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

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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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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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!

Baby Announcement

My baby weighs a couple of pounds, sitting at precisely 115 pages now. No trimmings yet; all bare bones, the introduction and the chapters and the endless endnotes. I was in labor for eight months.

I quit doing an honors thesis last fall. Even though i’d written about it, thought about, planned its length and topic since i first walked on Skinner Green. The pressure was too much, the culture of no-sleep and endless-stress that seemed part and parcel of writing such a monster completely unappealing. Especially because my therapist and i had worked so long on me learning to let go and let God. (Well, my phrasing. She’s not from North Carolina.)

It was a release. My advisor, Jane, told me to just keep reading, keep writing small papers, and we would just do an independent study. That seemed perfect: i got to indulge my craving for womanist theology whilst foregoing the purple-eyed haze everyone else seemed to be in.

Until.

It was just before Thanksgiving, and my backpack was plump with books on Jesus and womanism published in the last five years. I rattled off summaries, drawing my breath to talk about a womanist Christology when –

“Has nothing changed?” Jane stared me down. She’s got that deadly mix of Steel Magnolia and a feminism born in the 1960s. My stomach plummeted.

Everything i was talking about – the need to understand Christ as gender-full, as embodied in the faces of people of color and not just a white guy with a splendid beard – it wasn’t, well, new. More nuanced, yes, but nothing too drastically different than Kelly Brown Douglas or Jacquelyn Grant in the 1980s. Critiques of masculine God-language go back a long ways, farther than even Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1848.

Her question plagued me the whole break. It wasn’t just a question of research: this project had always been more personal than that. It was a fundamental push against the anthem of change, the promise that feminism and Christianity were working, in inches, but working, towards a better beloved community.

And then i was back on the thesis track.

I’ve worked since then to answer her question, but instead of taking the usual de-constructive route (tackling a thinker or ideology and ripping it to feminist killjoy pieces) i’ve undertaken a project i see as re-constructive: writing an interpretation of the Christian Liturgical Year through a feminist/womanist lens. It’s in its final phases now, one enormous PDF waiting for copyedits and Jane’s last Southern-sensibility-critique.

On Friday, at 2:15, i’ll be presenting on my baby as part of the Mount Holyoke Senior Symposium. (More logistics here, under “Religion”) I would love it if you’re around and wanted to come here a piece of the story that led to this project, and why i think it is a meaningful discourse for feminists/womanists of faith to be having.

In her recent interview with Micha Boyett (fellow Talking Taboo contributor!) Erin Lane asks Micha why her new book Found was the book she wanted to “birth out into the world.”

While my thesis is by noooo means a full-length book, i love this imagery of the book as a child. As something you create and love and then have to let go, and let God.

And let me tell you, it’s been one hell of a pregnancy.

On Mary & Elizabeth (Rethinking Advent, Days 6 – 10)

We meet somewhat biweekly over home-cooked food for conversation. I’ve been piecing together small lessons and discussion guides on womyn in the Bible; we started with Eve, my notes guided from “Eve and Adam” by Phyllis Trible. Then there was Hagar and Sarah, and last night we did one of my favorite pairings: Elizabeth and Mary, mother of Jesus.

In the wash of Christmas, i think the conversation documented in Luke 1:26 – 56 gets barreled over. Marked as less radical, less important than Mary about to pop on a Donkey in the City of David. I think our neglecting of this passage is because we focus on Mary’s “virginity” rather than her willingness to rebel against society for the sake of her faith. This text, when we grapple with the incredulity of the conversation and the context, is revolutionary. What happens between these two womyn causes us to pause in our assumptions. Forces us to realize that womyn are going to play an instrumental role in the ministry of Jesus, going to challenge and subvert systems of patriarchy that the religion founded in Jesus’ name itself will uphold.

Day 6: Awake.

Day 6: Awake.

Mary, an unwed teenager is pregnant – and her life will be on the line when people find out. Elizabeth, whose husband has gone mute at the announcement of her conception, is apparently in her 90s and plump with her first child. Both womyn are in extraordinary, and painfully marginalized, circumstances. I’m reminded of Kierkegaard, who wrote of Mary in Fear and Trembling: “Has any woman been as infringed upon as was Mary, and is it not true here also that the one whom God blesses he [sic] curses in the same breath?”

Mary may have chatted with an angel about what she is now carrying, but that angel certainly didn’t ensure everyone in her community knew she wasn’t some philandering whore. Elizabeth may have long awaited this child, but her youth is clearly long gone and her husband has such disbelief he cannot even speak with his wife.

Day 7: Ready.

Day 7: Ready.

And yet the conversation in Luke is one of nothing but elation; “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth greets her cousin (Luke 1:42). Words later that will be woven into rosaries, laid at the feet of Mary’s likeness in cathedrals that are literally named “Our Lady.”

But Mary doesn’t get to know all that, in this moment. All she knows is that she is with child, and definitely not by the usual route. She’s young, she probably knows how unlikely her story will sound to her fiancé, and she has been chosen to live up to an enormous task.

