Subversive Sister Saints by Angela Yarber


As the American Embassy was bombed in 1999, I was hunkered in a Russian Orthodox Church, gazing at the brooding, whitewashed faces of icons, hands raised in endlessly frightening benediction. Hundreds of men met my eye, as I found myself asking, “Where are all the women?” In 2005, the sun peaked over the horizon on Mount Sanai as I entered the chapel at Saint Catherine’s Monastery, which houses the oldest collection of Christian orthodox icons in the world. As a sensory overload accosted my eyes, ears, and nose, I scanned the scene to find only two women crammed among all the icons; one was a nameless daughter sacrificed by her own father. Where were all the women? A few years later, I knelt at the Temple of 1,000 Buddhas in Thailand. Not a woman could be found. Where are all the women?

For over a decade, I’ve painted folk-feminist icons of revolutionary women from history and mythology, a subversively artistic attempt to answer my own question by painting the women who have been ignored, excluded, or strategically erased. From Pauli Murray to Sarasvati, Gloria Anzaldua to Papahanoumoku, this work continues to be a gift, joy, and a tremendous part of the mission of my non-profit, the Tehom Center, which empowers marginalized women by teaching about revolutionary women through art, writing, retreats, and academic courses. Continue reading “Subversive Sister Saints by Angela Yarber”

Holy Women of Pride: Queer Spirituality and Worship Resources by Angela Yarber

As we enter Pride month, do you ever finding yourself wishing there were unabashedly queer resources to aid clergy and people of faith in nurturing spirituality, celebrating queer families, or offering liturgies that celebrated revolutionary queer women? Look no farther! The Holy Women Icons Project—a non-profit seeking to empower marginalized women by telling the stories of revolutionary holy women through art, writing, and special events—has created three such resources. Thanks to a generous grant from The BTS Center, these affordable and accessible online retreats and resources are available for clergy and laity alike. Check out these three offerings, along with the revolutionary seven queer women of color who inspired them!

HWIP’s 7-Day Online Queer Spirituality Retreat is an opportunity to subversively queer your spirituality, and for the LGBTQ+ community to celebrate our spirituality without having to translate it through the lens of heteronormativity. Open to everyone, the Queer Spirituality Retreat features seven different queer women of color: Pauli Murray, Frida Kahlo, Perpetua and Felicity, the Shulamite, Marsha P Johnson, Guanyin, and Gloria Anzaldúa. The most important part of the retreat is, of course, the revolutionary queer women who make it possible. So, allow me to briefly introduce you to seven queer women of color… Continue reading “Holy Women of Pride: Queer Spirituality and Worship Resources by Angela Yarber”

Embracing Lost Vocation: Painting Mother Goddess by Angela Yarber

The awakening occurred at 1:27am with the pterodactyl-cry only uttered by toddlers. It continued around 2am when said pterodactyl joined weary moms in bed. Stinging tears splattered pillows with a swift headbutt to my nose, later accompanied by footied talons jabbing my ribcage as this tiny person became the human crossbar of a giant “H,” vertical moms arching precariously on either edge of the overstuffed bed. 5:30am came all too soon as both children arose, crows louder than any rooster, tired moms stretching their aching backs. Navigating this whole feminist parenting thing is complicated, y’all. As an artist, author, activist, and academic, I thought I had a handle on my identity and vocation; now I feel like motherhood is the only moniker defining my exhausted reality.

I was recently given the opportunity to speak at a conference for artists, academics, and activists, the so-called spiritual weirdos who think and create and do at the intersections of art, scholarship, spirituality, and social justice. It was enlivening and inspiring. What struck me, though, were the asides that often occurred when anyone asked whether I had children, and if so, what ages. Throughout my travels and during the conference, the consistent reaction upon sharing that I’m a mother of a two and five-year-old was, “Woah. You’re in the thick of it.” “Don’t worry. It gets easier.” “This, too, shall pass.” Rarely have I felt so validated. Continue reading “Embracing Lost Vocation: Painting Mother Goddess by Angela Yarber”

Celebrating Pride: Honoring the Spiritualities of Queer Holy Women of Color by Angela Yarber

With rainbow colors erupting from even the big box stores, I find my super queer-feminist-self scratching my head at the way Pride has transformed into a capital enterprise. I mean, I’m pretty stoked that the cultural climate seems to be slightly more affirming of queer people, but as queer culture is commodified, I cannot help but think of what is being lost or forgotten. And I want to shout from the rooftops that the rich spiritual history of Pride rests firmly on the shoulders of queer women of color who have marched and meditated, prayed and protested long before rainbow Pride headbands were available at chain stores across the land. It is for this reason that, in honor of Pride Month, the Holy Women Icons Project (HWIP) has launched a 7-Day Online Queer Spirituality Retreat that celebrates seven different queer holy women of color.

