A Celebration of Women's Ministry

A Celebration of Women’s Ministry for the 40th anniversary of the first women to be ordained priests in the Episcopal Church

by Rebecca Lyman

I love the Canaanite woman—or the Syro-Phoenician woman-- or the African woman or the Asian or the Hispanic or the Muslim or the poor or the gay or the uneducated woman.

Let’s call her Marge or Isabel or Jun or Aziza. Let’s say she smells and she is pushy and past her prime, a bit wrecked, a bit fat, and no husband or brother or father in sight. Or maybe she is beautifully dressed with a Kate Spade handbag and nervous about talking to a wandering holy man on the wrong side of town. Because whoever she is, as a woman, she is out of her place— just another mother with another sick kid.

And Jesus doesn’t answer her. Not until the disciples urged him to get rid of this noisy pest. And perhaps some of the female disciples were in on it too. Certainly you want to fit in with the pack of jostling searching egos.

So Jesus explains to her the legality of the situation. He is sent to heal his own people, the lost sheep of Israel. She then kneels before him and says, “Help me.” And he falls back on economic and legal rationalizations: “It is not fair to take children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She does not bat an eye: “Of course, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs from beneath the table.”

326px-Folio_164r_-_The_Canaanite_Woman.jpgFor the only time in the New Testament Jesus changes his mind. I hope he smiled like any good debating rabbi who enjoys the logical correction. I hope in fact he loved dogs, for we know he loved children.

But mainly I hope he was humbled and renewed to see modeled before him what he had momentarily forgotten he was: the Word and Wisdom of God willing to humbled for the needs of the sick and lost and possessed and invisible; Wisdom crying in the streets to the simple since the scoffers and the fools and the haters could not hear and would not see that the mercy of grace is woven into the very foundations of all that God loves and creates, especially the good people, the green people rooted in the sun, shining. I hope all the disciples, male and female, also learned repentance by watching him listen and change.

And I hope when our fearful battered St Thomas Cranmer was dragged out into the pale Oxford sunlight to be burned for recanting his recantation, he remembered her too. He had corrected her in his own prayer of humble access: we are not worthy to gather up the crumbs beneath the table. Now stripped of his titles and even his virtue, perhaps he was comforted by finally talking back, becoming the Canaanite woman, a father unable to stop crying out to heal his only child, our Anglican church.

This morning we celebrate the humility and repentance of our church for finding the lost coin, for including the hundredth sheep, for recognizing the vocations and ministry of women. We are all part of this old hospital of sinners which creaks and moans and delays like an old bobbling ark until gestations of justice come forth to shock and split and amaze us in rebirth: ever ancient, ever new. We love it for it carries the Spirit of freedom and renewal within its old fierce conservative soul. Just like us the Church is frightened, heroic, bold, inconsistent, and saved by grace. We are all as Zachariah called us “prisoners of hope” (9.12) and as Adrienne Rich says full of “a wild patience” (“Integrity”). Who would think wanting to be good would make us so radical?

Forty years ago eleven brave women were ordained to the priesthood by three male bishops. They were certainly not the first “ministers” of the Christian church from Phoebe the deacon to the apostle Junia to Mary Magdalene to Paula the biblical scholar to Hilda the abbess to Leoba the missionary to Julian and Margery and Hildegard and Catherine and Teresa and Joan of Arc and the deaconesses and the missionaries and the lay church workers and the altar guild. And these are only those we know, for then as now the sheer activity of women in Christianity remains hidden, the underground artesian well, the warp of the fabric of unity, full pressed down and running over like the power of Wisdom itself: the tough, the annual, the wild poppy which needs nothing but a root to flourish: the women, really only writ large what is also called so patronizingly “the laity”, the “unprofessional” as if Christian life could have assigned levels of spiritual expertise.

Nor were these eleven the first ordinations in the Anglican Communion. The first was Florence Li Tim-Oi in China in 1944, quickly limited as a local exception. Here in San Francisco in 1965 Bishop Pike recognized Phyllis Edwards as a deacon. But these brave eleven were called—a challenge to the tranquility of divine providence usually working in the church--- ordained as deacons and were prepared to be priests. Many supported them, including men who refused to be ordained until women were ordained and the three retired bishops who heeded their consciences to lay hands upon them. All of them women and men together deciding ten years after the Civil Rights movement, in the midst of Watergate and in the last stages of the Vietnam war that institutions must be challenged to be changed. In the words of Stringfellow and Wink they saw how institutions become powers and principalities in spite of themselves, even and most heartbreakingly the Body of Christ. The ordinations were illegal according to canon law. The bishops met in emergency session at O’Hare Airport, disrupting their retreats and summer vacations. And some bishops then saw they had forgotten who they were---servants of need, faithful to the Spirit in all vocations; they remembered the only traditional legality of ordination was a bishop in accordance with the ordination rite. We all began to remember who we were. We caught up with the diverse leadership of the first century.

None of this was easy—it still isn’t and quite honestly the beloved community of forgiveness and new life never is in this blessed and bloody world. Twenty years ago when I was ordained, a conservative colleague said to me, “Now tell me, this is all a political act really, isn’t it?” For we don’t need the Supreme Court or the statistics about pay and leadership or our own self-doubts or our interrupted speech to tell us that equality and justice and respect come slowly. And I don’t know if we women are more relational or more grounded or maternal or verdant or emotional—at least not yet. It is hard for all of us, male or female, to remember or know who we are when the ground shifts beneath us whether by choice or chance. I do know that the white economic and educational privilege, which has imbued the ethos of the Episcopal Church, does not go away quietly, and a toxic clericalism can easily choke our gospel humility. We have our reward.

The ministry of women is part of the groundswell of ordinary humanity in the church: the blooming of holy people as Hildegard of Bingen would say, to remember God works from the ground up, not the top down. God works in the still small voice which called and empowered and sustains and emboldens and purifies and heals all of us together, all called to be the face and hands and voice of Christ to one another in the world: I am among you as one who serves (Luke 22.27).

God comes to make us all human, wholly in body as well as spirit and mind—comes to heal and feed and relieve and restore. For the uncomfortable truth of the gospel of Jesus and Paul is that “suffering makes us better than we ever wanted to be” (The Diary of the Country Priest). These divisions and fears and defenses are the necessary way into repentance, into the new reign of God that must break our Western hierarchies and racial segregations and economic stratification; the suffering humanity in Palestine or the Texas border or without water in Detroit or the routine shootings in Chicago or evictions in San Francisco cry out to expose our ideologies of privilege, which erase and justify violence and dehumanization. We need each other to be whole and human as we point toward a future we do not yet see, but know in hope to be the only true reality. “We are prophets of a future not our own” (Bishop Edward Untener, Saginaw).

Repentance creates growth; patience is essential to courage; joy does not block the mystery; struggle is not failure. We are of course penultimate, but we do flow into in the stream of a larger Love. Let us remember and rejoice in who we are— all of us together the children of Wisdom. Let me leave you with this image of our church from Marge Piercy’s poem, “For Strong women”:

Strength is not in her, but she
enacts it as the wind fills a sail.
What comforts her is others loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness
from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.
Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
Only water of connection remains,
flowing through us. Strong is what we make
each other. Until we are all strong together,
a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.

Be of good courage; Christ has overcome the world!


Preached 12 July 2014 at Grace Cathedral. The Rev Dr Rebecca Lyman is the Samuel Garrett Professor of Church History emerita at The Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley.

"Folio 164r - The Canaanite Woman". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Hollywood, women and doing what's right

By Dan Webster

When Hollywood criticizes itself not much is made of it. When a movie critic calls out Hollywood for its obsession with a certain film genre, the wrath of Sunset Blvd. in unleashed.

Alan Alda wrote and directed “Sweet Liberty” in 1986. It starred Alda, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Caine and the late Bob Hoskins. The story is how Hollywood takes liberties with a history book when turning it into a movie.

The pivotal scene is an argument between Alda, a college professor and author of the book, and the movie’s director played brilliantly by Saul Rubinek. Alda is yelling about the historical inaccuracies the movie is taking. Rubinek takes the history professor to school giving him the formula for financially successful movies with young audiences: 1) defy authority, 2) destroy property, and 3) nudity.

Ann Hornaday, movie critic at the Washington Post and active member of the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation, Baltimore, took on Hollywood for its male-dominated creative structure and its pandering to young male audiences. She did so following the May 24 mass murder in Isla Vista when the presumed shooter, Elliot Rodger, left a YouTube video announcing his reasons. The murderer also turned out to be the son of a Hollywood movie maker.

