Facing the Angel:  Samson’s Mother as a Model for Feminist Spiritual Practice by Jill Hammer

Dedicated to Kohenet Andrea Jacobson of blessed memory, a deep practitioner of priestess presence

I have always loved obscure biblical women.  My wife, who was educated in a yeshiva, marvels at the names and tales I mention to her; she’s never heard of them.  Telling their stories, for me, is a form of resistance.  They may be minor to the text, but to me they are main characters.  As a feminist midrashist, I love digging into a text to find out more, to discover a radical take, to imagine a first-person perspective.  As a contemporary spiritual teacher on the trail of the ancient priestesses, I find priestess role models in these hints of story.  As the Jewish holiday season ends and we return to finding the sacred in the mundane, I want to share about a character I love, who doesn’t even have a name, but who, to me, teaches about being present, and meeting the mystery wherever we go. 

“Manoah’s Sacrifice” by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1641.( Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain, PD-1923)

Judges 13 begins with a traditional biblical scene of annunciation.  The wife of Manoah does not have a child.  An angel appears to her to say that she will bear a son.  He must be a nazir or nazirite and will be a hero, delivering his people from their enemies. A nazir is a kind of self-appointed priest, who has taken a vow not to drink wine or cut one’s hair, and who, like the high priest of the Temple, is forbidden to be near dead human bodies.  Such a person’s hair is holy and, at the end of the nazirite service, will be offered on an altar.  Both men and women could be nazirites; indeed, the nazirite vow seems to be an avenue where women can become holy.  We can see there is patriarchal anxiety about this avenue to priestesshood; Numbers 30 is full of laws about how fathers and husbands can annul the vows of daughters and wives, which likely is partly concerned about women becoming nezirot (sing. nezirah) of their own volition.

Continue reading “Facing the Angel:  Samson’s Mother as a Model for Feminist Spiritual Practice by Jill Hammer”

A Mystical Journey: Psalm 93 by Janet Rudolph MaiKa’i

Sometimes I’m asked where I get my inspirations for verses to explore. In this case it was from the God Squad’s Rabbi Marc Gellman who discussed Psalm 93 in a recent column. In his analysis, he used Psalm 93 to wax poetic about how powerful god is outside of nature. In fact, he declared that the worship of nature is idolatry because it only points toward God but can’t completely match God’s majesty. Ahem and Excuse me! With my ire raised, I had to go and look at the Hebrew from my own Mystic Pagan perspective. Rabbi Gelman looks at these verses and his take-away is that “God is more powerful than even the most powerful storm.” Ahem and Excuse me again!  

After delving into the Hebrew words, I see a whole other side to this powerful Psalm. I see the “power of God” [as he would say] or the “beauty of the divine [as I would say],” is that most awesome ability to midwife creation and birth. In other words, to make love manifest. I see in Psalm 93, an esoteric poem bursting with motion that begins by creating a place (Earth) for life to exist. This poem is filled with sound vibrations, thunderous surf, the movement of water and descriptions of thresholds. As the motion unfolds, one is invited to participate in the energies [powers] of the divine pouring out through these threshold gateways.

Continue reading “A Mystical Journey: Psalm 93 by Janet Rudolph MaiKa’i”

Fragments of Sinai by Jill Hammer

Every year on Shavuot, the story of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai is read in synagogues around the world. It’s a dramatic story, with thunder and lightning and mysterious ram’s horns blasting, and Moses disappearing into a thick cloud.  It’s a powerful story.  It’s also a problematic story, for me.  As a feminist, ascribing divinity to an ancient text with a vision of women/gender that is very far from my own doesn’t work for me.  And yet, as a scholar and midrashist who often plays with the words of the biblical text, I do meet God/dess and my ancestors there.  I’m moved by the ancient legend that all Jewish souls, of every time and place, were present to receive Torah at Sinai.  How to express this layered and complex relationship with Torah?

The Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute has been holding Shabbat prayer online since the pandemic began, and we gathered on Shavuot morning to pray.  As a community committed to the liberation of all genders, I felt we couldn’t read the Torah portion the way it was—but I also felt we couldn’t not read it.  So I created an aliyah—a Torah reading—composed of fragments of the text.  Three of us read it together; I chanted the Hebrew, and Kohenet Ketzirah Lesser and Kohenet Harriette Wimms and I read the English.  I picked fragments of the text that spoke to me in some way.

Continue reading “Fragments of Sinai by Jill Hammer”

Gardening Through the Storm by Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee

I spend a lot of time thinking about gardens. I think there might be something to them.