HWIP’s 7-Day Online Queer Spirituality Retreat is an opportunity to subversively queer your spirituality, and for the LGBTQ+ community to celebrate our spirituality without having to translate it through the lens of heteronormativity. Open to everyone, the Queer Spirituality Retreat features seven different queer women of color: Pauli Murray, Frida Kahlo, Perpetua and Felicity, the Shulamite, Marsha P Johnson, Guanyin, and Gloria Anzaldúa. Each retreat day takes about 20 minutes and includes an inspirational quote, an icon image, a reflective essay, a guided writing exercise, a ritual exercise, and a closing blessing. The most important part of the retreat is, of course, the revolutionary queer women who make it possible. So, allow me to briefly introduce you to seven queer women of color who should make us all proud…

Continue reading “Celebrating Pride: Honoring the Spiritualities of Queer Holy Women of Color by Angela Yarber”

Women’s History Month: Painting and Empowering Adolescent Girls by Angela Yarber

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the Holy Women Icons Project is excited to launch Revolutionary Girls, a new program seeking to empower marginalized adolescent girls by telling the stories of revolutionary women through art, writing, and discussion. Partnering with local schools and other non-profit organizations in the Puna District of Hawai’i County, we are creating a curriculum that features often overlooked historical and mythological women whose lives, legends, and legacies embody empowerment, resilience, and emotional intelligence that can embolden adolescent girls to become socially aware revolutionary leaders.

Research shows that girls’ self-esteem plummets in early adolescence, due in part to unrealistic body images in media and casual (or even overt) sexism from parents, teachers, and peers. Our Revolutionary Girls project aims to counter these negative influences by offering girls aged 11-15 a space of empowerment. Prior to adolescence, many girls believe they are as smart, strong, and capable of leadership as boys. At the onset of puberty, girls are often taught that their only value is in their appearance, and that they are not as capable or valuable as men and boys. Simultaneously, girls are exposed primarily to the histories and myths of men in power while in the classroom, the revolutionary lives, legends, and legacies of countless revolutionary women altogether absent from their textbooks and lessons. Continue reading “Women’s History Month: Painting and Empowering Adolescent Girls by Angela Yarber”

The Protest Goddess by Angela Yarber

I’ve long held that feminism, in order to be true and engaged and practical, must be intersectional. The work of justice for women must also include justice for other marginalized groups. Because many women are also LGBTQ, people of color, people with disabilities, Muslims, immigrants, and others marginalized for identities other than their gender. Paying attention to these intersections—of sexuality, gender, race, class, ability, religion—and acknowledging that many people have multiple intersecting identities for which they are oppressed is vital to the work of justice.

These thoughts remained at the forefront of my mind as I recently marched in one of the sister marches of the Women’s March in my home of Hilo, Hawaii. I heard many straight, white, cisgender women claim that women are not oppressed while mocking the march as irrelevant. I heard some gay men purport that such a march was unnecessary. And I wondered. Are not women of color also women? Muslim women? Immigrant women? Women with disabilities? Queer women? Trans women? Are not our quests for liberation and rights and legal validity interrelated, mutually dependent, might I even say, intersectional? Continue reading “The Protest Goddess by Angela Yarber”

Goddesses of Mindfulness for a New Year Feminism and Religion by Angela Yarber

I’ll be honest. For me, 2017 royally sucked. Though “feminism” was dubbed the “word of the year” by Merriam-Webster’s—as evidenced by the Women’s March, the Handmaid’s Tale, Wonder Woman, and the Me Too Movement—the reason feminists thrust our fed-up fists into the air in protest so frequently was because of the way women are routinely unjustly treated.

In the midst of this global, political, national fury, I experienced personal struggles in 2017 with the death of my brother and my mother’s cancer diagnosis. There was beauty and goodness that filled the year, to be sure, but you can believe me when I say that I am welcoming 2018 with open arms. As I entered into conversation with myriad feminists across the gender spectrum around the world, it seems that many echo these sentiments. We could not wait to bid 2017 farewell. Yet, I knew that I did not want to enter the year filled only with bitterness and resentment. Rather, I wanted to mindfully move forward with radical gratitude, hope, and intentions set on creating a more beautiful 2018. Enter the goddess. Continue reading “Goddesses of Mindfulness for a New Year Feminism and Religion by Angela Yarber”

Grieving through the Holidays: Painting Holy Women Icons of Grief by Angela Yarber

The holiday season is a particularly difficult time for grief. Whether it is grieving someone who died earlier in the year as you celebrate your first holiday season without them, or the lasting memories of loved ones who are no longer present at family gatherings, this time of year makes grief bubble to the surface. Since this is my first holiday season without my little brother, who died in March, I’ve planned ahead with coping strategies that I’d like to share with other feminists struggling to grieve through the holidays.

Upon the death of a loved one, most people in the West are offered commodified grief, costly funerals, and stifled feelings pre-packaged as dignified tradition. When deathcare became a commercial enterprise at the turn of the twentieth century, there was what mortician and author Caitlin Doughty calls a seismic shift in who was responsible for the dead. “Caring for the corpse went from visceral, primeval work performed by women to a ‘profession,’ an ‘art,’ and even a ‘science,’ performed by well-paid men. The corpse, with all its physical and emotional messiness, was taken from women. It was made neat and clean, and placed in its casket on a pedestal, always just out of our grasp (Caitlin Doughty, From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, 136).”

Continue reading “Grieving through the Holidays: Painting Holy Women Icons of Grief by Angela Yarber”

Bridging Beyond Binaries: Painting Gloria Anzaldúa by Angela Yarber

One of the great joys of being an artist and writer is working on commissions, enlivening in paint, canvas, and word the stories of revolutionary holy women who have emboldened and inspired the one commissioning the Holy Woman Icon. Gloria Anzaldúa was on my list of holy women for a while when Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza finally gave me the nudge to paint her by commissioning an icon. Anzaldúa gave Robyn—and so many others—the framework, the bridgework, for dismantling the binaries of difference, for finding the beauty that resides at the borderlands of race, gender, and sexuality. As a scholar-activist, Robyn speaks of Anzaldúa as a patron saint, saying:

“Anzaldúa has always been for me the bridge between theory and action, and her work, both in writing and teaching, compels me to live into my vocation as a public theologian, which at root is bridging across lines of radical difference. Without Anzaldúa and without her bridging frame, I am unable to do the work that I now do. This icon offers me a visual reminder of the ways in which I’m called to be a bridge in curating communities of radical difference.”

