“Embracing the Other,” presentation by Grace Ji-Sun Kim at Christian Feminism Today Gathering

Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim

LogoTransAnother challenging, inspiring presentation at the 2016 Christian Feminism Today Gathering was “Embracing the Other” by Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim. Grace drew from her new book, Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love. GraceBook

Grace begins with a statement of the importance of narrative theology: “Theology is biography; biography is theology.” She then tells her story of growing up with racism in school and sexism in the church.

GracePresentation1Born in Korea, Grace immigrated to Canada with her family in 1975 when she was five years old. That year, when she was in kindergarten, she had her first experience of racism. She remembers the pain she felt from the racial slurs directed at her and her Korean friends. Children bullied her and her Korean friends because of the way they looked, talked, and dressed. This racial bullying continued through much of her time in elementary school. Some people in white dominant society continue to treat her as different because of the color of her skin and the shape of her eyes.

Grace also talks about her experiences of sexism in the church she grew up in and in other churches since. “Asian American women’s leadership within the church and faith community is not highly regarded or is often met with resistance, and it is difficult for ordained women ministers to serve within Asian congregations,” Grace writes in Embracing the Other. “The roots of patriarchy are often theological, as male clergy seek to keep women in subordinate positions, quoting the Apostle Paul. . . without considering the cultural context and worship practices of the early Christian movement. The ‘white masculine’ ideal unveils not only the problem of racism, but the problem of patriarchy. While there is an inordinate amount of injustice and oppression towards people of color in our societies, women and girls are often the most vulnerable victims of oppression.”

GraceRacismSexismAt the Christian Feminism Today Gathering, Grace continues to emphasize the interlocking oppressions of racism and sexism. She illustrates with the horrific treatment of “comfort women” during World War II. These Korean women captured during the war became sexual slaves to serve the desires of Japanese soldiers. Some of these “comfort women” were young teenagers when they were taken from their families and raped 50-60 times a day. Many of the women died of disease or were killed when they were of no more use to the men. Tragically, Asian American women continue to suffer from racism and sexism. They are “doubly bound” by the racism and patriarchy of Western culture and the patriarchy of their own culture, which expects women to be quiet, subordinate, and submissive. Grace also talks about the current horrible practice of human trafficking that continues to make “sex slaves” of women and girls of Asian descent who are objectified as Other.

Asian Americans, Grace points out, also suffer from the designations of “model minority” and “honorific whites.” The model minority image depicts Asian Americans as self-reliant, hard-working, successful, and assimilating. While on the surface appearing to aid Asian Americans, this model minority narrative hurts them by denying the existence of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans and by pitting them against African Americans, Latino/as, and other people of color. Grace mentions that some people have discounted her story by telling her that she hasn’t really experienced racism. The term “honorific whites” also damages Asian Americans, implying a hierarchy of people by race and ethnicity with whites as the best and others perceived as almost like whites as second best. This term implies that whites are superior and that all need to strive to become like whites.

GraceBlurGrace asks how the church should respond to all this racism and sexism in our culture. Some, she says, are leaving the church because of the sexism and racism they find within the church. In Embracing the Other, she writes: “The church needs to wake up from its slumber and prophetically confront the sins of racism and sexism in our society today. . . . If we sit around and do nothing, we are permitting racism and sexism to exist and grow, because we do not insist that oppressing others because of their race or gender is contrary to Christian beliefs. How do we eliminate this oppression and achieve justice and shalom for all humanity and all creation? How can we join in deep solidarity with the freedom struggles of women and people of color?”

In her book and in her presentation at the Christian Feminism Today Gathering, Grace explores the power of the Spirit in helping us in our work of healing and justice. She outlines four steps to follow to begin embracing the Other.

(1) Overcome the doubt as to whether Jesus really wanted us to embrace the Other.

(2) Overcome the fear of the unknown. We are afraid to embrace those who are different from us and not build walls.

(3) Spend the energy, time, and commitment to embrace people. Embracing is not a verbal proclamation. It’s not a simple act of getting to know another. It requires patient and persistent love.

(4) We need to open ourselves to the Spirit who moves within us to move us to embrace those who are different from us, to embrace the Other.