It seems strange to talk about gardens during such an intense time. The crucible of injustice, laid so bare during the pandemic, is overflowing all around us in a volcanic eruption of protests and retaliation. And more and more, we understand how it’s all connected – poverty, violence, choking black men, choking women, a choking planet. All connected in a huge, toxic river of greed, fear, destruction, and death.

Continue reading “Gardening Through the Storm by Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee”

Hagar and Intersectionality by Marilyn Batchelor

I began to follow Kimberlé Crenshaw a little more than five years ago when I first learned of her theory of intersectionality as a more concise description of oppressions stemming from race, age, gender, sex/sexual orientation, religion and socio-economic status. 

In Delores Williams’ book, Sisters in the Wilderness, there is a closer look at womanist theology as it relates to Intersectionality. The focus on traditions of biblical appropriation that emphasize liberation of the oppressed “showed God relating to men in the liberation struggles,” Williams says in the introduction. “In some African American spiritual songs, in slave narratives and in sermons by black preachers, reference was made to biblical stories and personalities who were involved in liberation struggle.”  Continue reading “Hagar and Intersectionality by Marilyn Batchelor”

A Letter to the Editor: Hagar Has Her Say by Marilyn Batchelor

Dear Editor: 

I just want to set the record straight. I’ve heard stories about me being an ungrateful slave girl who was disrespectful to my master and mistress. I hear folks saying I went in and slept with my mistress’ husband, as if I had a choice. I didn’t. My body was not my own. 

Now, I am a free woman, but not without a price. I was an Egyptian hand maid to the Pharaoh. He gave me as a gift to a wealthy Hebrew couple, Sarai and Abram. Prior to this, I was respected amongst the other hand maids. I was still a virgin and that was worth something. As a servant, I already had no rights, nor control over my life. But at least I had my pride. 

I thought my new mistress would keep me safe from losing my virginity until I found a husband. Instead, out of impatience, she sent me in to her husband to have a baby. You see, Abram and Sarai had been trying to have children for many years. God had already promised Abram that he would be a father of many nations. Sarai, being barren, was no proof of this. 

They called me “slave-girl.” I was nameless – meant only to serve her and later to produce a child – something she couldn’t do. Why was it my fault that Sarai was barren? After I was forced to have sex with her husband, it was clear I was nothing but property.  Continue reading “A Letter to the Editor: Hagar Has Her Say by Marilyn Batchelor”

On Ki Teitzei: Rules and the Importance of Religion by Ivy Helman

imageThe Torah parshah Ki Teitzei, Deutornomy 21:10 to 25:19, contains 74 of the 613 commandments/mitzvot found in the Torah.  These mitzvot cover a wide range of topics and concerns. For example, there are mitzvot about how to sow and harvest your fields and others about aiding those in need, including animals.  Some of the mitzvot describe how and why divorces can be decreed, to whom can one charge interest, and the punishments for various crimes. There is a mitzvah concerning the requirement to erect a fence on one’s roof to prevent people from falling off, one about not wearing clothes of the opposite gender, one about returning and/or caring for lost property and another detailing from what type of material one’s clothes can be made.  

The parshah is literally one mitzvah/commandment/rule after another.  Some of the mitzvot seem logical and good for the community. For example, help an animal whose been given a load too heavy for it to carry.  Hold onto someone’s property if you find it, so you can give it to them the next time you see them. Build a fence on your roof so that no one falls off.   Continue reading “On Ki Teitzei: Rules and the Importance of Religion by Ivy Helman”

On Va’etchanan: Do Not Murder, Rather Love by Ivy Helman

29662350_10155723099993089_8391051315166448776_oVa’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11) gives us pause for thought in its contradictions.  First, the parshah (Torah portion) contains the aseret hadibrot (Ten Commandments), among which is:  you shouldn’t murder (5:17). Then, pasukim (verses) 6:4-5 contain the shema (Hear O Israel! The L-rd is Our G-d.  The L-rd is One!) followed by the admonishment to: “love the L-rd, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might,” (Deut. 6:4-5).  Finally, pasuk 7:2 instructs the Isrealites, upon entry into the Promised Land, to kill and “utterly destroy” the various groups of people living there.   

In other words, one is supposed to not murder.  One is reminded to love G-d.  And, then, G-d commands the Israelites to commit mass murder. I can’t help but think about the mass murders in the United States. Continue reading “On Va’etchanan: Do Not Murder, Rather Love by Ivy Helman”

Ruminations on Emor by Ivy Helman

29662350_10155723099993089_8391051315166448776_oThis week’s Torah portion is Emor, or Leviticus 21:1 – 24:23.  It details purity and the priesthood including whose funeral a priest can attend, who can marry a priest, bodily blemishes and temple services, and under what circumstances daughters of priests can still eat temple food.  Emor also discusses the treatment of animals. A baby animal must be 7 days old before it can be sacrificed and cannot be killed the same day as its mother. In addition, the parshah describes the holiday calendar, including the counting of the Omer, how to harvest fields, and what type of oil should be used in the Temple’s Menorah.  Finally, it outlines punishments for various crimes including blasphemy and murder.

