Thursday, May 3, 2007


I delivered this sermon on Good Friday, paridoxically so called, in April.
Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross
Decatur, Georgia

There were two thieves crucified with Jesus on Good Friday. The thief who was crucified at the right of Jesus, legend has it, was named Dismas. Both of these men were sinners, as we all are. They were criminals, as some of us are. But the thief on the right saw Jesus as he truly is, and the thief on his left wanted Jesus to conform to his image of how he should be. Jesus did not measure up to the thief on the left’s expectation of what a king should look like. Jesus did not use his power to save himself from a humiliating death. The thief on his left derided Jesus, Luke tells us, echoing the comments of the soldiers and the mob in the previous verses: the leaders of the mob said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, the chosen one!” The soldiers gave him sour wine and said, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There are echoes of Satan in the wilderness, in these words, when he challenged Jesus, saying, “If you are the son of God, throw yourself down from here.” But Jesus accepted his death. His death was a direct consequence of the way he lived his life, and his message about the kingdom.

I imagine Dismas, the thief on his right, knew something about the ministry of Jesus, because he asks Jesus to remember him in his kingdom. I also imagine that he did not think he would actually be invited there, because he simply asked that Jesus would remember him. I imagine his words to have meant, “Lord, please remember me in your kingdom. It is paradise to me. I am just a poor thief.”

Perhaps he thought he had sinned too much, that he had been a terrible person. But he believed in the kingdom of God, and he believed that Jesus would be going there. Jesus’ministry was the message of the kingdom. More than that, his ministry was actually a taste of the reign of God. His death cannot be separated from his life. The life he lived resulted in death, a death he freely accepted.

Jesus proclaimed good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom of the oppressed (Luke 18). In Jesus’ earthly ministry, we see specific examples of releasing the captives, freeing people from the things that bound them, like sickness. The sicknesses that Jesus healed people from in his time might be different, but the substance is still the same. Leprosy does not come to mind first as a sickness people would come to Jesus with today, but AIDS does. People who had leprosy had were put outside of the community. In Africa, where AIDS is growing at an alarming rate, help from other countries has been slow coming- and so a comparison can be made, that the people of Africa are put outside of the global community. There are so many orphaned children, whose parents have died from the disease.

Jesus healed the sick, the sinful, the fragmented. Let us reflect on the ways we live fragmented lives- we are divided by history, race, class, culture, religion, ageism, sexism. Colonialism, apartheid, politics, ideology, violence, degradation. When we realize these divisions in our lives, we want to hold them up to the light. We remember that Jesus’ death had everything to do with his life, the way that he lived, the message of the reign of God.

Jesus turned systems of power upside down. He said, love your enemy (Luke 6:27). He said, blessed are the poor (6:20). He showed in each encounter that women are equal to men in their humanity, as in the story of Mary and Martha- Mary, who preferred to sit at the feet of Jesus, was doing something couter-cultural, as this was an activity reserved for men (Luke 10:39). Jesus taught love and acceptance of the outsider (invite the poor when you have a banquet, Parable of the Great Dinner, Luke 15:21). Jesus said let the little children come to me, rather than keep them outside of the important adult ministry. He said the kingdom belongs to them (Luke 18:15).

The message about the kingdom does not, at first, seem like good news for the powerful, the elite, the protected, the ones who benefit from a system of oppression- racism, sexism, classism- but it has taken me a while to figure out that it is. It is good news for everyone. The systems of oppression fragment us, they separate us from one another, and from God. When God reigns, there will be wholeness of relationship. The result of this, of course, is freedom from war and oppression. The result is peace. The result is reconciliation. The result is wholeness, for everyone. Jesus says today. We are still fighting a war in Iraq, there is so much violence in our society. But we might have eyes to see, ears to hear, and we might find that God is bringing about the kingdom. When the thief asked Jesus to remember him in his kingdom, Jesus told him that he will be with him today in paradise.