Queer borderlands. Chicana borderlands. Feminist borderlands. Gloria Anzaldúa (September 26, 1942 – May 15, 2004) was an American scholar who focused on the intersections among queer theory, feminist theory, and Chicana cultural theory. Born in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, Anzaldúa also bridged the borders of personal and academic writing, weaving together theory with lived experience, English with Spanish, and inviting readers into a new world—Mundo Zurdo—that transcended these seeming binaries. Continue reading “Bridging Beyond Binaries: Painting Gloria Anzaldúa by Angela Yarber”

Holy Women Icons Online Retreats by Angela Yarber

I’ve shared before that the non-profit my wife and I created, the Holy Women Icons Project, is in the process of creating a small intersectionally ecofeminist retreat center on Hawai’i Island. The Holy Women Icons Project seeks to empower marginalized women by telling the stories of revolutionary holy women through art, writing, and special events.

Both the art and writing side of the project have been a monthly part of Feminism and Religion since 2012 as I feature the story of one of my holy women icons, along with the icon I’ve painted depicting them. As I paint revolutionary holy women from history, scripture, and myth, I also write about their lives; in addition to painting and writing, the bold witness of these women has inspired and grounded many of the retreats I lead in churches, seminaries, women’s and LGBTQ centers. Now the time has come for us to try and fulfill our dream of creating a home for this work, a little off-grid retreat center where people can come on retreat to create, sustain, and empower (by paying to attend or receiving scholarships from grants, but more on that later).

We were thrilled to film the first step of this process—building our family’s “tiny house”—with the television show Tiny House Nation. Since then, we’ve been working tirelessly to get our acre of land ready to build more housing for those on retreat, and to find funding sources to make it possible. Anyone who runs a non-profit or works in sustainable construction knows this is no easy (or affordable) task. We’re realizing that this far-flung dream may take longer than we’d envisioned due to lack of funding. We have some fabulous monthly patrons through Patreon, and we’d surely welcome more tax-deductible patronage or donations! Other than this, though, it’s the scrappy work of my wife and I to try and make this whole intersectionally-ecofeminist-off-grid-Hawai’i-retreat-thing a reality. Continue reading “Holy Women Icons Online Retreats by Angela Yarber”

Painting, Privilege, and “Going Tiny” in Hawai’i by Angela Yarber

Pelé by A. Yarber

It started with Pelé, the Hawai’ian Volcano Goddess who governs fire, lightning, volcanoes, and the flow of lava. When my little family set off on a big adventure in June 2015, I knew I’d research and paint her as a Holy Woman Icon, but I wanted to get to Hawai’i first so that I could experience her power firsthand. After three months volunteering without running water in Vermont, a month in southern Virginia’s finest fall foliage, and a holiday season traversing the country from east to west in a camper named Freya, we crossed the Pacific in search of Pelé.

The long-term goal of nearly two years of full-time travel was to discern next steps for our queer little family, and to find land to open an intersectionally ecofeminist retreat center. We always imagined returning to the southeast, likely buying land and creating the retreat center in the North Carolina mountains. Pelé had something else in store.

After three wild months volunteering on the Big Island, we fell in love, enlivened by this place we now call home: its beauty, the diversity of people, access to living off-grid, access to growing your own food, its rich culture and history, access to a vegan lifestyle, and the ability to live the majority of our life outside. In short, all of our plans were upended and recreated in the most beautiful and challenging ways because we knew Hawai’i must become our home. Continue reading “Painting, Privilege, and “Going Tiny” in Hawai’i by Angela Yarber”

Painting Our Lady of Sorrows: Mother’s Day and Resurrection by Angela Yarber

The month of May finds those within the Christian tradition solidly within Easter season, reveling in the promise of resurrection, while simultaneously celebrating Mother’s Day. To be honest, I’d never seen much of a correlation between these two events in the past. But since my brother’s death in March, I’m viewing everything through the lens of grief, likely a new perspective that will color the way I see the world forever. Namely, until this year, I’d never really given much thought to what Jesus’ mother, Mary, was feeling in a post-resurrection world. Of course, the suffering, sorrow, and sadness of a mother who watched her child die is something that most Christian churches highlight during Holy Week, on Good Friday, or even on Easter Sunday. But then our liturgy shifts, as though Mary transitioned from weeping at the gruesome death of her child one day and then suddenly celebrates the reality of resurrection the next. At the risk of extreme blasphemy—a place where I consistently reside—when I place myself in Mary’s shoes as a mother, resurrection kinda sucks. Continue reading “Painting Our Lady of Sorrows: Mother’s Day and Resurrection by Angela Yarber”

Painting a Goddess of Grief by Angela Yarber

In many ways, I’ve thought of the myriad Holy Women Icons I’ve painted as mediators, guides who accompany us, women who have shown us the way. Whether they enliven us to create, inspire us to sustain, or embolden us to empower, these holy women have taught me to rage, praise, hope, endure, persist, love, and laugh. Recently, though, I discovered that none of the Holy Women Icons I’ve researched, written about, or painted have helped me to grieve. Surely, many have experienced grief, or give us tools for coping with the grieving process, but no Goddesses of Grief filled my heart when I needed it most.