To say that there is a lot there would be an understatement.  In fact, a good question about this parshah is where does one begin?  An obvious place would be the mention of the named woman, Shelomit bat Dibri of the tribe of Dan, almost at the end of the parshah.  First, it is remarkable that a woman has been named and more so that her name has been remembered as significant. It begs the question of who was she?  Why remember her name? Why mention her at all? The discussion about her son’s crimes could easily not have needed any mention of her name! So why is it there? Continue reading “Ruminations on Emor by Ivy Helman”

On Tetzaveh by Ivy Helman

29662350_10155723099993089_8391051315166448776_oThe Torah parshah for this week is Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20 – 30:10).  Mostly it describes the priesthood, both of Aaron and his sons. It details how they should be consecrated, what they should wear, the difference between the garb of the high priest and the others, institutes the daily burnt offerings of rams, and provides instructions for the construction of an altar for locally-sourced incense.  

The parshah works to establish differences between members of the Israelite community through consecration as well as in function and in dress by decreeing the institutionalized of the priesthood.  Priests undergo an elaborate consecration ceremony which includes the sacrifice of animals, the smearing of their blood, the waving of various animals parts into the air and the burning/cooking of the sacrificed animals’ flesh.  In addition to the blood smearing and animal sacrifices, the priests are also anointed with oil and offer oil and grain offerings to the divine. In terms of function, priests should offer daily sacrifices to the divine in the form of two rams (one in the morning and one in the evening).  Also, all priests have four items of similar clothing: tunic, girdle, turban and short pants. However, the high priest has four special items only he wears, like the breastplate and a golden forehead piece. His clothes are laden with gold, precious stones, and royal dyes.   Continue reading “On Tetzaveh by Ivy Helman”

Beshalach and Liberating Models of G-d by Ivy Helman

29662350_10155723099993089_8391051315166448776_oThe parshah for next week is Beshalach (Exodus 13:17 – 17:16).  There are a lot of very important events happening in just four chapters.  In fact, one could write a blog on any one of the following topics: the Israelite escape from Egypt; the parting of the Red Sea (literally the sea of Reeds); the Israelites being pursued by the Pharaoh and his army; the death of Pharaoh and his army in the sea; the incessant complaints of the Israelites in the desert; and the first descriptions of Shabbat observance.

Yet, this post will not focus on any of those topics.  Rather, I want to examine chapter 15, the Song of the Sea.  It is one of the oldest sections of the Torah and contains some of the most iconic images of the divine.

Yet, the Song of the Sea is a patriarchal text if ever there was one.  G-d is a strong and vengeful (ver. 2) warrior (ver. 3), who has fury or is wrathful (ver. 7), and wields a mighty arm that kills enemies (ver. 6 &12).  This in-your-face power of the deity inspires fear in those who threaten the deity’s chosen people (ver. 14-15), and the Israelites are grateful for it (ver. 11).  Because of the power of this deity, one can rest assured that this warrior deity will rule (be the King) forever (ver. 18). Continue reading “Beshalach and Liberating Models of G-d by Ivy Helman”

Lessons from Shofetim by Ivy Helman.

29662350_10155723099993089_8391051315166448776_oThis is the first part of a series of reflections on the weekly Torah portions.  For those of you unfamiliar with Judaism, we read the Torah in sections.  There are 52 parshot (or portions), one parshah (portion) is read each week (most often during Shabbat morning services).  It is common for rabbis, prayer leaders or someone of the congregation to offer reflections on the week’s parshah at Shabbat services.

The parshah for this week is Shofetim.  It is Devarim/Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9 and will be read this Shabbat, 18 August.  Shofetim discusses a range of topics: setting up of a system of judges to make important decisions for Israel; the entitlements of the Levites; the rules of warfare; the importance of justice and just governments; and the acknowledgment of G-d as the true and highest Judge.  It also warns Israel against false prophets and practices of idolatry.  Shofetim contains a number of well-known verses including ‘justice, justice you shall pursue…(16:18),’ and notorious punishments like “…a tooth for a tooth; an eye for an eye…(19:21)”  Continue reading “Lessons from Shofetim by Ivy Helman.”