Concluding her presentation, Grace challenges us to build a global understanding of Spirit. Spirit is associated with breath, wind, and life-giving energy. Spirit is the life energy we find throughout the world. Chinese call it “Chi” or “Qi”; Japanese call it “Ki”; Hindus call it “Prana.” In the Hebrew Bible Spirit is Ruah, bringing forth life and nourishing and sustaining life. The Spirit is associated with rice, the most essential thing for life, in Korea. Jesus sent the Spirit as the helper to lead us as we seek to love and be reconciled with the Other. The Spirit lives within us, empowering us to work toward the emancipation of all. Because Spirit is foundational to traditions around the world, this theology of Spirit can provide a more holistic understanding of Deity and human beings that extends beyond skin tones, culture, religion, and power within society. In Embracing the Other, Grace writes: “This theology of Spirit is more inclusive and welcoming of outsiders, women, and people of different ethnicities—those who may be subjugated or Othered.”

 

At the Christian Feminism Today Gathering, I had the honor of introducing Grace to give this plenary presentation. Here’s what I said:

”It is my joy and honor this evening to introduce Grace Ji-Sun Kim. I’ve been impressed with Grace since we were first together in a Divine Feminine focus group at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon, Canada, and several years later as we co-led a presentation at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York city. There in New York we began talking about collaborating on a book on intercultural ministry. It’s been great to work with Grace for more than a year on this book titled Intercultural Ministry: Hope for a Changing World. We’re excited to announce that Judson Press will publish this book next spring. Grace is currently working on three other books. Not only is she a prolific author, but also she is a popular speaker and social justice activist nationally and internationally. Grace does amazing work in the world.

Grace received her MDiv from Knox College and her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, and she currently serves as Associate Professor of Theology at Earlham School of Religion. She is an ordained minister of word and sacrament within the Presbyterian Church (USA). She is the author or editor of 10 books, including Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love; Colonialism, Han and the Transformative Spirit; The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology; The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology; and Contemplations from the Heart: Spiritual Reflections on Family, Community, and the Divine. Grace also writes for The Huffington Post, Sojourners, EthicsDaily.com, Wabash Center and Feminist Studies in Religion, which she co-edits.

Grace serves on the American Academy of Religion’s (AAR) “Research Grants Jury Committee.” She is also a co-chair of AAR’s steering committee, “Women of Color Scholarship, Teaching and Activism Group.” She is a steering committee member of AAR’s “Comparative Theology Group” and “Religion and Migration Group.” More of her work can be found at http://gracejisunkim.wordpress.com/.”

 

 

 

 

 

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“If Eve Only Knew: Finding Hope in the Midst of Change,” workshop facilitated by Kendra Weddle Irons and Melanie Springer Mock at Christian Feminism Today Gathering

Dr. Melanie Springer Mock & Dr. Kendra Weddle Irons

Dr. Melanie Springer Mock & Dr. Kendra Weddle Irons

In the wake of the horrific violence of the last few weeks, Kendra Weddle Irons raises important questions few others are raising. In the blog “Ain’t I a Woman,” which Kendra co-authors with Melanie Springer Mock, Kendra asks: “Have you noticed the one constant that lies at the heart of the violence we continue to witness? Do you ever wonder why women are seldom the perpetrators of violence and instead are most often the ones who suffer from it?”

As I read Kendra’s blogpost, I thought not only about the widely reported acts of violence, but also of the seldom-reported epidemic of violence against females in our country and around the world. In the U.S. alone, every nine seconds a woman is assaulted or battered. One in three women in the world experiences some kind of abuse in her lifetime. Worldwide, an estimated four million women and girls each year are bought and sold into prostitution, slavery, or marriage. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn write in their book Half the Sky: “More girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than people were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine ‘gendercide’ in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.” There are many more alarming statistics on worldwide violence against women and girls. These awful acts of violence are so common that they are seldom even considered newsworthy.

IfEVeOnlyKnew

 

 

In their blog, their book If Eve Only Knew, their teaching of university students, and their speaking at conferences, Kendra and Melanie not only raise awareness of violence, abuse, and discrimination against women, but also point the way to transforming church and society so that women and all others can become all we’ve created to be in the divine image.