Last month, amidst my worries about walls and bans and words that exclude, grief came along and sucker punched me in such a way that I continue to grasp for mediators, guides, and ways to cope amidst tremendous sadness. On March 6, 2017 my little brother, Carl, died. An addict for much of his adulthood, his recent addiction began spiraling out of control over a year ago and he refused to go to rehab. My family worked hard to try and reach out to him, to open him up, to offer him support, but he refused to let anyone in, drowning his anguish in blackouts and overdoses. Though we filled his life with tremendous love, he also experienced pain—externally and internally—that he never shared with anyone. The drug of choice for the past year—duster—runs the risk of cutting off the oxygen to the brain every time it is used; in fact, there are instances of people dying the first time using duster. And this is precisely what happened when my mother found my brother. My beloved single-mom, Mary, became Our Lady of Sorrows, as she held the lifeless body of her 33 year-old son. Our lives will never be the same and the grief is overwhelming. Continue reading “Painting a Goddess of Grief by Angela Yarber”

Painting the Mother of Exiles by Angela Yarber

angelaLast month, my column focused on the importance of intersectionality within the feminist movement by highlighting the revolutionary work of Sojourner Truth, an escaped slave, abolitionist, and women’s rights activist. I’d like to continue to press the importance of intersectionality, particularly given our current political state. Of late, I’ve received a little criticism that some of my recent Holy Women Icons are too political, particularly with reference to Mothers of Black Lives Matter, Dolores Huerta, and the Midwives of Standing Rock. As a woman artist, and particularly a queer woman artist, the personal is always political. Feminists taught us this decades ago. Since the lives, loves, and bodies of LGBTQs, women, refugees, immigrants, people of color, Muslims, Jews, those who are differently abled, and the poor continue to be legislated, violated, excluded, and oppressed, I’d contend that writing about, painting about, and working for liberation for all of these intersectional identities is paramount, especially for those who profess faith in a homeless refugee liberator from the Middle East (that would be Jesus, of course). Needless to say, I believe these recent works in the Holy Women Icons Project fit in quite nicely with the over seventy revolutionaries—political and otherwise—that I’ve painted and written about in the past.

These critiques combined with the current climate of the United States, new legislation passed, proposed, and promised that attacks the lives of the aforementioned marginalized groups. So, I took to canvas and, for the first time, I did not pen the poetry scrawled across the holy woman’s heart. Instead, I relied on the words of Jewish American poet, Emma Lazarus (1849-1877). Most famous for the portion of her sonnet, “The New Colossus,” that graces the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, I wanted Lady Liberty and Lazarus’ timely words to become my newest Holy Woman Icon. In its entirety, “The New Colossus” reads: Continue reading “Painting the Mother of Exiles by Angela Yarber”

The Need for Intersectionality: Repainting Sojourner Truth by AngelaYarber

angelaI’ve long held that feminism, in order to be true and engaged and practical, must be intersectional. Such is also the case, I believe, for LGBTQ rights. The work of justice for women and LGBTQs people must also include justice for other marginalized groups. Because many LGBTQ people are also women, people of color, people with disabilities, Muslims, immigrants, and others marginalized for identities other than their sexuality. Paying attention to these intersections—of sexuality, gender, race, class, ability, religion—and acknowledging that many people have multiple intersecting identities for which they are oppressed is vital to the work of justice.

These thoughts remained at the forefront of my mind as I recently marched in one of the sister marches of the Women’s March in my home of Hilo, Hawaii. I heard many straight, white, cisgender women claim that women are not oppressed while mocking the march as irrelevant. I heard some gay men purport that such a march was unnecessary. And I wondered. Are not women of color also women? Muslim women? Immigrant women? Women with disabilities? Queer women? Further, are not women also part of LGBTQs? Are not there LGBTQ people of color? LGBTQs who are Muslim? LGBTQs who are immigrants? LGBTQs with disabilities? Of course there are. And even if there are not, are not our quests for liberation and rights and legal validity interrelated, mutually dependent, might I even say intersectional? Continue reading “The Need for Intersectionality: Repainting Sojourner Truth by AngelaYarber”

Painting Lilith, Queering Lilith by Angela Yarber

angelaLilith has been a misunderstood, appropriated, and redeemed woman throughout the ages. Many feminists claim her as an empowering figure in Jewish mythology, her story reclaimed by contemporary artists such as Sarah McLachlan, who created the all-women music tour, “Lilith Fair.” Some queer scholars have surmised that Lilith had a romantic relationship with Eve. Others have claimed that Lilith was a demon who seduced men and strangled children in the night. Quite a disparity, isn’t it?

The first time I painted her, I wrote about my subsequent leaving of the church here on Feminism and Religion. Based almost entirely on Judith Plaskow’s beautiful midrash, “The Coming of Lilith,” I’ve painted a second Holy Woman Icon rendition of Lilith. In the Jewish tradition, midrash is akin to climbing inside the story—inside the Torah—and imagining what happened in the places where the text offers no description; it is the space between the letters, the creative imagination within the narrative that makes the story come alive.