The Blessing of Spiritual Direction by Elise M. Edwards

elise-edwardsFive years ago, I moved to Texas from California. In that time, my spiritual practice and my feminist and womanist worldview has grown through contemplative practices.  It’s ironic. “Everything’s bigger in Texas!” the saying goes, but in the presence of big, sweeping landscapes and open skies, big storms, and big egos, I’ve found the sacred in the small things.  I have deepened my connection to God through a small group of women who practice group spiritual direction.

This past Sunday evening, I gathered with these women at my church for our spiritual direction group.  We sat comfortably in  a circle, relaxing on a couch and chairs around a coffee table, as the evening sun streamed in from a large picture window and lit the room.  As we read a passage from the Bible (Mark 3:34-35) in which Jesus looks at the people sitting around him and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother,” I saw my companions more clearly.  Although my eyes were closed, I had a vision of these women sitting around me, halos made of sunbeams shimmering over their heads.  I thought, “Here are my sisters!”

Continue reading “The Blessing of Spiritual Direction by Elise M. Edwards”

On Guilt and G-d, the Parent by Ivy Helman.

29662350_10155723099993089_8391051315166448776_oSometimes, being overwhelmed with guilt makes one unable to act.  Other times, guilt manipulates and attempts to control.  It might offer a sense of responsibility and concern. More often than not, guilt comes bundled in small doses of should-haves and could-haves.

For example, when you feel guilty for skipping exercise and instead lay in front of the television binge-watching your new favorite show.  It’s not the end of the world, but you really should have gone and exercised.  Or, when you feel bad for getting into a fight with a friend and saying something mean when you could have done otherwise.  In general, I think there is such a thing as a healthy amount of guilt which spurs right actions, sincere apologies, forgiveness and knowledge of the good.

Jewish tradition generally agrees with me that a measured amount of guilt is often quite helpful.  Guilt instructs us in right and wrong and guides us to be more responsible, more mature individuals.  Indeed, it even clues us into a better understanding of G-d.   Continue reading “On Guilt and G-d, the Parent by Ivy Helman.”

Esther’s Choice — And Ours by Joyce Zonana

The Book of Esther tells a story in which women’s power is not so much repressed as asserted. The king who banishes one queen finds himself submitting to the will of another. Numerous women writers of various ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries have found inspiration in the stories of both Esther and Vashti’s disobedience to an autocratic king.

jz-headshotThis year, February 28th, the 14th of Adar on the Jewish calendar, is the first night of Purim, a holiday the orthodox Chabad organization blithely calls the “most fun-filled, action-packed day of the Jewish year.” Purim is celebrated with two full readings of the Megillah–the Book of Esther–in synagogues; whenever the tale’s villain Haman is mentioned, congregants drown out his name with noisemakers and foot-stomping. Children and adults masquerade and often cross-dress. Plays are performed; Haman is burned in effigy. After a daylong fast, everyone shares a festive meal, where drinking is encouraged, even mandated:

A person should drink on Purim until the point where he can’t tell the difference between “Blessed is Mordechai” and “Cursed is Haman. (Talmud – Megillah 7b; Code of Jewish Law 695:2)

It all sounds like great fun. But what exactly are we celebrating when we celebrate Purim?

Continue reading “Esther’s Choice — And Ours by Joyce Zonana”

In Light of Women by Mary Jane Miller

Why are so few women mentioned in the great feast days like Pentecost, the Last Supper, the Baptism of Christ, etc.? God made no commandment that they not be included.
Inquisitive women like myself have always been around Christ listening to His message. There they were, cooking and cleaning at the Last Supper, at the wedding at Canon and when He fed the five thousand. When Christ invited the children to come to him, you can be sure the mothers were there, too.
Beginning as early as the fourth century the dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to thwart the ascendant positions for women within the religious hierarchy and in christian societies in general. Yet, the underlying teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, – all call for the proper and equitable treatment of God’s children. Without a doubt, God and Christ love all of humankind with no gender bias. When women listen to scripture we naturally fill in the gap, or adjust the gap knowing in our hearts and souls, we are not inferior to men.

Continue reading “In Light of Women by Mary Jane Miller”

The Spirit and Jarena Lee: Inspiration to Break Boundaries by Elise M. Edwards

elise-edwardsI am so frustrated that we are still fighting to affirm women’s place in leadership.  I’ve been thinking about this struggle in the context of church ministries (especially preaching) and social activism, seeing a stark contrast between the way institutional churches and universities promote and subvert women’s authority and the ways movements like Black Lives Matter do.

Particularly, I’ve been struck by the ways that more radical movements employ language and practices that are based in spirit more than hierarchical authority.  I have found a theme emphasizing equality in humanity’s access to spirit in both historical and contemporary movements and writings about religious experience.  I’m certainly not the first one to notice or discuss how appeals to Spirit have empowered those excluded from dominant systems of power to challenge constrictive social structures, but I would like to share how this dynamic has become more visible to me so that, together, we might find encouragement, inspiration, and food for thought.

