movement, they were enormously racist and exclusive of the fierce work done by womyn like Ida B. Wells-Barnett. These are racist ramifications we must still, as people and feminists and Christians, grapple with and work to change.

Reading as Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Reading as Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Yet the work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton did not end in vain: the 19th amendment was passed, divorce laws radically changed, and in many Christian churches apostolic authority no longer denies womyn like my mother the right to lead congregations.

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With J, after the speech!

But one perusal of Sarah Sentilles’ A Church of Her Own or the introduction of Jacquelyn Grant’s White Woman’s Christ, Black Woman’s Jesus makes it clear that ordaining womyn does not universally eliminate sexism in the church.

And as i read Stanton’s fiery words, surrounded by so many womyn re-creating and creating words of their own justice-seeking bent, i was not wearied. Sometimes, when i’m plugging along at my thesis or feeling overwhelmingly frustrated that my mother could not “officially” preach at her own mother’s funeral, i have to wonder: has nothing changed? It’s exhausting, this lenten season i sometimes feel perpetually stuck in.

But mustard seeds sprout mighty branches.

My grandmother’s docility did not breed docile daughters. We turned to rebellion out of love for her and love for all our foremothers. So we keep plugging along, against the microaggressions that we are only worth what we weigh and the macro claims that as womyn, we should not pursue ordination or call on Mother God or think of Mary Magdalene as the ultimate apostle.

We remain, exhausted and exhilarated, in rebellion.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s full speech can be read here.

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