According to Plaskow’s midrash, God created Adam and Lilith from the same earth. Tired of Adam demanding that she be subservient to him, Lilith left the Garden of Eden. She was later befriended by Eve and her legacy of empowering women continues today. Adding a queer twist to this feminist midrash, some claim that Lilith and Eve became lovers, as well. Continue reading “Painting Lilith, Queering Lilith by Angela Yarber”

Painting Mary(s), Queering Mary(s) by Angela Yarber

Mary 1
Mary

It’s no secret that the holidays are often a difficult time for queer people. Disproportionately estranged from family, we often must create our own family. While these chosen families can be tremendously life-giving, it’s tough not to long for our families of origin during Christmas time. Many still in relationship with family are forced to retreat to the closet for fear of safety or exclusion this season.

Queer folk who have affirming families of origin still experience the twang of heteronormativity in holiday commercials, family events, and church services throughout December. There’s a reason why many refer to it as “Blue Christmas,” because, well, the holidays can leave us feeling pretty blue when our identities are invalidated, excluded, questioned, or marginalized.

In every nativity scene, we see images of a so-called “holy family” that likely doesn’t look very much like the family’s most queer folk create: a straight, cisgender couple, and a baby. This family is lauded by the Church as the quintessential iteration of what family should look like. When our families don’t look anything like this, it’s easy to see how celebrating the birth of Jesus is fraught with emotional and spiritual hardship.

Mary 5
Virgin de la Regla

There is good news, though. We can subvert this narrative of traditional family by queering the story. So, I’d like to talk a bit about the revolutionary power of queering Mary. Abolitionist and Women’s Rights Activist, Sojourner Truth, said it best at the 1851 Ohio Women’s Convention. Once a slave, Truth questioned the whitewashing done to women of color by white women working only for white women’s right to vote by asking the famed question, “Ain’t I a woman?” In that same speech, she notes that male clergy claim that women “can’t have as much rights as men ‘cause Christ was a man.”

This adage is familiar, not only to women, but also to LGBTQs who have been told that our iterations of family aren’t real or true or right because they don’t reflect the so-called holy family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. In an act of theological brilliance and subversion, Sojourner Truth poses this question to the male clergy gathered at the convention: “Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman. Man had nothing to do with him!” Continue reading “Painting Mary(s), Queering Mary(s) by Angela Yarber”

Painting Our Lady of Light: Winter Holidays 2016 by Angela Yarber

angelaThere’s nothing like the holiday season to bring out everyone’s least feminist self. In one of the courses that I teach—Gender, Food, and the Body in Popular Culture—students are assigned to examine gender roles throughout the holiday season through the lens intersectional ecofeminism. Inevitably, almost every student returns from holiday break with the same assessment: mom, grandma, and a kitchen full of women prepare, cook, and clean every family meal; women do the holiday shopping; men in the family watch sports.

Of course, this isn’t true of everyone. There are plenty of families which subvert and dismantle stereotypical gender roles, but the holidays seem to heighten these roles, undergirding them with some kind of nostalgic and theological weight that claims that if mama doesn’t arduously prepare her famed casserole, the season will be ruined. Otherwise committed feminists find themselves singing carols filled with sexist language and participating in holiday rituals that they would critique any other time of the year. Subversion be damned because we want our traditional family holiday! Continue reading “Painting Our Lady of Light: Winter Holidays 2016 by Angela Yarber”

Nominating Holy Women Icons by Angela Yarber

Who is your Holy Woman Icon?

When I began the academic study of religion in 1999, I was struck by the pantheon of male saints, venerated, honored, painted, adored, perhaps even worshipped. From virtually every tradition, men reigned supreme—in leadership, iconography, decision-making, worship—which is one of the myriad reasons groups like Feminism and Religion must exist. To combat this oppressive supremacy.

In 2010, I decided to put my wonder and this patriarchal dis-ease on canvas. I painted a triptych of Sophia, the feminine Greek word for wisdom often understood as the feminine face of Jesus, for a group triptych exhibition. Inspired stylistically by the art of Shiloh Sophia McCloud and He Qi, I endeavored to give traditional iconography a folk twist in an attempt to make it more accessible, perhaps a bit less brooding and intimidating. Emboldened by the works of womanist and feminist scholars in religion, my icons aim to subvert traditional—and often patriarchal—depictions of a virtually all-male sainthood. Though there are surely some women depicted Catholic and Orthodox iconography, and a robust number of women and goddesses in Hindu iconography, I found myself at a loss when it came to positive, affirming, and empowering icons of women across the vast spectrum of religious and spiritual traditions. Continue reading “Nominating Holy Women Icons by Angela Yarber”

Holy Women Icons Contemplative Coloring Book by Angela Yarber

angelaAround the time Microaggressions in Ministry: Confronting the Violence of Everyday Church was published, I was under contract and furiously trying to finish yet another book project, a coloring book of all things. On the heels of such imperative justice work as microaggressions, why on earth was creating a coloring book on my radar? Feminist academic-activists don’t dabble in such seemingly insignificant projects as coloring books, do they? As I wrote about my potential coloring book for the first time with FAR, I realized the time is ripe for such work—a coloring book that fuses feminism, arts, and spirituality—so I graciously took the feedback offered here and shared them with my publisher.

Coloring is a fast growing trend among over-stressed adults. “Soothing coloring pages” is a top Google search item. Amazon.com lists over 3,000 adult coloring books, some even featured on their bestsellers list.