“For generations, mass entertainment has been overwhelmingly controlled by white men, whose escapist fantasies so often revolve around vigilantism and sexual wish-fulfillment (often, if not always, featuring a steady through-line of casual misogyny),” Hornaday wrote. “How many students watch outsized frat-boy fantasies like ‘Neighbors’ and feel, as Rodger did, unjustly shut out of college life that should be full of ‘sex and fun and pleasure’? How many men, raised on a steady diet of Judd Apatow comedies in which the shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl, find that those happy endings constantly elude them and conclude, ‘It’s not fair’?”

Having seen “Neighbors” I can tell you all three elements delineated in “Sweet Liberty” are there in spades.

Leading roles for women have been questioned for years. As Hollywood executives sought to provide more high profile characters they were mostly women acting like men. “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” “The Hunger Games,” and “Divergent” all have female leads who are prone to violence and use their feminine form to attract viewers while performing testosterone-enhanced actions.

Hollywood knows what sells. It knows who will buy what. It uses Hornaday and hundreds of other critics to push its product. When Alda takes pot shots, it’s overlooked. When a critic does her or his job, it’s gloves off. Hornaday’s email and Twitter accounts were inundated with pro and con posts but enough to move her to explain her original column.

I don’t think Hollywood’s research ever told them about the fear and deep rage among women. The #YesAllWomen Twitter hashtag has brought the voice of women worldwide to a resounding conversation that men better listen to. And Hollywood would do well to listen, as well. Seeing more of the feminine side of humanity in movies would more accurately reflect the divine image I think our creator had in mind. Our culture would be better for it.

The Rev. Canon Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Maryland. He is a former network news producer, diocesan communications director and was media relations director for the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. @RevWeb is currently Canon for evangelism and ministry development for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland

Women and submission in church and society

by Ann Fontaine

AlterNet recently carried a story about the Mars Hill Church in Seattle and it's "hipster pastor" Mark Driscoll with the title: Oral Sex, Yoga, and God's Eternal Wrath: Inside the New Hipster Megachurch That Tells Modern Women to Submit:

When Jess came to the University of Washington as a freshman, she was a feminist economics major whose postcollege goal was to land a position at an organization dedicated to social entrepreneurship. Now in her early 20s and just a few years out of college, she is married, looking forward to a life as a homemaker, and involved full-time at the Seattle-based Mars Hill Church, one of the hippest, fastest-growing, and most conservative evangelical churches in the nation.
...
That men lead the movement is key according to Driscoll, who ties myriad modern spiritual and societal problems back to the failure of female leadership. Driscoll traces his theory all the way to Genesis—in a 2004 sermon, he said Eve’s eating of the fruit of knowledge was “the first exercising of a woman’s role in leadership in the home and in the church in the history of the world. It does not go well. It has not gone well since.” What’s more, Driscoll describes Satan’s encouragement of Eve as “the first invitation to an independent feminism...the first postmodern hermeneutic.” For Driscoll, then, feminism and postmodernism are not only demonic, they are inherently linked; two revelations in the bite that led to the fall of man.

Why do people and especially women join a church like this? The Rev. Dr. Edward O. deBary, Asheville, North Carolina, former Director of the Education for Ministry Program offers one answer.
I tend to see such movements as the Mars Hill Phonomenon in Seattle in a broader context. I would identify it as a social coping mechanism in a world society that has, and continues, to face mind-boggling changes. While the text differs the context and the desired out-comes do not change when one considers other movements that emphasize much of what the Mars group seems to develop vis-a-vis the relationship of men and women, sexuality, and procreation.

We can note other "religious" movements in far away places that adhere to a similar schema. While it is not part of the article, I think a similar search for durable, direct, and fixed answers (as contrasted to flexible approaches) also applies to end of life issues, including the death penalty. It is very much part of the body politic today and the underlying drivers revolve around fears: fears that we are alone, fears, that we have no control and will suffer at the hands of others (known and unknown), fears that even life itself will conclude in either a bang or a final croak (depending upon which disaster you want to pick), and fear that our lives have no meaning.

Ultimately I think these movements represent a kind of social hysteria which is why a gifted "guru" can often provide charismatic leadership to which the most discomforted adhere. As I heard one person who was concerned with the current debt, "We have to find someone who will save us." That person had a particular political savior in mind, but the very notion that this is what we are seeking in leadership - a savior - spoke to me of the fear and despair that permeates much of our society and thus gives birth to radical ideas as the way to salvation (economic or otherwise).

What do you think?


The Rev. Ann Fontaine is a retired priest who lives on the coast of Oregon. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

Created in God's image

By Deirdre Good

In 2003, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was interviewed for a BBC Radio Programme asking influential people about defining moments in their lives. He said:

The biggest defining moment in my life was when I saw Trevor Huddleston and I was maybe nine or so. I didn't know it was Trevor Huddleston, but I saw this tall, white priest in a black cassock doff his hat to my mother who was a domestic worker. I didn't know then that it would have affected me so much, but it was something that was really - it blew your mind that a white man would doff his hat.

And subsequently I discovered, of course, that this was quite consistent with his theology that every person is of significance, of infinite value, because they are created in the image of God. And the passion with which he opposed apartheid and any other injustice is something that I sought then to emulate.


Compare this with what a priest told me a parishioner recently said: he wasn't sure he could accept her priesthood because men were created in God's image while women were created in the image of men.

Both incidents indicate how two different passages from the bible about human identity and God's image are read and applied to real life situations and real people to enhance or diminish their worth. They show that how we read and interpret biblical passages about human identity affects and even shapes the way we think about and behave towards other people.

The first anecdote is probably based on a reading of Genesis 1:26-7 (NRSV), in which God's creation of humankind reflects something of God's nature, character, or image:

"Then God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.' So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."

The KJV translates this passage differently:

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them."

In this translation, God creates "man" (Hebrew: adam), that is, human being understood as male and female, as we see from the next phrase: "and let them have dominion…" There's no substantive difference in these translations. The translation "humankind" is clearly attempting to render the gender inclusive sense of adam. The only thing that differentiates these translations is an archaic usage of "man" for humankind. Humankind, however, excludes female from being part of "man". We are talking about a conflation of species designation and gender designation. Perhaps a better translation would have been mankind, making it clearer that "man" means male and female. But on the whole I think humankind is the best we can do at the moment.

The second anecdote is probably based on a reading of I Cor 11: 7, part of Paul's explanation of why women should veil their heads in public assembly at Corinth:
"For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man."

The first passage interprets the connection males and females have with the image of God equally. The second proposes that only the male reflects God's image whilst woman reflects that of the male. Perhaps it is based on a limited reading of Genesis 1:26, understanding only men to have been created in the image of God.

Confining the reflection of God's image to one gender only is even more acute when we consider New Testament passages describing Christ as the image of God. But the issue is quite straightforward: Christ becomes human in the incarnation, not exclusively male. And this understanding is reflected in language of the New Testament and the creeds but not, alas, some modern translations.

Colossians, for example, hymns Christ, "Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature" (1:15); Hebrews likewise says of Christ, "Who, being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person..(1:3). In both passages I use the KJV translation which keeps the (masculine) relative pronoun of the Greek. Unfortunately, more modern translations of both passages emphasize not the relative pronoun but its masculine gender: "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" (NRSV Colossians 1:15); "He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.." (NRSV Hebrews 1:3). It is a question of emphasis; Bishop Krister Stendahl said some time ago, "the masculinity of God, and of God-language, is a cultural and linguistic accident, and I think one should also argue that the masculinity of the Christ is of the same order. To be sure, Jesus Christ was a male, but that may be no more significant to his being than the fact that presumably his eyes were brown. Incarnation is a great thing. But it strikes me as odd to argue that when the Word became flesh, it was to re-enforce male superiority."

We must do everything we can to promote the theological idea that men and women are created in God's image. For the insidious idea that only men reflect God's image or that they reflect more of it than women do, has led and leads to sinful denigration, devaluation and abuse of women in the mistaken name of Christian tradition.

Dr. Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, specializing in the Synoptic Gospels, Christian Origins, Noncanonical writings and biblical languages. An American citizen, she grew up in Kenya and keeps the blog On Not Being a Sausage.

Mother's Day: a radical cry for peace

By Greg Syler

The first official Mother’s Day was celebrated Sunday May 10, 1907 – the second Sunday in May – at Andrews Methodist Church in the little town of Grafton, West Virginia. The woman who held this first celebration was Anna Jarvis – and she did it in honor of her mother, Anna Maria Reeves Jarvis. The elder Mrs. Jarvis’ favorite flower was a white carnation, and Anna, her daughter, requested that everyone who attended the services on May 10 wear a white carnation in her mother’s memory. This quickly became the tradition; incidentally, it wasn’t supposed to be that the flowers were given to mothers, as is often the case today; it’s that you wore a white carnation if your mother was deceased, and a red one if she was living.