The paradise Jesus talks about, for me, it is the reality pointed to in Jesus’ life. Paradise is synonymous with the reign of God. When the love of God infuses all that is, there is paradise. It might mean pearly-gated heaven, or a garden, or some other place, but more important to me, it is a condition. It is a condition, it is relationship, it is wholeness. God will be all and in all. In the midst of chaos, God is telling us

Today. Amen.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Injustice Served: All Charges Dropped in Duke Univeristy Rape Case

Her word against his. The victim is lying. Who are you going to believe? The adult entertainer, or the college boys? Black or white? The boys probably didn't do it, you think, when you are hearing the news in passing.

But I think they probably did.

All charges of rape and sexual assault were dropped against Duke University students, who were accused of sexually assaulting a woman who was hired as an entertainer at a party they attended. The North Carolina Attorney General, Roy Cooper, said, “The Duke lacrosse case has shown that our society has lost sight of the most fundamental principle of our legal system: the presumption of innocence.” (New York Times, "All Charges Dropped in Duke Case," April 12, 2007). He said the District Attorney was overreaching, rogue, and hence, the case was thrown out.

I find it to be an interesting statement made by the North Carolina Attorney General: what we need to learn from this case is that people are innocent until proven guilty.

I propose that we need to learn from the Duke case is how we continue to blame the very victims our legal system is supposed to protect. I am outraged as a citizen of this country. I am outraged as a woman. We are told between the lines that, at the end of the day, it was her fault that the case will not go to trial. She couldn't remember the details (she had been drinking, her fault) and there is no evidence (she's lying, bad person).

Rape is still one of the most underreported crimes in our country (Center for Disease Control, "Sexual Violence Fact Sheet," April 10, 2007). Therefore, it is a rather unlikely scenario that women simply fabricate stories of rape, as I have heard unpalatably suggested. A classic retort to accusations of sexual abuse continues to be the besmirching of the victim's character. Roy Cooper said that that the evidence did not support the victim's accusations, and indeed, the victim did not support her own accusations: “No D.N.A. confirms the accuser’s story. No other witness confirms her story. Other evidence contradicts her story. She contradicts herself.” Saying she contradicts herself is, in my view, a different way of saying she lied about her victimization; one that is couched in legal jargon and technicality. If he stated in an obvious way that she lied about the victimization, the public would take note; it would be uncouth.

The victim maintains that she was assaulted by these individuals, though her case will not go to trial. The cards were stacked so high against her from the beginning of the case. More than the issue of race, which the media latched onto, this case also highlighted socio-economic issues, issues of legal justice for victims, and women's rights. I can only imagine the courage this young woman had to stand up to the powers that be, because she believed in justice.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Feminine Images of God in the Bible

Female Metaphors and Images of God in Scripture

I teach a group of high school students on Sunday mornings. We recently began discussing feminine imagery for God in the scriptures. I posed questions such as, "Why do we use almost exclusive masculine language when we talk about God? Do you think God is a man?" After discussing the possibilities for a while, some class members described their belief:

"God is like parents. God has both mother and father qualities."
"I think of God as a woman."
"I think of God as a child."
"God is a man."

This age group always surprises me. I have taught adults and children, and children are so much more open to possibilities. They will tell you that they don't care about theology, but given the right soil, theological discourse flourishes- and they don't even seem to know that they are doing it. I handed out the following list of scriptures that compare God to a mothering animal, a midwife, and other metaphors rich in identifying God in ways that are "female"; Jesus uses "mother hen" imagery freely for himself. Those denominations still opposed to the ordination of women on the grounds that Jesus was a man would probably be surprised, if they reflected on this text, how fluidly Jesus makes the comparison between himself and a hen with chicks. I compiled the following list of texts to show my students that much feminine imagery for God exists in the scriptures, and I believe we will benefit spiritually from the recovery of these images.

Eagle and chicks: Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the Lord alone did lead him... (Deut. 32:11-121)

Mother bear: . . . therefore [Ephraim] forgot me. So I will be to them like a lion, like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs. .. (Hos. 13:6b-8a).