LogoTransAt the 2016 Christian Feminism Today Gathering, Kendra and Melanie facilitated an empowering workshop titled “If Eve Only Knew: Finding Hope in the Midst of Change.”

Kendra begins by engaging participants in a conversation about change. She asks us to form circles to explore our feelings about change, about some of today’s challenges that we’re particularly concerned about, about dwindling church attendance, and about characteristics of young people we hear in the media.

To illustrate something about the young people she and Kendra teach, Melanie reads from the introduction of their book If Eve Only Knew: Freeing Yourself from Biblical Womanhood & Becoming All God Means for You to Be. In this excerpt she refers to a previous Christian Feminism Today Conference:

Kendra and I had come to the conference to talk about the effects evangelical popular culture has on the students we teach at our respective colleges. We wanted to help Christian feminists understand what they are up against: a Christian culture that continues to tell women they need to be submissive, silent, docile, and focused not at all on an outside-the-home career, but on raising children and caring for husbands. This was God’s exclusive design for women, and those who followed a different path were outside God’s will.

As professors, Kendra and I work with women excited about their vocations but faced with the pervasive message they’ve often been given by their evangelical upbringing, by their families, their churches, and by Christian popular culture. Our students learn early that women—by virtue of their biological relationship to Eve—are more deceptive, more prone to sin and impurity, more emotional, and less capable of making decisions than their male peers. A woman’s primary role is as a helpmeet, raising children. Lifelong vocations are for the very few women who do not marry. Any vocation involving church leadership is reserved for men no matter what a young woman’s calling.

Given the persistent thrum of these messages, it is little wonder conservative Christian women struggle to find a voice in their church communities and to feel affirmed in their life choices. It’s also no wonder that women graduating from evangelical Christian universities often express less confidence than their male peers, and their sense of vocational call is less clear upon graduation. Women who visit our offices seeking guidance often seem less self-assured about their futures, especially if they haven’t found the “Mrs.” degree they  are told is imperative with a conservative Christian college education. . . .

The evangelical blogs, magazines, and books these young women read, the music they listen to, and the organizations to which they belong send clear messages about who or what they should be. And all of it is delivered with the conviction that it’s godly, because “the Bible says so.”

At the 2016 Christian Feminism Today Gathering, Melanie and Kendra offer hope that many young people are rejecting these stifling messages from conservative Christian churches and evangelical popular culture. But many are rejecting church entirely.

Melanie cites statistics showing that millennials, in fact, don’t see themselves as religious. Only 22% report attending church regularly, 70% say that church is irrelevant, and many do not see the church as making an impact on the world. Many churches, in trying to remedy the decline in attendance, have created specific ministries to draw people in based on their “affinity” for certain activities. In evangelical churches, affinity ministries are often based on what a church assumes men and women will enjoy doing. Affinity ministries for men promote hyper “masculinity,” illustrated by a men’s conference titled “Godly Grit: Aching for the Return of Fearless Heroic Manhood” and by a church’s giving away AR-15 assault rifles. Affinity ministries for women include craft nights and teas. To attract more people, many evangelical churches have also adopted a “performance mentality,” staging worship services with flashy lights and music. Millennials, however, are rejecting these performance-based services built on gender stereotypes, such as that men are powerful and independent and that women are relational and emotional. Millennials question gender binaries. Evangelical church leaders deride tolerance and promote exclusive theologies, whereas millennials embrace diversity and seek inclusion and unity. The hopeful word is that many young people are rejecting these theologies of exclusion. Is it possible to create churches where millennials and all people of all ages feel welcome? The hope is that, based on Jesus’s words “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15: 5), we can create churches that are radically nonhierarchical, communities of interconnectedness and mutuality.

