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Wilderness Space

Jesus Ministered to by Angels by James Tissot

(I preached this sermon today for Park Presidio United Methodist Church. In addition to the scripture reading (below), we also read Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things.)

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. (Matt 4:1-11)

Sometimes, when I listen to Bible verses in church, I feel like I’m watching a 15 minute clip of a movie. Even if I’ve seen the movie before, it can be hard to remember where that one scene fits in the larger story. This text in particular is one that I’m so used to hearing read in church that I sometimes forget how it relates to the rest of the story of Jesus’ life. So, before looking at our gospel reading, I wanted to take a minute to refresh your memory about how this story relates to the rest of the Gospel of Matthew. Continue Reading »

It’s literally been years since I posted anything original on this blog (as opposed to old sermons) but I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and thought it would be helpful to put all my ideas down here, and hopefully get some feedback.

Yesterday, I went to this press conference for religious leaders celebrating the end of Prop 8 and DOMA. It was an absolutely beautiful way to celebrate the day, and I’m so grateful to Coalition of Welcoming Congregations, and everyone else that helped put it on.

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A totally fab collar that I look forward to wearing someday. Made my WomenSpirit: http://www.womenspirit.com/ProductDetails.aspx?CATID=13&PID=448

The organizers of the event had asked religious leaders to come wearing clothing that represents our religious leadership. I ended up wearing street clothing. Most of my seminarian colleagues wore collars.

Most of my Protestant seminary friends seem to take great care avoiding wearing stoles without being formally ordained, but wear collars in situations when they need to be identified as religious leaders (protests, etc). I thnk that makes total sense in Protestant culture, where ministers are usually seen on Sunday morning wearing a stole, and receiving a stole is an important part of the ordination ceremony. Collars, on the other hand, seem to be in the process of being ‘reclaimed’ by Mainline Protestantism, which gives people a bit more freedom to define its meaning for themselves. A lot of seminarian friends and Protestant ministers have told me that a collar feels more ‘appropriate’ for a seminarian to wear than a stole, which I think is totally true within that context. I’m really glad my Protestant friends have found an appropriate way to represent themselves as religious leaders without doing anything that seems uncomfortable to them.

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Me, in a stole and super wrinkly alb.

But it feels opposite to what seems appropriate to me. I feel totally comfortable wearing stoles. I’ve been wearing them for years during Women’s Ordination protests (which I think of as a sacred action), and have been gifted stoles by people who have called me as a minister and who (I assume) expect me to wear them. Like many Catholics, I also believe that I was ordained originally through my baptism, and any ordination I go through after that is just an acknowledgement of having been called by my community (which again, in some sense has already happened).

I feel 100% legitimate wearing stoles, but somehow I feel a lot less comfortable wearing a collar. Unlike a lot of other Progressive Catholics, I’m not against collars in general and I could see rocking one at hospitals and protests after I get ordained through RCWP. But it feels disingenuous for me to be wearing one as a Catholic without being ordained.

It also seems like it would lead to a lot of super awkward conversations with other people (including potentially the media) that I don’t feel like having. I know that Protestants also have those awkward conversations, where they have to explain that Roman Catholic priests aren’t the only ones who get to wear collars. But as someone who actually identifies as Roman Catholic that conversation would be even more confusing for me. Also, to be honest, sometimes I just don’t feel like having those conversations anymore. I already have those conversations a lot.

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A beautiful chasuble, also made by WomenSpirit: http://www.womenspirit.com/ProductDetails.aspx?CATID=17&PID=17

I think that there’s also a cultural aspect of what we grew up watching our pastors wearing. My whole life I’ve seen priests wear collars. A collar to me says “priest” in a way that no other item of clothing does. On the other hand, for me, a stole is less tied to that particular definition of religious leadership. During mass, priests usually wear chasubles over their stoles, so I actually have very few memories of seeing Vatican-approved priests wear stoles. I associate stoles with Protestant ministers and lay women’s ordination advocates. I associate them with something I should wear.

Of course, I’m anarchist enough to assume that we can all wear whatever the heck we want without having to worry about a bolt of lightening striking us down. But that being said, I kept my stole in my purse during the event and didn’t take it out. Not because I didn’t think I ‘deserved’ to wear it, but because I worried that it would look like I was trying to outrank my Protestant seminarian colleagues who were wearing collars. I didn’t want to appear to be misrepresenting myself, even though, for me, a collar would have felt more like misrepresentation.

I am really glad that my Protestant colleagues were able to find a way to identify themselves as religious leaders at public events– and I am so glad we had so many people sporting collars in front of the cameras yesterday! But even so, I’m struggling to find a way to represent myself as a religious leader in a way that’s authentic to my own values, while also being sensitive to the diverse religious community I find myself in.

How do we represent ourselves in a way that is authentic to our own identities and to the communities we serve? How do you do it? Does your dress change depending on what sort of ecumenical/interfaith environment you find yourself in? Should it?

This is my sermon for March 24 (Palm Sunday), preached at New Spirit Community Church.

