Reclaiming My Time: A Meditation about Mindfulness and Faithfulness to One’s Purpose by Elise M. Edwards

elise-edwardsYou may have seen the viral video of Congressional Representative Maxine Waters’ demands for “Reclaiming my time!”  Video was taken during a proceeding in which Representative Waters is questioning Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who responds with long-winded answers and indirect statements.  Ms. Waters appears annoyed, and she is not interested in flattery.  She wants a direct response to her question.  When she does not get it, she appeals to protocol, which allows her to “reclaim” the time allotted to her (intentionally) wasted by a man who wants to dodge her questions.

The video was very popular on my social media feeds.  I know of preachers who used “Reclaiming my Time” in their sermons the following Sunday.  There were memes, of course.  There was even another viral video of Mykal Kilgore singing his gospel composition of Waters’ words.  He and Waters appeared on a TV show soon after.

It’s fairly obvious why this video–and the sentiment behind it–struck such a chord with so many people.  We wish we could reclaim our time in situations where we are moving forward with a purpose, only to be met with delays and roadblocks from those who want to deter us.  Sometimes, these delays are unintentional.  But too often, they are strategic attempts to wear us down, distract us, and redirect our energy away from our goal.  Ms. Waters wasn’t having it.  She called out the delay tactics and held firm to what was rightfully hers.  Her time.

Continue reading “Reclaiming My Time: A Meditation about Mindfulness and Faithfulness to One’s Purpose by Elise M. Edwards”

Mulling over Movies: Moana, Pt. 2 by Elise M. Edwards

elise-edwardsEvery summer in the US, movie theatres show their newest big budget films, hoping to draw in large audiences. While I appreciate an air-conditioned theatre on a hot day, I love the opportunity to go to an outdoor movie screening.  These screenings are usually community-oriented opportunities for social gathering.  In my previous post, I talked about Moana, a Disney film I saw at an outdoor screening earlier this summer.  I enjoyed watching this movie with my friends and their families and I was delighted by the story itself.  It has several religious and spiritual themes and strong female characters. Previously, I spoke of the significance of myths in this movie.  Today, I’m focused on depictions of nature in Moana and their remarkable beauty.

Many feminist and womanist theologians and religion scholars have raised concerns about the interrelated dominations of women and nature, as well as the disproportionate hardships women and children are exposed to with increasing climate change and environmental degradation.  Our changing environment affects all life on the planet, but it is the people who are most vulnerable (physically, economically, politically) who at most at risk.  Obviously, animals and plants are endangered, too. Ethicists like me are interested in finding ways to address these concerns because we are committed the preservation of life.  As feminists, there’s more to it, though.  We recognize the way nature itself is often feminized (“Mother Nature”), which makes it even more troubling when it is cultivated without respect for the wellbeing of existing ecosystems and the life forces dependent upon them.

Continue reading “Mulling over Movies: Moana, Pt. 2 by Elise M. Edwards”

Mulling over Movies: Moana, Pt. 1 by Elise M. Edwards

elise-edwardsI love going to outdoor movie screenings.  Sitting outdoors on a summer evening with good company brings me joy.  Last week, I went to an screening of Moana, the Disney movie about a teenager who goes on a quest through the Pacific Ocean with the demi-god Maui.  Moana goes on this journey to help her people.  The movie came out last year, but I didn’t see it.  I have to admit that I wasn’t even interested in it until Simone Biles performed a dance to one of Moana’s songs on Dancing with the Stars. It was then that I realized that the movie has an empowering message.  I asked my friend Natalie, who is also a feminist religion scholar, about Moana.  She has three young daughters, so I trusted her to be more current than I am.  Her enthusiastic response sold me, as did her remark, “There’s not even a love story in it!”

Ah, Disney princesses and their love stories!  I’m old enough that I didn’t grow up with the Disney culture that children in the past few decades have, but I haven’t been immune to the Disney princess phenomenon.  I childhood pre-dated DVDs and digital downloads, but I still knew and cherished the Disney characterizations of Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. These young women were kind and virtuous and beautiful (according to Eurocentric standards), but their stories culminate with marriage to a charming prince.  It’s also problematic that so often, the villains in these movies were older women—wicked stepmothers or evil witches—who were motivated by jealousy and hate.

Continue reading “Mulling over Movies: Moana, Pt. 1 by Elise M. Edwards”

What My Mothers and Mentors Taught Me about Self-Care by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsDuring another week of killings, war, protests, and debates about whether Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter, I’m concerned about the toll it takes on those who are witnessing the violence and fighting for justice.

I’m not on the front lines of these battles, but I can feel my energy draining, nonetheless. Over the past few days, while I’ve stayed informed about the latest tragedies and conflicts, I’ve intentionally limited my exposure to most news and social media outlets. I’ve begun preparing for a contemplative retreat with other women who also care about justice.  For me to continue to participate in any effort of transforming society, culture, or the church, I must nurture my mind, spirit, and body.

Audre Lorde put it like this:

“Caring for myself Is not self-indulgence.  It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Self-care is a radical practice of self-love. It is absolutely necessary when engaged in conflict against those who do not show love to you, or worse, those who seek to destroy you.  Your survival and your flourishing are defiantly brave.  Self-care honors the God who created you, the One who loves you, and the Spirit who sustains you. Continue reading “What My Mothers and Mentors Taught Me about Self-Care by Elise M. Edwards”

What Traci West Taught Me about Dominant and Excluded Voices by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsIn my previous post, I mentioned a book I am writing about how theological and ethical considerations in architectural design can define good architecture.  In that post and in ones to follow, I am acknowledging the feminists and womanists and mujeristas who have influenced me while also opening up the dialogue to the feminists in this community who continue to inspire and guide me to do my best work.