Continue reading “The Spirit and Jarena Lee: Inspiration to Break Boundaries by Elise M. Edwards”

B’tzelem Elohim and Embodiment by Ivy Helman

studyIt is quite common, I think, for Jewish feminists to gravitate to the first creation story of Genesis/Bereshit as an example of human equality but struggle to claim this same passage as an example of the goodness of embodiment.  Genesis/Bereshit 1:27 reads, “So G-d created humankind in the divine image, in the image of G-d, the Holy One  created them; male and female G-d created them.”  In this passage, we have not only equality between men and women, in direct contrast to the second creation story, but also a description of human nature.

Our Creator made us in the divine image: b’tzelem Elohim.  The most traditional explanations of b’tzelem Elohim describe our divine-likeness to mean: our intelligence, our capacity for goodness, our creativity as well as our inner divine spark.  Most traditional teachings also understand this description as a prescription for action: since every single human being is made in the divine image, we must treat every single human being with respect, dignity, concern and so on.  Continue reading “B’tzelem Elohim and Embodiment by Ivy Helman”

David’s Loves, Jonathan’s Laments by Dirk von der Horst

David’s Loves, Jonathan’s Laments by Dirk von der Horst

LGBTQ+ people in biblical religions often turn to the story of Jonathan’s love for David as an example of biblical affirmation of same-sex love.  The biblical narrative in 1 and 2 Samuel stresses Jonathan’s love for David from the moment David and Jonathan meet to Jonathan’s death after which David utters the famous words, your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” Nevertheless, “love” can indicate many different kinds of relationship, both sexual and non-sexual, and one finds much resistance among biblical scholars to reading Jonathan and David as a model of sexually-expressed love between men.  While some passages in the text are sexually suggestive, nothing in the Bible explicitly states, “David and Jonathan had sex.”  Thus, the strategy of holding up Jonathan and David as a biblical vindication of same-sex love and desire only throws LGBTQ+ people back into the exhausting state of being endlessly debated.

My new book, David’s Loves, Jonathan’s Laments: Gay Theology, Musical Desires, and Historical Difference speaks from the pain of the experience of being caught in the crosshairs of that debate.  Inspired in large part by Mary Daly, it also speaks from an impatience with the state of being stuck in a debate that endlessly repeats itself.  This inspiration from Daly is only one way in which feminist thought deeply informs my project of rethinking the relationship of Jonathan and David.

Continue reading “David’s Loves, Jonathan’s Laments by Dirk von der Horst”

Shariah is not a Law by Esther Nelson

I will never forget the day Nasr Abu Zaid (1943-2010), an Islamic Studies scholar and teacher extraordinaire, told me, “Shariah is not a law.”  In spite of his assertion, many people—both Muslims and non-Muslims—are convinced that Shariah is synonymous with archaic legal rulings that are at odds with democracy and modernity.


What is Shariah, then, if not a law?  When we see or hear the word Shariah, the word “Law” almost always follows.  Shariah literally means a path—a well-trodden path such as animals use on their way to a watering hole.  Shariah, then, can be understood as something that when embraced has potential to give life and sustenance.


Muslims believe that the Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel circa 600 C.E.  That revelation—Muslims believe it to be God’s actual speech—took place over a period of approximately twenty-one years. The Qur’an contains Shariah (path) in the form of information, narrative, and poetry.  Since Shariah is essentially a path that leads to life, the critical question centers on how Shariah can be appropriated, leading us to the water that sustains.

Continue reading “Shariah is not a Law by Esther Nelson”

The Nature of Communal Pondering by Elise M. Edwards

elise-edwardsLast week, I listened to an episode of Krista Tippett’s series On Being that featured an interview with poet Marilyn Nelson.  I am not very knowledgeable about the world of modern poetry, but I am familiar with Nelson’s work.  A couple years ago, I wrote about Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem, Nelson’s poetic composition about Fortune, an enslaved man whose owner rendered his body into a skeleton for medical training.  Fortune’s identity and history had been erased across centuries as his remains were displayed.  Community concerns eventually led to a multi-disciplinary academic, artistic, and community effort to honor the man and, in 2013, put his bones to rest.  Isaye M. Barnwell, a musician formerly of Sweet Honey in the Rock, developed a cantata and choral work for Fortune’s Bones. These developed into a series of artistic performances and community events that demonstrate the power of art to speak through and for those who are marginalized—even in death.  Disparate communities joined together to ponder Fortune’s life, and it was powerful.

