“for the building of community . . .”

The doctrine of the Trinity represents the effort to approach God as community in the depths of the divine being

Fourth in a series of reflections on the mission of the Women’s Center
by Heather Thiessen

“The Women’s Center at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary exists to work for equality and dignity of women in all communities, including religious professions, for the unveiling of the continuing oppression of women of all races and nations, and for the building of community locally, nationally and globally.”

What does it mean to work for the building of community locally, nationally and globally, and why would this task of building community be important — so important that it is one of the missions of the Women’s Center? How would we even begin to go about that mission?

“Community” is a word with many and contested meanings; sociologists, who presumably know something about what communities are, reportedly have over 90 different uses of the term. The difficulty seems to arise around what dimensions are critical for identifying “community.” Everyone knows it has something to do with a group of people, but does that group of people need to (1) occupy a shared space, like a village, a city, or a country; (2) share interests and ideas; (3) work and live together, in specific ways – for instance, cooperate on projects, with or without a specific “communal” quality of interaction; (4) have a sense of “belonging” to one another, a shared identity? Those are some of the more common identifiers of community. They may combine in various ways in real live groupings of people, giving rise to the question of whether any particular group constitutes a community.

Without being too doctrinaire, or identifying ourselves too closely with one or another sociological school, we might note that most of the activities of the Women’s Center have a community-building component, almost by definition, and usually by design. It has something to do with the fact that the programs and activities of the Women’s Center are built around assembling, gathering, communicating, often involving concerted action, or sharing food. Those are all fundamental community-creating activities, as we understand it.

So, the Women’s Center as a space provides a focal point for the building of a community that can identify itself by its relationship to that space: Friends of the Women’s Center, the people who have come to know themselves and one another in and through gathering, interacting, and working in that space, in the direction of a mission that we have come to understand better in the course of working for it.

As an educational space and program, the Women’s Center articulates and disseminates ideas, and identifies and cultivates interests — both in the sense of what people come to care about, and in the sense of what is beneficial or necessary for people. That is, we understand that it is in seminarians’ best interest to become more interested in gender issues, and to have opportunities to explore that developing interest. So building a community of interest focused on gender issues grows out of the other elements of the Women’s Center’s mission. And as an educational space and program focused on gender, it almost goes without saying, those gender-focused efforts tend to cultivate the community of interest, in both senses, that builds on shared experiences of gendered embodiment in our shared social contexts. We hope they also cultivate the wider community of interest that can build on shared awareness of and care for those experiences, however different our gendered embodiments.

As a collaborative organization, which accomplishes its activities by organizing planning groups and mobilizing wider participation in the execution of its activities and programs, the Women’s Center’s work tends towards the development of a community in the sense of a group of people who work together. Over time, the growing group of people drawn together by the experiences of having once worked on such projects, at different times, with different goals, becomes an inter-generational community as well. Members of that community may not have worked on the same project in the same year, but can recognize themselves as collaborators in a larger effort that reaches across the years.

The greater goal of all of this community-building activity is precisely the formation of a community in the sense of mutual belonging, of shared identification — with the mission, the purposes, of the Women’s Center, which is to say, with the mission, the purpose, of justice for all people, and an understanding of justice as a project that requires attention to gender and the elimination of injustices based on gender. And while we believe that one day this community ought to be co-terminous with the Christian community, which ought to be fully committed to the promotion of social righteousness and the exhibition of the reign of heaven to the world, and then with the inter-faith community, which ought to be fully committed to global justice and peace, we recognize that the building of a community that shares this belief about what justice entails — respect for and celebration of women’s divinely-created humanity and a divinely-created humanity’s gendered diversity — is an indispensable step in that direction.

All of which helps to indicate why this mission is important. Community is that embodied form of life together that cultivates the goods of human life, and the recognition and appreciation of those goods, specifically in their location in one another and our relationships one to another. Community, then, is something more than expedient relations of exchange, or co-existence in space, such as might characterize anonymous transactional relations in our society. Community involves recognition of ourselves and one another as people, with individuated gifts and strengths, challenges and vulnerabilities, stories and aspirations. For us, community involves recognition of ourselves and one another as people whose lives are equally the work of a God who is always already community in the depths of the divine being, and who has created us to be, become, and display the image of that community in our own lives.