In the meantime, as we’re living in a hierarchical, patriarchal culture, the story of Tamar may prove hopeful. In the workshop Kendra uses feminist teaching methods to draw out the collective wisdom of participants, asking us to explore these questions in circle conversations on the story of Tamar in Genesis 38: What do you find interesting? Are there aspects about the narrative you find problematic? Is there anything encouraging here? Our circle had a wonderful conversation about the strictures of the patriarchal culture in which Tamar lives, about how our patriarchal culture still stifles us, and about Tamar’s amazing ability not only to survive but to exercise her own agency in securing justice for herself in a patriarchal world. In If Eve Only Knew, Kendra comments on this text: “People usually see this narrative through a lens of sexuality and incest when reading it for the first time. Yet sexual encounter is not the prism through which the author encouraged his readers to look. Rather, sex was merely the means Tamar used to establish justice when the patriarchal world denied what she rightly should have received. . . . Tamar holds the key to this complex story by shifting our attention from the presumed major character Judah, and the assumptions that go along with reading from a perspective of privilege. In doing so, we can see Tamar’s courage and initiative.”

In their Christian Feminism Today workshop, as in their blog and book, Kendra and Melanie offer hope in the midst of our changing world, hope that together we will embrace our full humanity to become all we’re meant to be in the divine image. Their liberating message points the way out of our violent culture to Wisdom’s paths of peace and justice (Proverbs 3:13-17). They conclude If Eve Only Knew with these words: “Wisdom Woman stands in our midst, too, inviting us to be all we are meant to be.”

 

Dr. Kendra Weddle Irons

Dr. Kendra Weddle Irons

Dr. Kendra Weddle Irons teaches religion at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, Texas, and blogs with Dr. Melanie Springer Mock at Ain’t I a Woman: De/Constructing Christian Images . Motivated by injustice within the church, Kendra seeks to challenge the status quo—in her teaching and writing—especially with an eye for how the church can move beyond its sexism. Her most recent book is in collaboration with Melanie Springer Mock: If Eve Only Knew: Freeing Yourself from Biblical Womanhood and Becoming All You are Meant to Be (Chalice Press, 2015). Her first book—Preaching on the Plains: Methodist Women Preachers in Kansas, 1920-1956 (University Press of American, 2007)—examines United Methodist Women who preached in Kansas prior to 1956. In addition, Kendra is a frequent contributor to Christian Feminism Today.

Dr. Melanie Springer Mock

Dr. Melanie Springer Mock

Dr. Melanie Springer Mock is a professor of English at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. A prolific author, Melanie’s essays have appeared in Christian Feminism Today, The Nation, Adoptive Families, Mennonite World Review, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Oregonian, among other places. In 2003, Cascadia Publishing House published her book, Writing Peace: The Unheard Voices of Great War Mennonite Objectors. And in 2011, Barclay Press published Just Moms: Conveying Justice in an Unjust World, a collection that Melanie co-edited with Rebekah D. Schneiter. Melanie is also the other half of the writing team on If Eve Only Knew and Ain’t I a Woman: De/Constructing Christian Images, taking turns with Kendra in posting thought-provoking, challenging, funny, and always engaging posts several times a week.

 

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“Making Peace,” presentation by Austin Channing Brown at Christian Feminism Today Gathering

Austin  Channing  Brown

Austin Channing Brown

AustinAnother prophetic presentation at the 2016 Christian Feminism Today Gathering, June 24-26, was “Making Peace” by Austin Channing Brown. Austin begins by saying that she’s “going to be open to let the Spirit do what She does.”

Like other speakers at the Gathering, Austin explores the intersectionality of justice issues. She says that she’s “been on a desperate search to figure out what it means to be black and woman.” Her parents gave her the name “Austin” so that her gender wouldn’t be obvious on job applications and she would have more opportunities for interviews. And it is amazing, she says, that people believe racial injustice died with slavery. She laments how often black people are labeled “thugs” and that so many live in poverty.

Austin’s words take on greater urgency in the wake of the horrible violence this past week in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Falcon Heights, Minnesota; and Dallas, Texas. Read Austin’s powerful words about these events on her blog.

Growing up in a predominately white private school, Austin says she learned little about her black culture. Her teachers, the principal, librarian, and other staff members were white. Chapel services at her school always featured white speakers, the characters in her books were white, and the pictures teachers posted of Jesus were always white. In an article titled “Black Women and the Imago Dei,” published in Today’s Christian Woman, Austin writes of her experience of trying to assimilate into this white culture and of discovering in a black church that she as a black female was indeed created in the divine image.

