“Do the Work Your Soul Must Have”: In Remembrance of Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon by Elise M. Edwards

One of the things I love most about being an educator is introducing my students to the thinkers who have inspired me.  I am especially delighted when I can share things I’ve learned from meeting and hearing these scholars speak.  One of the joys of “coming of age” as a religious scholar in the early 21st century is that I have been able to meet some of my heroes.  I’ve conversed with scholars whose writings about justice, liberation, hope, love, and religion’s potential to be a moral force in a hurting world inspire me.  I’ve been able to hear them speak at conferences and workshops where I’ve felt the truth and power of their words in my body.  One of the most inspiring women I’ve met in my academic journey was Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon.  She passed away on August 8, and although I was not one of her students, I grieve and mourn this recent loss.  I remember her and honor her for her spirit, her scholarship, and her soul’s work.

Katie Cannon was a pioneer.  Her scholarly work was integral for defining the womanism in religion and theology.  She took black women’s lives, their writings, and their struggles seriously.  She challenged the presumed universality of the dominant ethical systems to identify moral resources and Christian teachings that could address the challenges of people oppressed by their race, sex, and class.  Dr. Cannon’s vocational journey demonstrated her willingness to transgress racial, gender, and class boundaries.  She was the first African-American woman to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).  She grew up in a North Carolina town she described as “a modern-day plantation,” but excelled in elite academic spaces, earning her Ph.D. and then leading many others in their academic pursuits. Continue reading ““Do the Work Your Soul Must Have”: In Remembrance of Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon by Elise M. Edwards”

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”

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”

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”

Lessons Learned from the Atheist Alliance of America Convention by Andreea Nica

Andreea Nica, pentecostalismThe Atheist Alliance of America National Convention 2014 held earlier this month in Seattle, Washington granted me the opportunity to interview, converse with, and listen to renowned speakers, comedians, and influential figures in the atheist movement including the likes of David Fitzgerald, Dr. Steven Pinker, Dr. Rebecca Goldstein, Richard Haynes, and Dr. Richard Carrier.

This year’s convention drew in approximately 100 attendees throughout the weekend, according to Amy Monsky, Executive Director of Atheist Alliance of America (AAA). Monsky states that the AAA National Convention has several primary goals including: to bring atheists together; to hear great speakers; to network and socialize; and to raise awareness through education.

The family-friendly event was comprised of educational and activist-oriented sessions, debate, a comedy show, VIP non-prayer breakfast, film by Jeremiah Camara, “2014 Richard Dawkins Award” banquet, and a Sunday outing to Snoqualmie Falls and Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery.

Below is an overview of the sessions I attended, the conversations I had with presenters and experts, and the interviews I conducted. Continue reading “Lessons Learned from the Atheist Alliance of America Convention by Andreea Nica”

Songs for the Soul by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsDuring the Christian season of Lent, many Christians focus on spiritual practices or disciplines that bring them closer to God. This year, I did not really engage in this type of reflection until the end of Lent. I have been wrapping up my first year teaching college students full-time, I’ve been focused on several writing projects, and I’ve been traveling. I did not intentionally think about spiritual practices until I participated in a silent retreat before Holy Week and traveled first to spend the holiday with my family and then again to mourn and remember the life of my aunt.  I reflected on them when I most needed them.

Continue reading “Songs for the Soul by Elise M. Edwards”

Thanks for Coming (Out): Sexuality, Sports, and Spirituality by John Erickson

I have to be honest, Jason Collins’ admission that he was a homosexual, albeit brave, upset me. While coming out is an completely unique experience to every individual that does it, Jason Collins’ story was just another example of the rampant sexist and heteropatriarachal world that privileges male bodies and sexualities over women’s similar experiences. While I applaud Jason’s story and it’s timing, the first thing I asked to my colleagues was: Where was the hubbub over Sheryl Swoopes or Martina Navratilova?

John Erickson, sports, coming out. Like marking off items on a proverbial checklist, closeted LGBTQ individuals who exist within and outside of the world of professional sports, can recount the numerous things they struggle with in terms of their sexuality.  From fearing of the actual coming out process, dressing in their car or at home to avoid the subtle glances and whispers of individuals in the locker room, to wondering what coming out would mean not only for their game but also for their social and, if they choose, spiritual lives, closeted and out LGBTQ individuals within the multi-billion dollar professional sports industry must grapple with that age old question: what does it mean to be gay and open about it?

