One of my Facebook friends—someone I’m quite fond of—posted the following remarks given by her pastor, Dr. Jim Somerville, First Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia, to the congregation on July 15, 2018:
It was Thanksgiving 2016, and my brothers and I were headed toward a family reunion of sorts in Franklin, West Virginia, where my mother now lives. Four of us were carpooling together and one of us asked another one of us, ‘Can you please help me understand why you voted for Donald Trump?’ And we all listened. And my brother who was asked the question explained his position in a very clear way, in a very gentle way, in a very loving way, so that his brother could understand his reasons. And when he was finished he said, ‘Maybe you could tell me why you voted for Hillary Clinton?’ And my brother responded in the same gentle, kind, and loving way… Continue reading “Time to Stop Talking by Esther Nelson”
This was going to be a post about my new life in South Africa; to say what it means for me the return to this country full of wonderful things to do, after an intense and grievous experience in 2015 that pushed me towards a totally introspective period in my life; I was willing to tell you how I managed to put myself together, come back, go out there to face my fears, gather the courage to speak my truth, look for clearance and healing in the same place and with the same people where I was wounded.
But that will be in the next post. Let me talk about my country.
I come from Chile, a country in the southern south of the world, poor in resources and rich in poets. I am Chilean by birth, and I took my first steps on shaking ground. I have survived 3 earthquakes, countless floods, a tsunami and a dictatorship.
I survived to be stronger, more faithful, more free and unbeatably resilient.
During the past 12 days, I have seen, as a distant and impotent witness, my country burning, overwhelmed by fire, in the greatest catastrophe of its kind in the history of the nation.
I’ve spent these days with tight lips and enclosed in my thoughts, reading news on the Internet, thinking about my family, receiving audios that my sister records for me. My brother was injured protecting his house from the fire, my family is in the area of greatest catastrophe, currently declared “Area Zero.” My concern is huge because the fire is advancing over the city and the assistance seems to go three steps back … I believe in the power of prayer, but I also know the ferocity of nature because as a Chilean I am always expecting to deal with it. Continue reading “Women Made of Fire by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente”
In the past month I have been on a spiritual journey seeking my German ancestors. Six of my 2x great-grandparents were born in Germany, which means I am 37 ½ percent German. Growing up, I was subjected to a form of patriarchal family disciple I came to identify as German, but I was told very little, positive or negative, about my German heritage.
Though I had been researching my family tree for five years when I began my trip to Germany, I had no clue about where in Bavaria the Thomas Christ-Anna Maria Hemmerlein branch of my family originated. While making final preparations before the trip, I learned that German church records are no longer kept in individual churches, but are grouped together in church archives. Some areas also have family records in state archives. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of German records were not destroyed in the two World Wars. However, many of the German records are not online. Continue reading “Finding Bavarian Ancestors by Carol P. Christ”
Canola, Celtic Goddess of Inspiration and Creativity, is another ancient Celtic Goddess whose story comes down to us in very limited form.
One day Canola had an argument with Her lover. Goddesses, being intermediaries between our physical world and the infinite Source of All, feel emotions in a similar fashion to mortal humans. So, like any mortal woman, Canola was upset by their argument.
News of Karen Brown’s recent death came via email from a mutual friend of ours, Christine Downing.
There are many things that can be said about Karen’s life and career, including that she won prizes for her life’s work Mama Lola in scholarly associations in the fields of religion and anthropology, that her work has been influential in bringing the study of Vodou into the scholarly mainstream, and that it has been inspiring to women of color.
Here I will focus on the years when our friendship provided crucial support for our audacious scholarly work. I first met Karen through the New York Feminist Scholars in Religion, a group Anne Barstow and I organized in 1974 that nurtured work on women and religion for many of us, including besides me and Karen, Judith Plaskow, Naomi Goldenberg, Ellen Umansky, Lynn Gottlieb, Beverly Harrison, Nelle Morton, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza.
My friendship with Karen was sparked by the explosion that occurred in the New York feminist scholars group when Anne Barstow and I spoke in the fall of 1976 about our attractions to the Goddess. Our presentations evoked a great conflagration, which I remember as coalescing around Beverly Harrison’s authoritative and authoritarian statement that there can be no ethics in Goddess religion because ethics comes from a transcendent source—not from nature. Karen was among those who responded tentatively that she was not so sure Beverly was right.
In the discussions that continued over the academic year, Karen and I exchanged meaningful glances, supported each others’ comments, and finally met for a few longer conversations shortly before I left New York to take up a new teaching position in California. Karen was then in the process of leaving her husband and moving into the magnificently quirky loft apartment that she would decorate with Haitian art in Tribeca on the lower west side of New York City.
I offered to do a house blessing for Karen’s new apartment, and she agreed. We blessed the thresholds and the corners of each room with salt and water and incense, and Karen spoke of the new life she hoped to begin in her new home. Later Karen told me that Alourdres (Mama Lola) insisted on blessing the house again and that the rituals were nearly the same.
During the years Karen lived in the Lower West Side from 1977 to 2001 or 2002, I stayed with her several times a year when conferences and lectures brought me to and through New York and on my way back and forth from teaching in Greece in the summers. During that time we had many long and intimate conversations in which the details of our lives were interwoven with the details of our work.
Our friendship was important to both of us, not only because we were pioneers in the study of women and religion, but also because within it we were becoming a minority within a minority as our work took us outside an increasingly Christian-dominated field. Our conversations ranged fluidly around many subjects including: leaving Christianity; the importance of female symbolism for divinity; whether we need male Gods of war or not; religions that focus on the divine and human connection to nature; similarities and differences between Goddess and Vodou rituals and altars; healing; female leadership styles; the experience of living between cultures; and our common struggles to find a voice in which to write about what we were discovering.
Karen and I were in the process of rejecting the dispassionate voice of scholarly objectivity and searching for a way to write that combined scholarly research with the passion to know the world more deeply and to think about it clearly that inspired our work. Our conversations with each other were a lifeline, as we had no role models for the personal paths we were exploring or for the new ways of writing our scholarship with which we were experimenting. We quite literally “heard each other into speech” to quote the phrase Nelle Morton used to name the importance of our female conversations.
I happened to visit Karen shortly after she underwent her initiation into Vodou, which was at about the same time that I experienced what felt to me like revelation at the temple of Aphrodite in Lesbos. We both felt that we must incorporate these moments into our writings, but we also were afraid to do so because we feared that others would call us heretics and dismiss our writing as unscholarly. Karen and I spoke publicly of these experiences on a panel organized by Rita Gross at the American Academy of Religion in 1985 that was published in Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 3/1 (1987).
Karen received more scholarly recognition for her transgressions than I have. This is in part due to a greater interest in difference among anthropologists than among theologians. However, Karen often told me that scholarly recognition is not the only way to judge the importance of feminist contributions and reminded me that my work has had a major impact within and outside the academy.
One day Karen and I were discussing whether she could fully embrace Haitian culture and whether I would become Greek. Invoking the Vodou concept of living “between the worlds” of the spirit and ordinary reality, she said that this was how she understood herself: she could never be nor would she want to be Haitian, but neither would she ever be fully American or Christian again. She added that one of the reasons she felt comfortable living between worlds was that she had never felt comfortable in her own culture.
In the intervening years, I have thought about this conversation many times. While there was once a time when I wanted to become Greek and leave my American culture behind, I have come to realize that this is not possible. Like Karen, I live between worlds and find my greatest comfort in belonging to two worlds and to neither. This insight is only one of the many gifts I gained though my friendship with Karen McCarthy Brown.
Remembering Karen, let us bless the Source of Life, and the cycles of birth, death, and regeneration.