So as we walk across the 2nd Street bridge in the Louisville AIDS Walk, as we communicate with friends in Wisconsin or Odessa, as we raise money and contribute to the healing of victims of violence in Kinshasa, as we gather to share conversation around a shared lunch or breakfast table in the shared space that is the Women’s Center, and come to share one another’s concerns, questions, stories, triumphs and dreams in the process, we are building community, and living towards the encompassing community for whose arrival we long, which is the real missio Dei.

Click here to help fill the Women's Center's cup.

We hope members of the extended community cultivated in and by the Women’s Center will contribute to the community-building work of the Women’s Center during our Summer Donation Days!

You can go to OUR ONLINE DONATION SITE, the LPTS Online Donation Site (designate your gift to the Women’s Center), or send your check payable to LPTS – WOMEN’S CENTER FUND to The Women’s Center at Louisville Seminary, 1044 Alta Vista Rd., Louisville, KY 40205.

Thank you!


“to work for dignity . . .”

. . . kindness that is justice in the face of such dignity.

Second in a series of reflections on the mission of the Women’s Center
by Heather Thiessen

“The Women’s Center at LPTS exists to work for the equality and dignity of all people, including in religious professions . . .”

The Women’s Center’s mission explicitly includes work for the dignity of all people. At first reading, this commitment seems straightforward and innocuous, if not somewhat banal. We contemporary readers are likely to skim over a word like dignity on our way to something juicier. We register its positive valence. We gather a vague impression that it evokes an amicable relation between well-behaved people who treat one another with respect. Our heads nod in easy agreement. All well and good, let’s move on.

Let’s not. As Giorgio Agamben has shown in Remnants of Auschwitz, “dignity” is a problematic concept. Worse, his critique of dignity, and of an ethics based on that concept, indicates that it ought to be an especially problematic notion for a Women’s Center. This mission of working for the dignity of all people calls for more thought.

Agamben’s critique of dignity begins with the history of the idea in Roman law and western philosophy. That history persists in dictionary definitions of “dignity” as “a high rank, title or office, especially in the church,” “one who holds high rank or position, a dignitary,” and “persons of high rank, collectively” (i.e., “the dignity,” a usage similar to that of “the clergy” or “the aristocracy”). Dignity in antiquity was an office or title, therefore something bestowed upon a person, separate from that person, and requiring a deference distinct from anything due to the person apart from the person’s dignity (office).

Much later, as the offices that were dignities passed into antiquity, the “stateliness and nobility of manner, serenity of demeanor, gravity” that had been required of their human bearers came to be valued for its own sake, and to be cultivated as a moral good. Aristocrats no longer in possession of economic or political power who made much of a dignity that took the form of refined manners, tastes and speech make a good example of this understanding of dignity. The notion of a dignity that takes the form of cleanliness, sobriety, discipline in work and rejection of unearned charity that 19th century progressives lauded as the virtue of the laboring class, which had never been in possession of economic or political power in the first place, makes another good example. Dignity in these cases is a way of appearing and behaving as respectable, despite lacking the cultural substance that commands respect.

Agamben’s problem with the traditional notion of dignity is precisely its dependance on a separation and distance between “life and norm.” This irreducible distance requires living people to shape themselves according to that norm in order to have dignity. That is, a life that coincides with its physical, embodied, biological processes must take on and keep up something additional, a specific form, to possess dignity as understood in this way.

But dignified upkeep is not always possible. In certain extreme situations no separation or distance between life and its norm, its “what must be done,” obtains. Recall that Agamben develops his critique in the context of a reflection on the catastrophic extremity of the Nazi death camps. He notes, however, that in the very different, every day extremity of the relations of lovers, dignity also becomes untenable. The maintenance of dignity as distance and decorum is incompatible with that physical, biological, incarnate love that is inseparable from its abandon in and to the beloved.

In fact, a dignity measured as distance from what Agamben calls bare life is arguably least available in the very situations in which the protection that it might afford is most sorely needed. If people who aim to be good must aim for dignity, those people suffering the worst indignities of injustice and violence are precisely those most excluded from the consolation of goodness; and if dignity in that sense is held to be the condition for deferential treatment, that holding leaves the most abused lives the most exposed to further abuse.

Further, the distance from physical, embodied, biological processes wrapped up in this sense of dignity has been particularly denied to women, along with others identified by their embodiment, by the long tradition of western thought. The identification of “woman” at every point with an intrusively female body, the paradigmatic site of undignified sexuality, animal reproduction, and vulnerability to victimization, long made “woman” a pregnant symbol of the opposite of dignity. Real live women could only pursue the social goods that accrued to such dignity by “rising above” their womanly station in the direction of man’s [sic] invulnerable spirituality. Feminists, in opposition to this disastrous denigration of women’s embodied lives, have sought to reappraise precisely these physical, biological processes that take place as flesh-and-blood women.