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’”  So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”  He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” -Luke 19:28-40

Today is Palm Sunday, the day when we come to the end of our Lenten journey and prepare to walk with Jesus through Holy Week.

Tomorrow is also the start of Passover, which commemorates the most famous ‘procession’ or ‘pilgrimage’ that is recorded in the Bible. When Moses led God’s people out of Egypt and into freedom.

Like Passover, Palm Sunday celebrates people journeying toward freedom together. It’s a time to celebrate liberation, and to proclaim our loyalty to a God that can topple rulers—Egyptian or Roman– and set oppressed people free.

In this passage, we see Jesus entering into Jerusalem for the final time, before he is crucified. Luke tells us that Jesus knew what would happen to him and described his death shortly after the feeding of five-thousand.

But he didn’t try to sneak into the city anonymously. Instead, he made this bold, somewhat silly entrance, mocking the ceremonial processions of the Roman occupiers. Instead of hundreds of Roman soldiers wearing capes, marching into occupied Jerusalem on horses, one shabbily dressed man rode in on a donkey. It’s as if he’s saying to Rome “really? This is what you’re afraid of? One poor man riding a donkey? Is the Roman Empire really so fragile that it can be taken down by one person that’s not afraid to tell the truth? One person that refuses to play by its rules?” Continue Reading »

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[This Sunday, I preached on the Magnificat and the Visitation at New Spirit Community Church. Below is a copy of my manuscript for any of you that are interested in reading it. Obviously, the manuscript was written to be spoken and not to be read. Sorry in advance about any poor grammar and excessive use of commas.

PS: For my birthday on January 2, I'm raising money for the Women's Ordination Conference. If after reading this sermon, you feel inspired to support feminist ministry, you can donate here.]

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Savior comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by God.’

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Creator,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for God has looked with favor on her lowly servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is God’s name.
God’s mercy is on those who fear God
from generation to generation.
God has shown strength with her arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
God has helped her servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promises made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and Sarah and their descendants for ever.’

And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home. (Luke 1:39-56)

In Allison Bechdel’s comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, she lays out a new feminist method for rating movies—which is now commonly called the Bechdel Test. In order to pass the Bechdel Test, each movie has to have:

  • Two women –who have names
  • Who talk to each other
  • About something other than a man.

Think of some of your favorite movies—how many of them actually pass the Bechdel Test? Maybe not as many as you’d expect, not many of my favorites do.

The Bechdel Test highlights the lack of women’s voices, women’s values and women’s stories in mainstream media.

Of course, if Hollywood is bad at creating accurate representations of women’s experiences, the Bible is infinitely worse.

So much of the Bible reads as a litany of men’s achievements. Men’s battles. Men’s conversations with God. Women seem to only show up in the Bible as supporting characters for a male-centric plot, and their experiences are usually only recorded in response to men’s actions.

I love the Visitation (the story of Mary and Elizabeth’s conversation) because in my mind it’s one of only two or three biblical stories that come even close to passing the Bechdel test. Continue Reading »

[For my final paper in my Art & Religion class last semester, I had to write a sermon about a painting that we discussed in class. I chose El Greco's Assumption of the Virgin. This is the first sermon I've written for seminary so far. In all honesty I feel like it's a bit rushed and wish I'd spent a little more time tying things together at the end, but I think it's a good first sermon. This also gets an award for being both the most unabashedly Catholic and unabashedly heretical thing I've ever written. So that's a plus.]

When I pray the Rosary, I usually avoid are the Glorious Mysteries. Unlike the Luminous Mysteries (which are full of great social teachings) or the Joyful Mysteries (which are really cute) the Glorious Mysteries are just weird. They feel outdated and uncomfortable, full of stuffy non-canonical stories about Mary’s Assumption and Coronation that seem hard to relate to my own life, and even harder to believe.

But looking at El Greco’s painting of the Assumption, I see a very different vision of these aspects of Mary. She is a Queen, but not the stuffy English kind that sits on a throne, apart from her people. She is the Queen of all creation, riding a moon and shining like the sun. She brings to mind the book of Revelations: “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.” In this painting, she looks like a goddess, preparing to give birth to the Messiah and to all of creation. She is a light-giver and a life-bearer. She is in pain, but she is not defeated.

Unlike El Greco’s earlier painting of The Dormition of The Virgin, in this image she isn’t a sick, frail woman waiting for her son to come down from the clouds and save her from death. She isn’t even being carried by angels, unlike his painting of The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception. Instead, angels and the apostles are gathering in wondrous praise of her.

This defiant, powerful woman challenges us. This Mary does things, she doesn’t just wait for things to happen to her. She is a subject, not an object. She has busted out of her tomb and is flying to heaven on her own accord.

This painting asks us: if Mary was crucified along with Christ –as many theologians have attested– wasn’t she resurrected, as well?

If Mary sacrificed her body for the sake of humanity –by giving birth to, nursing and caring for a child, and then following that child to a horrible death– doesn’t that mean that she, too, had her own Easter Moment? Didn’t she also she brake out of the tomb and rise triumphantly from the dead?