The Locker Room

I have to be honest, Jason Collins’ admission that he is a homosexual, albeit brave, upset me.  While I understand that coming out is an completely unique experience to every individual who does it, for me Jason Collins’ story was also an example of the rampant sexist and heteropatriarachal world that privileges male bodies and sexualities over those of women.  While I applaud Jason’s story and the timing, the first thing I asked to my colleagues was: where was the same hubbub over Sheryl Swoopes or Martina Navratilova? Continue reading “Thanks for Coming (Out): Sexuality, Sports, and Spirituality by John Erickson”

Bringing African American Churches into Reproductive Justice by Mariam Williams

Mariam WilliamsI don’t expect to hear anything in church about the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade during the month of January,  the month marking 40 years since the U.S. Supreme Court made the decision to legalize abortion in this country. This is for a number of reasons: 1) it’s January, and at my church the pastor always starts off the year with a series of sermons that illustrate the church’s mission statement, and women’s choice may be off the subject; 2) Martin Luther King Jr. Day is this month, and if a black church is going to honor something or someone besides Jesus in the month of January, it should probably be MLK; and 3) I haven’t heard anything about abortion from the pulpit in a long time.

A local pro-choice movement leader asked me recently about how black churchgoers feel about abortion. I didn’t know what to say. The last time I heard it mentioned was in a Sunday School class in which a woman said that she almost aborted her daughter. It wasn’t a big confessional moment, just part of a longer testimony as to why she was happy her daughter was around, and it wasn’t received with any shock or fanfare. I can remember hearing once from the pulpit of my current church that while abortion might be wrong, the law shouldn’t interfere with what a woman chooses to do with her own body. Many years before that, in the church I grew up in, a preacher said that we would never find a cure for AIDS because the person who would have grown up to discover the cure was aborted. (What made him so sure of that? Who knows.) Continue reading “Bringing African American Churches into Reproductive Justice by Mariam Williams”

The Next Liberal Prophet: What Will She Look Like? By Amy Levin


This past Martin Luther King, Jr. day, I was privileged enough to attend the 57th presidential inauguration at the U.S. Capitol.  Spirits were high and it seemed as if we were breathing recycled air infused with the hope of four years past.  As the President approached the stage, he appeared with the confidence of a second term sage, and yet there was a newer, fresher quality about him – purified and politically born-again. As he began to speak, the religious undertones leaped out into the pews.  Beautifully crafted in diction, rhetoric, and reference, Obama pleased and inspired his dedicated supporters. Guiding us historically through Seneca, Selma, and Stonewall, we understood the meaningful tributes toward women, African Americans, and the LGBT communities. But there was an excess – another constituent represented – God had entered the stage.

Continue reading “The Next Liberal Prophet: What Will She Look Like? By Amy Levin”

Monthly Highlight: Emilie M. Townes

Emilie M. Townes

“In my teaching I want to get students excited about that notion of, you know, you’re not just here to get a Yale degree and have it on your diploma and be able to hang it on your wall…You should be here thinking about what kind of contributions can I make to society….What are you doing that helps enhance the lives of all of us, as opposed to (our) own little idiosyncratic research interests.”  – – Emilie M. Townes

Emilie Townes is a pivotal person in the field of Womanist and Christian ethics as well as a foremother and pioneer in Womanist theology. Cornel West of Princeton University said:

“Emilie Townes is the towering womanist ethicist of our time….In this ice age of indifference and evasion, her powerful voice and viewpoint summon us. And we thank her for her vision and courage.”

At an opening address at the Convocation in 2005, Townes stated that there is a need to live in a “deep walking hope” that shapes lives “in ways that are not always predictable, not always safe, rarely conventional” and protests “with prophetic fury the sins of a world, and sometimes theological world views, that encourage us to separate our bodies from our spirits, our minds from our hearts, our beliefs from our actions.” Continue reading “Monthly Highlight: Emilie M. Townes”

Blessed Are The Organized, by Amy Levin

It was a humid yet windy day in Broward County, South Florida. My long pants and sleeves were becoming hostile towards me as I proceeded to slip off my shoes, don my borrowed headscarf, and set up shop just outside the modest mosque in Pembroke Pines.  I waited patiently for prayers to end, hoping that my “Register to Vote” sign was placed in optimal eyesight of the female worshippers as they exited the prayer hall. All of my hope to expand the Florida electorate to help re-elect President Barack Obama was bundled in my mix of clipboards, voter registration forms, pens, and volunteer sign-up sheets.  Just moments after the Imam wrapped up the Friday afternoon prayers, two young women wearing full hijab sauntered out. “Oh, I’ve been meaning to register to vote,” one of them said. “Perfect.” Continue reading “Blessed Are The Organized, by Amy Levin”

The Black Church, the Blues, and Black Bodies by Kelly Brown Douglas

“Ooh, Ohh there’s something going all wrong”,   Ma Rainey sang.  There is indeed something going all wrong in the black church. This church, which is born out of the commitment to safeguard the life and freedom of all black people, has gained a reputation for repudiating if not demonizing certain black bodies, namely LGBT bodies.  While there are certainly significant black church leaders who have vigorously defended LGBTQ person’s struggle for justice and equal treatment under the law, including support of marriage equality, those black church voices against LGBTQ rights have been vociferous  and unrelenting. Continue reading “The Black Church, the Blues, and Black Bodies by Kelly Brown Douglas”

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