It turns out that Anna Maria Reeves Jarvis was a fascinating woman, who died in 1905, just two years before that first celebration. She was born in Culpeper, Virginia in 1832, the daughter of a Methodist minister and his wife, who later moved to present-day West Virginia to take a new call. Mrs. Reeves (her maiden name) married the son of a nearby Baptist minister, named Jarvis, and they had twelve children, although only four lived to adulthood.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the changing, growing, expansive world was bringing to these coal counties threats of civil war; battles over slavery; increasing productivity and technology, but also longer hours and dangerous working conditions – child labor laws were hardly heard. So it was that Anna Jarvis, in the 1840s and 50s, organized a series of (what she called) “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” – designed to bring the wisdom and domestic eye of women into deplorable living and working conditions, in order to improve health conditions for many families. Jarvis’ first Mother’s Day Work Club raised money for medicines, deployed women to work for families in which the mothers suffered from tuberculosis, and inspected bottled milk and food. By 1860, local physicians and mothers had spread this work to at least 15 other towns.

While the civil war raged on, making their little West Virginia county a strategic stop along the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Jarvis urged the Mother’s Day Work Clubs to declare their neutrality in the fight and provide relief and medical care for any and all – whether Union or Confederate. The clubs treated the wounded, and fed and clothed soldiers stationed in the area. In all, Jarvis helped preserve peace in a war-ravaged town by focusing on a common mission in which all could participate. In fact, after the war, she and her family moved to a larger nearby town only to find that tensions between North and South had escalated due to the political bickering surrounding Reconstruction. In the summer of 1865, Mrs. Jarvis organized a Mother’s Friendship Day on the courthouse steps in Pruntytown, WV, to bring together soldiers and neighbors regardless of their confederate or yankee leanings. Many feared that the day would erupt in violence, but it turned out to be a great success. That celebration continued for many years following the first one in 1865.

For the next forty years, Anna Jarvis led this Mother’s Day movement, a movement of mothers standing up against poverty, war, injustice, and bigotry. Alongside her husband and family, she was committed to the idea that in a violent time, with the ravages of warfare and industry, the voice of women – in particular, the wisdom of mothers – was the only deciding factor between death and life, between health and rotting away. It would only seem reasonable that her daughter, Anna Jarvis, would want to celebrate her mother’s legacy on the second Sunday in May, 1907, after her death only two years’ earlier.

Seven years after that first Mother’s Day celebration, President Woodrow Wilson made the second Sunday in May – now called Mother’s Day – a national holiday. That year was, of course, 1914, and this nation was faced with a new threat – a world war that threatened to destroy any advances of human civilization, and nearly did. Yes, this day we celebrate – this seemingly quiet second Sunday in May – is a call to peace, a call to stand up for justice, a call to embrace the values that this world so easily trumps down, underfoot, yet which Jesus called us to embody.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus said (Jn.14:27), for he gives generously, and from his own bounty. He does not give as the world gives, he told his disciples – it’s not tit-for-tat; not a political arrangement. No, it is Christ’s peace. “My peace I give you; my own peace I leave with you,” reminding us that we are, already, infused with a presence, a living Spirit within us. The gifts are already ours, and when one or two taps into them we are suddenly alive in Christ, animated to do amazing things, even with just a simple idea – say, getting local mothers together to go and inspect milk so children won’t die of a preventable disease.

This is something the world laughs at, frankly. Peace? What does that have to do with the issues we confront today, this complex War on Terror. Unless we strike them, and strike them dead, they will get us. Peace? Unless we show the pictures of a dead man to the world our strength will not be revealed. Peace? And how can you show us, Christians, what peace you have brought to this planet in the last two millennia? Peace?

But Jesus’ peace is given on a night, long ago, in the midst of great anguish, pain, anxiety and dread. Jesus’ peace does not wipe away any wars, neither civil wars nor world wars nor a war on terror. Jesus’ peace doesn’t alleviate our anxiety, like taking a pill at night. The world, as such, will still feature and, in fact, feed on violence and bigotry and destruction and – yes – it’s all caused by people just like you and me. We live, today, in deadly times, but we always have. Throngs rejoice, celebrate a killing. So many wrestle with ambivalence between rejoicing and fear, glee and, well, sickness. Threats of car bombs invade our major cities. Political conversation, across the aisle between two broken parties, is dead. The American experience seems under threat of collapse, economic, political, religious and otherwise. The creation, as we know it, is also not eternal, and through our own consumption of natural resources we can threaten its livelihood even as we sit and read these words.

No, Jesus’ peace is not an elixir or a drug. It’s a reality that, deep down, we are already redeemed, that we are already given gifts. So that peace is only activated when we use it. Jesus told his disciples, in the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, to go out and spread the message: heal the brokenhearted, bind up the sinners, proclaim release to the captives. “Do not be afraid,” for this peace you have is mine, it is eternal, it is yours. Use it.

Someone we might remember this weekend, named Anna Jarvis, believed so much in the strangely counter-cultural values of peace, womanhood, goodness, mercy, and compassion that she stuck her neck out there, in a deadly, blood-lusty time. She risked faith, and was redeemed. And you and I remember her, or at least remember her day for it.

Or do we? Honestly, how many thought of the second Sunday in May as a radical cry for peace?

For the long ending of the story is that Anna Jarvis, who sought to lift up her mother’s memory in establishing this holiday, died in utter poverty, having spent everything she and her sister had to de-commercialize the holiday. As early as fifteen years after President Wilson established the Second Sunday in May as a holiday, she was disgusted by how quickly it grew into a buying spectacle and how suddenly it lost its focus on what her mother worked so hard to claim – a focus on mercy for the downtrodden, compassion for the prisoners, justice for the poor, and peace for all humankind.

Perhaps that’s the Christian story in a nutshell – that future generations might not know us for our great deeds and monumental tales but we do them nevertheless. We stand against violence and war-mongering. We love the downtrodden. We clothe the naked. We feed the hungry. We tend the poor.

Not because it’s popular, but because it’s right – and the right, the only way to peace.

The Rev. Greg Syler is the rector of St. George's Episcopal Church in Valley Lee, Maryland, and serves on Diocesan Council in the Diocese of Washington.

Elizabeth Johnson, Reliable Guide

By Deirdre Good and Jane Redmont

Nearly twenty years ago, in 1992, the late Catherine Mowry LaCugna, a Catholic theologian still respected and cherished in the theological academy for her book on the Trinity, God With Us, wrote an essay in the Jesuit magazine America titled “Catholic Women as Ministers and Theologians.” LaCugna noted that a critical mass of Catholic women had emerged with doctorates in theology, scripture, ethics, and related fields, and were now teaching in colleges, universities, and seminaries. While this change in the composition of the theological profession is not unique to the Catholic Church --or to Christianity-- LaCugna pointed out that of all professionally trained women theologians in the U.S., by far the majority were Roman Catholic. “Further,” LaCugna added, “the field known as feminist theology has largely been the project of Catholic women.”

LaCugna was under no illusion that the church as a whole had changed, despite the fact that a significant number of clergy and lay ministers, in this country at least, had been educated by theologians who were women. While women in the varied ministries of the church (both volunteer and professional) already far outnumbered men, church leadership remained clerical and less than collaborative, women were still barred from ordination, and feminist theology was treated as a fad.

Today the Catholic Theological Society of America, formerly a male, clerical, and white preserve, is still largely Euro-American, though it has recently seen its first Asian-American, African American, and Latino presidents. It is, however, no longer the preserve of either men or priests. These days, women and lay men make up a large proportion of the society; half of the members of its Board of Directors are women, and a woman president is no longer a novelty. Elizabeth A. Johnson, a former president of the society, is one of many Catholic women theologians who do not shy away from explicit feminist critique of church and theology. She is also, by most accounts, a moderate.

Professor Johnson’s 2007 book Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God received renewed attention when a letter from the Committee on Doctrine of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, dated March 24, 2011 and published on March 30 issued a 21-page statement criticizing the book for “misrepresentations, ambiguities, and errors” which they said “completely undermines the Gospel and the faith of those who believe in the Gospel.”

Being a Catholic theologian in trouble with authorities is nothing new. Many of the expert advisers at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) were formerly silenced scholars. They are now honored as fathers --they were all men-- of contemporary and theological studies, among them the French Dominican Yves Congar and his compatriot the Jesuit Henri de Lubac. Recent history is dappled with Latin American (Leonardo Boff, Ivone Gebara), Asian (Tissa Balasuriya), European (Jacques Dupuis) and North American (Charles Curran, Peter Phan, Roger Haight) targets of criticism by the hierarchy, often at the level of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Indeed, the CTSA’s highest honor --an award which Professor Johnson received in 2004-- is named for the Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, who had his own troubles with the Vatican (he was silenced in 1954) but went on, a decade later, to draft the Second Vatican Council’s document on religious liberty.

