Acting Out by Esther Nelson

I’ve had two distinct vocations during my lifetime—so far.  Three, really, if you count parenting a vocation.  Parenting took up a lot of my time for many years.  There were aspects to it that were fulfilling, enlightening, and satisfying, but parenting doesn’t last a lifetime.  Children grow up before long and then what?

I grew up in Temperley, a suburb of Buenos Aires, Argentina, with fundamentalist, evangelical missionary parents, the second of five children.  My parents met at Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, Illinois, an ultra-conservative, Bible-believing school that encouraged and prepared students to go into the world and preach the Gospel.  My parents were zealous to reach Jews for Jesus and sailed to Argentina in 1941, a country where many Jews from Europe emigrated to in the 19th century to escape various upheavals. Continue reading “Acting Out by Esther Nelson”

Remembering Ginny by Esther Nelson

My husband’s stepmother, Ginny, died last week.  She lived several months past her 97th birthday.  Here is her obituary.

Ginny shared her life with three husbands, outliving each one.  Three sons were born from her first union.  She then married John, my husband’s father, and warmly welcomed us (John’s family) into her life.  When John died, Ginny married Fred.  After Fred’s death, Ginny told me, “Of all my husbands, Fred was my favorite. He was fun.”

Ginny lived at the Brethren Village Retirement Community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania—a home with several levels of care—for over 30 years, moving there a few years after marrying my father-in-law.  She said, “We made a good decision.  I never wanted to be a financial burden on my children.”  And she wasn’t.

Throughout her life, Ginny attended a fundamental, evangelical church.  Had she been able to vote in the 2016 national election, she would no doubt have voted Republican.  She had no use for feminism (women who rail against God’s ordained order), liberalism (the Devil’s message), homosexuality (perversion of God’s perfect creation) and immigrants (they siphon resources from hard-working Americans).

Yet, at the same time, Ginny was generous, giving to causes that fit with her ideological worldview such as missions.  It was important to her that people come to understand the “truth” as seen through the prism of the theology she embraced.  Within her community, she was loving, actively engaged, and caring, helping people in practical ways—donating food and other necessities to organizations sponsored by her church.

Continue reading “Remembering Ginny by Esther Nelson”

Sunday Shaming by Alison Downie

On a recent Friday, I learned that the 43 year old husband of someone I went to graduate school with, parent of four young children, died suddenly. Though I had been out of touch with my grad school friend for some years, I felt deeply for her loss, her unexpected plunge into single parenting, the way her life and the lives of her children would forever be shaped by this grievous tragedy.

I carried this family in my heart as I drove to my weekly Sunday visit with one of my adult sons, who lives about 75 miles from me. At this time, disabled by mental illness, he lives in an AA recovery house, surviving on Supplemental Security Income of $740.00/month and SNAP food allotments. Now 27, he dropped out of college after one semester, has never held a job for more than a month, and has been hospitalized three times for psychiatric care.

I usually enjoy our weekly visits, during which we sit at a coffee shop or do an errand. But I never know how he will be doing. When he is doing poorly, my own tendency to depression means that being present as best I can, even for just a few hours, to his deep suffering may utterly deplete me for the rest of the day or several days following. Continue reading “Sunday Shaming by Alison Downie”

The Trouble with Boaz by Katey Zeh

The Trouble with Boaz (1)

I’ve always been troubled by the story of Boaz found in the Book of Ruth. While there are plenty of biblical narratives that horrify me–Hagar, Tamar, and other “texts of terror” as Phyllis Trible called them–the story of Boaz is uniquely problematic in how it has been interpreted and applied by some Christian traditions, particularly among evangelicals. What is so insidious about this biblical re-telling is how the relationship between Boaz, a wealthy landowner, and Ruth, a foreign widow, is idealized as some kind of romantic love story.

Ruth and Boaz social media meme

Waiting for your Boaz is a popular blogging platform among single white evangelical women who desire a husband. Their Facebook page alone has nearly 300,000 likes. For purchase on the main site is a book entitled 31 Days of Prayer for your Future Husband: Becoming a Wife Before the Wedding Day. The premise of Waiting for your Boaz is that if single women quit searching for a husband (i.e. dating) and pray for one instead, God will “write your love story” and like a matchmaker, will bring them one eventually.

While there are many troubling theological issues at play in this framework, for this particular piece I will focus on the cooption of the biblical narrative to uphold a worldview in which the fate of women is left to the whims of men and a male God.