Dignity as distance, then, cannot be what the Women’s Center exists and calls its friends to work for. That notion, which a cursory reading would leave unchallenged, must be rejected in favor of a more possible and promising understanding of dignity.

That more possible and promising understanding begins with the sense of dignity as “the state or quality of being excellent, worthy, or honorable,” along with a clear understanding that this state or quality cannot rest on anything that would be separable from life, whatever its circumstances. Instead, this state or quality must be understood to coincide with that life, as created by God, embodying the image of God, and beloved of God. Dignity understood in this way does not depend on an irreducible distance between life and life’s conformity to a particular dignified standard. It is, rather, a life’s innate and intrinsic claim to deferential regard, to honor in the face of its constitutive excellence and worth. This dignity is not something that can be gained or lost. Its presence is no protection or guarantee. It can be ignored or recognized, violated or respected. It is, however, the ineluctable posing of a choice, against or for the radical kindness that constitutes justice in the face of such dignity.

The Women’s Center exists to work for this dignity for all people — women as well as men, alternatively as well as customarily gendered, of whatever specific qualities and qualifiers. That mission is, in actuality, our most radical, and religious, commitment.

Click here to help fill the Women's Center's cup.

Please consider making a contribution to the Women’s Center during Summer Donation Days!

You can go to OUR ONLINE DONATION SITE, the LPTS Online Donation Site (designate your gift to the Women’s Center), or send your check payable to LPTS – WOMEN’S CENTER FUND to The Women’s Center at Louisville Seminary, 1044 Alta Vista Rd., Louisville, KY 40205.

Thank you!

Language for a God Who Loves Women

. . . my Rock and my Redeemer.

I recently overheard a conversation between two seminarians that ended something like this:

“I don’t doubt God. I know that God is . . . well, I can’t say it here, but God is my father, and wants what’s best for me.”

I was happy for that person, and his faith. But I was sad, too.

I assume the reason this person, a person I haven’t met, thought he couldn’t call God Father here, at the seminary, is that the masculine identification of God as father doesn’t fit the seminary’s inclusive language guidelines. We don’t use “he/him/his” language for God, supposedly, at LPTS. We practice thinking of God more broadly, reflecting usages that separate our understanding of God from our conventional understanding of gender in our world.

It made me sad for several reasons.

For one, because I am one of “those” people, someone who supports inclusive language. I suppose I must be a kind of villain in the eyes of this seminarian, whom I’ve never met. One of those radical minutiae-ists, whose focus on “politically correct” language keeps people from simply confessing their love and trust in God their Father.

But more, because that rueful sentence seems to me a sign of bafflement, as to what this inclusive language thing is all about. And if people don’t understand what the inclusive language thing is all about, what does it teach? Does it teach anything besides “whoever has power in a place can force people to use whatever language they choose?”

(Not that a lesson like that would be entirely wrong. Throughout history, this has in fact been true. The people who have had the power have used the language for God that spoke most clearly to them. That has been language that reflected God in the image of those who had power in the world: Lords; Kings; Husbands; Fathers.)

Surely that isn’t the main lesson inclusive language is meant to teach. Surely the idea is to branch out beyond the rigid, often unthinking use of stereotyped language for God. We are all too prone to call the God whose self-given name is “I will be being whoever or whatever I will be being” by the same one or two names, over and over, when that God needs more names than are even in our language to do justice to that God’s reality and identity.

And then, there is our addiction to picking, as that name to use over and over, a single name that reinforces some meanness in the world that chooses it. The problem with non-inclusive language — patriarchal language, language in which God is always “he/him/his” — is not that it is, understandably, a way for many people to relate to God as powerful and protective. It is the way it has worked, and still works, to hide the fact that God really wants the best for all God’s people.

We live in a world in which God created humanity male and female; we live in a world in which women have been endowed by God with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. We also live in a world in which women have been told, and in some sectors of The Church are still actively being told, that they cannot use their God-given gifts in the church to the fullest because women are not as fully in the image of God as men are. Because God — Our Father — says in His God-Breathed Book that women are to keep silent in the churches.

That is not a picture of a God who loves and wants the best for women.