When she was in college, Austin had a profound experience that began her journey as a racial reconciler. In this video of a presentation she gave at an Allume Conference, Austin tells how she became committed to doing everything she can for racial justice and reconciliation through an event called Sankofa—a three-day bus trip exploring black history sites throughout the South.

At the Christian Feminism Today Gathering, Austin gives powerful testimony to the importance of knowing our historical context. She warns of the dangers of “unknowing and misknowing” our histories, citing the examples of the horrific massacre in Orlando and the racism and misogyny of Donald Trump as “fruit fallen from trees planted long ago.”

Austin2 copy Austin emphasizes our duty to know our own history, to place our own stories in the context of the larger story. We have been unwilling, she says, to “dig into the dirt to see what else is there” in our history. We judge “the Others” without regard to their stories and without regard to the larger structures and histories that shape those stories. Austin challenges us “to refuse ahistorical assumptions about ‘those people,’” and to refuse to give into fear. When we know one another’s stories, we develop empathy for one another across our differences.

We must resist our tendency to create enemies because we’re afraid, Austin says. “I had bought into the enemy creation, especially around drugs and black men,” she says. “I bought into the story that three strikes was worthy of ten years in prison. I didn’t get it. I didn’t learn to question the narrative until it hit close to home.” She tells a poignant personal story of reconnecting with one of her cousins who was in prison.

“By giving into fear of being oppressed, we become the oppressor,” Austin declares. “By giving into his fear of being oppressed, Pharaoh becomes the oppressor. We are told to fear black people. We are told to fear losing our jobs. Are we like Pharaoh? When we indulge our unknowing, we act like Pharoah. We have yet as a society to cast off Pharoah.”

Austin points out that Pharoah’s first move was to try to make the midwives do his dirty work of violence and injustice, but through their wisdom they subverted his plan. (Exodus 1:15-22) God continued to raise up women to go against Pharoah’s injustice. Without the partnership of women— Miriam, Pharoah’s daughter and Moses’ mother—there would be no Moses. (Exodus 2:1-10) Without Moses, there would be no Exodus. “Pharaoh was afraid of men. Little did he know…” These women turned Pharoah’s violence into transformation.

CFTGathering“Prophetic people are not magical unicorns dropped out of the sky today,” Austin declares. “Prophets, who at least tried, have always been there to bring transformation.”

Austin challenges us to think of our own context. Who has been named the enemy? And what are people afraid of? What are people afraid of losing? What control are people afraid of losing? What is the fear? “By creating enemies of entire people groups we dehumanize them,” she says. “We fear the other and become the oppressor ourselves. We create policy around our fears. Our own churches do the same thing. There are people we are afraid of. For example, many churches are afraid of LGBTQ people. In some places, if you publicly identify as LGBTQ, you cannot serve as a leader. Even scarier are the policies no one dares to write down. Our fear dictates policies rather than our love. We must resist the narrative of fear. We must hear it and we must acknowledge it.”

In her conclusion, Austin brings us words of hope: “God is in this moment that is pregnant with possibility. Whether you are dripping with power and privilege or you have little left to lose, what is God stirring in you? Change is going to come, y’all. Praise God that although we live in a world of injustice, this is not the end. We can say no to the Pharaoh that treats one people group different from the other. God offers us freedom from our fears.”

Austin invites us to advocate for the other and to resist the belief we must save ourselves from a scary world. She offers hope that we can have victory from fear and injustice and oppression and death as we march together toward peace and freedom and love. We can transform weapons of violence into instruments of transformation.

These are indeed the hopeful words I need to hear in the midst of injustice and violence. May God bring Her healing, love, justice, and peace to all.

 

 

Austin Channing Brown began her journey as a racial reconciler in college with an experience called Sankofa–a three-day bus trip exploring black history sites throughout the South. It was on this pilgrimage that she first connected with her own history and determined to share that experience with others.

Following her undergraduate work, Austin went on to earn a masters degree in Social Justice from Marygrove College in Detroit, MI. From her experience with Sankofa and the foundation of her graduate work, she has directed a short-term missions site on the west side of Chicago, creating interactive opportunities for youth to engage issues of poverty, injustice, and race and worked on staff with Willow Creek Community Church developing strategies and programming around multiculturalism. Currently she serves as Resident Director and Multicultural Liaison for Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, MI.