But today, instead of talking about creativity or architecture, I want to discuss how I arrived at the conviction that community decisions about how we ought to live—whether those are decisions about laws, institutional policies, religious practices or architectural buildings—need to include the voices of the diverse people they directly and indirectly influence. Continue reading “What Traci West Taught Me about Dominant and Excluded Voices by Elise M. Edwards”

What Dorothee Soelle Taught Me about Creativity by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsI’m currently developing a book that considers how theological and ethical considerations in architectural design can define good architecture.  My book discusses five virtues related to the architectural design process that promote human participation in bringing out God’s intention of flourishing for humanity and creation.  Those five virtues (or values) are: empathy, creativity, discernment, beauty, and sustainability.  In the book, I’ll explain how these virtues orient design tasks to the social and ethical aims of architecture.

In this virtual space, I want to have a discussion about what these virtues mean from a feminist standpoint.  In my writing, I draw from theological ethics, architectural theory, and feminist theory to emphasize community discernment and participation.  It’s fitting, then, to claim opportunities in my work to acknowledge the feminists who have influenced me while also opening up the dialogue to the feminists in this community who continue to inspire and guide me to do my best work. Continue reading “What Dorothee Soelle Taught Me about Creativity by Elise M. Edwards”

A Complicated History by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsIn my previous post, I wrote about my participation in planning a memorial event for the lynching of a man named Jesse Washington in Waco, Texas one hundred years ago. It prompted me to reflect on the challenge of faithfully remembering a conflicted past.  It’s important that we don’t just remember past events, but that we remember them appropriately.

I’m convinced that when we remember the past, we must avoid oversimplifying the stories of what occurred to suit our present day agendas and sensibilities.  We have to acknowledge the complexity, tension and conflict in what occurred, and perhaps even our own guilt and complicity in what is still occurring.  As a black feminist Christian ethicist, I face this challenge when one aspect of my identity seeks to address a particular issue through a narrative that implicates or denigrates another aspect of my identity. Uncomfortable as it is, I recognize Christianity’s complicity in its defenses of chattel slavery.  I recognize women’s support of patriarchy.

I went to a lecture a few weeks ago by Walter Brueggemann, a well-respected Old Testament theologian, titled “The Risks of Nostalgia.” Brueggemann warned us of the dangers of mis-remembering the past.  Pointing to texts from the prophets and Psalms, he demonstrated how the people of Israel remembered a past before exile without remembering the difficulties, the exploitative conditions, and the tensions of that time.  Excluding these harsher realities allowed them to gloss over the differences among them to unite in hatred and distrust in a common enemy—the one responsible of their present situation.  By misremembering, they lamented a version of past that didn’t belong to all of them because it didn’t include their diverse histories.  But the singular narrative served a purpose—it furthered their cause, their yearning and motivation to return to the way things were before.  Did this cause really serve all those who were yearning for it? It’s a question that comes to mind when I hear women yearn for a pre-feminist era or Christians yearn for an era of Christendom.

Like the Old Testament people of exile, we are in moral danger when we remember the past with a nostalgia that sweeps over the real stories of what happened in the past.  We risk buying into a narrative that harms us in its oversimplifcation.  A simple solution will suffice if we believe we have a simple problem.

Lynching was not a simplistic problem and the Waco Horror is not a simplistic story.  A black man was lynched for raping and murdering a white woman named Lucy Fryer.  I’ll admit it. The realities of the story make me uneasy. Jesse Washington confessed to a crime and was found guilty in the court proceedings that preceded his murder.  It makes sense to question whether the criminal proceedings were biased and whether his confession was coerced or illegitimate in some other manner.  But even if we question his confession or conviction, we shouldn’t gloss over them as if they never occurred. To present him as a purely innocent victim would be to distort the past to serve a cause – and even a cause as noble as community unity or racial justice should not be attained through lies.  People of integrity must guard against distorting the past for “the good” because the distortions themselves cause pain and harm.

Fryer’s family is still experiencing pain over her murder which precipitated the lynching.  Sadly, their pain is made worse by the remembrances of Jesse Washington.  Their pain does not mean we should not remember, but it does mean we cannot, as people of good conscience, romanticize violence or idealize its victims.  Some people might make Washington out to be a hero or a martyr, but the organizers of the memorial service didn’t remember him that way.  We didn’t cast him as a blameless victim.  But we remembered him as a victim, nonetheless.

We didn’t romanticize the lynching crowds and their pursuit of justice, either. Washington was brutally tortured and killed before a crowd of thousands.  If Christians are a people who embrace the love and mercy of a God who forgives the worst of sinners, they have to condemn even those crimes committed in the name of justice; crimes committed against criminals.

Noble causes, if they are just, must stand in the truth – the messy, complicated truth that resists casting all our heroes as saints, all our villains as irredeemable sinners.  Real humans aren’t characters who wear the white hats and black hats of the old Westerns (or even the white hats of Olivia Pope & Associates on ABC’s Scandal).

When we resist remembering simplistic, nostalgic stories, we can begin to grapple with the reality of how difficult it really is to achieve justice.  We can see humankind for who we really are. And maybe then we can ask for help.

We can ask victims to help us heal the wounds that persist.  We need their help to understand their pain and the underlying causes we seek to solve.

We can ask for the help of those who study the various aspects of our world and culture—the economists, the sociologists, the historians, the artists, the theologians and ethicists, the criminologists, and the scientists. We can be humble enough to learn what we don’t know about what’s really going on.

And I hope we also ask for divine assistance.  Despite their own complicated histories, wrongs, and imperfections, our faith traditions can enable us to do more than merely rightly remember, consider, and observe the problems in the world. They can embolden us with the courage of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett to speak a complicated truth and yet still dare to fight to make this a better world.

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

To Work and to Pray in Remembrance by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsOne hundred years ago, Jesse Washington was lynched downtown in Waco, Texas. Next week, on March 20th, some of my colleagues and I are organizing a memorial service to remember this horrific event and pray for a better future for our city.

We invited submissions of original prayers, poems, spoken-word pieces, music, drama, and other pieces of liturgy for this ecumenical memorial event.  We received a number of thoughtful, heartfelt submissions, but we also a question:

“Why in the world do we need a memorial for one person who was lynched?!?! In the reality of things, Jesse Washington was one of thousands of Blacks that were lynched in America during the time period.”