The problem with that non-inclusive language is that it hides the God who wants the best for God’s inclusive people.

It is the God that seminarian means by Father — the one each of us can fully love and trust — that we need to proclaim in the church. And that is precisely why we need to practice using many names, besides Father, for that proclamation.

Why Louisville AIDS Walk, II

Louisville AIDS Walk Sunday Sept. 26

Click Here to Support Team Women's Center!

(Remember: Team Women’s Center will walk in the Louisville AIDS Walk on Sunday, September 26! Be part of it by joining the team online here: {CLICK THIS LINK} and then contacting more friends, family members, former employers, teachers, and others who can sponsor your effort. You can make an online donation at the site, as well. This is a way to raise money for services to our neighbors in the Louisville area who are living with HIV/AIDS and their families. The Women’s Center team will assemble on the Belvedere downtown at 2:00 p.m. — we think that will give us enough time to turn in the funds we’ve raised, get our team picture taken, and be part of the walk that begins at 3:00 p.m. Please contact the Women’s Center at womenscenter@lpts.edu if you need or want a ride from the Seminary to the Belvedere!)

As noted earlier, the answer to why the Women’s Center at LPTS walks in the Louisville AIDS Walk has a historical and a theological part. We addressed the historical part a few days ago. Here is a view on the theological part:

The theological part has something to do with stigma. That might best be illustrated by thinking about the average church prayer list. Picture that list. It’s probably long — the list at my church covers half a page of the bulletin. The one we used for years at the Wednesday evening Bible study was a full page, two columns. Think about who is on that list, and what we know about them. Most often, it lists the people in and known to the congregation who are sick, or in the hospital, or about to have surgery, or at home recovering from surgery; people whose mothers or fathers or cousins or aunts recently died, in accidents or at an old age. Now picture what you do to get a name on the list. Picture yourself walking up to the church secretary and saying “I’d like the church to pray for my niece/daughter/mom who has been diagnosed HIV+.” Picture yourself standing up in the prayer meeting and saying “I could use prayer for the challenges of living with my HIV+ status.”

We know those prayer requests are more difficult to make than the ones asking for prayer for our relatives and friends suffering with cancer or needing joint replacements. We know that people who are living with HIV/AIDS are living with a disease that entails all the affliction of disease, plus a still-powerful social stigma that makes it difficult for a person to acknowledge that disease, to seek the help and treatment needed, and to experience the grace and care of the community.

Participating in the Louisville AIDS Walk moves that grace and care out into the community in an active way. We believe God’s grace is active; Jesus exemplified active grace; Jesus’ disciples are called to that practice. The theology on that point is simple and direct.

But the reasons we know there’s a stigma attached to HIV/AIDS underscore yet another theological reason for Louisville AIDS Walk-ing. We know that among the reasons for that stigma are punitive and rejecting attitudes about “what HIV/AIDS means” that persist, even in the churches that should be — we also know — the places that proclaim the good news of reconciliation to the world. We have probably all heard people give voice to those attitudes. They may not even be couched in the form “Who sinnned, this man or his parents?” They may express judgment directly: “Well, that’s what people get when they . . .” or “AIDS is God’s punishment for . . .” Often, what HIV/AIDS is said to be a punishment for amounts to a rejection of rules for gender and sexuality said to have been made by God.

We must insist on a different vision of God. It has always been the mission of the Women’s Center to proclaim that the stance on gender that holds that women are bound by divine command to serve men by making babies and taking beatings is stenotic and mistaken. The stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, especially where it lingers in the church, often derives from that same stenotic position on gender. It has always been the mission of the Women’s Center to proclaim a vision of God informed by the revelation of created diversity (e.g., Gen. 1:27), an expansive call to worship (e.g., Isaiah 56:3-8, Rev. 22:17), and an emphatic stress on justice and wholeness (e.g., Micah 6:8). The stigma attached to HIV/AIDS evaporates in the light of that vision.

The Women’s Center’s mission and vision urge solidarity with everyone who faces oppression, exclusion or aspersions on grounds of gender — including many people living with HIV/AIDS.

That is another reason the Women’s Center participates in the Louisville AIDS Walk.