As a speaker, Austin travels the country throughout the year sharing her message at colleges, universities, conferences, and churches. She has been featured at The Justice Conference, Why Christian? Conference, University of Northwestern, and the CCDA National Conference, to name a few.

In the midst of all of her accomplishments, racial justice and reconciliation, and womanhood have continued to be the core of her message. She writes about these topics on her popular blog and as a regular contributor to Today’s Christian Woman. She has also contributed to Her.maneutics and Relevant. Her work has also been featured on Christian Feminism Today.

 

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“Lady Wisdom and Her Prophets,” presentation by Reta Halteman Finger at Christian Feminism Today Gathering

 

Dr. Reta Haltemann Finger at Christian Feminism Today Gathering

Dr. Reta Halteman Finger at Christian Feminism Today Gathering

Dr. Reta Halteman Finger, one of the founders of the Christian feminist movement, gave an enlightening presentation, titled “Lady Wisdom” and Her Prophets,” at the Christian Feminism Today Gathering in Indianapolis.

Dr. Reta Halteman Finger

Dr. Reta Halteman Finger

Reta played a big part in my feminist awakening. For 15 years she served as editor of the groundbreaking newsletter Daughters of Sarah. During these years Daughters of Sarah nurtured and empowered my developing feminism. I still resonate with the newsletter’s statement of identity: “We are Christians. We are also feminists. Some say we cannot be both, but for us Christianity and feminism are inseparable.”

Through her teaching and writing, Reta continues to be a prophetic voice for gender equality and other justice issues. For many years Reta taught Bible, mostly New Testament, at Messiah College and currently teaches at Eastern Mennonite University, specializing in life in the early church. Her books include Roman House Churches for Today: A Practical Guide for Small Groups; Of Widows and Meals: Communal Meals in the Book of Acts; and Wisdom of Daughters: Two Decades of the Voice of Christian Feminism. She is currently a contributing editor for Sojourners magazine. For Christian Feminism Today she writes a blog called “Reta’s Reflections: Bible Studies from a Christian Feminist Perspective.”

LogoTransAt the Christian Feminism Today Gathering, Reta gave the first plenary presentation. She set the stage by illuminating the Gathering theme, “Prophets in Every Generation,” and the theme text:

Although Sophia is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets” (Wisdom of Solomon 7:27, NRSV).

Drawing on her expertise as a scholar and teacher, Reta begins with the literary and historical contexts of this theme text. “Ancient texts need literary and historical contexts,” Reta says. “If we don’t understand context, we will get a lot of things wrong—which is an important reason why there is so much disagreement among Christians. All texts have an agenda, a slant, a perspective in order to make particular points to a particular audience.”

The Wisdom of Solomon was probably written in Alexandra, Egypt, probably between 30 BCE to 30 CE. Although traditionally attributed to Solomon, the author was likely a teacher in a Jewish synagogue centuries after Solomon’s death. It was written in Greek, and Wisdom is called Sophia (Greek word for “Wisdom”). The Wisdom of Solomon is one of the intertestamental books not included in most Bibles because it was written in Greek, not Hebrew, and thus not included in the Jewish canon. But the Wisdom of Solomon, along with the other intertestamenal books, was included in the Bible of the early Christians.

The Wisdom of Solomon takes its place among other biblical wisdom writings such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (Song of Songs), and some of the Psalms. The literary forms of these wisdom writings include poems, aphorisms, and instructions. The Wisdom of Solomon uses Greek modes of expression to set forth Jewish theology, giving Jews confidence in their faith under oppression in Egypt.

After giving this background, Reta moves on to explore the prophets of Sophia “in every generation,” mentioned in the theme text. She explains that a biblical prophet was one who had such a direct line to God that she or he could claim to speak for God. “A true prophet of Yahweh was always on the side of justice,” Reta says. “The problem is that the religious leaders didn’t recognize a good prophet when they got one. Listen to Jesus’s lament from Luke 13:34: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.’ Prophets, men or women who speak truth to power, are not usually appreciated.