In the biblical narrative Boaz is the distant relative of Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law.  When the women are widowed suddenly and thus left destitute, they return to Naomi’s homeland in Bethlehem. (Orpah, Naomi’s other daughter-in-law who is also a widow, remains in Moab.) With no other known male relatives available to help them, Boaz is the women’s only hope for sustenance. He permits Ruth to glean the leftover crops after his fields have been harvested and instructs the workers not to bother her while she gathers food. While I acknowledge that Boaz acts kindly–or at least neutrally–toward Ruth, we ought not forget the immense power dynamics at play: Boaz is a native, wealthy, land-owning man while Ruth is a foreign, widowed woman with no rights.

At no other point in the narrative is this difference in power more evident than when Naomi insists that Ruth put herself at even greater risk–again for their collective well-being–by offering herself sexually to a drunk Boaz in the hopes that doing so might result in their continued protection.

This is not a fairytale. This is a story of survival.

In the end Boaz does offer Ruth and thus Naomi his protection through marriage. For two widows with no rights whatsoever, this is the best possible outcome, but it comes at great cost: namely Ruth’s bodily safety and autonomy which are threatened not only by her being a foreign woman working in the field, but also by her own mother-in-law’s admonition that Ruth offer herself as sexual collateral.

Single women ought to be praying for this? I think not.

Ruth does not wait. She cannot wait. Like many women, both ancient and contemporary, she uses what little power she has to do what is necessary in order to stay alive at great risk to her personal safety. Instead of admiring Boaz and his benevolent paternalism, our focus ought to be on removing the restrictions and confronting the injustices that leave women like Ruth and Naomi in such desperate circumstances in the first place.

RA82Katey Zeh, M.Div is a strategist, writer,  and speaker who inspires communities to create a more just, compassionate world.  She has written for outlets including Huffington Post, Sojourners, Religion Dispatches, Response magazinethe Good Mother Project, the Journal for Feminist Studies in Religion, and the United Methodist News Service. She is the co-host of Kindreds, a podcast for soul sisters. Her book Women Rise Up will be published by the FAR Press in March of 2018.  Find her on Twitter at @kateyzeh or on her website

From Evangelical Christianity to Feminist Evangelism by Andreea Nica

AndreeaI always knew I was a feminist, despite my lack of knowledge in the movement and philosophy growing up. I did, however, have the religious support of my family and community to be an Evangelical Christian. I knew all the right words, mannerisms, and behaviors to represent myself as the proper Christian woman. I went on mission trips abroad, wore purity rings, attended sexual purity retreats and church camps, prayed fervently, spoke in tongues (glossolalia), contributed 10 percent of my meager earnings, and above all, fell in love with God.

As a first-generation college student, I was thirsty for knowledge and ready to take on the world. Some of my favorite courses during my undergraduate career included: “Psychology of Women,” “Women, Gender, and Ethnicity,” and “Psychology of Sexuality.” My coursework in gender, sexuality, and the social sciences compelled me to pursue graduate studies in gender, culture, and media at a university abroad. My studies in gender theory and feminist philosophy, and how it intersects with religion and social institutions ignited my spirit.

As a result, my relationship with god suffered. My newfound feminist beliefs were not solely to blame, however. Rather, a variety of reasons contributed to my detachment from god and the Evangelical church which I explain in my post, “Leaving Behind My First Love.” My new feminist identity was the main driver for questioning my relationship with god. Everything from the male-dominated language and rhetoric used in the church, to the discrimination and prohibition of female pastors, to the stringent gender roles expected of congregants. Continue reading “From Evangelical Christianity to Feminist Evangelism by Andreea Nica”

Evangelical Missionaries Preach Death in Uganda by Andreea Nica

Andreea Nica, pentecostalismA former evangelical Christian friend of mine sent me information on the intriguing documentary God Loves Uganda. The newly released documentary addresses how the American evangelical movement has prompted a political and social shockwave in the country of Uganda. While missionaries are typically associated with delivering aid and improving the conditions of third world countries, the spreading of Christian values and ideals has inflicted suffering upon ethnic communities through evangelical indoctrination.