Analysts of the nuances of Catholic hierarchical statements may note that a condemnation by the USCCB does not carry the weight of an intervention by the Vatican. But, as the CTSA Board of Directors pointed out in a statement praising Professor Johnson’s work, the bishops did not follow their own rules, which they and a committee of Catholic theologians had set up during a painstaking process lasting nine years, from 1980 to 1989. As both the CTSA and Professor Johnson herself asked in her own brief response, how is it that Professor Johnson was never asked to meet with the bishops to discuss her book?

Professor Johnson began her professional life after entering the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood in the late 1950s. Having first taught science at her order’s request, she has long been interested in science and ecology and their relationship to theology and spirituality. Her book Women, Earth, and Creator Spirit, reflects this, as does the chapter on science, creation, and ecology in Quest.

A Trinitarian through and through, Professor Johnson has focused in particularly eloquent ways on the Holy Spirit, present in history and in daily life, in several of her works. She articulates a christology based on wisdom categories, both accompanying and inaugurating a recent trend.

In a 2008 interview with Tom Fox, former editor and publisher of the independent weekly National Catholic Reporter, Professor Johnson said “I just wanted a book out there, a simple book that people could pick up and read and munch on and feast on and have a banquet… in the theology of God.” Episcopal clergy of the Diocese of New York know the book since Bishop Mark Sisk gave them all a copy of it. It was his “innovative choice” for 2009, selected because it offered “a valuable reflection and overview of modern theological trends.”

Quest for the Living God is a creative venture, exploring ways in which Christians, as theologians of the pew and the street and as the people of God in their faith of many cultures and voices have been wrestling with, naming, and celebrating the presence of God in the world.

The book seeks to write “a new chapter in an ancient story,” as the first chapter indicates. Quest for the Living God begins with a warning: ancient cartographers marked the limit of known worlds by writing “Here be dragons" in empty space at the map's edge. “There is something frightening about moving into the unknown, which might harm or devour us,” Johnson writes. She invites her readers “to test where the limits of their own ideas about God might be” and to risk a journey through dragon territory to new places “already discovered to be life-giving and true by others in the church.”

Professor Johnson sets up three ground rules to equip readers for the journey: first, the recognition that God's reality is an ineffable, incomprehensible mystery. God has drawn near in Jesus Christ “but even there the living God remains unutterable mystery…” Consequently, the second ground rule is that no expression of God can be taken literally. “We are always naming toward God, using good, true and beautiful fragments” of our worldly experiences to “point to the infinite mystery who dwells within and embraces the world but always exceeds our grasp.” Every word we speak about God is metaphorical or analogical, namely, that particular notion and more besides. From this, it follows, since no single name is ever sufficient, we need many names for God, each adding to the richness. These three precepts are rooted in the biblical warning against idols. They “free our imaginations from standard cultural models of the divine, the paltry heritage of modern theism.”

In chapters that follow, Professor Johnson explores God-talk emerging out of the crises of human history. How can we speak of God amid human suffering, especially the massive suffering and evil of the last century with its genocides, world wars, nuclear arms race, struggle to emerge from colonialism, and ecological destruction? How can we speak of God in a Christian way --a way advocating Christ’s uniqueness-- in a world of many religious and wisdom paths? Professor Johnson probes insights that God who suffers, who liberates, who acts “womanish” in “a symphony of symbols,” who breaks chains of racism and accompanies the poor and colonized and inspires them to celebrate fiesta, a God who is generous beyond our imagining in a world of plural religious experience and belonging, is also the Creator Spirit in an evolving world. She concludes in the Trinitarian God of love as beyond us, as with us in suffering, and as the pervading ways of the Spirit.

By all accounts (and our professional and personal experiences confirm this) Professor Johnson is a thorough scholar, a heartfelt Catholic, a determined and clear-spoken feminist, and a beloved teacher who is also a warm and witty public speaker. Joseph McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University, where Beth Johnson is Distinguished Professor of Theology, spoke swiftly and clearly in her defense, as did the Board of the CTSA.

Quest for the Living God is a simple, accessible book with no footnotes. Its wisdom is to examine contemporary insights about God fearlessly and generously so as to detect broader and deeper religious truths. An instructor of Professor Good’s acquaintance who used it in an introductory theology course scheduled it for the end of the quarter, when participants are exploring the future of images of God and the sacred. She found the book highly accessible theologically to an array of students. The writing style presents evocative images and metaphors with which students, both young and older, can play, pray, and engage. The bibliography at the end of each chapter provides resources for further investigation. The professor concludes that the students appreciated this book because it touches on vital concerns that haunt them and about which they wonder: it made theology much more real to them.

Professor Johnson is a firm believer in the church’s mission of reconciliation. At a 2008 gathering of leaders of Catholic religious orders of women and men, many of whom feel anger at the institutional church, Professor Johnson, in a keynote address, invited the assembly to focus on the Holy Spirit’s power to build community in the church and to foster forgiveness. She also minced no words in naming the situation that angers many of her sisters and brothers: “We in this Catholic church continue to live with patriarchal values that, by any objective measure, relegate women to second-class status governed by male-dominated structure, law, and ritual.”

Forgiveness, Professor Johnson said, “does not mean condoning harmful actions, or ceasing to criticize and resist them, but it does mean tapping into a wellspring of compassion that encompasses the hurt and sucks the venom out, so we can go forward making a positive contribution, without hatred.”

Why the condemnation of this particular book? Why now? Professor Johnson has written far heftier works for two full decades. Her book She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (1992), won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award and in many ways was and is far more radical than Quest for the Living God. Professor Redmont remembers wondering at the time why the book did not get Professor Johnson in trouble and answering her own question in two ways: 1) The book, which places in dialogue feminist and classical Christian wisdom, was so exquisitely researched, so deeply rooted in scriptural and patristic study, so beautifully argued and written, that it was virtually impossible to shoot scholarly or doctrinal holes through it. 2) The bishops had not and would not read it, both because of its sophistication and because Professor Johnson was, after all, a woman. Most women theologians have more education in theology than most of the U.S. bishops.

Which brings us to the level of theological sophistication of the Catholic laity, including (for canonically they are lay persons) Catholic sisters. The bishops’ stated concern about Quest for the Living God is that as a book conceived to be popular, it is being widely read and used in undergraduate college courses and that it is leading the faithful astray. Have the faithful no intellectual capacity to discern or no capacity to be taught by their professors and clergy? As the French would say, Un peu de respect! (A little respect, please.) In a follow-up statement issued during Holy Week, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, carefully delineates in doctrinal language the respective roles of bishops and theologians but inserts a sports metaphor. “In any sporting match, football, tennis, baseball, there are referees and umpires. The game can proceed with the supervision of a referee. In a tennis match, it is not the player who calls the ball ‘out of bounds’ but the referee. The player may object that it was not his or her intention to hit the ball out of bounds. He or she may even question whether the ball is out of bounds. But it is the referee who must make the call.”

Not surprisingly, sales of Quest for the Living God have, since the issuing of the original condemnation, shot up to the top of the Amazon.com sales list and in direct sales from Professor Johnson’s publisher, Continuum.

Even as we share the outrage of our Roman Catholic theological colleagues, we should not limit our ecumenical solidarity to complaints about Professor Johnson’s treatment by hierarchs who have tried --unsuccessfully so far-- to sully her good name and her credentials as a Catholic theologian. Indeed, we would do well to exercise our ecumenical muscles by learning from Professor Johnson’s theology.

As we celebrate the central mysteries of the Christian year and continue through the season of Resurrection, Professor Johnson’s critiques and constructive suggestions are well worth pondering, not only in Quest for the Living God but in all her works. Professor Johnson began her erudite, thoughtful, and faith-filled book She Who Is with thoughts that apply not only to Roman Catholics but equally to us as Episcopalians. “Inherited Christian speech about God,” she writes, “has developed within a framework that does not prize the unique and equal humanity of women, and bears the mark of this partiality and dominance.” How do we, in our theology and in our common prayer, speak of God and how can we struggle poetically and faithfully to speak of God rightly?

“To even the casual observer,” Professor Johnson writes, “it is obvious that the Christian community ordinarily speaks about God on the model of the ruling male human being. Both the images that are used and the concepts accompanying them reflect the experience of men in charge within a patriarchal system.” Professor Johnson continues: “The difficulty does not lie in the fact that male metaphors are used, for men too are made in the image of God and may suitably serve as finite beginning points for reference to God. Rather, the problem consists in the fact that these male terms are used exclusively, literally, and patriarchally.”

We strongly urge that Christians, catholic and reformed, read and discuss Professor Johnson’s books. Let her teach us. We have much to learn from her.