Event Space

Altar of Mary Magdalene in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Altar of Mary Magdalene in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

It is the season to reserve space at LPTS. Campus organ-izers and -izations have until the end of May to stake claims to the various spaces on campus for various events to be held during calendar year 2010. Once that date is past, the space may be reserved by off-campus groups or others wanting to use the spaces on campus for other purposes — like the chapel for weddings, or the elegant rooms in Gardencourt for receptions. If appropriate reservations are not made by the deadline, event planners may find that someone else has already begun to fill the space with their own dreams and plans.

The deadline forces us to think well ahead about the program of the Women’s Center — what we’ll be doing a year from now, or 18 months from now. And of course, we know some of those things. We know we will be thinking about another V-Week, and about another Transgender Day of Remembrance, and about another Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture (this time, thinking about it for a month in the fall of 2010, rather than the spring). We know some of those things, even though we don’t know everything that will arise, the various unexpected opportunities, folks who will be passing through and ask for time to share with the community, and so on. We just hope and pray that the space for whatever will arise will be open when the time comes.

Thinking about space just now, as spring is budding and blooming all over our area, has a kind of rightness to it. We set aside the space, make the space, a time on the calendar and a place for something to happen, right at the beginning of an event; not much else happens before we establish that detail, make sure our plans have a place to go.

Sometimes, it will happen that an event affects all the space around it. If someone reserves Hundley Hall, it affects everything on the first floor of Gardencourt. If something is already planned for the Winn Center lounge, it might wreck some plans for the McAtee Dining Rooms before they even get off the ground.

This has me thinking about the spatial dimension of Easter. We churchgoers and Bible readers and Christians have probably heard a fair amount about “the empty tomb” over the past week or so. Jesus’ empty tomb was the first phenomenon that signalled resurrection, however the various theologians among us want to understand resurrection. The first witnesses to resurrection — famously women, famously thought by the other disciples to be talking trash (and can we not hear Mary Magdalene saying “You know, when I said exactly the same thing, no one listened, and now when one of the guys says it . . .”) — were witnesses to empty space that was supposed to have been full, open space that was supposed to have been closed off.

From the space and events perspective, it’s as if an event that had been announced, dooming every other nascent plan, blocking every other possibility, pre-empting the entire space of life, had been suddenly and definitively cancelled, and all that space was released, opened up, for something else to take place, for new events to happen into.

That’s kind of thing that makes a person reserving space say “Thank God!” breathe a sigh of relief, . . . and begin working out what we’re going to do now.

Thanks for the 2009 Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture

We are celebrating the 2009 Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture!

We are celebrating the 2009 Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture!

The Women’s Center owes many thanks to the 2009 Katie Geneva Cannon lecturer, Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, and to the 2009 alumna preacher, Rev. Dr. F. Camille Williams-Neal, for making the 2009 Katie Geneva Cannon lecture and events a profound, moving, and enlightening experience for us and for our community.

Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas

Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas

Dr. Douglas’ lecture, “A Blues Slant: God Talk/Sex Talk for the Black Church,” addressed both the sources of refusal to engage the realities of the body and sexuality within the Black Church tradition, and some of the consequences of that refusal. Beyond that, she explored the potential for the discourse of the blues to constitute a discourse of resistance and reclamation that opens up new possibilities. Dr. Douglas offered an expansive definition of “sexuality,” using this term to refer to all those embodied ways people are drawn into and seek relationship and communion with others, rather than the more restricted, reductive use of sexuality to involve genital intimacy. With this more inclusive meaning in mind, and also mindful of the theological legacy of the God of a created physical universe, and of the incarnation, she proceeded to lay out a view of sexuality as intrinsic and necessary to the life of the spirit and the human relationship with God. Conversely, alienation from sexuality, whether through prohibitions or culturally-imposed distortions and corruptions, damages people’s relationships with themselves, others, and God. We will be pondering the implications of this fresh, provocative, and persuasive theological perspective for some time.

Rev. Dr. Camille Williams-Neal

Rev. Dr. Camille Williams-Neal

Rev. Dr. Camille Williams-Neal’s sermon, “An Unparalyzed Vision,” developed the theme of the body, and its intrinsic relation to the spirit, in a profound meditation on Mark 2:1-12. Williams-Neal first led the congregation through a simple, and powerful, physical exercise of representation and movement that created a context for considering this text in which Jesus heals the body and life of a paralyzed man. She then proceeded to compare vision to jello — and I suspect that those who heard this sermon will never again be able to think about vision without recalling that a developing vision takes some boiling, hot circumstances, and then the cooling air currents of God’s grace; that it needs stirring; that it comes in many flavors, like the flavor of “healing” or “forgiveness;” that “there’s always room for” . . . you know . . . even when we have had too much of others’ debilitating visions of who or what we are and can be. Ultimately, Williams-Neal drew the congregation into a transformative vision of an embodied, transfiguring God who draws an embodied people towards new life.