And still, still she is filled with wonder.

Day 8: Wisdom. This is  meant to be a sheaf of wheat, symbolizing Ruth & Naomi and their role in Jesus' lineage, put on a Jesse Tree by the children at church on Sunday.

Day 8: Wisdom. This is meant to be a sheaf of wheat, symbolizing Ruth & Naomi and their role in Jesus’ lineage, put on a Jesse Tree by the children at church on Sunday.

“This is like, sisterhood at is absolute best!” commented one of the participants in our discussion. The fact that there are two named womyn having a conversation without a male present is radical enough when looking at the scope of Scripture. But this? This companionship, this fearless faith in each other and that God provides even when the rest of society does not? This is revolutionary.

Day 9: Delight.

Day 9: Delight.

I think this is the sisterhood Mary Daly wanted us to embody, the kind of witnessing and loving and supporting that is needed amongst womanists and feminists. Being unafraid of wonder, even when such wonder is at odds with the world.

Day 10: Holy. A piece from the Psychology of Racism class' project: (Re)Defining Racism.

Day 10: Holy. A piece from the Psychology of Racism class’ project: (Re)Defining Racism.

Elizabeth is the first to know whom Mary is carrying; an old, pregnant woman is the first to see the promise given to a teenage girl – a promise then given to all.

And that, that fills me with wonder, too. 

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current jam: “christmas is all around” billy mack.

relevant resources: enuma okoro’s beautiful piece, “when a christian and a muslim meet in paris,” my first post on the rethinking advent photo-a-day project.

The Big League.

The run stretched from the fold of my knee to my ankle. I toppled out of the car, engine still purring, legs wobbling at their unaccustomed new altitude.

“Just stay in the car!” i craned my neck back at Jonathan, his fingers still thrumming on the wheel. He’d probably put NPR back on without me there. I’d been too nervous to listen to the latest exposé on Joy Division, or whatever.

The lady behind the Rite Aid counter gave me a perplexed once-over, my shimmery pink swath of a dress and elegantly messy bun a vision of out-of-place.

“Y’all carry tights?” i was practically yelping, in need of an inhaler but afraid to elevate my heart rate any more.

“Back row, near cosmetics.”

Heels clacking and eyes as wide as my eyeliner would let them, i flailed my way to the rear of the store. My salvation: rows on rows of Leggs silky-sheer. Five dollars later, i was doubled over in the dingy back bathroom struggling to pull a mess of nylon over my prickly legs. Hopping from foot to foot, i plucked off the ring my Grandmother had given me for my high school graduation, gingerly placing it on top of the toilet paper dispenser. As beautiful as the blue stone was, the beast was the reason for this four-inch-heels sprint through the drug store.

And there i was: legs in nylon knots, trying not to collapse into a hypoglycymic meltdown Rite Aid toilet stall, twenty minutes before the moment i’d been dreaming of since second-grade carreer day.

It was the night of the Talking Taboo book launch.

My book, the real book – not the Advanced Reader’s Copy – was tucked next to my vintage leopard-print coat in the car. I’d outlined in pencil the excerpts i would read, rehearsing with a hairbrush-as-microphone like i was still sixteen and auditioning for American Idol. I’d spent the afternoon slathering myself with hollywood mascara, not caring that i’d be overdressed because you only get one first book launch and this was the dress i felt the strongest in. Pink, effeminate, swishy, and tender. Not a congruent image to the ball-busting feminist ricocheting off the Rite Aid toilet stall walls, but just as much me as the foulmouthed bra-burner found on page 170.

I wound a stretch of scratchy toilet paper around my hand, dabbing at the smears in my foundation. Surrounded by flourescent lights and graying tiles, i stared myself square in my mirror-face. You can, you will, you have. I plucked up my Grandmother’s ring and smoothed down the faux-silk of my skirt.

Jonathan had turned NPR back on by the time i wobbled my way into the passenger seat. Graciously, he turned the volume off and gave me his best honey-you-can smile. With one hand on the wheel and one hand wrapped tightly around mine, he drove the final two miles to the Reality Center downtown.

“You got this, babe.” He’d donned a sport coat and khakis for me, never letting me be the only one overdressed again. In his pocket was a pen, one i’d use later to sign my first book.

“Do i have lipstick on my teeth?” i blurted. He shook his head. “And you’ve got my inhaler?” He tucked the red plastic next to the pen. “Okay, okay, let’s just take a second.” I envisioned myself on my yoga mat, drinking in oxygen as muscles popped with tension-release. Whispered a prayer of thanks, a prayer for confidence, a prayer of humility.

“Ready?”

“Ready.”

Half-wobbling, half-strutting, we made our way inside.

With the incredible Erin Lane, co-editor, her husband Rush and my own Jonathan at the event!

With the incredible Erin Lane, co-editor, her husband Rush, and my own Jonathan at the event!

current jam: ‘rise to me’ the decemberists.

best thing: signing mary’s book!!

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