Solstice Stories : Fire and Ice by Sara Wright

The winter solstice is almost upon us just as the first heavy snow buries the forest and house under 28 inches of snow. I never look forward to this shift into the cold, ice, and snow, although I do wrap myself in peaceful silence, sitting by the fire dreaming as twilight turns to night. My Norfolk Island pine and tipped balsam wreath shimmer with tiny stars. The scent of balsam soothes my senses and purifies the air. This month above all others is my time to honor the trees… I am keenly aware that Bone Woman and Old Man Winter are rising with the moon, whipped up by Northwest winds.

My scientist and naturalist friend, a member of one of the seven Indigenous Sioux tribes agrees with me that winter solstice is a dangerous time, one of the reasons in the old European way that everyone is masked while acting out winter solstice stories. These tales may vary in content but all have the same root. Shadow is on the move. Masks protect the people, the risk of exposure to danger is minimized in this way.

Continue reading “Solstice Stories : Fire and Ice by Sara Wright”

Willful Women, Feminist Killjoys, and Jesus: Reflections on Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life by Liz Cooledge Jenkins

I’ve been thinking about willful women and feminist killjoys—two main guiding images in feminist scholar Sara Ahmed’s book Living a Feminist Life (Duke University Press 2017).

The idea of the willful woman (or willful girl, or willful person) is something I can easily get behind. The way I understand it, it has to do with women getting in touch with our own wills and being willing to speak and act and live out of our wills. Particularly if these wills turn out to exist in opposition to the things other people might will for us.

It’s about learning to stand up for ourselves, learning to affirm our full humanity in a world that often expects…less. It’s a way of consciously, intentionally being willing to be called “willful” as a negative thing—as in, stubborn, selfish, antagonistic, difficult—because the affirmation of our own wills is worth it.

I like all of this and find it helpful. Be willful. Expect pushback and penalties for it. Be willful anyway.

Continue reading “Willful Women, Feminist Killjoys, and Jesus: Reflections on Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life by Liz Cooledge Jenkins”

I’m Not “Fit” to Judge Another Woman’s “Fit”ness by Liz Cooledge Jenkins

In recent conversations around abortion rights—spurred by a leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade—everyone has opinions. The financially comfortable, often-white, often-evangelical women in my circles have opinions. And these opinions often involve the lives and choices of materially poor women and women of color.

            In her recent book The Trouble with White Women: A Counterhistory of Feminism, Rutgers University professor Kyla Schuller profiles seven pairs of feminist activists over the last two hundred years. Each pair includes one woman who operated from a framework of white feminism—a framework that, according to Schuller, “consistently…wins more rights and opportunities for white women through further dispossessing the most marginalized.” And each pair includes a woman who embodied intersectional feminism—a feminism that “expose[s] sexism to be a powerful structure of systemic inequality and attempt[s] to untangle its deep threads with other forms of domination, while also building new practices of care, coalition, faith, and solidarity.”[1] This is not just history but a live tension in the present day.

Continue reading “I’m Not “Fit” to Judge Another Woman’s “Fit”ness by Liz Cooledge Jenkins”

From the Archives: Resistance and the Religious Left by Gina Messina

This was originally posted on June 21, 2017, you can read the original comments here.

For the last forty years, the Christian Right has influenced the conversation in American politics. Where is the Religious Left and how are they impacting our nation’s moral agenda? It is an important question, and now, more than ever, we need a progressive religious viewpoint in the conversation.

We are living in an era where the morality of our society is at stake and the soul of our nation is being bought by billionaires who have an insatiable appetite for money, power, and control. With an alt-right movement growing and nationalism becoming the Trump Administration theme, we are in danger of losing our humanity.

It is time for a serious response to the Christian Right. Why must we associate Christianity with bigoted policies? This ongoing movement has dominated our nation’s political agenda and led to the idea that you are either religious and conservative or liberal and atheist. Don’t get me wrong, every person’s belief system is their own and should not be judged.  However, studies well demonstrate that many Americans are walking away from religion all together because of the Christian Right’s political influence. It is time that Christianity be recognized as more than a conservative movement seeking to highjack policies and victimize the disenfranchised.

The true message of Jesus is founded on love, inclusion, liberation, and social justice. No Christian Right position resembles this. In fact, they are in direct conflict. Rather than focusing on condemning those who are deemed “the other,” why not focus on caring for the poor, welcoming the stranger, and healing the sick?

Likewise, conservative Christian stances have been historically anti-feminist and anti-woman. Those clinging to such beliefs would rather elect a president that has openly discussed grabbing women by the “pussy” than risk giving up privilege.