For further reading:

- Consider Jesus: Waves of Renewal in Christology (1990)

- She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (1992)
Tenth anniversary edition with new Preface, 2002.

- Women, Earth, and Creator Spirit (1993)

- Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reading of the Communion of Saints (1998)

- Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints (2003)

- Dangerous Memories: A Mosaic of Mary in Scripture (2004)

- Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God (2007)

- Elizabeth A. Johnson is also editor of The Church Women Want: Catholic Women in Dialogue, a book of proceedings of a 2002 symposium, and the author of numerous journal articles.

Deirdre Good is Professor of New Testament at the General Theological Seminary. Her latest book is Studying the New Testament: A Fortress Introduction with Bruce Chilton (Fortress Press 2010). Jane Carol Redmont teaches religious studies and theology at Guilford College and is the author of Generous Lives: American Catholic Women Today (1992) and When in Doubt, Sing: Prayer in Daily Life (1999, pbk 2008). She will be presenting a paper on an ecumenical panel inspired by Elizabeth Johnson’s Friends of God and Prophets at the June meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America.

I am the good mother

By Ann Fontaine

The second Sunday of May is the Hallmark High Holy Day of Mother’s Day. The creation of this commemoration was supported by Julia Ward Howe in her Mothers’ Day Proclamation, and the day was set aside in 1914 by President Woodrow Wilson as a day to honor mothers whose sons had died in war. Since that time it has become a day of difficulty for many clergy and preachers.

Every year I wrestle with how to balance the almost idolatrous honoring of mothers by the greeting card, flower, and gift industries and the reality of “mother” for many. While many have wonderful mothers whom they wish to honor, others had abusive mothers and flee from activities on Mothers’ Day that only salts their wounds. Those who wanted to have children and could not and those whose children have died also find it difficult to sit through a service when the focus is on something they have yearned for or lost.

How might we approach this day? Embrace it? Ignore it altogether? Add prayers for all sorts and conditions of mothers and non-mothers? Transform it? All hold possibilities

We can embrace it in the spirit of Hallmark - celebrate an idealized image of mother. Give thanks that it is a well-attended Sunday as mothers and grandmothers ask their children and grandchildren to go to church this one day that is not Christmas or Easter. Give out flowers to all mothers who attend our services. Sing hymns and songs glorifying motherhood. One priest I know changes the words of Faith of our Fathers to Faith of our Mothers, recognizing that most of us attended church because of our mothers, not our fathers.

We can ignore it. Let it slip by unnoted even though many women will be wearing corsages sent by their children. We can hold on to the Anglican tradition of celebrating Mothering Sunday during Lent, usually mid-March. Transformed from a Roman celebration of the goddess Cybele on the feast of Hilaria, to a festival honoring Mary, the mother of Jesus and by extension all mothers. Marked for many years as the one Sunday when domestic servants were allowed a day off to see their mothers. Perhaps there can be movement similar to the idea that churches should not sing Christmas songs during Advent.

Another possibility is offering prayers but not preaching on the subject. Offering prayers for those who are mothers whether kindly or abusive, for those who have mothered us regardless of gender, for those who grieve death of a mother or of a child or the inability to be a birth mother can raise the awareness that the church understands the joys and difficulties of this day for many. The following is an example by Melissa Roberts:

God of mysteries, I don’t know why Mom [insert reason mother left]. Despite all the changes in my life, I miss her. Remind me that I am Your beloved child, with whom You are well pleased. You, O God, will never abandon me. Heal me in body, mind, and spirit when I feel that my mother abandoned me. Lead me to others will nurture and guide me as a mother should and let me, also, share the love of a mother with others, in the light of Your love. Amen.


Yet another idea is transformation. This seems to be gaining favor with many both in and out of churches. As early celebrations called for an end to war current celebrations add the honoring of women for the work they do providing for their families, changing unjust laws, risking jail or death for a better life for their communities and the world, and working for a safe healthy world for all children. The US State Department recently announced the winners of the Women of Courage for this year. A developing activity for Mothers Day is called Standing Women. Women, men and children stand in silence at 1 p.m. local time for five minutes as a call to action on behalf of the world and our communities, as a type of mothering of the whole world into wholeness:

We are standing for the world’s children and grandchildren, and for the seven generations beyond them.
We dream of a world where all of our children have safe drinking water, clean air to breathe, and enough food to eat.
A world where they have access to a basic education to develop their minds and healthcare to nurture their growing bodies.
A world where they have a warm, safe and loving place to call home.
A world where they don’t live in fear of violence – in their home, in their neighborhood, in their school or in their world.
This the world of which we dream.
This is the cause for which we stand.

One year Mothers’ Day fell on the same day as the reading from the Gospel of John. After talking about the difficulties and joys of the day, I paraphrased the reading as a way of taking another look at the gospel and mothers:

Jesus said: I am the good mother. The good mother lays down her life for the children. The hired caretaker, who is not the mother and does not care for the children, sees the fearful thing coming and leaves the children and runs away -- and the children are snatched and scattered. The hired caretaker runs away because s/he does not care for the children. I am the good mother. I know my own and my own know me, just as my Mother knows me and I know my Mother. And I lay down my life for the children. I have other children that are not of this family. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one family, one mother. For this reason I am loved, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from the Holy One.
What do you do in the church you serve?

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

Managing anxiety in times of stress

By Margaret M. Treadwell

Mark Twain said: “I’ve had many troubles in my life and most of them never happened.”
Jesus said: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life. … Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matthew 6: 25)

If this is true, then why did God create his creatures great and small to constantly anticipate danger in preparation for fight or flight? A childhood friend grew up in a family where her mother and grandmother lived by the mantra: “Look out ahead of yourself to name the possible catastrophes, worry, and prepare for the worst yet to come.” This focus on future doom never got to the real cause of their terrors, nor did it give them strategies to face life more calmly and faithfully. It was chronic anxiety, which differs from the acute anxiety we rely on to get us out of harm’s way. (“Oops, that truck running a red light would have crushed me if I hadn’t jumped back on the curb!”)

Over time, her family’s general anxiety spread like the flu to my young friend, who by osmotic absorption of fear seemed to attract bad luck – frequent accidents, illnesses and troubles in school. She became a timid adult and indeed her misfortunes followed her.

Her only son’s diagnosis of schizophrenia and the early death of her husband strengthened her resolve never to stray far from home in order to protect her son and herself. So she religiously tended her garden, invited a few people over from time to time, and gradually lost touch with her church community, insisting it couldn’t meet her needs. Since it takes a community to raise a child, her son suffered as much as she from her alienation. She saw doctors with expert opinions and took many medications, but she simply became more reclusive. One of her remaining friends remarked that she could have gone for a brisk walk in the time it took her to swallow the enormous number of pills she consumed each day.

In her mid 50s she was poisoned by arsenic from chemical toxins left in her garden’s soil by live WWI bombs buried for safety in her neighborhood. She had never truly lived. Avoiding danger was no safer in the long run than exposure to risk.

All of us bear the brunt of some familial anxiety, and searching for its real cause can be of great benefit. But the best way to reduce anxiety is often to increase one’s basic level of differentiation. How might my friend’s life have been different if she had worked more at being an individual and less at perfectly pleasing her family?

The following three questions have saved many a life from fear and anxiety paralysis:

• Where do I begin and end and where does another begin?

One of the most challenging and defining things you – or anyone – can do is to work on being clear about your beliefs and then having the courage to say “No.” No to family or friend when their expectations differ from your life goals. No to situations at work that don’t allow you to use your strengths. No to children when their demands are excessive or contrary to your principles.

• How can I stay connected with my family and others when their disapproval of my
opinions and choices makes it tempting to cut them out of my life?

Though they may not like your decisions, people appreciate clarity of belief and someone who is willing to take a stand when it is clearly, calmly articulated using “I statements.” Even so, it’s human nature to strive for “togetherness” and to resist another’s clarity. Learning to plan for that resistance and contain your reactivity to it is the true mark of progress. (Hint: more playfulness and less seriousness are essential to persistence when it seems easier to give in to another’s complaints.)

• Is all this worth it to grow up?

If your answer is “Yes,” you will have embarked on a lifetime process with a goal that mortals can never fully achieve, although Jesus provides us a model to reach for.
Differentiation is thoughtfully taking responsibility for your emotional being and destiny rather than blaming others and your lot in life. This means forgiving others for trying to fix us and forgiving ourselves for never measuring up. If we decide to welcome God’s presence on our journey and draw on our faith, we’ll have a better chance of moving toward the wholeness and maturity that is God’s wish for each of us.

Margaret M. (“Peggy”) Treadwell, LCSW -C, has been active in the fields of education and counseling for thirty-five years. Following a long association with Dr. Edwin H. Friedman, during which she served on his faculty, she co-edited and helped posthumously publish his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.