But Reta encourages us to take heart because Sophia continues to make prophets. “Not long after The Book of Wisdom was written, we have accounts of the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of God’s Spirit-Sophia,” Reta points out. “As Luke writes in the book of Acts, on the day of Pentecost, She comes to a group of men and women in an upstairs room in Jerusalem. Later, when Peter addresses a large crowd of Jews from all over the Roman Empire and Middle East, he explains what has happened. He uses the ancient words of the prophet Joel, ‘In the last days, it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy,…Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit-Sophia. And they shall prophesy’” (Acts 2: 17-18).

My favorite part of Reta’s presentation was what she calls “Sophia, the Androgynous Christ, and Real Women.” Reta challenges us “to keep reminding our church leaders and congregations of the important truth” that “a number of New Testament writers portray Jesus as the incarnation of Sophia.” For example, in the Prologue to the Gospel of John the similarities between Lady Wisdom in Proverbs and Logos (usually translated “Word”) are unmistakable. To the Greek-speaking Jewish reader, Logos would have been interchangeable with Sophia, so John 1:1 can be translated: “In the beginning was Sophia, and Sophia was with God, and Sophia was God.”

The Gospel of John, Reta further points out, records many instances in which Jesus does not act like the oldest son in his family but more like an idealized wife and mother in a patriarchal society:

• When Jesus cleanses the temple, he is the wife furiously housecleaning and attending to the economic affairs of the household. (John 2:13-26)

• Jesus performs wifely duties when the wine runs out at the wedding at Cana. (John 2:1-10)

• Jesus makes lunch and distributes the bread and fish to 5000 people. (John 6:1-14) “Here he is Mother Jesus feeding her children,” Reta comments.

• “Speaking with Nicodemus, Jesus insists that we cannot enter God’s reign unless we are born from the womb of Spirit-Sophia.” (John 3:1-8) In an article in Sojourners titled “Mother Jesus,” Reta challenges people who resist thinking of God as other than male to consider this important image of the Spirit giving birth: “How can they overlook this very maternal activity of God’s Spirit?”

• Jesus declares that he is the bread of life and promises eternal life to those who eat his flesh and drink his blood. (John 6:48-58) “To Jews, drinking blood is strictly forbidden. So this only makes sense if Jesus is like a pregnant mother who feeds the fetus with her flesh and blood, and who breast-feeds after the child is born.”

Jesus calls his disciples “little children” when he tells them he is going away and they can’t come along. (John 13:33) He comforts them by comparing their pain to that of a woman in labor, who later will forget the pain because she has brought a child into the world. (John 16:21-22)

• Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. (John 13:3-15) In this patriarchal culture washing feet was the job of women and/or slaves, Reta explains: “No man who wasn’t a slave would ever lose dignity by kneeling down to wash other people’s dirty feet. That was the job of the wife to do for her husband and for other guests, unless she had a slave to help.”

  "Cast Your Nets" by Greg Olsen. Used with Permission. www.GregOlsen.com

“Cast Your Nets” by Greg Olsen. Used with Permission. www.GregOlsen.com

• “In the last chapter of John, we find the risen Mother Jesus back at work cooking breakfast for her children, the disciples who had been fishing all night without success.” (John 21: 4-13)

Reta then connects this depiction of “Mother Jesus,” the Androgynous Christ,” to women in the Gospel of John who play essential roles in an otherwise male-dominated society:

Jesus’s mother knows more than he does about the embarrassing situation of inadequate wine for a wedding. (John 2: 1-10)

• Jesus spends more time talking theology to a Samaritan woman than to anyone else in the entire Gospel. (John 4:7-30)

Martha plays the prominent part of identifying Jesus as Messiah. (John 11:17-27)

Mary Magdalene is the first witness of the resurrection of Jesus. (John 20: 1-18) “The highest honor is accorded to this disciple, Mary Magdalene, as the first person to meet the risen Jesus. She then becomes the apostle to the apostles.”Magdalen copyMaryMagdalene

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reta concludes her presentation by emphasizing that the Gospel of John combines “a human Jesus who incarnated the feminine figure of Wisdom-Sophia with characterizations of actual human women who became prophets in their generation and passed on these prophetic gifts to the next generation and continue to do so in our own lives.”