I thought the answer was so obvious that I initially brushed off the question. But as our group proceeded with the plans, I thought about the question and wondered whether our university community would understand why we are doing this. And honestly, in moments of exhaustion when I put off responding to emails, I wondered, too. Why am I doing this?

To remember. We memorialize one person who was lynched to remind us that every single one of the thousands who were lynched was a human being who was killed unjustly.

In the speech “Lynch Law in America,” from 1900, Ida B. Wells-Barnett describes the injustice: “Our country’s national crime is lynching. It is not the creature of an hour, the sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, or the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob. It represents the cool, calculating deliberation of intelligent people who openly avow that there is an “unwritten law” that justifies them in putting human beings to death without complaint under oath, without trial by jury, without opportunity to make defense, and without right of appeal.”

Wells-Barnett was an African-American journalist and activist for civil rights and women’s suffrage. Her writings and activism advanced anti-lynching campaigns adopted by Black women’s clubs and the NAACP. Unsurprisingly, her work was controversial, even among women’s groups. Wells-Barnett argued that lynching began after the emancipation of slaves to repress “race riots.” When a constitutional amendment permitted black men to vote, lynching was used to violently prevent their participation in state and national elections. When fraud, intimidation, and local policy succeeded in suppressing the black vote, the brutality continued in the name of avenging or preventing rape and assault of white women.[1] For this argument, lawmakers, ministers, and women’s groups accused Wells-Barnett of defending rapists and subverting “justice” for their alleged victims.

She did not defend rapists. (Neither do I.) She condemned a system that used allegations of rape of white women to legitimate hanging, burning alive, shooting, drowning, dismembering, dragging, and displaying black men’s bodies. Some allegations may have been true. Many were false. Despite the veracity of the allegations, the vigilantes tortured and killed men, women, and children in brutal, public ways, and we must not mistake that for any form of justice. Lynching apologists explicitly valued white lives over others. Lynching was, and remains a crime against humanity.

In our own age of campaigns against the impartiality of law and law enforcement, we should remember the lynching victims and the tensions within earlier waves of feminism and the temperance movement over anti-lynching campaigns. We do not have to condone criminal behavior to call for humane law enforcement or prison reform. We can affirm the humanity of accused and convicted criminals in the pursuit of justice. So we remember Jesse Washington and the other lynching victims to engage more consciously in the activism of our time. We remember so that we don’t lose sight of the complexities of our work. We work in remembrance of the many victims of injustice.

We also gather to pray. For some people, prayer is about making requests to the divine. But in a more expansive sense, prayer is communication with the divine. In prayer, we set time aside to connect to something greater than ourselves. It’s our hope that gathering as a community to pray for the future of our city prompts us to see beyond individual concerns. In a liberation ethics framework, as explained by Miguel De La Torre[2], prayer is not limited to individual, private conversations with God in hopes of gaining wisdom and guidance. De La Torre presents prayer as a communal activity that brings together different members of the spiritual body. It involves the critical application of the biblical text to the situation at hand. This involves critical analysis of the social context that gave rise to the text or its common interpretation. So we pray to give us time to come together, to read scripture, to seek God and hear God through other members of our community.

So why are we gathering? Why do we memorialize one person when there are so many others who have been harmed, not just in my local community but all of our communities?

To remember past wrongs.

To commemorate.

To honor.

To inspire.

To call attention to persisting injustices.

To make us mindful in our work.

To provoke us to pray.

[1] This argument about the reasons for lynching is found in several of Wells-Barnett’s essays, but is quite developed in The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States (1895).

[2] See Miguel A. De La Torre’s Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins (2nd Edition, 2014).

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

Seasons in Church and Life in the Company of Women by Elise M. Edwards

TElise Edwardshis week, the Christian season of Lent began. Ugh. Lent can be so somber and serious and gloomy. Last year, I didn’t want to place myself in that frame of mind. I was experiencing grief and self-doubt and loneliness, and felt that an extended period of reflection about self-denial, Christ’s suffering, and the sinful condition of humanity might pull me into an unhealthy depression. Also, I questioned why I should seek silence and solitude when I was already experiencing too much of it. I felt isolated.

This year is different for me. Once again, I’m entering the season with a grieving heart. I’m mourning the death of my cousin. But I do not feel isolated. I am not self-doubting. This January, I spent four continuous days with mentors and peers in academia who poured love and wisdom and inspiration into me. The women in our group sought each other out and had honest and authentic conversations about the successes and struggles in our lives. We affirmed self-care. We affirmed milestone birthdays. We affirmed our bodies, despite the physical limitations we sometimes feel. We affirmed the tough decisions some had made, the transformations some were pursuing, and the exciting opportunities that had developed for others since we last met over the summer.

It was a powerful experience, but there was pain, too. We confronted fear, rejection, anxiety, exhaustion, and frustration. I felt blessed—divinely gifted—to have an opportunity to speak honestly with my sisters in the spirit about the people and issues on our hearts: challenges with students, systemic racism and sexism, menopause, children, research questions, financial decisions, romance, and health.

I was on an emotional high from the power that comes from being truly known and loved and I was reveling in the power of that love. Continue reading “Seasons in Church and Life in the Company of Women by Elise M. Edwards”

Wisdom Fiction (Part 2) by Elise M. Edwards

Elise Edwards“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

In my previous two posts, I’ve discussed the wisdom that can be found in black women’s literature. Continuing this series, I’m sharing a statement from the most well-known novel written by Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston was an American novelist, folklorist, anthropologist, and cultural critic whose work was first published in the 1920s-1940s. Their Eyes Were Watching God was published in 1937 and has since been reissued and adapted into film.

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” This quote is one that has circled around my mind every New Year and every birthday for many years. These times of year are when I’m likely to reflect on the previous year and wonder what has come from it.