In the On Being interview, Nelson spoke about “communal pondering,” and I’ve been repeating this phrase to myself since then.  It identifies a form of creative activity and a spiritual way of being that I am deeply committed to, and have not been able to name.  Communal pondering occurs when a group of people are listening together and are opening up new paths for discourse and action by the engaged reflection that takes place within that listening.

Continue reading “The Nature of Communal Pondering by Elise M. Edwards”

The Last Man on Earth, Noah, and the Fantasy of Humanity’s Destruction by Lache S.

blue fleurThere are quite a few post-apocalyptic shows out these days. The Last Man on Earth is one example, a television series that is set in 2020, a year after a deadly virus has wiped (almost) everyone out. A handful of people have natural immunity, which the main character, Phil (Will Forte) soon discovers after spray painting billboards across the U.S. with the message “Alive in Tuscon.” It seems to be a lonely life for Phil before he realizes he isn’t really the only person left alive, but he can choose any mansion to live in, drive any car on the empty, open roads, and the grocery stores are abandoned for his taking (only non-perishables are really edible though). There are downsides such as no electricity, no running water, and an end to all of the other modern-day conveniences that an urbanite would be used to, which were, in the past, handled by “someone else.” It would be much better if a farmer or botanist were left behind, but I guess it is supposed to be relatable to most of us.

Watching this show has compelled me to think about other apocalypses in sacred literature, mainly Noah and the global flood. I always have thought it was rather chilling that gods were created to be such harsh punishers of humankind. In the Qur’an, this story is used as one of many examples of the communities that were sent a messenger but disobeyed and so endured the promised wipe-out. It always seemed strange to me that God would be discussed to be so violent when the immediate messages in these literatures were that human beings should be kind, charitable, and moderate with each other. Continue reading “The Last Man on Earth, Noah, and the Fantasy of Humanity’s Destruction by Lache S.”

Earth-Spirituality in the Qur’an and Green Muslims by Lache S.

green pathThere is some very helpful guidance in the Qur’an for how we should and should not treat the earth. In my exploration of Qur’anic verses on the environment, I have found a great deal of Earth-love that I want to share.

The first idea is that the earth is not ours to trash and misuse recklessly or indulgently. Sura 2:284 says, “Whatever is in the heavens and in the earth belongs to God.” This sentiment is found throughout the scriptures. Individual wealth and the practice of financial profit and salary as reward has given us the illusion that, if we’ve earned the cash, we can do with it whatever we like. We can buy anything we want, show it off, hoard it, and then trash it. How often do we quell our suffering or attachments through consumerism as if there were no consequences? But we need to begin to shift to the perspective of honoring the earth as not something we are entitled to or even deserve. If we are supposed to be stewards of the earth, then fine. But it seems that selfishness and personal gain have distracted us, making us neglect our duty. The idea that the earth is a bestowed gift is embedded into the Qur’anic “golden rule”: “You who believe, give charitably from the good things you have acquired and that We have produced for you from the earth. Do not seek to give bad things that you yourself would only accept with your eyes closed” (2:267). Yes, we work the land to produce food, but not everything is within our jurisdiction. Continue reading “Earth-Spirituality in the Qur’an and Green Muslims by Lache S.”

O Tempora o mores by Oxana Poberejnaia

oxanaI have entitled this post O Tempora o mores after a sentence by Cicero, meaning “Oh what times! Oh what customs!” I would like to discuss how some of the messages we get from religious writings are defined by the age in which they were written.

As a result, I argue that it is wiser to pay more attention to the overall message of a given spiritual tradition, rather than to subject our view on a single quote.

Phra_Malai_Manuscript_LACMA_M.76.93.2_(11_of_21)One of the most popular texts in Thai Buddhism (which is of Theravada tradition) is called Phra Malai Klon Suat, “Chanted Version of Phra Malai.” It was reproduced copiously in the 19th century, with the earliest version dating from the 18th century. However, its origins are believed to be more ancient, coming from the original Indian Buddhism.

Continue reading “O Tempora o mores by Oxana Poberejnaia”

Garden of Eden Retold by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir

Trelawney bio picture

Today, I came up with a less patriarchal Garden of Eden story:

Endelyn (age 7): “When I think of my soul, in my name “fire-soul,” I think of a powerful wind.”

Me: “That makes sense, since one of the names in the Bible for God/ess is Ruach, which means “breath” or “wind”, but we call it the Holy Spirit. God/ess is also symbolized by the other elements: fire, air, and earth – like when she shaped Eve and Adam out of clay.”

Endelyn, “What? I don’t remember that story.”