Nursing mother: I stretch out to her like a river of peace, like a stream flowing with the honor of the nations, and you may suckle. You will be carried on the side and played with on the knees. As one whose mother comforts him, so I will comfort you; and you will be comforted in Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66:12-13)

Will I bring you to the breaking point and not bring forth? If I am the deliverer (midwife), will I stop (the birth)? (Isaiah 66:9)

God as mother: For You are the One Who drew me out of the belly, the One Who secured me on my mothers breasts. Upon You I have been cast from the womb; from my mothers belly. You have been my God. (Psalms 22:10-11)

Woman in labor:
I have forever held my peace, I have hushed and refrained Myself; now, like a birthing woman, I will cry out, panting and gasping at once. (Isaiah 42:14)

God as baker woman: He told them another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. (Matthew 13:33)

God as a mother hen: How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings! (Luke 13:31-35)

God as a woman searching for a lost coin: What woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, 'Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.' In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:8)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Feminist Discourse

What is a feminist? There are probably as many answers to this question as there are women who identify themselves as feminists. I will point out things you already know as well as things you may not know, but my hope is to cultivate understanding. Therefore, I welcome comments. The meaning of the term "feminist" is lived out, publicly and privately. Here are a few of the ways I live as a feminist: I vote in ways that benefit women, I started a blog (public). When I married, I did not change my last name (private and public). When I read a book with my daughter, we reflect together on what the story had to say about the women in it (private). In my work in the church, I preach and teach in ways that recover the history of women in the church (public). Another feminist may have different experiences. I have a friend who says she wants to work soon after her children are born, and have her partner stay home to nurture the kids. I am not currently working, while I breastfeed and nurture an infant. We are both feminists. No two feminists are alike. There is no doctrine to separate the heretics from the orthodox .

You are probably familiar with the negative connotations associated with the word feminist. There is a dismissive quality in thinking that feminists are simply male-bashers, as if they did not have a reason to bash men. There is a knowing smirk which accompanies the thought that they are probably lesbians, which is untrue. The word "feminazi" is defined in Urban Dictionary as 1) a feminist who refuses to subscribe to logic, 2) a manhater, 3) dislikes all men because of the societal pressures women face, but is unwilling to concede to the fact that the sentiment is perpetuated by both sexes, 4) aggressive towards men because of their sex
5) promoter of reverse sexual discrimination; often feels her sexism is justified because of the attrocities endured by women 6) does not adhere to the philosophy of feminism, but instead promotes a simplified, inaccurate, uniformed view. In order to compare anyone to Nazis, they must first have all of the power. Women still must fight for any power in our society, as they continue to earn less than men when performing the same work (

Another negative connotation of the word feminist, is due to the albeit justified critique that feminists have been predominantly privileged, white, upper-class women, and the term is connected with their experience. The experiences of women who are not white or rich are different. Therefore, black women have gathered under the term "womanist." Latinas have articulated yet another experience; they have gathered under the term "mujerista." There are many articulations of women's experiences of male dominance and oppression.

Monday, February 12, 2007

John Mayer, Be the Change You Wish to See in the World

John Mayer's song, "Waiting on the World to Change," won a Grammy Award in the category of Best Song. I am so disappointed by the academy, by the song, by the song's popularity, and by John Mayer. I quote his words below, for those of you fortunate enough not to be previously aquainted with this song. In an utterly depressing fashion, John Mayer throws up his hands at the world's problems and waits for it to change. Rather than use his popularity and fame and wealth for a message that is truly inspiring, he gluttonously feeds his own feeling of powerlessness with his pointless song. What if Ghandi had simply waited for the world to change? Where would we be if Martin had waited for the world, instead of inspiring the masses? Did Desmond Tutu wait for the world to change? Did Elizabeth Cady Stanton wait? Mayer has power, wealth, and fame. He is already far more advantaged in the pursuit of a better world than most of the people who have devoted their lives to this end. I now believe that the problem the song expresses is not powerlessness, but apathy.
Me and all my friends
We're all misunderstood
They say we stand for nothing and
There's no way we ever could
Now we see everything is going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don't have the means
To rise above and beat it
So we keep waiting (waiting)
Waiting on the world to change
We keep on waiting (waiting)
Waiting on the world to change
It’s hard to beat the system
When we're standing at a distance
So we keep waiting (waiting)
Waiting on the world to change
Now if we had the power
To bring our neighbors home from war
They would have never missed a Christmas
No more ribbons on their door
When you trust your television
What you get is what you got ‘Cuz’ when they own the information ooohhh,
They can bend it all they want
Waiting on the world to change
I t's not that we don't care
We just know that the pot ain't fair
One day our generation
Is gonna rule the population