As the Women’s March has challenged Trump and his policies on gender, an anti-feminist backlash has strengthened with Evangelical women arguing that feminists have created their own oppression by whining rather than taking responsibilities for themselves.

The Christian Right would be surprised to find out that Jesus’ politics and teachings mirror the values of feminism – calling for an end to all oppression and creating a society that is just and fair for every person regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, etc. Jesus welcomed women to his community and women played a critical role in his ministry.  Jesus not only had women disciplines; but also selected women as prominent recipients of his revelation. Most notably, Jesus chose women as the first witnesses of his resurrection. And while the apostles did not believe Mary Magdalene’s testimony, nevertheless, she persisted.

It is time not only for a resistance but a religious resistance where those who try to abide by the message of Jesus stand up to the Christian Right.  I acknowledge that no one is a perfect Christian; we all fail. But what is important is that we recognize the message of the Gospels and keep trying. Thus, we must reject the oppressive regime of the Trump Administration and the bigoted claims of the Christian Right. We must reclaim the Christian faith in its true form and live out its message the way it was intended.

We are living in a difficult time, but let us claim this moment to energize and unify the Religious Left. In the name of the Lord, let us challenge those who manipulate the Christian message as means to claim power and privilege while oppressing everyone else. It is time to make humanity great again.

Abortion Rights (?) by Esther Nelson

Slowly, yet systematically, women, men, and everybody else along the gender continuum, are losing access to a timely, legal, and safe abortion. This is not breaking news. Pushback in the United States against abortion “rights” has been happening in various state legislatures for decades.  These days we find ourselves more and more constricted as laws across the country reflect a tightening of accessibility to what some people refer to as a “scourge” in the land.

My first-ever blog post on FAR (March 2014) wrestled with the subject of abortion.  In that essay (one that’s still relevant), I suggest we broaden our thinking about a subject that has polarized Americans. Is abortion (a) right?  Is it wrong? The two sides have become entrenched.


Continue reading “Abortion Rights (?) by Esther Nelson”

Let’s talk about Mary Magdalene and her new film by Anjeanette LeBoeuf

In keeping in line with my last month’s post, movies are on the docket, 2018’s Mary Magdalene. It’s fairly recent with not a lot of discussion around it. Here we go. The film written by two women, Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett, focuses on Mary of Magdala who encounters Jesus. The film stars American Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus.

Continue reading “Let’s talk about Mary Magdalene and her new film by Anjeanette LeBoeuf”

What If Jesus Is Dead (And It’s A Good Thing)? by Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee

Bear with me.

I know that most Christians accept some version of the idea that Jesus, the person, died, and then ‘rose from the dead’ in a supernatural, miraculous way – probably the most common definition of what Christians celebrate at Easter. I grew up in progressive Christian churches, where I, too, was taught this idea, which I found fascinating and inspiring. Many people (both Christians and others) still find it healing and inspirational; and I want to state clearly that I think that’s well and good.


What I would like to suggest, however, is that this approach may miss the main point of Easter, of resurrection, and of these narratives. Here goes.

Continue reading “What If Jesus Is Dead (And It’s A Good Thing)? by Tallessyn Zawn Grenfell-Lee”

Resistance and the Religious Left by Gina Messina

Gina Messina-Dysert CGUFor the last forty years, the Christian Right has influenced the conversation in American politics. Where is the Religious Left and how are they impacting our nation’s moral agenda? It is an important question, and now, more than ever, we need a progressive religious viewpoint in the conversation.

We are living in an era where the morality of our society is at stake and the soul of our nation is being bought by billionaires who have an insatiable appetite for money, power, and control. With an alt-right movement growing and nationalism becoming the Trump Administration theme, we are in danger of losing our humanity. Continue reading “Resistance and the Religious Left by Gina Messina”

Make Humanity Great Again by Gina Messina

Gina-MD-5-UrsulineThe Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu has become my latest guilty pleasure.  I rarely watch television and when I do my channel is set to MSNBC. But the news has been almost too much to handle.  I still find myself living in disbelief that we are a nation under the Trump Administration.  And it seems that if you miss one day of the news cycle, you’ve missed a year with all the Trumptastic failures that continue to arise.

I decided one night to switch over to this series I had heard so much about. I was instantly gripped by the plot and the eerie reminder of what our nation could become with a growing alt right population. And with social policy continually being utilized as a weapon against women’s rights, there are many parallels to draw with The Handmaid’s Tale and our supposed “Christian” Nation. Even escapism landed me back in the frightening reality of our world.