Me: “Oh, ok, I’ll tell you.” ……

Here’s the part where I froze momentarily, thinking “how can I tell my children that misogynist failed mentor story? how? how?” <deep breath>
Continue reading “Garden of Eden Retold by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir”

Moving Away from Normative Maternal Roles in the Catholic Church by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

FreyhaufEarlier this week, social media was all abuzz about the Pope’s investigation into restoring women to the diaconate. In the complete transcript of the Pope’s comments,  the traditional notion of women’s maternal role in the church is mentioned in relation to the Church.  Certainly this is nothing new.  Here the Pope describes important “maternal” work such as working with the marginalized, catechesis, and caring for the sick – once again, nothing new.

However, in the next sentence, a very subtle shift is seen when it comes to normative gender roles:

…. there are men who do the same [work as consecrated women], and it is good…..and this is important.

What does this mean – a change in language?  a laying of groundwork? or nothing at all?


It is no secret that cultural constructs of women as maternal and how a mother is defined as or even does has radically changed in today’s society; but, the Church continues to remain steadfast in normative roles between the priesthood and the “motherhood” of the Church (and therefore “motherhood” in general).

Continue reading “Moving Away from Normative Maternal Roles in the Catholic Church by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

#LoveWins by John Erickson

On Saturday, September 19, 2015 I married two of my best friends Andrea and Cindy in holy matrimony in Appleton, WI.

John Erickson, sports, coming out.Don’t urge me to leave you or turn back from you.
Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay.
Your people will be my people and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.
May the God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.
Book of Ruth 1:16-17

On Saturday, September 19, 2015 I married two of my best friends Andrunnamedea and Cindy in holy matrimony in Appleton, WI.  Having been ordained since 2009, I truly never thought I’d ever get the chance to use these credentials until they asked me a few months back.  Although my answer was an automatic yes, I sought to make sure that my homily and the words of advice I gave them on their special day were something unique, not always heard at wedding ceremonies. Continue reading “#LoveWins by John Erickson”

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right by John Erickson

Kim Davis does need a lot of things but saying of suggesting that she needs a haircut, a makeover, or even to lose weight, makes you and those that continue to repeat it no better than she is; to state such statements doesn’t purport the ideal that #LoveWins, which took over social media just mere months ago, but changes the whole narrative to symbolize that sexism and hate are more important than love and equality.

John Erickson, sports, coming out.Kim Davis, the defiant county clerk, is currently sitting in isolation in a jail cell after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Rowan County, Kentucky, even after she was ordered by a judge to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage or be held in contempt of court.

Everywhere I turn on both social media or in person people are talking about Ms. Davis, her actions, personal history and for some weird reason her hair and looks.   I’m all for individuals taking a virulent stand against an individual who chooses to not uphold the law of the land as well as continually acting in an unjust discriminatory way but bringing her looks or anything else about her physical appearance into the narrative is not only just plain wrong it is sexism in its worst form. Continue reading “Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right by John Erickson”

Is There a Such Thing as a Code of Ethics in Academia?  by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

One of things that has dismayed me since I began graduate school and started focusing my study on the Bible, is how much sensationalism exists. We are told in the academy not to use Wikipedia or watch the History Channel. The first, as we know, is unreliable due to the fact that anyone can enter information and make changes. The other caters to the general public. What compounds this problem is the fact that scholars, many times – even reputable ones – appear on these shows. Sometimes creative licenses are exercised by the producer distorting or otherwise shifting the message of what the scholar was trying to explain. Other times, scholars will just give the producers and the public exactly what they want to hear and thus perpetuating myths rooted in literalism.

Cave in the Church of the Apocalypse in Patmos, Greece

This is not the only time this issues manifests.  The other time I encountered this is when I travel to sacred or holy sites in the Middle East.  The people in charge of sites may want raise money and increase tourism – so they give the people what they want.  What do I mean by this?  Walking into a place that has a story whether true or not provides pilgrims a sense of awe and wonder.

Certainly I am not saying that this experience should be diminished or should be taken away. What I am saying is that we should be a bit more truthful in our descriptions and remove the shroud of literalism that seems to fuel tourism and not faith. What was difficult for me when visiting Patmos is the rhetoric surrounding the island. It may or may not have been where John had his visions, but certainly the mystique surrounding the Church of the Apocalypse seems to perpetuate the literalism that surrounds the Book of Revelation as being prophetic in dealing with the end times.  Moreover, the vendors around the Church certainly focus their merchandise to support this myth.  However, while I study the Book of Revelation and teach that it is something other than prophetic, a person visits the island and the church, are told that it is prophetic – who is a person to believe?   Me or the religious order running the Church or the vendors living on the island?