I am not a nobody

By Lauren R. Stanley

When, pray tell, did I become a “nobody”? I want to know, so that I can readjust my thinking, readjust my life.

Over in the Church of England, a proposal is circulating that would limit the powers of some women bishops if anyone – apparently anyone – objects to that woman.

Rod Thomas, chairman of Reform, a conservative Anglican group in England, was quoted as saying this so-called compromise was “sensible.”

“It represents a compromise,” Mr. Thomas told Reuters. “It doesn’t go as far as some wanted, it goes further than some liberals wanted. It is a way in which nobody can lose.” (emphasis added)

“Nobody”? Is that what I am? A “nobody”?

It has taken the Church of England years, and lots of nasty infighting, to even consider the idea of women bishops. This after taking the same Church years even longer to decide to allow women to be ordained priests.

Just months after agreeing to open the episcopate to women, conservatives are forcing the Church to pull back. The Revision Committee already has voted to change the rules so that certain powers can be removed from women bishops simply to appease those who don’t want them. If women bishops face opposition from traditionalists in the dioceses in which they serve, some of their powers – as yet undetermined – would be taken away from them and given to male bishops.

One Church of England spokesman says that in parishes that “don’t recognize women bishops and want to look to another bishop,” – read “a man” – that diocesan bishop’s duties and responsibilities to those parishes would be reduced “automatically.”

So there would be no attempt at education, no attempt at mediation, no attempt at reconciliation. Apparently, just one person can object, and poof! There goes the diocesan bishop’s ability to function.

Liberals in the Church are decrying this latest development, claiming it would create a two-tier church, allowing discrimination against women to get even easier than it already is.

As a woman priest ordained for these past 12 years, I can assure you: The two-tier system that the liberals in England fear has existed for millennia. The Church has perpetuated this system throughout its history.

Why?

Because, apparently, it is still acceptable to declare women “nobodies.”

I find it ironic that this last brouhaha is taking place in England, which has been ruled, quite successfully, by queens and one woman Prime Minister. It’s OK for the nation to be liberal enough to recognize that women are equal, but heaven forfend if the Church were to do so!

Let me be clear: I am not a nobody. I am a beloved child of God, created in God’s image, brought into being because God loved me into being.

I have no desire to be a bishop, and certainly do not serve in the Church of England, so in theory, this latest development has nothing to do with me. But in fact, it does, because the women who are being called “nobodies” over there are my sisters in Christ. They, too, are beloved children of God, they, too, were created in God’s image because God loved them into being.

So my heart breaks to hear of this proposal, because it tells me that the Church of England is more concerned with appeasing those who cannot accept a new thing than it is with living into a basic tenet of our theology: That we are all created in the image of God.

Because that is true, none of us is a “nobody.”

It would be nice if the Church of England were to remember that.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Haiti, where she works on the Partnership Program and Development. Her website is http://web.me.com/merelaurens/GoIntoTheWorld.net.

My pioneering grandmother

By Luiz Coelho

My grandmother's family emigrated to Brazil on a cargo ship that took six months to arrive! She was raised at a coffee plantation in a region where every single white person was related to each other, and could trace their origins to the same pioneer who got rich in Brazil and brought most of the people from his village in Portugal.

When she was young, she couldn't be friends with people of color. "It was a big transgression" - she said. Only when she went live in Rio (with my grandfather and their three girls), did they get in touch and develop friendships with black and mixed-race people. My mother was still an infant, and at first, she would cry every time a black person approached her. It was the very first time she saw them, in a country where about half of the population is not white! Eventually, she got used to seeing people who had dark skin tones, but just the fact that there are people even today who lived and can recall those events is very sad.

My grandmother had a conversion experience while reciting the Nicene Creed at her Catholic Church. Later, she became a Protestant, because "they also believed in the Creed, plus, they could read the Bible," but she's still fond of the Catholic Church "now that they can do those things as well." She might be a crypto-Vatican II Catholic of sorts.

She had three girls. Only my mom and aunt survived childhood. My grandfather, who also was her cousin, didn't care (or didn't want to care) about birth control. But she knew that they couldn't raise decently any more children, so, she prayed every day she wouldn't get pregnant again - and she didn't. That was her only choice of family planning. I wonder how many women still have to do that.

She worked overnight shifts at a sweatshop. My grandfather eventually got sick, and could not take care of the family by himself. Labor conditions in factories back in those days were deplorable, and my grandmother felt compelled to join a labor union and campaign for labor rights. Eventually, the government passed laws that forced factories to comply to a maximum of eight work hours per day. She still remembers how joyful she felt when that legislation became law.

Her multiple work shifts were not in vain. Thanks to her sacrifice, my mother and my aunt never had to work while at school. They passed the test to go to normal school, and eventually graduated and became elementary school teachers. Both went to college later. My grandmother also adopted an orphan teenager. This girl also went to college, and is now a retired federal judge.

Every time I think about women, and their achievements, I think about my grandmother and her life. Now she is 90, and many of the challenges she faced seem to be so far away from us. However, they are many women still face them. If it were not for my grandmother's witness of life, maybe I would not pay as much attention to this fact as I should. She has been, however, my model and guide, and in her I see the work of all those wonderful women who work and pray next to me.

Luiz Coelho, a seminarian from the Diocese of Rio de Janero, spends part of the year in the BFA program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His Web site includes his art and his blog, Wandering Christian, on which he examines "Christianity in the third millennium, from a progressive, Latin American and Anglican point of view."

Singing Judith's song

By Deirdre Good

The Daily Office, the daily common worship experience of professionals and proficients in many mainline Christian denominations, incorporates the Song of Judith as one of the Canticles we sing on a regular schedule (the asterisks denote a pause):

A Song of Judith

I will sing a new song to my God, *
for you are great and glorious, wonderful in strength, invincible.
Let the whole creation serve you, *
for you spoke and all things came into being.
You sent your breath and it formed them, *
no one is able to resist your voice.
Mountains and seas are stirred to their depths, *
rocks melt like wax at your presence.
But to those who fear you, *
you continue to show mercy.
No sacrifice, however fragrant, can please you, *
but whoever fears the Lord shall stand in your sight for ever.

A canticle is any song in the biblical text other than Psalms. Based on Judith 16:13-16, the Song of Judith is part of a larger song forming a conclusion to the astonishing tale of Judith's defeat by decapitation of the Assyrian General Holofernes. But the canticle we sing in the Daily office extolling God for the defeat of God's enemies, powerful as it is, has been severed from its connection with the wider context of Judith's song and its recapitulation of the deeds of her hands. Do we recognize that Judith sings a new song celebrating the omnipotent Lord who set enemies aside at the hand of a woman? Can we who sing it hear the textual echoes and transformations of God's spirit in Exodus not now being sent to drown the Egyptians but to effect the creation of the world?

The fuller version of the Song of Judith (Judith 16:1-17) celebrates in song the earlier prose form of the narrative of the book of Judith in which Judith celebrates the deliverance of Israel from her enemies. At the same time, the complete version of the Song of Judith draws in form and content on other biblical songs of deliverance by God sung by women such as the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15 (attributed to Moses but now widely recognized to have been sung by Miriam and the women of Israel), and the Song of Deborah in Judges 5. And the Song of Judith in Greek anticipates the Song of Mary or the Magnificat in Luke's Gospel in the New Testament.

We know that Judith quotes the Greek text of Exodus: Judith 16:2 states, "For the Lord is a God who crushes wars," an allusion not to the Hebrew but to the Greek version of Exodus 15:3, "The Lord crushes wars, the Lord is his name." In the Hebrew text, Yahweh is a man of war but in the Greek text, the Lord crushes wars. This situates intertextuality at the level of the Greek text, not the Hebrew.

Exodus 15:10 describes God's "spirit" as potency and power for destruction: "You sent your spirit; it covered them: sea clothed like lead in violent water." Spirit in Exodus covers and drowns. But the same phrase, "You sent your spirit" appears in Judith as direct borrowing with different application: the spirit in Judith 16:14 creates: "You sent your spirit, and it built them up, and there is no one who will withstand your voice".

Specific to the Song of Miriam and the Song of Judith is the enemy threat of the sword in the hand: Ex. 15:9 describes the aggression of the Egyptians, "The enemy said, 'I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them'". Similarly, Judith describes the boast of Israel's enemies at 16:4: "He said he would set my territory ablaze and dispatch my young men with the sword". Yet when Israel's enemy is routed in Judith, it is not by the hand of God but by the hand of a woman holding a particular short sword.

Miriam's song celebrates a victory wrought by the hand of another, her brother. In Miriam's song, the sword is wielded by God; but Judith wields the sword of deliverance herself. In a sense, there is an identification of Judith with God so that she embodies God's triumph.