The intent of the film is to raise awareness of the political and social brutality that the evangelical missionaries are instigating; specifically through their teaching that homosexuality is a sin and should be dealt with accordingly. In Uganda this means death. Given the rise of globalization, transnational religious actors have been more enabled to engender other nations with their respective religious beliefs, often with minimal regard for the cultural and political landscape of the nation they wish to transform. Continue reading “Evangelical Missionaries Preach Death in Uganda by Andreea Nica”

Liberations of Immigrant Women in Western Religious Conversion by Andreea Nica

Andreea Nica, pentecostalismThe prolonged debate around feminist subjectivity and religious participation continues to evoke much compelling discussion in academia, political arenas, and public space. There have been a number of academic studies around the intersection of gender, religion, and migration, specifically on how gender and immigration assimilation is constructed and managed within western religious systems.

I am currently researching the trajectories of immigrant assimilation and conversion, and how gender relations and religious identities are managed within these processes to further develop my proposal for doctoral study. I find this area of research fascinating as it’s so diverse and pertinent to the progression of gender equity amongst religious participants. Continue reading “Liberations of Immigrant Women in Western Religious Conversion by Andreea Nica”

Assimilation into American Evangelical Theology: They Had Me at We’re Equal! by Andreea Nica

Andreea Nica, pentecostalismCultural and social disparities exist within religious immigrant assimilation processes. Growing up in a tricultural home, I learned how to disentangle and integrate differing cultural norms and expectations. My biological parents are first-generation Romanian-Americans who identified with the Pentecostal faith. I was raised by my father and stepmother; my stepmother was raised in the U.S. by Italian-American parents. In my household, we spoke English as the main entrée with Romanian and Italian for dessert. Discovering my cultural identity in categorical terms proved difficult, but when paired with religious identification, it became easier and less important.

Given that my father wanted my brother and me to assimilate into the American culture as comfortably as possible, we regularly attended an American Pentecostal church. The Romanian Pentecostal churches we infrequently visited appeared vastly different; the social and cultural expectations seemed astonishingly dissident to that of the American church. Continue reading “Assimilation into American Evangelical Theology: They Had Me at We’re Equal! by Andreea Nica”

Discrimination, the Catholic Bishops, and Chick-fil-A by Michele Stopera Freyhauf

You may be tired of the controversy about Chick-fil-A, but the events of the last few weeks revealed a big issue in the organization – that of discrimination and the illusion of religious freedom.  However discrimination exists beyond the LGBTIQ community, it applies to Catholics and those “outside” their strict fundamentalist belief system.  However, the hierarchy in the Catholic Church seems to be embracing many of the beliefs put forth by Evangelical Fundamentalists in the political arena.

When it was time for my eldest daughter to get her first job, she applied and was hired to work at Chick-fil-A.  Knowing they were a  Christian organization, I felt that she would be well treated and we could still have family time on Sundays.  Everything started out o.k. but the longer she worked there, problems developed.  First, when I stopped through the drive-thru to show my support as her mother, I received apocalyptic material in my bag talking about the end times, where my soul would go, and inviting me to their church.  I found the material offensive and never returned. Despite the organization’s community support and “Christian” values, I was still fairly naive about their discriminatory practices that many experience on a daily basis.

Continue reading “Discrimination, the Catholic Bishops, and Chick-fil-A by Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

Things That Make Me Cry: The Practice of Unbelief by Leanne Dedrick

I have been doing a lot of unpacking lately, both literally and figuratively. I have recently moved to a different city, and returned to a place I once knew well, many years ago. It hasn’t been a case of ‘going home again’ as much as it has been an expression of self awareness of my preferences, but as with other significant life events, there are surprises waiting around each corner — surprises that carry with them hidden issues that require figurative unpacking. For the purposes of this post, however, I will only address one. It is the one that left my FB friends scratching their heads and sending me comments like, “WTF?” and “Wow. You surprise me!” and “Have you lost your mind?” It also led to the most annoying statement anyone can ever hear, “Obviously, you have issues you aren’t dealing with…” I don’t know about you, and maybe it is just my age, or the fact that I am a philosopher, but it is damn near the biggest insult you can pay me. The way I see it, and live it, my obsessively organized and compulsively compartmentalized mind is constantly on hyper-drive when it comes to analyzing and ‘dealing’ with my ‘issues.’ So after a few days of sitting with (read: doing anything but calmly sitting with) my annoyance and reviewing my own out of character posts, I have gotten to a place where I can begin to unpack the responses of others, rather than perseverate on my own insecurities. Continue reading “Things That Make Me Cry: The Practice of Unbelief by Leanne Dedrick”
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