81% of Evangelicals and 65% of Catholics voted Trump into the White House. While some argue faith has no place in politics, the real issue is that most do not vote with their faith in mind. Or perhaps they do, but the foundation of the Christian tradition is lost on them. Like the characters in The Handmaid’s Tale, many God-fearing Christians live “under His eye” and see progressive attitudes as a threat to natural order. The response is to overlook hatred in favor of calming fears. We fear what we do not know, we fear those who think differently than we do, and that fear has taken a hold of our nation with encouragement from our POTUS 45. Continue reading “Make Humanity Great Again by Gina Messina”

Desierto Divino: Messages from the Earth by Elisabeth Schilling

image1-1I have been thinking about deserts lately, what places are desired, which ones are deserted, and by whom. Cabo de Gata of Andalusia is one of the four deserts in Spain. In 2010, it became public knowledge that the Ministry of Development planned to locate a nuclear waste dump there. The last I have heard was that they had ordered a feasibility survey with nuclear scientists, but I can find no other updates. Why would the government and academic institutions penetrate a protected region, sacred for its ecological richness and beauty? The dump would be created 1,000 meters below the surface where the radiation would be dissolved (so they said) and then carried into the sea. Whether we hide waste inside the earth or shoot it up into space or keep it in someone else’s backyard, when will we pause?

The earth never runs out of messages. But humans as a species have lost touch with this reality. The majority of the human population lives in urban areas where we consume and live processed lives. It is no wonder too few of us make grand changes in our lives concerning excessive consumerism and waste. How can we think of what we do not encounter? Milk is disassociated from its bovine origins for many, and trash is dropped off at the curb for someone else to deal with.

Even many of the items we own were made in factories in lands far off, where people have to deal with the waste to the detriment of their own environments. But who cares? That air will never reach us. The vegetation most city-dwellers (and so most humans) are familiar with is the plants and trees used to ornament lawns and landscaped neighborhood streets (when we are that lucky). This is why the desert, and any rural area, might be our saving grace.

Etymologically, the term “desert” connotes with “abandonment”: it refers to a place that was deserted. Perhaps thankfully so. The harsh conditions of the areas we modernly refer to as deserts have been inhospitable to profit and capitalism. One only needs take a road trip down I-40 in the U.S. to see vast expanses of desert, empty (from only one perspective) land. Even gas stations are few and far between.

Yet here is the paradox: in the isolation of the desert, perhaps we can learn how to become closer to one another, to heal our relationships, all of them. We can only see each other, notice the sky. When we are no longer distracted and disillusioned, looking down at our shoes and swallowed by our navel-gazing minds, nature reflects our own goodness to us, the sacredness that we have forgotten. In the city, we have broken almost all the mirrors and muted all the echoes. Continue reading “Desierto Divino: Messages from the Earth by Elisabeth Schilling”

Making Room for Joy this Advent by Katey Zeh

cwico_oeuis-nikola-jelenkovicDriving around my town in North Carolina, I have come across a handful of houses that had decorated their yards with an empty manger staged in front of an empty cross. This juxtaposition of Christian symbols struck me as peculiar, so I began asking some of my friends if they had ever come across a display like this.

My Catholic friends were helpful in understanding the empty manger, which I could recall having seen previously. Traditionally Catholics wait until the Christmas midnight mass to place the baby Jesus in the manger. If Advent is a season of expectation of the Christ child, this liturgical practice makes sense. But what about the cross behind it?

I believe this stark manager and cross scene was intended to emphasize a theology centered around atonement: Jesus was born, so that he could die and save humanity. These combined symbols are somber reminders to all who drive by of our own sinfulness and need for salvation. I’m intimately familiar with this particular understanding of Christianity, so this wasn’t surprising.

But still, I find myself deeply saddened by this display of the empty and isolated symbols. Continue reading “Making Room for Joy this Advent by Katey Zeh”

If Jesus Ran for President by Gina Messina

Gina Messina-Dysert profileIf Jesus ran for president, what would his campaign look like?  Where would he stand on social policy? Who would be his running mate? Who would (not) vote for him?  With our current political dialogue dominated by supposed Christian views and a nation that overwhelmingly claims the teachings of Jesus as the basis for its morality, what would the response be if we came face to face with the (unintentional) founder of the tradition?  How would we really respond to Jesus’ teachings in contemporary society? And maybe more frightening, how would Jesus respond to us?

Imagine that Jesus was in the US today and launched his bid for the Whitehouse. Don’t imagine him announcing on the deck of an Aircraft Carrier, he’s more of a Homeless Shelter guy. Would he be the conservative “Christian” he is often labeled by the right? Would he be a Democrat as so many book titles have claimed? A libertarian? Green party? How do his teachings measure up with the various political parties and would there be room for Jesus at any of their tables?