We can now reflect on the difference this makes to our corporate worship. Worship embodies human beliefs about God. Recognizing that the language of war, subjugation and victory undergirds worship intrinsically, we can restore to the Song of Judith the meaning of God's actions on behalf of a broken and subordinate people by the hand of an inferior and marginalized woman. And we can thereby begin to redeem language of war in worship.

Dr. Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, specializing in the Synoptic Gospels, Christian Origins, Noncanonical writings and biblical languages. While she is an American citizen, she grew up in Kenya and loves marmite which may explain certain features of her blog, On Not Being a Sausage.

And a virgin shall conceive

By Ann Fontaine

Today, March 25 is the celebration of the Annunciation. It is the day when the church remembers Gabriel’s visit to Mary and reveals to her that she will be the mother of Jesus who will become the Christ. The power of the Holy Spirit will fill her and cause her to conceive. The annunciation is one of the most popular topics of art, especially in Medieval and Renaissance art – often depicting her as conceiving through her ear. The mystery of it has confounded many – with some turning to worship Mary as Theotokos, the God Bearer, and others turning away in disgust at such blatant mythology.

My early life in the Episcopal Church was one that rejected any sort of talk of Mary as anything other than the mother of Jesus. Mary, meek and mild, was as far as our minister (never call him a priest) would go. I was thoroughly steeped in anti-Mary thinking. However, our neighborhood was near a Roman Catholic grade school and many of my playmates were Catholic. They would write JMJ at the top of their schoolwork, which until corrected by one boy, I thought were the initials of a girlfriend. The effect of my church’s and my playmates’ very different beliefs about Mary left me with a sense that there was something forbidden about Mary.

When I returned to the church in my 30s, I found that the creed was problematic for me. I could not really say the part “conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary” without mentally crossing my fingers. I just did not believe it. However, I began to accept the creed as a statement across time and in community. I decided I could say it because we said “we” and I thought someone in the community and in the history of the church believed it. I was stuck at that point of my journey with Mary when I became friends with a person who prayed regularly to Mary and found that a much more satisfying connection with God than all the male imagery. Her passion for God and her deep prayer life affected me. I began to explore the place of Mary in my life.

The first book I read was Herbert O’Driscoll’s Portrait of a Woman: meditations on the Mother of Our Lord. The next one was Ann Johnson’s Miryam of Nazareth: woman of strength and wisdom. Suddenly, I was confronted by a powerful woman who lived fully into her faith and answered God’s call by choice. I had never considered any image other than “meek and mild.” I learned that her name, Mary – Miryam – has a root meaning of rebellion. Johnson’s research revealed itself in her poetry, each poem written in the form she calls a Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). I was amazed that I had missed this Mary in my education and formation in the church.

The current stage of my life with Mary began when I was teaching a class on the creeds. We were using Joan Chittister’s In Search of Belief as a basis for the study. I was facilitating the discussion and reading along with the class when we came to the chapter on “virgin birth.” Rather than explore the modern science or pre-scientific ideas about conception, Chittister spoke about the amazing story the creed tells about who are worthy to bear Christ into the world.

As I understand what she is saying, the fact that Mary was a young woman, a virgin when God called her to bear Jesus shows us the nature of God’s relationship to us. In Mary’s day she was seen as property. She was vulnerable in a culture that did not value women and especially not girls. Their value came from their connection to a man, first to their fathers and then to their husbands and their ability to bear sons. Today young girls are still at risk in many countries to be sold or bartered away. Even in the United States they are easily dismissed as less than anyone else. Although changes have been made – movies, popular music and media off all sorts views females as objects and not agents of their own lives.

This is why the creed’s affirmation of Mary is so amazing. God chooses the least in the social hierarchy to be the one to bear God into the world. It is a statement by the church of the worth of the individual in the face of cultures who say “not worthy.”

As to Mary as a vehicle for our prayers, I love having Our Lady of Guadalupe and other images of her around. I currently experience Mary as a companion rather than an object of worship. I see her as priest, the first person to offer the broken body of Christ up to the world. I understand the need for a feminine face of the Holy and how that emerges no matter the suppression of that aspect of God. The book of Proverbs speaks of Wisdom who companioned God from the beginning of creation. The feminine face of God who created both female and male in the image of God, continues to surface in our worship and in our dreams and even in humor:

Michelangelo was up on the scaffolding in the Sistine, a little bored, a little tired. He looks down, sees an old lady kneeling in prayer, and decides to have some fun. His voice echoes through the Sistine. "This is Jesus. How may I help you?"
The woman showed no sign of hearing him.
He said again, "This is Jesus; how may I help you?"
Still no response
So he tried one more time. "This is Jesus. How may I help you?"
The woman looked up at heaven and said,
"Shut up—Can’t you see I'm talking to your mama!

I am not quite sure where my journey with Mary will end. I still have more questions than answers. Recently I received this poem from a friend and it opens up all sorts of new thinking about Mary. Perhaps this is a good thing for the Feast of the Annunciation.

It seems I must have been more fertile than most
to have taken that wind-blown
thistledown softly-spoken word
into my body and grown big-bellied with it.
Nor was I the first: there had been
rumours of such goings-on before my turn
came - tales of swansdown. Mine
had no wings or feathers actually
but it was hopeless trying to convince them.
They like to think it was a mystical
encounter, although they must know
I am not of that fibre - and to say I was
'troubled' is laughable.
What I do remember is a great rejoicing,
my body's arch and flow, the awe,
and the ringing and singing in my ears -
and then the world stopped for a little while.
But still they will keep on about the Word,
which is their name for it, even though I've
told them that is definitely
not how I would put it.
I should have known they'd try to take
possession of my ecstasy and
swaddle it in their portentous terminology.
I should have kept it hidden in the dark
web of my veins...
Though this child grows in me -
not unwanted certainly, but
not intended on my part; the risk
did not concern me at the time, naturally.
I must be simple to have told them anything.
Just because I stressed the miracle of it
they've rumoured it about the place that I'm
immaculate - but then they always were afraid
of female sexuality.
I've pondered these things lately in my mind.
If they should canonise me
(setting me up as chaste and meek and mild)
God only knows what nonsense
they'll visit on the child.

Sylvia Kantaris From Dirty Washing, Bloodaxe 1989. ©Sylvia Kantaris Used by permission

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

Women as global church

By Jane Carol Redmont

A few months after the last Lambeth Conference, in 1998, the World Council of Churches held its General Assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe.

The Assembly was preceded by a festival celebrating the completion of the 1988-1998 Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women.

These days, with Lambeth looming, we Anglicans tend to filter the word “church” through a particular lens. Like all lenses, it affects our vision, focusing on some realities and leaving others blurred.

I want to talk about church and about women as church.

Think of this as taking the camera we have been training on the Anglican muddle and performing two actions with it: zooming it outward and around to include the church universal, and examining the whole view through the lens of women’s experience and insight.

Church: not just the Anglican Communion, but the church in its fullness and multiplicity: the oikoumene, the word for the world church also meaning “the whole inhabited earth” -- this fragile earth, our island home, where God dwells among us.

Women as church: not just women in the worldwide church, but women AS church.

Why women as church? Sometime in the 1980s a shift happened within churches and in ecumenical gatherings, both formal and informal. (Pioneers in this shift were Roman Catholic women, including those associated with Women-Church.) The focus of women's language about church participation, both at the grass roots and among professional theologians, shifted from a "Please, sir, may I have some more" approach --"Please make room for us,” “Please let us in”-- to a different angle: "We are church and have always been church.”

Some of those who began speaking of women as church understood themselves as feminists. Some did not. Whatever they called themselves, they reflected and continue to reflect on what it means to be church all over the world, in and across a multiplicity of Christian communions and confessions.

Women are church.

This naming marked a shift in the theology of church.

It did not mean that all persons, in practice, suddenly became equal.

Women make up a majority of worshippers in all Christian churches. Go up the hierarchical ladder and you find fewer and fewer of us.

This is not the only indicator of women's lives as church; far from it. It is one among many.

Over the last few decades, both before and after the shift in understanding from “women in the church” to “women as church,” women have drawn attention to destructive and interrelated realities. These realities are systemic and institutional, not simply individual. They exist outside and inside the church. They weave and bind together sexism, racism, xenophobia, heterosexism, and socio-economic class bias, sometimes called "classism." (Stay with me. This is not about throwing around ideological jargon, but about the real lives of real people who are church, and about what church is in their lives.)

Women in the worldwide church have noted the relation between church teaching and practice on the one hand and social practices harmful to women on the other. The ways we interpret the Bible, offer or neglect pastoral care, structure leadership and liturgy, directly affect the health and well-being of women and their dependent children.