We need to mention the remarkable offerings of music at this worship service, as well, including an original composition by Mary Beth McCandless and Jeremy Franklin which we hope they will make more widely known.

The events of the Katie Geneva Cannon lecture concluded with lunch, followed by worship, in the Women’s Center Monday afternoon. The brief service further incorporated the themes of the body and its liberation, using art as a vehicle for channeling movement into the creation of work that captures the moment and points towards the future.

So, we thank these extraordinary scholars, prophets, and leaders for their gifts, and for their willingness to bless our community with them during these past two days of the Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture and Consultation. We hope we will honor their gifts in the days and months to come by embodying the flavor of vision called “learned something,” and “putting it into practice.”

Worship in the Words of the Tradition

Still thinking about V is for Venite . . .

Thursday, February 12, turned out to be a day of examining the ambiguous legacy and role of the church in relation to violence against women.

The V-Week Planning Group had planned from its earliest meetings to include a lunch-hour faculty panel on this day, and had early identified “The Role of the Church in Violence Against Women” as the desired topic. The idea was to find a way to consider the positive contributions of the Christian tradition alongside its complicity in patterns of violence against women. We wanted to celebrate the way themes of, e.g., human worth and dignity, equality before God, love and belovedness, healing, “setting the captives free,” empower women who have been touched by violence, remind them that this violence is wrong and is not the last word on them and their lives, and give them the strength and healing to persevere, survive, overcome, experience resurrection. At the same time, we wanted to be especially cognizant of the undeniable negative contributions of the Christian tradition, especially in its historic role as western cultural hegemon. (Sometimes difficult to remember in these post-Constantinian, post-Protestant-consensus, post-etc. times is that Christianity was an integral part of the dominant cultural paradigm in Europe for 14 or 15 centuries — at least, according to the last western civ text I checked). We wanted to hold those two legacies in tension, consider what that dual legacy might mean for members of the church today, what we might need to be critical of or re-evaluate, what we need or might need to repent of, what action it might call us to, and so on.

With this in mind, it was a short step to a decision to plan an opening worship service for the day that made this ambiguous legacy explicit, and that called attention to some of the connections between what we say we worship, how we say it, what we counsel members of the church, what we require of women and men within the body of the church . . . and the violence that women suffer in many forms all around the world.

Sad fact: It didn’t take long to bring together texts from scripture that have historically been used against women, statements from the Church Fathers that reinforced attitudes that women ought to submit to, and may well deserve, violent treatment on the part of husbands and other authorities, and militant or self-sacrificial metaphors that contribute to a normalization and acceptance of violence. (Here is a draft of the order of service.)

What we had not anticipated was the way this worship service would make people feel. As liturgists Brianne Jurs, Marie McCanless and Christine Coy-Fohr read, and as the congregation responded in song — led by Mary Beth McCandless — the sense of shock and speechlessness was almost palpable. As Mary Beth remarked after the service ended, “it makes you realize how much translating you’ve been doing all along.” Usually these messages — a constantly available strand of the tradition — are diffused in the context of other worship. In this service, brought together as they were, there was little opportunity to ignore or deny the insistent message of the unwholesomeness of women, and the acceptability of violence in the right cause.

One clear conclusion from that painful experience is that many of the church’s habitual tropes, images, and slogans deserve considerably more thought and qualification than we usually give them, and that some — if they survive scrutiny at all — call for frankly critical analysis and far more judicious deployment in the life of the worshipping community.

As the service progressed, members of the congregation wrote down some of the things we’ve learned about women and girls from our participation in this tradition and posted them around the worship space, an action that concretized this day’s worship and prepared for that of the next. The deep pink cards constituted visible reminders that the space in which we worship is not empty. It always already contains — for us, and our neighbors — many echoing voices, words, messages, many indelible images, unforgettable experiences. Not all of those invite, welcome, affirm . . .

Sometimes, indeed, as we saw and felt on this morning, it takes courage and determination simply to enter a worship space and to pursue what is vital and nourishing there, while fending off and blocking out what is poisonous.

It should take less. Remembering and speaking the words of the tradition that make worship hospitable to women is one of the concrete things the church and its members can do in the effort to end violence against women.