Articles—popular and academic—whose authors range from psychologist to spiritual director purport the power of coloring to calm anxiety, relieve stress, and provide a creative and spiritual outlet. Is this a feminist issue? I’d say so. In fact, part of the problem of microaggressions is the difficulty in coping with the stress, depression, and anxiety caused by them. Hear me clearly, I’m not saying that coloring in my coloring book will rid the world of microaggressions and usher in a utopian paradise where every person is treated equally and justly. What I am saying is that, since studies have proven that coloring is a valid mode of relieving stress and anxiety and microaggressions create stress and anxiety, coloring pages filled with bold, revolutionary women, many of whom are women of color and/or queer, can provide a balm, a method of empowerment, a window into what that utopian world could be. Continue reading “Holy Women Icons Contemplative Coloring Book by Angela Yarber”

Painting Jane Addams by Angela Yarber

angelaAs bright red hearts grace every storefront in anticipation of Valentine’s Day, the virtue of love remains at the forefront for many feminists. Let’s set aside Hallmark and the commercialism of romance for a moment and focus on some forms of love often overlooked: love for friends, love for the world, and love from women for women. All of these are manifested in one of my Holy Women Icons with a folk feminist twist: Jane Addams.

Known as the Mother of Social Work, this revolutionary woman did so much more than begin a new field of study. Jane Addams (1860-1935) was a pacifist, sociologist, public philosopher, founder of the Hull House, co-founder of the ACLU, and the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. All of her romantic relationships were with other women, including Ellen Star and Mary Smith. In fact, Smith and Addams considered themselves married. Is any of this brief information about Addams new to you? It certainly was to me. Continue reading “Painting Jane Addams by Angela Yarber”

Coloring Holy Women by Angela Yarber

angelaColoring is a fast growing trend among over-stressed adults. Soothing coloring pages are a top Google search item. There are coloring books featuring mandalas, garden scenes, inspirational quotes, and even curse words written in fancy calligraphy sprouting branches, flowers, and swirls eager to be illuminated with colored pencils toted by hipsters, young professionals, retirees, clergy, and other adults searching for artistic ways to tap their creative spirit and sooth their jangled nerves. Articles—popular and academic—whose authors range from psychologist to spiritual director purport the power of coloring to calm anxiety, relieve stress, and provide a creative and spiritual outlet. Is this a feminist issue? I’d say so.

There are, indeed, feminist coloring books and goddess coloring books, though I’ve seen very little that fuses together both feminism and religion. In order to fill this gap, while also seeking to expand my own creative expression, I have finally completed the drawings for my forthcoming Holy Women Icons Contemplative Coloring Book. Continue reading “Coloring Holy Women by Angela Yarber”

Microaggressions and the Grimké Sisters: Between Painting and Writing by Angela Yarber

angelaAs an artist and author, my time is often divided between painting and writing, with my interests in religion, gender/sexuality, and justice being the connection between the two. Painting teaches me something unique about writing, at the same time that writing brings clarity to my painting. For me, the two go hand-in-hand. Such is most certainly the case with my painting of the revolutionary Grimké sisters and in the writing of my most recent book, Microaggressions in Ministry: Confronting the Violence of Everyday Church, co-authored with Cody Sanders. Now that the painting, one of my newest Holy Women Icons with a folk feminist twist, has toured parts the East Coast and Microaggressions in Ministry is officially available for purchase, I’ve had an opportunity to reflect on these seemingly disparate projects and mediums, only to realize how mutually informing they truly are.

The Grimké Sisters: Sarah (1792-1873) and Angelina (1805-1879)

Though these revolutionary sisters have always been famous in feminist-preaching-justice-antiracism-vegetarian circles, their name recognition bolstered with the stirring novel by Sue Monk Kidd, The Invention of Wings. The Grimké sisters were Southern American Quakers, writers, public speakers, and the first American women advocates for both abolition and women’s rights. Born to a wealthy plantation owner with hundreds of slaves, who held that women were strictly subordinate to men, these daring daughters experienced the evils of slavery first-hand. In fact, at age five, Sarah witnessed a slave being whipped and tried to escape South Carolina on a steam ship to a “place where there was no slavery.” In violation of the law, she taught several slaves to read during her adolescence.

Thirteen years her junior, Angelina was more of a daughter than sister to Sarah, as Sarah begged her parents to make her Angelina’s godmother. Together, the sisters left the South, became Quakers, committed themselves to pacifism and vegetarianism, and dedicated their lives to abolitionism. They gave countless public lectures—at first in “parlor meetings for only women, but expanding to include men—decrying the evils of slavery. Not only did they preach abolition based on their interpretations of scripture, but they also held that black and white people are equal and should be treated as such. This latter belief was considered completely radical, even in abolitionist circles. In giving public lectures, they were attacked for their anti-slavery stance. In fact, they were forced to leave the Quaker church because of their views. But their radical abolitionism was not the only reason for critique; they were also condemned for stepping into the male sphere of public speaking. In the midst of such critique, the sisters were forced to grapple with their views of gender, inadvertently becoming feminists and women’s rights activists, as well. After much thought, prayer, and study, Sarah and Angelina also determined that women’s equality was rooted in scripture.