What would Jesus think of our current and past presidents, nearly all whom have invoked the Lord’s name during their time in office.  What would he think of both Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush claiming that God wanted them to run for POTUS?  What about Bush’s (and Ronald Reagan’s) claim that God guided all of his policy making decisions while in office? And what about Barack Obama’s statement that when it comes to his politics, at the end of the day, “God is in control”?

Although not bringing God into the conversation would be career suicide for any politician and a large population of voters in the US claim a Christian identity, few would actually vote for Jesus if he ran for president.  Many of the values and ideologies associated with Christian views are in direct contrast to the teachings of Jesus.  For one, Jesus was anti-materialistic and we are living in one of the most gluttonous nations in the world.  Let me say upfront, I am guilty.  I have an unhealthy obsession with handbags and little makes me happier than a good sale at Nordstrom. I own it. But that doesn’t change who Jesus was or his teachings. Even if he was alive today I don’t think Jesus would be swayed by Nordstrom—-although I have seen amazing sandals there.

We have adopted Jesus as an American Icon, and in doing so, have twisted his words and teachings to support our own ideas.  It’s enough to make one think those WWJD bumper stickers stand for “What Wouldn’t Jesus Do?” And so, if Jesus did run for President, it is impossible to imagine, in a country that has adopted him as its icon and claims a “Christian” identity, that Jesus would ever be elected. His understanding, loving  approach would probably bar him from even getting a reality show—which appears to be key for a presidential resume these days.

Jesus Tweet

That’s right.  Likely no Christian would vote for Jesus and most would attack him for his teachings and politics – yes, Jesus was highly political. Some might like his message, but the media would label him unelectable and the GOP would go after him for being a left-wing, pro-union, welfare supporting, Obamacare enthusiast and democrats would argue that Jesus is a nice guy but doesn’t know a thing about running a country. If it came down to it, and the country was under threat, Jesus would never push the red button. Both would rather him be a mascot for their campaigns – “Jesus the carpenter” – AKA the new “Joe the Plumber.”

While Jesus the American Icon might have a chance in a presidential election, Jesus the Jewish carpenter of the Gospels would be laughed off the ballot.

This article is an excerpt from  If Jesus Ran for President coming from the Far Press in Fall, 2016 and was co-written with Steven Mazan.comingspring 2016

Gina Messina, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Religion and Gender Studies at Ursuline College and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion. She writes for The Huffington Post, has authored multiple publications and is the co-editor of the highly acclaimed Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay. Messina is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the world. Messina is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter @FemTheologian, Facebook, and her website

What If Jesus Had Gone to Daycare? by Katey Zeh

Screenshot 2015-12-08 09.47.34

As a maternal health advocate, I cherish the season of Advent as an opportunity to connect a beloved Christian story to the lives of women today who struggle to bring new life into the world under horrific circumstances. Every year I write something about Mary’s pregnancy and birth. In many ways she is no different from the “Marys” around the world who are young, poor, and unexpectedly pregnant, and who go on to give birth in unclean environments. I often pose the question to communities of faith, wasn’t the Christmas miracle equally that Mary survived the birth? How different would Jesus’s life have been if he’d never known his mother?

I continue asking these questions, but after my daughter was born last October, I have found my Advent reflections shifting to mirror my own parenting experiences. I began to think beyond Mary’s birth and into her early months of motherhood. One morning last December, after a particularly awful night’s sleep, I came downstairs to hear “Away in a Manger” playing on the radio. When it got to the line “But little Lord Jesus/No crying he makes,” I rolled my eyes dramatically and pictured Mary doing the same as she bounced a screaming baby Jesus in her arms. Continue reading “What If Jesus Had Gone to Daycare? by Katey Zeh”

On the Syrian Refugee Crisis: Unity not Fear by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileIn the midst of the Syrian refugee crisis, our humanity is being tested and we are not fairing so well.  Twenty-six US senators have called to refuse entry for refugees in their states, presidential candidate and governor of my home state of Ohio, John Kasich included.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan who claims to be deeply committed to Catholic social teaching, argues that we must “pause” in responding to Syrian refugees so there can be greater scrutiny.

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has also continued his deplorable speech and xenophobia saying “How come they never end up in the neighborhood where the limousine liberal lives? …Behind gated communities and with armed security around. Mrs. Clinton, you have suggested we take in 65,000 refugees. How many can we bring to your neighborhood in Chappaqua?” Continue reading “On the Syrian Refugee Crisis: Unity not Fear by Gina Messina-Dysert”

On Staying and Leaving by Katey Zeh

Katey HeadshotThe pastor couldn’t have been more than five minutes into his sermon when I starting getting antsy. I leaned over to my husband and whispered, “He needs to be careful with this.” We were visiting a new church, an experience that nearly always puts me on edge. Whenever I attend a worship service for the first time, I come prepared with my mental checklist of liturgical offenses, ready to check each one off, so I can tally them up later and justify why we need to eliminate yet another congregation from our list of possibilities.