Continue reading “Wisdom Fiction (Part 2) by Elise M. Edwards”

Wisdom Fiction (Part 1) by Elise M. Edwards

Elise Edwards“I was born in a strange little country town that may be like all other country towns, but I do not know. It was the world I was born to. The world is such a place that you need special things to understand it. I do not think I am a fool, but I do not understand life. It is like I am always standing in the dark somewhere. It could be on the edge of a cliff by a deep ravine… Or on a flat piece of all the land in the world… and I would not know. I would not know whether to step stand still. Either one could be a danger… When I am alone. Some lives are like that. Depending on the kindness of everybody.”

-from “Feeling for Life “ in Some Soul to Keep by J. California Cooper

In my previous post, I wrote about the truths we learn from black women’s literary tradition and from listening to the stories of those we too often ignore. Continuing that reflection over the next few months, I’d like to share some of the lessons from J. California Cooper’s short stories. The quote above is taken from the opening paragraph of one of her works.

Continue reading “Wisdom Fiction (Part 1) by Elise M. Edwards”

Truth in Storytelling by Elise M. Edwards

“[ShakespElise Edwardseare] was an alright writer.  I did not always understand him, but some things he said were beautiful and he made some things so clear the way he explained people.  But one thing he was wrong about.  That ‘To be or not to be?’  is not the first question. ‘What is the truth?’ – that is the question!  Then ‘To be or not to be?’  is the second question.”

-from “Feeling for Life “ in Some Soul to Keep by J. California Cooper

This past weekend, I taught a lesson for an adult church group about Christian imagination in the short stories of J. California Cooper. The quote above comes from one of her stories. I was invited to teach a lesson as part of a series on exploring God through literature. It was a delight to participate for several reasons.

Continue reading “Truth in Storytelling by Elise M. Edwards”

Reform? Progress? By Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsIn my class yesterday (a survey of Christian thought and practices), I was lecturing about monastic life in the Middle Ages. Among other points, I mentioned that medieval religious orders provided settings where women could be educated and assume leadership roles (primarily among other women), thinking of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) who was the Abbess of a monastic community in Rupertsberg. Other women medieval writers who developed influential writings, like Mechtild of Magdeburg (ca. 1210-1282) and Catherine of Siena (1347-80), belonged to tertiaries or third orders, which were monastic community for laypersons. This part of the lesson emphasized that monastic reforms around the 12th century opened religious orders more extensively to women and laity.

Still speaking of medieval reforms, I displayed a picture of Francis of Assisi on the screen at the front of the room. I mentioned that Francis was concerned about the poor and the animals and that he has inspired some contemporary Christians, including the current pope who took Francis as his name. We talked about how both St. Francis and Pope Francis are seen as reformers.

Because earlier in my lesson I’d made a point of speaking of women’s experience, when I spoke about the Pope’s name as a possible sign of renewal or reform, Gina Messina-Dysert’s question “What about the women?” came to mind. In her recent post, she responded to the Pope’s exclusion of many issues that concern women in his address to the US Catholic Bishops. Like Gina, I applaud many of the Pope’s reforms but I am confused about how rarely he is criticized for maintaining the long-held Catholic view that disallows women to be ordained as priests.

Let me provide an example: During the Pope’s visit to the US, one of my students described Pope Francis as “very liberal.” When I interjected that he has not supported the ordination of women, the student laughed and said the pope would be accused of heresy for supporting that! While that may be true, my more immediate concern was that in a classroom of students who are mostly supportive of women in ministry, the Catholic restrictions on the priesthood were seen as a part of the tradition not worth challenging. Why is it that preserving male leadership is excused as a part of the tradition while preserving exclusive marriage practices is something to be challenged? They are interrelated.

As we know from blogs and social media sites, many people who support LGBTQ rights were upset over news stories about the Pope meeting with Kim Davis, the county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Certainly such a meeting is disturbing to same-sex marriage advocates. But is it surprising? At least one womanist ethicist I know, Eboni Marshall Turman, pointed out in a Facebook discussion that the church has long since been public in its support of male privilege and heteronormativity. My intent is not to single out Catholicism for sexist practices. When recently asked about women’s ordination and leadership in Baptist churches in my own town of Waco Texas, I had to admit that even though ordination of women is permissible and practiced in many of the churches, the number of churches that have called women to the position of senior pastor is shockingly few.

My point is this: When we find teachings in particular religious traditions that justify the exclusion of one group, we should expect to find justifications for excluding other groups, too. In the same discussion I referenced above, Eboni Marshall Turman said, ”Oppressions are compounded and intersectional. If they come for me, it is just a matter of time before they come for you. This is basic theological ethics.”

The experiences of varied groups are not the same; our oppressions and marginalizations also differ. But practices of exclusion are constructed on the same logic that values some persons (the in-group) more than others (the outsiders). Therefore, feminists have a responsibility to advance the well-being and interests of other groups (besides women) who are being marginalized.

Another reason for this advocacy is that many women are included in other marginalized groups. To ignore the intersectionality of oppression is to deny its pervasiveness and the realities of women’s lives. This is why feminists of color are often critical of white feminism. (The recent debate over the photo shoot for the movie Suffragette is a new instance of a persistent critique of white or mainstream feminism. See Rebecca Carroll’s piece on “Suffragette’s Publicity Campaign and the Politics of Erasure”).

To counter the limitations of our own experiences and be consistent in our pursuit of equality, feminists should intentionally cultivate practices of solidarity and coalition-building in our work. I, like everyone else, am often unable to see the inconsistencies in my own practices and teachings without others’ experiences to expand my view. This is one reason I value this Feminism and Religion community. Thank you for the wisdom and practices you offer from your own religious traditions and your own experiences of marginalization. You make me a better feminist through your writings and comments.

Perhaps working together, we can bring about religious reforms that our descendants will recognize in the centuries to come.

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

Feminist Interpretations by Elise Edwards

Elise EdwardsI’ve written a few posts recently referencing biblical themes or stories. I’m not a biblical studies scholar; I’m an ethicist and theologian. So I know that ways I use the texts disturb some people who study them from a historical or biblical studies perspective. To say I don’t use the Bible as those scholars do, though, doesn’t mean I don’t have a disciplined approach. I aim to apply a consistent approach to scripture and to encourage my students to do the same.