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The State of the Union is: Women are Strong

I watched Bush's State of the Union address last night, regrettably after our older daughter was tucked into her bed. How I wish she could have seen it! When I looked at the screen and I saw three faces: Bush, Cheney, and Nancy Pelosi, I just kept muttering, "I can't believe it, I just can't believe it." When our daughter was just barely four, she looked down at her laminated placemat with each of the presidents of the United States and asked, "Why there aren't any women?". How do you explain patriarchy to a four-year-old? I could only tell her, "Not yet." Our daughter is now six, and after Nancy's election, I attempted to explain to her the significance of this event: "If President Bush ever died, and Dick Cheney, then Nancy Pelosi would be president. A woman has never been speaker of the House before in our country." Seeing Nancy Pelosi sitting there last night made me realize in a new way her amazing achievement for all women. Women still struggle to be leaders; indeed, I have my own struggles.

When they interviewed Hilary Clinton after the president's speech, I told my partner that she seemed, somehow, softer. He said, "Yeah, her campaign advisers are working on that with her." In order to be more appealing, she has to soften up? Her thick layers of don't-mess-with-me toughness are what got her through to being the only viable female presidential hopeful we have ever seen! Now to get the votes, she has to tone it down? I hate politics. I hate that we all fight the same battle as Hilary. However, I am filled with hope that we will soon see the first female president of the United States, and our daughter can get a new placemat.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Lady Of La Leche

Recently, I went on a weekend trip with my family to St. Augustine, Florida. We visited the Lady of La Leche shrine, the first Marian shrine in the United States. I heard that the site of the shrine is a wonderful place to visit. There is a meandering path back to the site of the shrine, under tall trees dripping with Spanish moss. There is water almost completely surrounding the site, which includes a chapel, an outdoor altar, a cememtary. It is a peaceful place. I was surprised to find that the shrine had to be rebuilt several times throughout its nearly five hundred year history, due to battles and hurricanes. Inside the tiny chapel, there is a statue of Mary nursing the infant Jesus.

I have heard that many women (especially Roman Catholic, though certainly not limited to) have a devotion to Mary, as they feel close to her. In conversation with these women, I have discovered that she is adored as a woman who is near the God-head, more easily identified with than God. Indeed, she is the mother of God; the God-bearer. Perhaps there is a logic, here: if one has something to ask of Jesus, what better way to ask than to ask his mother. After all, when Jesus changed water into wine, his first miracle in the book of John, he may have been inspired to do it by the prompting of his mother. To my deep distaste, much emphasis has been placed on Mary's virginity in Western Christianity. Her virginity emphasizes the fact that her specialness has something to do with her being chaste, holy, perfect, good. Even more disturbing to me is the Church's teaching that she is a perpeptual vergin. It is a closely guarded secret that Jesus had brothers and sisters, though it says so plainly in the gospels.

I have never felt a closeness or connection with Mary. I could never identify with her, as I never experienced myself as especially good. In my experience, the icons or statues of Mary depict a serene, holy, pious, virgin. I could not identify with these. The nursing Mary is different, for me, than any of the depictions I had ever experienced before.

As a lactating woman, I felt a special connection with this Mary. Mary has breasts! Sometimes, I look for a discrete place to nurse, because I want to avoid raised eyebrows or behavior that tells me that people are uncomfortable. Here is the mother of God, nursing her baby before adoring pilgrims of the shrine. I noticed that the baby depicted in her arms is about the size of the baby in my own arms. As I nursed our daughter on a bench outside of the shrine, I feel bold to say, I felt like a living icon. This simple human act of nursing became holy. In these moments, I saw the infant Christ in our daughter in a special way, and I felt a kinship with Mary. I felt comforted and nourished being in that sacred space. I felt at peace. As we were leaving the shrine, we encountered a family. Among them were two children with special needs, one in a wheelchair. The children asked to pet our dog. As we stood there, I saw the child Christ in those children, and I saw the parents seeking health and wholeness and nurturing at the bosom of Mary. I experienced Mary in a new way.