This also happens at dig sites.  If a tourist is led by a guide or lead at a holy site being excavated and they tell them what they want to hear so they come back and tell their friends, who has more creditability – me or the person who guides on the site?  When scholars like myself, write about a topic that seems to gel with what the commonly held view of the academy, and goes against literalism or fundamentalist beliefs, we become heretics in relation to the information being fed by the sensationalism on the History Channel and the tourist industry.  So the popular view does not change and the academic view is left on the margins and Biblical literalism wins.

Continue reading “Is There a Such Thing as a Code of Ethics in Academia?  by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

My Problem with the “Proverbs 31 Woman” by Elise M. Edwards

elise-edwardsIn my home, in my journals and notebooks, and in my office, I display proverbs and quotes of all kinds around me to inspire me to live meaningfully. Proverbs and fables from around the world are stacked on my bookshelves and bedside tables. I love reading what is called “wisdom literature” in the Christian Scriptures. But when I get to those final lines of the Book of Proverbs in the Bible, Proverbs 31 sets me on edge.

Proverbs 31 is a poem that begins with sayings of King Lemuel described as “an inspired utterance his mother taught him.” Lemuel’s mother instructs him to not spend his strength on women, to refrain from drinking and to defend the rights of the poor and needy. Verses 10-31, the ones I’ve heard most often read in church settings, follow that advice. They are an acrostic poem of verses that begin with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet to describe a noble wife. Instead of reciting the entire A-Z list (A is for adoring, B is for busy, C is for caring, D is for dutiful…), Christians will frequently read aloud only the verses selected below.

Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character

10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.

25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

I’ll admit it–the woman described here does sound honorable and praiseworthy.   My problem with this poem has more to do with the way I’ve heard it used than its content. In all but one setting, I’ve heard these verses proclaimed as a model for the ideal woman or as a guide to virtuous living for young women.

My first concern about that is a common feminist criticism: Not all women aspire to be wives and mothers. Some of the poem’s statements could apply to all women, like verse 21: “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.” But others are specific to marital domestic life, like verse 28 (above) and verse 15: “She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family.” Women without husbands and children cannot meet all Proverbs 31’s standards. And while family is of primary importance to many women, it is not the only area of a woman’s life that can provide her value and meaning.

I am also concerned that defining Proverbs 31 as a standard of womanhood communicates the idea that it is about women only. While there are references to tasks that have been traditionally gendered (women cook and sew, men take leadership roles outside the home), many of the qualities extolled here are commendable for adults of all genders. Strength, dignity, wisdom, and care are not gender-specific virtues. So why haven’t I heard this proverb set as an example for men, too?

My third concern about making this a guide to womanhood is that it seems to reinforce a standard of perfection. The Proverbs 31 woman is certainly industrious—no one can call her idle! But she also sounds exhausted. By my count, this woman does 23 things surpassingly, including buying fields, planting vineyards, making clothes and selling them. I’m concerned that when emphasizing the Proverbs 31 woman tells Christian women that they are not good, are not lovable, or are not enough until they meet this standard. For me, the message of the Christian gospel is about God’s radical, all-encompassing love for humanity in the face of our imperfection. While I do know some women with a healthy self-image, many are painfully aware that they do not meet some standard set for them. They could stand to be told more often that they are loved simply because they exist, not for what they do.

When I heard Proverbs 31 read at my Aunt Ruby’s funeral , I began to see something more meaningful in these words than an impossible standard for women to attain. The preacher quoted “She is worth far more than rubies” noting my beloved aunt’s name and her character. However, the message he preached that day wasn’t to set a standard of a good wife. It was to honor a woman who had lived a noble life. She was strong, dignified and wise. Her family knew she was blessed and that they were blessed by having her in their lives. She worshiped God and communicated her love of the Lord to successive generations.

When I heard Proverbs 31 spoken about my aunt, I began to find resolution to my concerns. In that setting, the poem was an affirmation of a life lived well, not an exhortation to perfection. Honoring someone is primarily about demonstrating love or respect to that person, not a list of qualities or accomplishments. Certainly, the person we admire may have qualities we seek to adopt to our own lives, but following their model involves more creativity and agency than reducing a poem like Proverbs 31 into a list of standards allows. Integrating those qualities into our own lives requires adapting their traits to our own circumstances and even rejecting some of our model’s qualities that don’t fit the unique vision of our lives that we (or God) have. While I admire the Proverbs 31 woman’s work ethic, I strive for a life with regular periods of rest and renewal.

Elise M. Edwards, PhD is a Lecturer in Christian Ethics at Baylor University and a graduate of Claremont Graduate University. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or academia.edu.

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