I get really annoyed when someone proclaims a variation of “The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it!” in moral debates. Obviously, people within a religious tradition are going to believe there is truth in the scriptures of their tradition. That’s simply how scripture functions. So I’m okay with “I believe it.” I have a problem with the two other parts of the statement – the Bible says it, and that settles it. The assertion that “the Bible says it” masks the task of interpretation that anyone encountering a text takes on. The statement “that settles it,” when adopted in moral debate, rejects the accountability and humility in sharing our interpretations with others. Continue reading “Feminist Interpretations by Elise Edwards”

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

The Importance of Rituals (Part 2) by Elise M. Edwards


In my previous post, I wrote about the importance of rituals. The rituals of the Easter season helped me process some difficult emotions. The way that rituals mark time and demonstrate consistency has been a comfort for me when facing new challenges and settings. But I am quite aware that rituals can become empty.   In one of the comments to that post, a woman named Barbara responded, “There came a time for me when familiar and meaningful ritual no longer made sense. I had changed in understanding of what the ritual symbolized and celebrated. And haven’t found new rituals that make sense for me now…or at least I’m not aware of any.” Barbara’s remarks capture not only the loss from no longer being able to relate to existing rituals after life changes, but also the difficulty in finding or creating new rituals to take their place. I thanked Barbara for her honesty and decided that this post would continue the discussion, focusing more on discovery and creation of new rituals.

As I was preparing that post, I watched an episode of Call the Midwife that prompted me to reflect on the need to create rituals when existing ones just don’t work. Call the Midwife is a BBC-PBS show about nurses and midwives living in a convent in London’s East End at the end of the 1950s and early 1960s. The show is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, and it does a better job than most primetime dramas of showing female characters’ experiences the joys and challenges of their professional lives and personal lives. As it is set in a convent with several characters who are both nuns and midwives, the show also explores the theme of vocation. What does it mean to be called to the religious life? Called to nursing? What does motherhood demand? Continue reading “The Importance of Rituals (Part 2) by Elise M. Edwards”

The Importance of Rituals by Elise M. Edwards

elise-edwardsMy sister once said about me, “One thing you have to understand about Elise—she takes the ritual of whole thing very seriously.” My sister was right and her words helped me see this quality about myself. What ritual was she talking about me taking so seriously? Happy hour on Fridays.

It was a different season of my life when she said this. I don’t have Friday happy hours regularly anymore, although I did gather with my friends nearly every week for food and drinks for many years throughout my 20s and 30s. It was often on Fridays, but at one point it was Wednesdays and then, for about a year, it was Thursday nights after a late shift at work.

More recently, I would meet a friend for crepes at the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings. Although the day and the time and specifics of these gatherings would vary, the act of setting aside a weekly time to connect with people dear to me and relax as we indulged in good food or drink was a ritual to me.

Continue reading “The Importance of Rituals by Elise M. Edwards”

Role Play: In Search of the Authenticity of My Being by Elise Edwards

Elise Edwards“I stood in the authenticity of my being: Black, preacher, Baptist, woman. For the same God who made me a preacher made me a woman, and I am convinced that God was not confused on either account.”
– Reverend Dr. Prathia Hall

These words came across my Facebook feed on Sunday in celebration of International Women’s Day. Reconciling Ministries Network put the statement on its Facebook page, along with a picture of Prathia Hall preaching from the pulpit, in remembrance and honor of women leaders who contributed to the US Civil Rights Movement. This past Sunday, March 8, when the quote was displayed, marked the 50th anniversary of Selma’s Bloody Sunday. Prathia Hall was a leader in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and one of the activists on the Edmund Pettus Bridge who were attacked as they began to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Later in her life, she became an ordained minister, professor, and womanist theologian.

For me, this past weekend was about remembrance through many forms. While there were many events commemorating Selma and the important events that unfolded there 50 years ago, my family and I were focused on a more intimate form of remembrance. On Saturday, we held a dinner and informal memorial service for my godfather who passed away last month. I got the news of his death on a day when I’d been doing some deep soul-searching and reflecting about the image I present to the world and its correspondence with who I am and desire to be. Just a few days prior, I’d spoken to my godfather about his health and subsequently, I had been questioning how I might be more connected to him. We lived several states apart, and I wondered how I could be a good goddaughter to him despite the distance. Those questions are left unanswered in the wake of his death. Continue reading “Role Play: In Search of the Authenticity of My Being by Elise Edwards”

Awake! Awake! A Reflection on the Awakening of Conscience and Advent by Elise M. Edwards

Elise Edwards‘Tis the season to be…?

For me, this has not been a season to be jolly. I teach at a university, and again, I’m in the midst of the most hectic time of year of grading and exams and wrapping up projects due at the end of the calendar year. There have been moments of joy and rest. But I’ve been more reflective and sorrowful. This year, my heart and mind and soul have been opened up in new ways and I feel more urgency and need for social change. I’ve been experiencing “conscientization” during the time of year many Christians refer to as Advent.

I was introduced to the concept of conscientization in the work of Christian feminist and womanist ethicists like Beverly Wildung Harrison and Stacey Floyd-Thomas. Other feminist and liberationist thinkers had already convinced me of the vital role that critical thinking, consciousness-raising, and action occupy in ethical reflection and social change. In a chapter on “Feminist Liberative Ethics” in a textbook on liberative approaches to ethics, Michelle Tooley explains the meaning of conscientization:

“Activists speak of conscientization as waking up to the injustice in the world—or seeing it for the first time. It is not that the injustice is beginning; it is that you encounter oppression, injustice, violence yourself or you see it in a person or situation. You may have seen the same situation many times before, but for some reason you begin to connect the event with a deeper recognition that the injustice is wrong.”