I recognize that my attitude about church is downright terrible, and that if I want to participate in a faith community, I have to find a way to deal with this impulse to judge so quickly and fiercely. Up until that point I had been working really hard that morning not to go to that negative place in my mind. If that meant cutting the pastor some slack, then so be it. “Give him a chance,” I said to myself.

The sermon was the first in a series about church membership and was loosely inspired by the story found in both Mark and Matthew in which a man is healed of demons which Jesus casts into a herd of pigs.  When the man begs to stay with Jesus, Jesus says that he must go back to his community and share about how God had healed him. The pastor spoke about this as an example of when God calls us not to a new place, but to remain where we are. To stay put.

The pastor spoke about his own affinity for fleeing,  how almost like clockwork every four years he gets the itch to move to a new place. Speaking to a congregation of mostly young adults, he talked about the generational shift among millennials who unlike their older counterparts no longer expect to live in a single place for their entire lives, nor to work for a single employer for their entire careers. Millennials, of which I am technically a part, have grown so accustomed to upheaval and transition that fleeing has become our default mechanism for coping with boredom, conflict, and discomfort. When the going gets tough, the millennials get going…out the door.

This trend among young people is particularly alarming for institutions like the church, so it’s no wonder that a pastor preaching a sermon on church membership would focus on it. He talked about how over the last few decades our collective understanding of what it means to be a regular church attendee has shifted from showing up weekly to showing up a few times a year. To commit to a church, the pastor continued, means that we agree to show up and stay put.

Remain where you are.  Commit. 

Gazing  around the packed room I looked at all of the women, men, and children taking in his words. How many of them, I wondered, were in situations of abuse that they are trying to flee? What were these words on the virtue of staying put doing to them? Didn’t the pastor know that this was the first Sunday in October, and that it was Domestic Violence Awareness Month? I prayed a quick prayer that his words wouldn’t cause them harm.

Stay put.  Commit. 

As he continued talking, I couldn’t help but return to that my mental checklist of typical church behavior that irritates me: a white, privileged man not acknowledging his bias, referencing only biblical men, male scholars, and other male ministers. Check. Check. Check! The more he talked, the more agitated I became. But since the sermon was about staying, I stayed even though his words made me squirm. I listened even though I wanted to disengage completely. I tried my best to give him the benefit of the doubt. I waited patiently for the caveat that would surely come. But it never did.

Resist the urge to flee. Commit.On Staying

I’ve grown weary of the notion that church decline is due solely to my generation’s fear of commitment and nomadic tendencies. It’s also that we no longer subscribe to the notion that we ought to preserve the institution for the institution’s sake. As I’ve journeyed with my sisters and brothers who have made the decision to leave the church, I have witnessed their arduous struggle to break free. Sometimes leaving is a moment to be both grieved and celebrated at the same time.

Over the last few weeks I’ve had difficult, important conversations with close friends and colleagues  who are in the midst of huge transitions in their lives.  In their own ways, each of them has mustered up the strength to move on from their present circumstances, either to seek something they desperately need or to leave behind something that is sucking them dry. None of them is doing so without tremendous courage.

I know that this pastor had every good intention. In many ways his words were a much needed counterbalance to a culture that lures us into a perpetual search for “elsewhere.” But I also know that “for everything there is a season,” and there is both a time to stay and a time to leave. We must honor both.

Katey Zeh, M.Div is a strategist, writer, and educator who inspires intentional communities to create a more just, compassionate world through building connection, sacred truth telling, and striving for the common good. In 2010 Zeh launched the first and only denominationally-sponsored advocacy campaign focused on improving global reproductive health for The United Methodist Church. She has written extensively about global maternal health, family planning, and women’s sacred worth for outlets including Huffington Post, Sojourners, Religion Dispatches, Response magazine, the Good Mother Project, Mothering Matters, the Journal for Feminist Studies in Religion, and the United Methodist News Service.  Find her on Twitter at @ktzeh or on her website

Homoerotic Jesus at Pride Parades? This Christian Says, “Yes, Please!” by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir

Trelawney bio pictureRecently, some Christian communities have been angrily sharing these photos of lesbian and gay Jesus figures from Brazil’s pride parade in Sao Paolo. Conservative Christians tend to denounce anything to do with Pride as part of their general rejection of any celebration of LGBTQ folks as equally in the divine image. However, some progressive Christians and queer Christians have also expressed that they are offended by these images, which they characterize as “extreme,” because they believe the people in the Pride parade intended to offend Christians by insulting Christianity.