 

opening circle at Christian Feminism Today Gathering, led by Marg Herder

opening circle of current-day prophets at Christian Feminism Today Gathering, led by Marg Herder

 

 

Rev. Erica Lea & Rev. Leslie Harrison, current-day prophets leading worship at Christian Feminism Today Gatherig

Rev. Erica Lea & Rev. Leslie Harrison, current-day prophets leading worship at Christian Feminism Today Gatherig

Posted in She Lives! | 2 Comments

God Like a Woman Long in Labor Cries

LoveSaveUs

In the aftermath of the horrific massacre in Orlando, we struggle to respond. We pray, but we know that prayer is not enough. We know we must take action to stop all the violence. We may choose to urge lawmakers to legislate gun control, to advocate for justice for LGBTQ persons of all religions, to transform patriarchal culture that exalts hyper/toxic masculinity, to work for equality and justice for people of all genders and races, to change religious institutions so that all people are fully accepted and equally valued—to take all of these actions and more.

We may feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenges and wonder if our labor for nonviolence and justice makes any difference. This hymn video comes to bring comfort and hope for our labor.

“God Like a Woman Long in Labor Cries” draws from the imagery in Isaiah 42. The prophet Isaiah pictures God crying out “like a woman in labor” over injustices: “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant” (vs. 14). Whether or not we have experienced the labor of childbirth, we all labor and often suffer as we labor. Sometimes we suffer because our labor for justice and peace seems in vain. Sometimes our work is rejected, demeaned, trivialized, discounted, criticized. This picture of Deity as a woman suffering in Her labor can encourage and strengthen us with the assurance that our labor takes part in God’s labor, and Her labor takes part in ours.

Also, we can find hope as we join with Her in co-creating new life and beauty: “See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9).

This video comes with the prayer that it will bring strength as we labor for nonviolence, and that it will bring hope that we do not labor alone and that our labor is not in vain. God labors with us, and She will help bring new life from our labor for justice and peace.

God like a woman long in labor cries,
feeling the pain of all earth’s anguished sighs,
longing to bring forth justice evermore,
that joy and freedom ring on every shore.
 
God calls us all to join Her labor long,
feeling the pain of all who suffer wrong,
struggling to end oppression and its woe,
that like a river peace will freely flow.
 
God brings the former things to pass from earth;
joining with Her, new life we bring to birth.
Now we can feel creation’s pure delight,
and all the world shines forth in beauty bright.
 

Words  © Jann Aldredge-Clanton, from Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians (Eakin Press, 2006).

Recording © Jann Aldredge-Clanton & Larry E. Schultz, from Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians CD (Eakin Press, 2007). For permissions, contact: www.jannaldredgeclanton.com; for additional inclusive music for all ages, see: http://www.jannaldredgeclanton.com/music.php.

Performed by: Chancel Choir of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina (http://www.pullen.org/). Conductor: Rev. Larry E. Schultz

Visual Artists:

Sister Marie-Celeste Fadden: “God’s Womb Pain” © Carmel of Reno. Drawing (or sketch) by Marie-Celeste Fadden, O.C.D. Used with permission.

Alice Heimsoth: photo in sanctuary of Ebenezer/herchurch Lutheran, San Francisco (http://www.herchurch.org/) © Alice Heimsoth. Used with permission. http://www.aliceheimsoth.com/Other/herchurch-Easter-2012/22366832_Whhj3j#%21i=1792348850&k=DT4MQbt

Lucy A. Synk: “Ruach” painting © Lucy A. Synk. Used with permission. http://lucysynkfantasyart.com/print_gallery

Stacy Boorn: “Monterey in Pink” © Stacy Boorn. Used with permission. http://stacy.awegallery.com/;   http://www.awegallery.com/index.php?page=artists&aid=1

David Clanton: photo in the sanctuary of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church © David M. Clanton. Used with permission.  http://www.davidclanton.com/http://david-clanton.artistwebsites.com/

Recorded by: Ward Productions, Pinehurst, North Carolina

 

 

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