(p. 185, Ethics: A Liberative Approach, Miguel A. De La Torre, Editor)

I was conscientized the night I heard that a grand jury did not indict Darren Wilson for killing Mike Brown, an unarmed black man. I was horrified to learn that this police officer doesn’t even have to stand trial for his violent and deadly act. Now it wasn’t like before grand jury’s decision I thought that black lives were given equal value in the US justice system. After all, for months I have been researching and preparing a paper called “When the Law does not Secure Justice or Peace” about artistic and religious responses to the dishonoring of black male personhood. I have been mourning the loss of Trayvon Martin and others as I write. But this decision left me sobbing in a hotel room as I watch the events unfold in Ferguson, Missouri. I gained a deeper social awareness about the depths to which the demonization and disregard of the lives of black women, men and children are entrenched in American life and the institutions within it.

I gained deeper self-awareness too. One reason the tragedy of the grand jury’s decision became so palpable to me is that just hours prior, I witnessed former president Jimmy Carter address the American Academy of Religion. He spoke passionately about the proliferation of violence, mistreatment of women, climate change, and other social concerns. To put it plainly, I was floored to see a white man in his 90s who was raised in Georgia and was a Southern Baptist until his 70s state without any qualms that people in power intentionally misinterpret religious texts to support the domination of women and nonwhites because those they do not want to lose their privilege. Yet he also called himself, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a “prisoner of hope.” He believes that things will change, and draws from his Christian convictions to sustain hope and motivate his work to fight injustice.

I was electrified by his words. I, too, had hope. In the days prior, I had gotten a break from my daily life, connected with friends, and conversed with like minds. I had been thinking about art and love. I had learned strategies for de-centering dominant narratives in the classroom and I was hopeful that I could use them to make a difference in my students’ lives. But mere hours later, while watching the news, the self-awareness I came to is that my hope is more fragile than I wish it to be. Futility consumed my hope.

A few weeks later, I can assert that my faith in God is not shaken, but my hope in humanity’s goodness has as much stability as a house of cards. In my present state of mind, I’m grateful that we are at a point in the church year that provides me with an opportunity to mourn the brokenness of our world. Christmas is approaching, but that doesn’t mean I have to sing merry carols. Advent is a season when Christians reflect on why the world needs God’s miraculous action and what it means to wait for light to emerge in the darkness. In the church calendar, it is a time when Christians re-enact and re-experience the anticipation of Jesus’ coming. Advent songs have a different character than Christmas carols. Many of them have a haunting tone or an eerie, sad, or mysterious sound. The lyrics of these songs place exhortations to “Rejoice!” next to pleas of “O come, o come, Emmanuel!” Emmanuel, also spelled Immanuel, means “God with us.” Christians draw this name from the Hebrew prophecies in Isaiah that are cited in the Gospel of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth. Matthew describes Jesus’ birth as the fulfillment of prophecy.

My conscientization allows me to hear these prophecies anew. They are familiar to me, as they are repeated often this time of year in Christian settings, but I hear them in new ways. I hear Isaiah 9:6 quite differently: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

“The government will be upon his shoulders” likely means that this child will have authority. But as I hear those words this year, I imagine the Prince of Peace in the choke-hold of a law enforcement officer. I think of a little baby who are welcomed into the world with joy but who grows up only to be killed at a young age by threatened authorities and crowds of supporters. This is the story Christians tell about the God who is with us, the God who is also fully human. And this is the story we tell about Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Alesia Thomas, Aiyana Stanley-Jones and far too many others.

This Advent, I’m making a real effort to hold hope and despair together. I don’t want to become hopeless. I don’t want to think that my work in the classroom, in my church, in my community, on this site and in the printed page have no meaning. Hope is what sustains us to work for justice. I want to believe in that transformation of hearts and minds and souls is possible and immanent even when it emerges through sorrow and struggle. Suffering, sorrow, and killing without consequences must not be acceptable. With my new eyes, I see just how terrible they are.

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

Responding to Human Suffering by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsIn the past few weeks, there have been renewed debates throughout the US about death with dignity laws and the role of government is providing or securing access to health care. The tragic story of Brittany Maynard and the incessant election-year politicking about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) have made issues about human suffering more visible and volatile than usual. These are topics I deal with in two courses I am teaching this semester–one about Christian ethics and the other about bioethics.

I truly admire those who work in the presence of suffering daily by caring for others.   It’s difficult to even talk about suffering in the classroom day after day. My intention behind doing so is for my students to resist simplistic responses by either valorizing human pain and suffering or retreating to escapism. I caution them about using religion to legitimize suffering when it accompanies from evil, yet encourage them to see the meaning in suffering as well. We try to maintain the fine line of affirming the experiences of those who claim to gain strength or some other good from their pain without crossing into discourse that names the pain itself as something good. We debate whether there can be any way of discussing suffering as redemptive. We discuss disparities in medical treatment and health care along economic, racial, gendered, cultural, and international divides and what the responses of clergy, medical providers, and everyday people to remedy them.

Through these heavy debates, I’ve gained more clarity about the ways that suffering is often a result of human injustice and I’m deeply saddened by it. Continue reading “Responding to Human Suffering by Elise M. Edwards”

Fannie Lou Hamer’s Commitment to Life by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsA few weeks ago, I came across a postcard that I was given at a conference last year. I got the postcard (advertisement?) because it has a picture of Fannie Lou Hamer on it, and in my home and office, I like to display images and quotes from inspirational women, especially black women. Hamer was a sharecropper from rural Mississippi who became a leader within the civil rights movement in the United States. I was happy to have something with her likeness on it. It was only later that I looked at the text on the front and back of the card, which read in part, ”Often called the ‘spirit of the Civil Rights Movement,” Hamer worked tirelessly on behalf of the rights of others—including the unborn. [She said,] ‘The methods used to take human lives such as abortion, the pill, the ring, etc. amounts to genocide. I believe that abortion is legal murder.’” I realized then that the card was distributed by an organization called Consistent Life, who, in support of a “consistent ethic of life,” is “committed to the protection of life threatened by war, abortion, poverty, racism, capital punishment and euthanasia.”