I love them. To me, these images express powerful theology: Jesus as gay, lesbian, a lover, fully human, present in homoeroticism… I find these images beautiful and powerful. I’m also not sure these queer Jesus folks are merely trying to cause offense. Maybe they are trying to cause shock; however, I see these acts as a positive statement rather than a negative one. I see these depictions of queer Jesus as a powerful statement about how Jesus is crucified whenever any oppressed group or person is denigrated, excluded, subjugated, or harmed by the more powerful community. People have previously compared Jesus to victims of homophobic hate crime such as Matthew Shepard and noted that such violence is widespread and comparatively socially acceptable. Continue reading “Homoerotic Jesus at Pride Parades? This Christian Says, “Yes, Please!” by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir”

Thinking Out Loud About Protecting Our Borders and the Ebola Crisis by Kelly Brown Douglas

Rev.-Dr.-Kelly-Brown-DouglasJust as crises can reveal the strengths of our infrastructure, so too can they reveal the weaknesses.  At the same time, a crisis can disclose the enormity as well as the limitations of our humanity.  Even as the current Ebola crisis may have shown forth the strong points of the U.S. healthcare infrastructure, it clearly exposed some of its vulnerabilities.

The same can be said in relation to our humanity. From the time that Mr. Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed with the Ebola virus, cries to close “the borders” to those traveling from West Africa began. As two of Mr. Duncan’s caretakers contracted the virus, the cries to close “the borders” between the “United States” and West Africa became shrill.

The futility and impracticality of such a measure seems to make little difference to those who call for closed borders.  At stake, they say, is the health and wellbeing of our U.S. citizenry.  Even when marked by sincere concern, I find the call to close U.S. borders a troubling indication of the limitations of our humanity.   A story in the life of Jesus makes this plain.

In the social-religious context of Jesus’ day, there was a long history of conflict between Jews and Samaritans. Jews had constructed images of Samaritans as an indecent and ritually impure people. Samaritan women were considered the most impure of them all. Multiple narratives of power intersected on the bodies of Samaritan women—ethnic, gender, and cultural. Put simply, they represented at once an inferior “race,” gender and religion.  Thus, the social spaces of Jewish men and Samaritan women were to remain separate.  Jewish men in particular had to protect themselves from the contamination of Samaritan women.  Generally speaking, Samaritans were a feared and thus demonized people.

By most accounts, Jesus did not have to pass through Samaria on his journey from Judea to Galilee. This was considered a circuitous route.  It was also considered a dangerous route given the antagonism between Jews and Samaritans.  Again, Samaritans were considered dangerous enemies to the Jews, and most certainly ritually impure. However, Jesus crossed the borders into Samaritan space anyway. By going into Samaria, Jesus placed himself in the midst of those most feared, if not demonized, in the Jewish world.  He ignored all the prevailing animus directed toward the Samaritans and dismissed notions of them as an unclean and dangerous people. He flagrantly rejected the social-religious hysteria about Samaritans by going out of his way to enter their space.  He refused to let the “madness” of his times to blind him to the divine humanity of the Samaritans, or to overwhelm his own divine humanity.  He, therefore, crossed the constructed human borders to bring healing and salvation to the Samaritan woman. This story is of course only representative of a ministry that consistently crossed borders of fear and stereotypes to affirm the humanity of those who were lepers in Jesus’ day.  Simply put, Jesus’ compassion was no respecter of borders. Continue reading “Thinking Out Loud About Protecting Our Borders and the Ebola Crisis by Kelly Brown Douglas”

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”

Resurrection Garden, Resurrection Feast by Elizabeth Cunningham

Elizabeth Cunningham headshot jpegIn John’s account of the Resurrection, Mary Magdalen mistakes Jesus for the gardener.  Or perhaps it is not a mistake or not just a mistake but also a poetic truth. In any event, John’s Gospel makes clear:  the Resurrection takes place in a garden!

(For the feminist significance of horticulture, I refer you to Carol Christ’s recent post on this site: Women and Weeding, the first 10,000 years .)

Many  prominent (male) theologians, historians, anthropologists, and psychoanalysts among them James Frazer, Jung, and C.S. Lewis made the case for and/or against (in Lewis’ case) Jesus being another dying rising god of vegetation with Christianity borrowing imagery and ritual from earlier or even contemporary cults. The argument against insists that Jesus’s life, death and resurrection is historical, redemptive, and unique.  From a tour of Bloglandia, the debate pro and con appears to continue unabated.  I say better to pull weeds (if you are lucky enough to have a garden) than pontificate. Continue reading “Resurrection Garden, Resurrection Feast by Elizabeth Cunningham”

Crucifixion, Resurrection, and the Reversal of Power by Kelly Brown Douglas

Rev.-Dr.-Kelly-Brown-Douglas - Version 2

Within the Christian tradition, this week – l known as Holy Week – is perhaps the most significant week on the Christian calendar.  During this week Christians are called to contemplate and to remember the core events of Christian identity—the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  Given the focus of this week for many Christians I am sharing my theological reflections on the crucifixion-resurrection event.

As I begin this reflection, it is important to recall that which I and others have pointed out in other places. In Jesus’ first century Roman world crucifixion was reserved for slaves, enemy soldiers and those held in the highest contempt and with lowest regard in society. To be crucified was, for the most part, an indication of how worthless and devalued by established power an individual was.  It also indicated how much of a threat that person was believed to be to the order of things. There was a decided crucified class of people. These were essentially the castigated and demonized as well as the ones who defied the status quo of power. It is in this respect that I believe Jesus’ crucifixion affirms his identification with the marginalized and outcasts. Indeed, on the cross Jesus fully divests himself of all pretensions to power and anything that would compromise his bond with those most othered in the world. The reality of the cross further affirms the profundity of god’s bond with put-upon bodies..

Continue reading “Crucifixion, Resurrection, and the Reversal of Power by Kelly Brown Douglas”

The Black Christ by Kelly Brown Douglas

Rev.-Dr.-Kelly-Brown-Douglas - Version 2As a “Christian womanist theologian” I was very engaged by the recent dialogue concerning “Gendered Imagery of God” (March 13).  In response to that very thoughtful post, it was asserted that Christian womanist have not addressed this issue, especially as it concerns the maleness of Jesus.  In fact, christological concerns have been a central focus within womanist theology, particularly given the centrality of  Jesus and the cross for the black faith tradition. With this being the case, the maleness of Jesus has not been ignored. It has been addressed by womanist religious scholars from the early beginnings of womanist theological reflection. This issue, however, has emerged not from a discussion of God or Christ apart from issues of “survival and wholeness” for the black community, male and female. Continue reading “The Black Christ by Kelly Brown Douglas”

Waiting for Jesus… I mean, Superman by Melinda Bielas

mindy BielasI grew up in a white-middleclass-fundamentalist-Protestant community. As a result I learned to think of God as my Father, and Jesus as my savior, similar to the fairytale prince in shinning armor or the ultimate boyfriend. As an undergraduate studying Religious Studies, I learned of other ways to relate to the Divine and discovered how to be a Feminist Christian. However, many women with backgrounds like mine do not have the opportunities that I did to discover different and liberating pictures of God. As a result they must choose between a religious life that enforces patriarchal norms, or life as a “secular” feminist. A recent song by a modern rock band, Daughtry, “Waiting for Superman,” reveals how the dependence on a male savior prevents Christian women from claiming their own personhood, independent of a patriarch. Continue reading “Waiting for Jesus… I mean, Superman by Melinda Bielas”

Lust in the Heart by Linn Marie Tonstad

Linn Marie TonstadLove the sinner, hate the sin. We are all familiar with the bludgeon this statement represents in Christian circles. It functions as a way to maintain one’s goodness and Christlikeness (supposedly!), while simultaneously condemning and persecuting those who find themselves drawn to live lives outside the constraints of heteronormativity in all its variations. The statement hardly needs to be deconstructed – it proves its own emptiness in relation to the way sexuality is understood as identity in the contemporary context. (There are Foucaultian reasons to be unhappy with this understanding of sexuality – one of the disciplinary functions of power on his account is the desire to find a name that will express one’s true identity – but we’ll save that for another day.)

Instead, I think we should consider a much more fundamental contradiction in the way Christian churches today speak and think about sexuality. In many mainline congregations in the US-European context, the debate has been framed around celibacy versus “practice” for persons identifying as gay and lesbian. Excluding the fringe ex-gay movement and its horrors, there are three typical positions that churches take up. One, celibate gays and lesbians may participate fully in church life. Two, married and monogamous gays and lesbians may participate fully in church life. Three, neither marriage nor monogamy are required for gays and lesbians (or anyone else) – the latter is perhaps not a frequent position for churches to take, at least officially, other than in the MCC. For most mainline denominations, the fault line lies between those who assert the ‘vocation’ of celibacy for gay and lesbian persons, and those who permit marriage. Continue reading “Lust in the Heart by Linn Marie Tonstad”

My Mother and My God by Erin Lane

Erin LaneI met Jesus at the age of four.

In my memory it happened like this: I’m lying on my back with the faded rose and ivy comforter of my parent’s four-post bed beneath me, and my head is dangling off the edge. Charlie is there, just a few years older than I but already my idol. And my recently born-again Mom. She is glowing, and talking fast, giddy but sane as day.