Continue reading “Microaggressions and the Grimké Sisters: Between Painting and Writing by Angela Yarber”

Holy Women Icons: Arts and Spirituality on Retreat by Angela Yarber

angelaI’ve noticed some growing trends in feminist spirituality. Recently, I’ve encountered several feminists who have attended virtual retreats from the comfort of their homes. I’ve also been overwhelmed by the number of clergy, scholars, and feminists who have begun coloring. Psychologists claim that coloring can soften stress, relieve anxiety, and be source of playful meditation for adults in an otherwise chaotic world. Similarly, doctors have long pointed to the emotional and physical importance of meditation, spirituality, or prayer in remaining balanced, relieving stress and anxiety. As feminists dwelling in a cisheteropatriarchal world, the need for such balance is even more important. It is these noticings that have led me to write this post.

A fabulous church that cares deeply about inclusion, social justice, and the arts is hosting an exhibition of my Holy Women Icons with a folk feminist twist for the month of October and throughout the month, I’m leading several retreats. While planning these retreats, I couldn’t help but think of the Feminism and Religion community. We are spread throughout the world, offering encouragement and challenge online every day. We have different struggles, spiritual paths, and backgrounds, but we gather on this blog to reconcile two seemingly paradoxical parts of our beings: feminism and religion. I have yet to develop these thoughts fully and I’d like to rely on you to share your input and ideas in the comments section about how we can “retreat” together virtually. With this in mind, I’d like share a bit about the Holy Women Icons Arts and Spirituality retreat I’m leading and invite you to participate at home. The entire retreat takes about 3 hours, or you can break it into 4 sections for shorter periods of time. So, if you’d like, play some music to set the mood, light a candle, and get out some paper, scissors, writing utensils, and crayons/markers, and let’s “retreat” together…

Continue reading “Holy Women Icons: Arts and Spirituality on Retreat by Angela Yarber”

Painting Herstory: Our Lady of Silver Lake by Angela Yarber

angelaIt has become my new routine during the first phase of my queer little family’s year-long journey. After completing my chores, I run along the trails surrounding Silver Lake and once I’m thoroughly drenched in sweat, I grab a book and push our enormous 15-foot canoe into the frigid waters of the little lake we’re calling home for three months. With a smile that has yet to wipe off my face, I paddle fiercely. I’m typically the only person on the lake.

It’s a steep mile hike from the trailhead, and we’re the only ones “living” here for the summer, so my giant green canoe ripples the silvery waters in solitude. Once I find the right spot, I stuff my life vest behind my head and cozy down into the belly of the canoe, book in hand, goofy grin still spread across my flushed face. In the warmth of the sun, I read. In the belly of the canoe, I drift into the history of the lake, the unwritten annals lapping alongside my rocking boat, the portions on record filling the book in my sun-warmed hands.

The author who wrote the history of Silver Lake, William Powers, hiked up with several autographed copies in his rucksack several days after our arrival. He’s a nice man who wrote a nice book. There’s nothing like reading about the history of a place while in the place. Hear me say this clearly: there’s nothing wrong with the nice book this nice man wrote. The stories of Frank Chandler feeling a call from God to build a place for religious camp meetings along Silver Lake’s shores are fascinating, an interesting part of the history of camp meetings that filled the Awakenings throughout the United States. But as I read about Frank Chandler and the various men who the logged roads hikers now hike and built the buildings that haven’t existed for years due to fire, I couldn’t help but notice who was missing. Continue reading “Painting Herstory: Our Lady of Silver Lake by Angela Yarber”

Painting Perpetua and Felicity: Patron Saints of Same-Sex Couples by Angela Yarber

angelaRecently, I realized the heart’s capacity to hold both extreme tragedy and utmost joy simultaneously. Surely this is something I’ve experienced in the past, but both personal and nation-wide events have served as poignant reminders. First, the racism that primarily persists in microaggressive forms—in the underbelly of a society that too often prides itself in the heinous sin of “colorblindness,” claiming that racism no longer exists in the United States—reared its violent head in the most blatant and painful ways in the slaughter of nine innocent people in Charleston. Because the shooting took place in a church, some media outlets have tried to claim that the shooter’s intentions were to attack persons of faith. It is clear, however, based on Dylann Roof’s words, photos, and history, that these killings were hate crimes targeted specifically at black people. Hearts broke. Lives ended. We, as a nation, were reminded, all too soon and yet again, that the lives of black people are valued less. Racism is present, evil, persistent, both blatant and hidden. It is more than hearts can hold.

Only days later SCOTUS ruled that same-sex marriage is now the law of the land. As my wife and I were packing to leave on a year-long journey throughout the country, we had already made copies of our marriage license (from Maryland before North Carolina recognized the legality of our love), two separate adoption decrees because our state did not recognize us as a family when my wife first adopted our child a brief 20 months ago, and all of the other legal paperwork that we could use to “prove” the legitimacy of our family in the case of an emergency (if medical staff wouldn’t permit us both to be in a hospital room with our child, for example). With those files copied and stored neatly in a suitcase, everything changed for us. Now, no matter what state we visit, our family is legally recognized. And while I’d like to think that our paperwork is no longer necessary, I know that the legality of the court’s decision doesn’t automatically change the hearts and minds of everyone in the country. Heteronormativity still reigns supreme. While we rejoiced at the ruling, we simultaneously acknowledged that marriage is only one small step in dismantling straight supremacy. Though countless couples can now marry, receiving all the legal rights and privileges therein, many may still live in states that allow LGBTQs to be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity, where housing may be denied, where hate crime protections do not include sexual orientation or gender identity, and the list could continue. Still many queer people, myself included, found ourselves reveling in utter joy. Continue reading “Painting Perpetua and Felicity: Patron Saints of Same-Sex Couples by Angela Yarber”