Do you know the major issue women identified during the WCC Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women?

Violence. Violence against women.

In homes. In churches. And of course on battlefields, in migrant camps, on streets, but especially in those other places, home and church, the places that should be the safest. No socio-economic class, race, or nationality was exempt. Women from every country and every church reported this violence.

Violence was the major issue brought up by church women. As a Christian issue. As an ecumenical issue. As an issue directly and intimately related to who we say we are as friends and disciples of Jesus and as images, icons, of the living God, the one and holy Trinity.

The three other key issues lifted up by "the Decade," as it became known, were:

- Women's full and creative participation in the life of the church. (Are women participating in the life of the church to the full extent of their God-given gifts? Are women as well as men of all races, cultures, and economic conditions viewed as the images of God? Do the language and the shape of the liturgy reflect this? Do women have access to theological education? If they have access to it, can they use it to the fullest extent of their abilities? Are they justly remunerated for it? Do we value the wisdom of church women, whether or not they have formal theological education? Do we reflect this in the way we raise our girl children in the church?)

- The global economic crisis and its effects on women in particular. (Women and their dependent children are disproportionately affected by poverty. Everywhere. In the U.S. Mexico, Haiti, India, Thailand, Ghana, Brazil, Fiji.)

- Racism and xenophobia and their specific impact on women. (If you are dark-skinned and a woman, you are more likely to be poor. If you are a migrant or immigrant and a woman, your chances of suffering from both poverty and violence increase. So do the risks for your children's health and well-being.)

During the second half of the Decade, the WCC inaugurated a new method. Teams of four people, usually two women and two men, visited local churches around the world. It was the first time in its 50-year history that the WCC used this model of local, person to person visits. The WCC chose to call these visiting teams "Living Letters," using the language of Paul in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: "You show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." (2 Cor. 3:3, RSV)

(The WCC is now in the middle of a Decade to Overcome Violence whose focus and methodology are in part inspired by the Decade in Solidarity with Women. It too has a Living Letters process.)

In the years before the Decade, another WCC project involved tens of thousands of women, extending beyond the Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant, Pentecostal, and other members of the WCC to include Roman Catholic and other Christian women. The project was called the Community of Women and Men in the Church and has become known as "the Community Study."

Placed within the Faith and Order secretariat, a sign of its significance for the very understanding of the church (not only for “women in the church”), the Community Study lasted from 1978 to 1982. Its roots predated even the founding Assembly of the WCC in 1948. They also included the more recent WCC conference on "Sexism in the 1970s" held in 1974, the first time a World Council of Churches international gathering used the term "sexism."

That year, the first women were ordained priests in the Episcopal Church. The WCC staff member coordinating the 1974 conference on sexism was a Black South African Anglican named Brigalia Hlophe (Ntombemhlophe) Bam. Brigalia Bam later served as the Secretary-General of the South Africa Council of Churches. She is now Chair of South Africa's Independent Electoral Commission.

The 1988-98 Decade inaugurated the Living Letters visits. The 1978-82 Community Study was innovative as well: it reached the grassroots to an unprecedented extent, more broadly than any other WCC project. Its study booklet on church and community life, originally published in three languages, was translated into thirteen more, inviting women to offer their visions and hopes for a renewed community of women and men. Consultations large and small took place on every continent.

Note the processes by which the two projects, the Community Study and the Decade, came up with their findings. They were broadly based, involving church members at the base as well as leaders, with a focus on the base. They were ecumenical enterprises. They involved face to face conversation with much listening. They examined the relationship between faith in Christ and daily life, and the relationship between women’s daily lives and the institutional structures affecting them. Women’s voices predominated. In both projects, there were few speeches. A great deal of sitting in circles took place, with much breaking and melting of silence, a lot of tension, tears, and anger, but also patience, hospitality, and hope.

At Lambeth the Bible study will be participatory and involve a carefully designed process, though it will of course involve only the invited bishops and their spouses. Gerald O. West, a South African theologian who spoke at the Society for the Study of Anglicanism last November in San Diego, a contextual and liberation-oriented scholar who has also worked with women's concerns and examined approaches to biblical interpretation in the age of HIV/AIDS, has been coordinating the design of the sessions. This reassures me, as does my bishop’s prayer that he and his brother and sister bishops at Lambeth will open their hearts to God and to each other.

Still, I wonder. Will there be true circles of listening, of struggling with difference with integrity, charity, and hope? Will they call upon the Holy Spirit with a longing for justice? Whose voices will never reach the circle?

Still more, I confess: Lambeth and GAFCON raise the same questions for me when I look at them through a feminist lens, which is the lens of women as global church.

Who is defining the situation?

What is church? Who is church? Where is church?

Who decides? Who interprets? Whom does this benefit?

What is unity? At what cost and over whose backs do we build unity?

What are the truly important matters for the friends of Jesus who call themselves the Body of Christ?

What are the needs of the world and the signs of the times?

Where ought our attention to be directed in these times?

And where, where will be the women and the voices of women, of women as church?

Jane Carol Redmont chairs the Anti-Racism Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. She blogs at Acts of Hope and has begun another blog as a resource for the committee’s work at Race, Justice, and Love. She is a faculty member in Religious Studies and Women’s Studies at Guilford College and theologian for the diocesan Deacon Formation Program.

Only faith

By Barbi Click

While the Anglican/Episcopal world sits all atremble, watching as the Anglican bishops speak out in Jerusalem of their own disenfranchisement and waiting with excitement or trepidation the upcoming Lambeth Conference, life as a lesbian Episcopalian goes on. Funny how that happens in so many aspects of our lives. That which seems earth-stopping for one is just another moment in time for another.

Were I still in the Diocese of Fort Worth, I am sure that the gathering of those at GAFCON and at Lambeth would matter a great deal more. Yet I am not in Fort Worth any longer. I am in St. Louis and in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. That does not mean that I care less, only that the world is different here.

One year ago, monumental things were happening in my life. As a member of the Board of Integrity USA and as a lesbian resident of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, I was invited to share my story with Phil Groves who was to be in New York as part of the Archbishop of Canterbury's "Listening Process". Mr. Groves headed up this endeavor. I was watching the Anglican-Episcopal world with a much greater degree of interest.

Yet at the same time, my partner, Debbie, and I were preparing to move out of our home of 13 years. As a result of our impending move, I was unable to meet with the invited group in New York. For the year past, Debbie and I had actively sought discernment for God's will in our lives. We wanted to live a life according to that will. It was no longer enough to exist within the confines of security. To wit, Debbie quit her job, we sold our home and small acreage, sold or donated a great deal of our material goods, stored that which we deemed irreplaceable, loaded up our eleven-year-old son and two dogs into an old motor home, said goodbye to family and friends and set off to see the Episcopal Church outside of The somewhat-less-than-Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

Between July 2007 and February 2008, we traveled by car, by motor home and by airplane from Texas to Wyoming to Ohio to California to Missouri with many stops in between. We visited Episcopal parishes, Integrity and Canterbury groups and a couple of college campuses at their invitation. We heard the same question repeatedly: how did we take the steps that we took to walk in the faith that we walk? They wanted to hear how God called two moms and their child into this Church and this journey.

There can be a great discussion between the ideas of sacrifice and suffering. Some see what we have done as a great sacrifice. We see it, not as a sacrifice; rather, we would have suffered had we not done what we did. We had no choice but to step out and follow, for to have not done so would have resulted in great spiritual angst. We had no idea what God was calling us to do; we knew only that we had to move forward willingly to be able to know more. So, move we did.
Underlying all of this was the acknowledgement that I was being called into the ordination process. It took a great amount of time to understand and accept this. It is no small thing and far from simple to be a woman called into the priesthood in the Diocese of Fort Worth. Many know that hardship. Being a lesbian woman in a long term relationship made it an even more difficult thing. Being in relationship excluded me from the process within all the dioceses in Texas and many dioceses in this Church.

We know more now that we did before. We know that part of this pilgrimage in seeking God's will in our lives is truly about listening. We also know that it is not over. We are in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri at this time, awaiting further discernment. We are practicing our "listening" skills. We know that what happens in both Jerusalem and at Lambeth are important but that, regardless, life goes on.

As the Anglican world turns, we hope that it will step out in faith to listen – not to those who are talking for gays and lesbians in this Church; rather, that it will listen to the Holy Spirit which lies within the voices of the gays and lesbians themselves. Let us tell our every day stories. Let us share our stories of faith and just what these mean to not only us but to the Church at large. Just as we can learn from the journey of straight Anglicans and Episcopalians, so also can these learn from us. We have a story of love to share; we have a story of Good News. There is no sacrifice…only faith.

Barbi Click of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis is vice president of the South Central region for Integrity.

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