She tells me about this Jesus,  this Jesus who I can talk to, this Jesus who already talks to her. I do not know her exact words. But I know that if she loves him, I can, too. Continue reading “My Mother and My God by Erin Lane”

Truth and Consequences–This Feminist’s Perspective? by Marcia Mount Shoop

Marcia headshotIn John’s Gospel, Pilate’s response to Jesus’ self-identification as the one who “came into the world to testify to the truth” is a simple question:  “What is truth?”  His question hangs in the air as he moves from that conversation to the throngs he sought to please.  Pilate took the temperature of that crowd to decide Jesus’ fate even though he, himself, found no reason to charge Jesus with a crime.  Pilate asks the question from a position of power—literally holding life and death in the ambivalence and maybe even in the sincerity of his words.

The “t” word has been center stage in our collective conversation of late with Lance Armstrong’s Oprah-event confession  and the Manti Te‘o girlfriend-dying-of-cancer hoax at Notre Dame .   The Internet is abuzz with reactions to both confessional moments.  Lance Armstrong’s confession apparently didn’t play well with the general public.   And people are weighing in about whether Manti Te‘o could really be so naïve or if he just didn’t know how to tell everyone the truth when the story got out of hand.   Continue reading “Truth and Consequences–This Feminist’s Perspective? by Marcia Mount Shoop”

BOOK REVIEW: Jonathan Merritt’s A Faith of Our Own by Gina Messina-Dysert

Have you been a victim of the “Culture Wars”?  Jonathan Merritt was, and it inspired him to write his latest book A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars.  According to Merritt, the culture wars have led each of us (who identify as Christian) to define Christ in terms of our political party.  The Religious Right have claimed a political and pietistic Christ who must be protected from liberals who have sought to chase Jesus out of our “God-Blessed” nation.  And Christians on the left have fought against the oppressive theocracy they believe the right wing seeks to implement.  Neither side’s Jesus likes the other, and according to Merritt, neither represents the Jesus of the Bible.

Merritt argues that participating in politics foolishly gets churches into trouble and results in a divide within community.  Christians must answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” for themselves.  By transcending the culture wars, we can return to the Bible, see Jesus with “fresh eyes,” and find a “faith of our own.”  Merritt explains Christians who are reclaiming their faith are doing so in search of life transformation and unity among those once divided by politics. Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: Jonathan Merritt’s A Faith of Our Own by Gina Messina-Dysert”

The Power of Feminist Rituals by Grace Yia-Hei Kao

“These were very simple rituals and yet they were so powerful.”

Jeanette Stokes’ 25 Years in the Garden is on my bedside table. It’s a book I read several years ago with a small group of feminist Christians when I was living in Blacksburg, Virginia. The following passage from one of her essays got me to thinking back to the 2012 PANAAWTM conference (Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry) I had attended just two weeks ago:

“Rituals are part of everyday lives: reading the newspaper, checking the weather, waiting for the mail to come, or talking with a family member at the end of the day. Rituals can also mark the extraordinary events in our lives: the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, a birthday, marriage, anniversary, or divorce” (Stokes, 2002, p. 37).

Continue reading “The Power of Feminist Rituals by Grace Yia-Hei Kao”

Interlocking Pieces and the Maleness of Jesus: Exegeting the “America’s Pope’s” Statement on Gay Marriage and Ordination of Women By Michele Stopera Freyhauf

On a 20/20 interview, posted August 21, 2011, Morley Safer interviewed the Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan.  Dolan is also referred to as “America’s Pope.”  In this article, Safer calls him a scholar and a “passionate defender” of issues that he considered to be “settled questions.”  These settled questions? Gay marriage and women’s ordination.

Gay Marriage: Incest, “Necessary Attributes,” and Interlocking Pieces

Dolan makes an unbelievable comparison of gay marriage to the desire to marry his mother:  “I love my mom, I don’t have the right to marry her.”  He further compared gay marriage to his desire to be a shortstop for the Yankees, which is not possible because he does not have “what it takes.”  Both analogies Dolan uses give a clear indication that he does not understand what a committed relationship looks like for a gay couple.  Many in society share this ignorance.  In fact during my daughter’s health class, at a public school no less, she was told that sex was only between a man and a woman because they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.  Not only does this fail on words, it lays the foundation for bullying, repression of identity, sexual confusion, and problems for children who are members of a modern family.  Besides, last time I checked not all puzzles have interlocking pieces.   Continue reading “Interlocking Pieces and the Maleness of Jesus: Exegeting the “America’s Pope’s” Statement on Gay Marriage and Ordination of Women By Michele Stopera Freyhauf”

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