When we gather each Sunday to eat the Body and Blood of Christ, aren’t we eating her Body and Blood as well? A body that was born of her body and that shared her blood? As an altarpeice, this painting was intended to be placed directly behind the altar. It was the image that was front and center during the Eucharistic Prayer. “Take and eat,” the risen Mary is telling us “this is my body, given for you.”

This image brings to mind that other stuffy, uncomfortable old teaching about Mary. The one that calls her a Co-Redeemer with Christ. But unlike other representations of Mary as Co-Redeemer, this Mary isn’t a perfect exception to a flawed gender. She isn’t redeeming women from Eve’s sinful nature. Instead, she is celebrating women’s role in the resurrection of the world.

She isn’t even promoting rigid gender dichotomies. By being a feminine vision of the Resurrection, she’s actually queering gender. This Mary resembles a woman warrior much more than she resembles a submissive virgin. She is beautiful, but also powerful. She is fully woman and fully divine.

This painting has the ability to tell us something important about the feminine aspect of God’s saving power. It reminds women that we, too, are created in the image of God. We, too, play a role in the salvation of the world. We, too, have shared in the resurrection of Easter.

By allowing Mary to be the hero of her own story, we allow ourselves to be the heroes of our own stories. Like Mary, we have the option to say ‘yes’ to God. We have been chosen to magnify God’s greatness. And like Mary, we have no need to be afraid, because through her sacrifice, life has triumphed over death.

By breaking open her tomb and ascending into heaven, Mary is defying the men that would try to make God in their own image, by reminding them that God looks like us, too. She is telling us that even if we don’t look like Jesus, or can’t always relate to Jesus, there a place for us at God’s table. She’s made room for us. Come and eat.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

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[Yesterday was the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and we celebrated her today for campus chapel. Below is a short reflection that I wrote for the service about what Our Lady means to me.]

Good morning and welcome to our chapel service in celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I want to specifically thank Fr. Eddie for joining us here today. We are so grateful to get to spend this time with you. I also want to welcome those of you who have never been to a worship service centered around Marian devotion before. As a Catholic and as a feminist Marian devotion is at the center of my spiritual practice, and I feel so blessed to be able to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe with my PSR community.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is only one of the many Marian apparitions that Catholics celebrate. Like Jesus born in a manger, Mary first makes herself known not to lords and princes but to young girls, simple peasants and victims of foreign occupation. While Mary’s concern for the poor and oppressed has been shown in all of the Marian apparitions, I find it most powerfully true in the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe (which was celebrated yesterday) celebrates when Mary, the mother of God, appeared to St. Juan Diego in the 1500’s. As an indigenous Mexican peasant living under Spanish colonization, Juan Diego would have been familiar with the blond-haired, blue-eyed depictions of Mary that can often be found covering our church walls, even today. However, when he encountered Our Lady she came to him as a dark-haired, dark-skinned woman who could have easily been a member of his own family. When Mary asked Juan Diego “am I not your mother?” he could see that of course she was.

Our Lady of Guadalupe entered in to colonized Mexico to tell Juan Diego that he, too, was made in the image of God, and I feel her presence still advocating for the oppressed today. I believe that Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrates the radical diversity found in the Roman Catholic Church and she encourages me to work for a day when our leadership better reflects that diversity. Like any good mother, she reminds me of my belovedness and assures me of my place in this family.

As we enter into this service, I invite you to reflect on the ways that you may see Mary working in our world today. How is she affirming your place as God’s beloved child, and how is she challenging you to build a world where all are recognized as children of God?

Mujerista theologian and Catholic laywoman Clarissa Pinkola Estes gives us this advice about how to recognize the presence of Our Lady of Guadalupe in our own lives. She says:

You will recognize her on sight,

for She is a woman

who looks just like you

and all that you love.

[Today, I spent some time looking through my old writing files and found some things that I thought had been lost in the black hole that is my hard drive. It was fun to find reminders of who I was in the not-so-distant past and to see how my dreams and values have changed and how they have remained the same.  Since this blog has mostly become a burial ground for my old writings, I thought I'd post this to remind you of (or introduce you to) Christine, circa 2008.

This is a speech that I wrote and presented at the 2008 Annual Meeting for the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) when I was a Field Intern there. My original ending to this speech seems to be lost to the ages, so I recreated the last paragraph to the best of my memory. You'll just have to believe me that the original ending was much cooler.

PS: I would be remiss in my duties as a former Field Intern if I didn't say that I highly recommend FCNL's internship program to all interested young adults. You can't do much better than working for Friends.]

November 2008

Like most of my fellow interns, my political views have matured during the Bush administration.  In the 2000 presidential election, I was a 17 year old high school senior.  I spent the fall of 2000 knocking on doors for a candidate that I wasn’t quite old enough to vote for.

I’m sure that I still don’t realize all of the ways that growing up during this administration and this war has affected me.  But I can say that when I graduated from Earlham College in 2007 I found it hard to relate to that 17 year old that had spent her Saturdays knocking on doors for presidential candidates and registering voters.  I was still committed to the ideas of peace and justice, but I had lost faith in our governments’ ability to promote those values. Continue Reading »

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