Holy Women Icons on Tour: A Motley Crew of Unlikely Saints Hits the Road by Angela Yarber

angelaSeveral months ago I introduced one of my newest Holy Women Icons with a folk feminist twist, the intrepid traveler and passionate nomad, Freya Stark. In writing about her fearless journeys to far-flung places women only dreamed of visiting in the early 1900s, I also shared that my wife, toddler, and I have decided to follow her fierce lead into the seemingly unknown. In less than one month, our journey will begin as we spend an entire year volunteer traveling throughout the United States. We have sold our home. We finish teaching summer courses at the end of the month. And in Freya’s courageous words, we have decided that “it is the beckoning that counts, not the clicking latch behind you.” The beckoning is calling us to live more gently with the earth, do more justice, and to create a more peace-filled world. And we have the privilege of radically altering our lives to follow this beckoning.

This time next month, we’ll be settled into our little pop-up camper in the Green Mountain National Forest of Vermont where we’re volunteering for three months. In the fall, we’ll do the same in the southernmost part of the Shenandoah Valley. December will find our trusty camper—aptly named “Freya Stark”—chugging east to west across the southern parts of the United States, parking in the San Francisco Bay Area so that we can fly to Hawaii to volunteer on an organic farm and lead yoga retreats for the first three months of 2016. Continue reading “Holy Women Icons on Tour: A Motley Crew of Unlikely Saints Hits the Road by Angela Yarber”

Guanyin Revisited: Queer, Pacifist, Vegan Icon by Angela Yarber

Each month, I delight in writing about a revolutionary woman. Whether she is from history or mythology, sharing the stories of my Holy Women Icons with a folk feminist twist is one of my favorite things to do as a feminist, artist, scholar, and clergywoman. Yet, no matter how much research I’ve done, or how many times I’ve taught about an icon, new discoveries are made, revelations within my own heart and mind cracked open, so that there is sometimes the need to revisit a particular holy woman afresh. Such is the case this month with Guanyin. Though I wrote about her nearly two years ago, published a book including her story, and have taught a course with one session focused on her compassion and mercy, I realized that much about her has gone unsaid. Namely, she is an icon for queers, pacifists, and vegans. Before explaining why, let’s have a quick review…

Guanyin is the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy and Compassion. In the Lotus Sutras, she originates from a bodhisattva named Avalokitesyara. Avalokitesyara is identified as male in the Lotus Sutras. Overtime, however, Avalokitesyara transitions from being identified as a male to becoming Guanyin, most often portrayed in feminine terms and referred to as “she.” Many scholars assert that Guanyin is androgynous and can take on the form of any sentient being. And this is how I’ve always written about Guanyin, as the divinely androgynous one who is most often portrayed in feminine form. Continue reading “Guanyin Revisited: Queer, Pacifist, Vegan Icon by Angela Yarber”

Painting Sophia by Angela Yarber

angelaSophia was the first Holy Women Icon with a folk feminist twist I ever painted. A church gallery was hosting a Lenten triptych exhibition with the theme of “The Many Faces of Jesus.” I knew immediately that the face of Jesus I wanted to portray was Sophia wisdom. Sophia is the Greek feminine word for wisdom in the New Testament. Her characteristics are similar to the Hebrew hokhma, but expand in early Christian theology as she is understood as a divine attribute, or part of the trinity. In these ways, sophia is portrayed as a hypostasis of God’s wisdom, or a part of God’s substance. Accordingly, early Trinitarian formulas reference God the father, Jesus the son, and Sophia the spirit. A female spirit was undeniably an early part of the trinity.

It is worth noting that such an early understanding of the trinity, and of an unequivocally feminine spirit, was once normative. The Spirit was understood as and spoken of as a “she.” April DeConick highlights the difficulty of such an understanding today: “[W]hat must be realized is that Judaism and Christianity are the products of centuries of religious developments. So what might have been considered ‘orthodox’ at an early time, a few centuries later might be considered ‘heretical’ because the tradition and practices had drastically changed by then (April DeConick, Holy Misogyny, 7).” What was once orthodox—a female sophia spirit—has slowly, yet intentionally been overshadowed by patriarchal understandings of the trinity and the spirit. Continue reading “Painting Sophia by Angela Yarber”

Painting Deborah by Angela Yarber

angelaDeborah is one of the few women in scripture depicted as a strong leader who does not need the help of a man. The start to Deborah’s story appears bland, a mere introduction to a narrative that will later become juicy, surprising, and even a bit gory. Judges chapter four merely introduces us to a woman named Deborah, a judge over Israel. Judges is a book that records a time when Israel was without a king, so judges had to arbitrate justice, command, lead, and settle disputes. The book of Judges involves a constant downward spiral in which the people of Israel experience God’s grace; they forget God and do evil; they get into trouble and cry out for help; a judge arrives to help; the people get better; the judge dies and the people repeat the cycle.

When Deborah appears on the scene, the people have gotten themselves into trouble. We, as readers, know that because she is a judge, she will deliver them. But it’s easy to pass over Deborah’s uniqueness in reading her seemingly boring introduction. As in most texts, when we take time, we realize there is much more than meets the eye. Continue reading “Painting Deborah by Angela Yarber”

%d bloggers like this: