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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How Do We Speak Against Shame?

This Friday, i’ll be sitting in my best blazer on a panel with some of the best womyn i know, talking about shame at Homegrown: North Carolina Women’s Preaching Festival 2013.

Talking Taboo is on the launchpad, y’all, on a catapult ride to a Mary Daly-esque outerplanet. (Or maybe that’s just my personal NASA-themed fantasy…) The books have shipped, and orders are coming in at local independent bookstores across the country so you can get your hands wrapped around our 40 essays dismantling taboos and reconstructing faith.

And somehow, as deliriously excited as i am to be in print, i’m also still kind of crapping my pants. My essay is, after all, entitled “Sex, Shame, and Scarred Knees.” It doesn’t take too much imagination to realize it is acutely personal and confrontational in one swath of five pages.

But that’s the whole point, for me, in talking about taboos: going for the gut, the personal jugular. I get so frustrated with academic hoopla that over-objectifies ideas and only wants to talk about problems as if they exist in this neutral universe. Like system problems exist outside of our own experiences.

It’s partly a feminism thing; i can only tell my story, and my story is a gradient of privileged (white, cisgendered, American citizen, middle class…) as is the stories of every thinker from Max Weber to Alice Walker. It’s also partly a theological thing; sitting in a stuffy room all day talking Christology is a necessary part of the learning curve, but it’s only relevant when we can embody what we discuss. Feminist/womanist theological ethics – my particular field – is a brilliant, needed, complicated, and an evolving facet to the study and practice of religion. But i still believe feminist theological ethics (or any conversation, really) matters most when we can implement what we talk about in the academy in to real life.

And real life can be some tough shit.

Tough, personal, painful shit. Like feeling isolated, marginalized, ridiculed for pushing back on heteronormative and sexist sexual ethics. Or thinking my body was too fat and too hairy and too imperfect to be lovable, even by its inhabitant.

It was not easy to write about my shame in any place other than my well-hidden cavern of angst and Kahlil Gibran quotes: my journal. My first twelve drafts or so were so externally-focused it felt more like a gender studies essay than a personal confrontation with taboo.

But i knew, i knew i was not the only person in the world who had struggled with the church’s perfectionistic teachings on human sexuality. And it was the thought of writing to younger me that made me be bold. If one – just one – pre-teen girl could crack open my story and heave a sigh of “it’s-not-just-me,” than my exposure would be worth it.

So on Friday, i’ll be talking about just that: how do we speak out against the shame that has silenced us?* I’m the first to say i’m no expert. Hell, my therapist would gladly tell you (were she not bound by HIPAA) i’m in a daily uphill slog against self-shaming. There’s no five-step plan that frees us for life from shame. It’s a systemic thing, shaming womyn for our sexuality (and you know, a million other things people of every gender are shamed for).

But the thing about systems is this: we’re all participants in the system, which means we all have the potential to disrupt the system’s power over us in our own narratives.

buy the book here!

best thing: flights home in less than 24 hours.

current jam: ‘eavesdrop’ the civil wars.

resources on shame, courage, and radical self-love: dr. brené brown’s TED talk & website,  audre lorde’s article “uses of the erotic,” wehappytrans* website.

*not a rhetorical question! how do you speak against shame? what barriers prevent you from speaking against shame?

Why “Feminist” Theologies?

My coursework this semester has thus far been (a) curl-in-a-ball-of-anxiety overwhelmingly large in its stack of readings and paper-writings and (b) simultaneously the most exhilarating ride i’ve yet had academically at school. Considering how madly in love i am with Mount Holyoke – and that a certain religion class second semester my first year is what prompted many of my early blog posts – this is of weighted significance to me. There is never a way to do all of the reading expected of me (and never has been) unless i were to sacrifice all mealtimes and sleep, but discerning what is of the utmost priority has been excruciatingly difficult. I just really, really love it all. I truly feel the coursework i am doing now will directly apply to my thesis next year and, transitively, to the work i aspire to accomplish in the acquisition of a Ph.D. So this struggle to read it all out of unbridled love is a marvelous gift of a dilemma.

But something is still nagging at me.

Easily one of my favorite classes is a seminar entitled “Feminist Theologies,” taught by one of my most most most favorite professors to have ever graced academia. (For liturginerd friends, we just finished Texts of Terror by Phyllis Trible and are well on our way into Audre Lorde!). Presently, i am making my way through one of my favorite theological texts: Beyond God the Father by Mary Daly. To say i think Daly is one of the most critical, important, brilliant, and linguistically creative theologians of the twentieth century is a mild understatement. Though i have plenty of contentions with her work (as, i think, she would approve of considering the whole idea of a feminist space is one of lively discourse) i think her presence in the women’s movement and in the Church is fundamentally revolutionary.

And nothing speaks to me more of her relevance, even today, than this selection from “Chapter One: After the Death of God the Father,” first penned in 1973:

“The unfolding of God, then, is an event in which women participate as we participate in our own revolution. The process involves the creation of a new space, in which women are free to become who we are [ … ] The new space is always located ‘on the boundary.’ Its center is on the boundary of patriarchal institutions, such as churches, universities, national and international politics, families. Its center is the lives of women, whose experience of becoming changes the very meaning of center for us by putting it on the boundary of all that has been considered central. In many universities and seminaries, for example, the phenomenon of women’s studies is becoming widespread, and for many women involved this is the very heart of thought and action [ …] By contrast, many male administrators and faculty view ‘women’s studies’ as peripheral, even trivial …” (Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father, Beacon Press, Boston, 41). 

To me, this begs a question that is tugging at my heart: why does Mary Daly have to be qualified as a “feminist” theologian? Certainly more close to my heart, why is that i always feel i have to qualify that i want to study feminist theology in graduate school? I know that qualification is one i am in control of professing, but it feels necessary that i denote my interest is in the study of egalitarianism and struggles for subverting oppression within the canon of theology. And, at least for now, i think the best label is “feminist” theology.

But i can’t help but feel this is, in some way, buying into this marginalization Daly is critiquing. Sure, she’s writing about the academy within a framework of religious patriarchal oppression, but social structures exist because we all play a part within them.

And i truly feel that Mary Daly is a landmark theologian for her critiques of patriarchy, misogyny, and the marginalization of women in the Christian faith. These criticisms are no less revolutionary than Luther with his 95 theses articulating his frustrations with malpractices in the Catholic church of the sixteenth century. The parallel that both Daly and Luther were practicing Catholics is not one that i think ought to be lost on us, either.

And yet, Mary Daly is studied in a context of gender and religion, rather than the scope of all theological history because, apparently, her words only matter if you’re into that sort of thing. The fact of the matter is, though, that gender and sexuality are an inextricable part of our lives. Gender informs the way we interact with other humans, larger social institutions, and thus our faith (or lack thereof) in whatever tradition practiced/not practiced.

Isn’t this qualifier of “feminist” theologian boxing her in within the religious study of theology the precise way she is critiquing the academy for pushing the study of gender to the boundary?

To be fair, i’ve not taken theological courses at a Divinity School. I’ve not done a comprehensive study of all theological courses across the country or world. So maybe i’m railing against a system that is undergoing important and necessary change.

But even if i am utterly mistaken and, in fact, we’re all secretly reading our womanist and feminist and gender study readers by flashlight late into the theological evenings, that doesn’t change the point Daly is making. And that was forty years ago.

So is the feminist qualifier necessary? Does it mark the boundary of people of all gender identities fighting for an egalitarian space within the framework of larger social institutions? Or does it continue to marginalize such ideals to the boundary of mainstream discourse? Can feminism even be used inclusively, when Daly herself was intensely critiqued by her contemporary, Audre Lorde, for her lack of accounting for the experience of women of color?

current jam: “apertura” gustavo santaolalla

best thing: celebrations.

Love is Stronger than Hate.

Today i went to a protest calling for the repeal of Amendment One in Raleigh, the capitol of North Carolina. Though we were a small crowd, we were a mighty one – and we were enough to require a police escort. Whether they were more there to protect us or watch us, i was unsure, but either way i was glad of their presence. I re-used my sign from election day as i left from work directly to pick up my friend and drive to Raleigh, so it was a little out of place (but the message remained, so i didn’t care too much).

We walked all through the center of Raleigh, chanting things like “love is greater than hate, separation of church and state!” We got some exuberant, gleeful honks from people driving which was so satisfying. There were some nasty looks, but i didn’t care. We were peaceful, if not a little loud, and i felt so sure of what we were doing that the nasty looks didn’t matter.

It was wonderful to be a part of a movement for equality and, while i don’t think we necessarily changed anyone’s minds i still feel what we were doing was important in its own small way. In the midst of a state that legalized such prejudice, we few took a public stand saying we disagreed. And that was enough.

Friends don’t lend friends remain silent in the face of inequality.

If you’re interested, News 14 Carolina covered the event, including a close-up on Faith’s poster (and if you look closely you can see us marching!).

Hate with Hate Won’t Work: Marriage Equality and Where We Go From Here.

I’m the first to admit i was infuriated and despondent in the wake of the (albeit expected) news of Amendment One’s passing. It was crushing because, more than anything else, i knew we hardly stood a chance in defeating it – but i had genuinely hoped that we could overcome the odds. I knew my despair was shared among many: my new feed was cluttered with colorful language and statements of disappointment over its passing, for which, i won’t lie, i took some real comfort in. But there was also a lot of hateful slanders from these very people against those who had voted for the amendment, which was far from soothing. Rather, images that compared the counties who voted for the amendment and counties with the highest concentration of college graduated with snide captions over the lack of formal education breeding stupidity left a sour smell in my nose.

For even in the midst of this hurt we all shared, an oft-quoted line from  Dr. King’s speeches and published works came to mind: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 

In responding to those who voted for the amendment with spiteful comments about the low percentage of people with college degrees who populate their counties, or snarky remarks concerning their personhood, we are fighting hatred with hatred. Do i think they should have voted otherwise? Of course i do. Does this make me entitled to sneer and be as equally cruel towards them as they are to me? Absolutely not. Such an argument makes me no better than they are. It may be the easy choice – to go for the low blow, take the hard-hitting swing, but such a smack speaks more of my unchecked privilege than it declares my allegiance to fighting for justice.

Besides, the comment most especially concerning college education is inherently incredibly classist, and it shows the nastiest side to liberal intellectualism. It’s the we’re-better-than-you-because-we’re-enlightened argument which (hello!) is the same premise under which the anti-marriage-equality campaign is founded. Both arguments are praising an institution (the church vs. higher education) and both drive a divisive line between “us” and the ungodly “them.”

Which is why i was not comforted, vastly, by these statements. In the moment it may have been satisfying, but that’s the thing about the path of nonviolence: it is a way of life for courageous people, ergo it is not easy. I’m not trying to say everyone should believe in nonviolence or think like me (because who am i to tell you what to think?) but i do think if we’re going into this fight for the long haul, we ought to look to our forbearers and glean what wisdom we can from their victories. The last time North Carolina amended its Constitution it was to ban interracial marriage. I think, then, the ancestors we must turn to are not from the distant past, but from the immediately preceding history wherein people of all colors stood together to fight institutionalized racism. I personally thus find Dr. King’s words to be all the more relevant.

Yesterday, though, the country took a turn when President Obama publicly announced he was for marriage equality. To be totally honest, my initial reaction was: “About damn time, Mr. President!” But the importance of what he was doing still resonated deeply with me. The timing of it, coming so close after the loss in NC, was clearly artfully planned – but also an enormous risk. North Carolina is a swing state in national elections; we may have voted Democrat for the first time in sixty years in 2008, but that’s no guarantee we’ll do so again. In lieu of the tremendously powerful conservative vote displayed in Tuesday’s gubernational election, i think what President Obama did was a bold, and thus all the more commendable, action.

But he’s not the only one working for this. The most powerful response to Amendment One’s passing that i have yet seen came from an Episcopal bishop,* Bishop Curry of North Carolina. His words are pointed at all sides of the fray; he takes a religiously-founded stance for marriage equality but also holds his comrades in this accountable in decrying those who have said hateful things to the people who voted for the amendment. Whether or not you’re a person of faith (and not that my opinion on your autonomous decision matters but, for the record, i still love and value you and your rights even if you are not a person of faith) i highly encourage you to watch his response.

Most of all, however, i know i need to remember the humanity present in all of us. This isn’t a one-time, lizzie-writes-a-blog-post-and-is-now-a-saint thing. Rather, i know for myself i must choose to recognize this humanity in all of us every day – and most of all on days when this fight is exhausting and hurtful and i am at my most vulnerable. But in the words taken from the essay “Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant,”by freedom fighter Thomas Merton: “love triumphs, at least in this life, not by eliminating evil once and for all but resisting and overcoming it every day.”

further things of interest: a petition to repeal amendment one; also, a counter-voice critiquing the slippery language of president obama’s marriage equality statement.

current jam: “tomorrow will be kinder” the secret sisters, from my playlist in response to the amendment’s passing.

*For friends who may or may not know: the Episcopal church has been at the forefront of the religious fight to ordain people of queer identities (you can be gay and/or female and still be a priest in the Episcopal church).