I was conflicted about the ushamere of Hamer’s image for this organization’s purposes. It is true, Hamer did have those views about abortion and birth control. But I did not know if her image and story was being manipulated for a particular political and religious agenda—one I do not align myself with. I put the card in a box of other images and quotes. I didn’t display it, but I didn’t throw it away, either, which is why I came across it again a couple weeks ago as I was cleaning and decorating my home office. I had the same misgivings about the image as before, and I set it aside again. Continue reading “Fannie Lou Hamer’s Commitment to Life by Elise M. Edwards”

More than Individual Concerns by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsWell, the fall semester of the school year has begun. I’m teaching undergraduate classes in Christian Ethics and Bioethics this fall. I’ve designed my classes so that they are much more discussion-based than they have been in previous semesters and as a result, I’m noticing the things that challenge and confuse my students fairly early. I have readings from feminist, womanist, and mujerista thinkers in these courses, and unsurprisingly, some of my students don’t know what to do with the arguments feminists make about how we arrive at moral decisions and live them out. I hope that as we work through the essays together, my students and I learn from each other.

I assigned an essay called “Theology’s Role in Public Bioethics” by Lisa Sowle Cahill that was included in the Handbook of Bioethics and Religion edited by David E. Guinn (2006). Cahill, a feminist thinker, asserts that theology can be a conversation partner in public debate about bioethics and also an advocate for just, compassionate, and inclusive health care practices. Citing the work of another feminist, Maura Ryan, Cahill argues that ethical questions about reproductive technologies should be examined not only as individual dilemmas but as issues that exist within a social justice context. In the conclusion of the essay, she states, ”Specifically, one of [theology’s] most important and distinctive contributions to public discourse is a critique of the ways in which modern biomedicine and biotechnology have become luxury items marketed to economically privileged classes, while the world’s poor majority lacks basic health needs.” (55).

I suppose because I’ve been reading feminist thought, theology, and social ethics for years, some of the claims that my students see as radical and new are commonplace and go unquestioned by me. I expected some of my students to disagree with Cahill and Ryan’s particular positions about assisted reproduction. But I was surprised by students’ rejection of the idea that debates about reproductive technologies include MORE than individual considerations.

I’ve blogged on this site about reproductive rights before, and let me be clear that I do not think that the church, state, or any institution should have more governance over a person’s body than that person herself. But while respecting individuals’ rights to make health decisions for themselves, I also acknowledge that these “individual” decisions have broader social implications and meanings. This is one reason second-wave feminists have insisted that “the personal is political.”

Feminists routinely relate individual, “personal” acts and beliefs to larger constructs and the too-often asymmetrical power dynamics at work within them. This is why we are disturbed by video of a man who knocks his fiancée out and drags her unconscious body from an elevator and pop stars who gain commercial success by graphic displays and descriptions of sexuality that is objectifying or exploitative. And, in response to one of my students who wondered if feminist interpreters of religious texts go too far, that is why they point to patriarchy in a story that seems to be about devotion (referring to the Book of Ruth).

I’m grateful to my students for prompting me to explain some of these convictions that feminists hold. Certainly feminism is not monolithic. We feminists disagree on many issues including the scope of individual rights, the role of religion in public debate, and the extent of harm (or lack thereof) in media portrayals of female sexuality. But I believe we tend to agree that our personal decisions as well as our societal issues should be addressed with a consciousness that as humans we are beings-in-relation. Our conviction that we are connected and affected by each other lies behind our motivation to make the world a better place for women and girls and others who suffer from patterns of dominance.

What do you think?

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

Sleeping: Thinking about Bodily Practices, Pt. 2 by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsAs I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been reflecting on bodily practices–especially those that are not typically associated with feminism and religion. Our lives as embodied persons are so multi-dimensional! There is so much we perceive and experience through our senses, through our movements, and through the places we locate ourselves. So I have decided to use this blog to think through some ideas and learn from you in this community of readers, contributors, and commenters. Over the next few months, I will continue to discuss the ways I am becoming more intentional about connecting habits surrounding the body to feminist and religious concerns. Once again, I’ve glossed on only a few of the many connections we could make about women, religion, and bodily practices. Today I write about sleep. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Do feminism and religion have anything to do with sleep?

Sleeping is as vital to human survival as food and water. But lamentably, getting the proper amounts of sleep is not one of those healthy goals that is fiercely defended. It is much more common to hear someone brag about how productive she can be on a few hours of sleep than to boast about her productivity after a full night’s rest. I have to admit, I am always a little suspicious of those people who proudly proclaim they only need 4 or 5 hours of sleep, and I’m a little antagonistic to those who want to recruit the rest of us into their sleepless world: “There is so much else you could be doing with your time than sleeping!” They say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” I have even heard “Sleep kills dreams!” Um, actually, dreams come when you sleep. Sleep breeds dreams, you could say. More on that below.

As you might be able to tell, I am the type of woman who loves sleep. I love climbing into my bed at night. I enjoy the feeling of waking up with a rested body and a renewed spirit and a groggy-but-fresh mind. I especially love naps for that reason. The most enjoyable and perhaps “productive” seasons of my life have been those when I could take a nap after class, after work, or after the gym.

Sleep is vital because it allows the body to rest. In the Christian tradition, we claim that rest is part of the creation of the world. That God marveled at the wonderful world God created, and when the work was done, God rested. This rest inspires the Sabbath. Sabbath is a day set aside for rest, worship, and contemplation of the holy. It is regrettably observed less and less in contemporary American Christianity. Since we have let go of the need for the Sabbath, it certainly no surprise we have also lost sight of the importance of daily rest, too.

Although my thoughts are little uncharitable towards those who preach the gospel of little sleep, I am very sympathetic to those who feel they do not have enough time to sleep. To those who feel like sleep is a luxury they cannot afford. Certainly many women tasked with numerous responsibilities often feel this frustration. They make do with less sleep because they have to complete more tasks in their waking hours. Yet it has been my experience that even those who are overworked and overscheduled appreciate the uncommon times when they can sleep a little longer than usual.

For me, times of sleep are very much connected to gratitude. In the past year or so, I have retrieved the practice of nightly prayer, which sadly got left behind in my childhood years. In all honesty, it was not a renewal of spiritual piety that led me to resume these bedtime prayers. It was insomnia. As much as I love sleep, I am often kept from it by anxieties and thoughts of the coming day. I started using bedtime prayers as a way of turning my cares over to God. These silent prayers become conversations about what is important to me and what concerns me. I talk to God about what I am grateful for. I talk to God about my family and my friends, about their lives and concerns that weigh on me. And then I let it go–at least for the night–and trust my soul to the divine power who cares for me while I sleep.

These nightly prayers have not only promoted peaceful sleep (for most nights, at least) but also the experience of vivid dreams. Dreams, like other visions, are honored in many religions as a place where the divine communicates with humanity. But this too, seems absent from contemporary American Christianity. Perhaps it is because dreams are associated with the intuitive senses, and therefore the feminine, that they are overlooked. Dreams are less clear and presumably more open to speculative interpretations than the texts we read during the day. I cannot say whether I meet God or whether I meet my deeper self in dreams, but I do know I am connected to powerful ways of being in my sleep, and that this is important for my spiritual life.

My final reflection about sleep is an acknowledgment that we often do not sleep alone. While sleep itself takes us to a solitary place, we often share our beds with lovers, children, and other family members and friends. Like those bedtime prayers, the words we speak under the covers in those moments before sleep connect us to our bed-mates. Whether they are ghost stories or secrets or incoherent ramblings about the day to come, these nighttime words prepare our minds for the sleep that will soon overtake us. Unless, of course, we are next to someone who snores or kicks.

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

Eating: Thinking about Bodily Practices, Pt. 1 by Elise M. Edwards

Elise EdwardsI am currently preparing to teach a course on bioethics in the fall. I plan on combining some common, secular materials on biomedical ethics with some theological material and some feminist readings. After all, in a course that centers around practices related to the body, birth, and death, there seems ample opportunity to introduce feminist themes. Some feminist perspective, of course, is typical, like when we will discuss abortion and contraception. (Or at least it is common in my courses where try to present multiple sides of an issue.) Anything related to conception, pregnancy, and birth is easily understood as a “women’s issue” and therefore something that feminists address. I’ve discussed abortion and contraception in previous posts on this forum.

However, I realized in going through readings for this course that I have not focused much on other practices related to the body in my scholarship or personal reflection. Specifically, I have not connected them to theological principles or feminist convictions. Perhaps not everything concerning the body is directly relevant to feminism. But I am sure if I thought about it, I would be able to make the connections. We are physical creatures and the feminist movement generally affirms recognizing our embodiment.

Continue reading “Eating: Thinking about Bodily Practices, Pt. 1 by Elise M. Edwards”

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”

Women’s Christian Heritage by Elise M. Edwards

elise-edwardsIt is difficult to carve out time in a course that covers Christianity from the past 2000 years to address material beyond the standard textbooks.  But yet, I must because the visual and material culture, the worship practices, and the daily activities of women and men who have called themselves Christians or followers of Christ throughout history also comprise the story of the Christian heritage.

Over the past several weeks, I have been developing material for a historical and theological survey course called “The Christian Heritage.” In the multiple sections of this course taught at my university, and I imagine similarly at schools across the country, students are assigned a course reader.  The reader we use is a collection of texts that have shaped the Christian faith from the first century to the 21st.  It is a good collection, and I have no objection to using it.  However, for the way I would like to teach the course, I will need to supplement the reader with other material.  I have two interrelated concerns: the reliance on texts as a way of determining theological history and the absence of women in that history before the medieval period (and even then the number of women included is small). Continue reading “Women’s Christian Heritage by Elise M. Edwards”

Exposure by Elise M. Edwards

Before I feared too much disclosure, but now I seek to channel revelations of personal experiences into exercises that inform the moral and intellectual agency of everyone in the classroom, including me.

I have always been a bit nervous when people share personal experiences in non-intimate settings.  For the past several years, I’ve been in an academic environment where people routinely discuss and reflect upon significant life events.  There were times that I was very uncomfortable listening to classmates discuss abortions, first sexual experiences, and encounters with racism.  Even though they did not use graphic or disturbing language, I questioned the appropriateness of sharing intimate details of one’s life in a classroom.

So when I was preparing to teach my own course on Christian Ethics, I was careful to define a course policy that related to sharing and participation.  In part, it reads: “While students are encouraged to use the course material to reflect on their own experiences and develop their own theological-ethical perspectives, sharing intensely personal reflections is not required  – in fact, it is discouraged to maintain the professional atmosphere of the classroom.“  In class, we discuss conceptions of God and religious faith as they are applied to complex issues like sexuality, racial reconciliation, war, and medicine.  The potential for conflict and personal attack is always present in the classroom because we often have deep commitments and personal beliefs on these issues, so I wanted to curb the amount of personal reflection that occurs in the corporate setting.

Over the course of the semester, though, my perceptions have changed due to well-written memoirs and personal statements I have read recently, the profound statements my students have shared, and the teaching philosophy I am developing.  Whereas before, I feared too much disclosure, now I seek to channel revelations of personal experiences into exercises that inform the moral and intellectual agency of everyone in the classroom, including me. Continue reading “Exposure by Elise M. Edwards”

Working to Bring about the End by Elise M. Edwards

I was reminded that the idea of eschatological reversal can be a powerful image in the promotion of justice if we believe that we already are, or that we should be moving towards the ultimate end that remedies current injustices.

I started teaching a course in Introduction to Christian Ethics a couple weeks ago for a class of graduate students who are pursuing their M.Div. and other Masters in religion degrees.  We are spending some time talking about the use of Scripture in ethics, so I reviewed Richard Hays’ 1996 text The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics.  It got me thinking a lot about the role of eschatology in ethics. (Eschatology is the area of theology concerned with “last things,” like the end of the world, heaven, hell, death and eternal judgment.)

Continue reading “Working to Bring about the End by Elise M. Edwards”

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