In the Hands of an Angry God

This picture comes from Caryn Riswold’s blog. A feminist Lutheran theologian, Riswold reflects in this post on the idea of God’s wrath. She traces her readers back to Sarah Over the Moon, who wrote a provocative piece entitled “Maybe God is A Bitch.”  Both articles articulate quite eloquently God’s solidarity with marginalized peoples. Rather than spend time here telling you about how they explore preconceived notions of God’s anger as bad, I recommend both articles before moving forward here.

Though, I will go on to say, Riswold confesses her own insecurity with the idea of an angry God as a result of notions that take root with Jonathan Edwards, way back in the nineteenth century. Edwards’ rather infamous sermon articulates why God must go against God’s otherwise pleasurable demeanor and send the wicked to hell. Here are a few excerpts:

The Wrath of God burns against them, their Damnation don’t slumber, the Pit is prepared, the Fire is made ready, the Furnace is now hot, ready to receive them, the Flames do now rage and glow. The glittering Sword is whet, and held over them, and the Pit hath opened her Mouth under them.

Sin is the Ruin and Misery of the Soul; it is destructive in it’s Nature; and if God should leave it without Restraint, there would need nothing else to make the Soul perfectly miserable.The Corruption of the Heart of Man is a Thing that is immoderate and boundless in its Fury; and while wicked Men live here, it is like Fire pent up by God’s Restraints, whereas if it were let loose…if Sin was not restrain’d, it would immediately turn the Soul into a fiery Oven, or a Furnace of Fire and Brimstone.

No wonder mainline Christianity continues in her struggle to overturn such sexism and faulty theology like “God is love, but only to a certain point.” To the extent that entirely new waves of theology have arisen in response to traditional conservatism, the likes of which we learned from our Puritan frontrunners, we are able to craft new ideas that turn our orthodoxy into orthopraxy. Thanks to liberation, feminist, womanist, queer and other budding theologies, it is orthodox to experience an angry God. To take a step further, let us say that it is a sin to not be angered by the oppression that God’s people endure. How do we image/imagine this within the lens of Jesus’ own liberation-love tactics?

The two bloggers ask “What if the wrath of God is something else?” Aside from what Edwards explains as a force of domination or coercion. Aside from fundamentalism threatening hell. Aside from the fear of those who are in power losing their power.

Here’s a quote from Sarah over the Moon. I like how she also re-appropriates a term usually relied upon to connote a derogatory attitude and female posture. It also shows the idea of God’s anger coming from love, not fear.

Maybe God’s a “bitch.” An “angry black woman.” A “bitter” abuse survivor. Maybe God’s “too sensitive” and needs to “learn to take a joke.” Maybe God is all of the dismissive words that we throw out to try to silence those who are fighting for change and for justice. Maybe God is angry, and we should listen to her.

Here’s a quote from Caryn as she validates Sarah’s hypothesis with liberation theology.

…[E]ver since I became familiar with James Cone’s description of wrath as ‘God’s almighty NO!’ to the sins and oppressions we inflict upon each other, I started warming up to it, seeing it as Cone does, an essential ingredient of God’s love.

Wow! Anger as an essential ingredient of God’s love. How beautiful to experience God’s indignation that blossoms, not from fear, but from an intense understanding of the longing of our human condition. Who knows better than our Creator of our systemic woes, corporate sins, and beleaguered ideas of equality? When we are angered by injustice, we do well to mimic God’s anger with our efforts of advocacy and education.

This year the Women’s Center is one of expressing solidarity and giving voice to the issues that anger God. We also hope to proclaim honestly our own anger when we see people of God alienated from justice. So let us stand united under a banner that has been redefined yet still claims we are, indeed, in the hands of an angry God. And let us work to absolve fully God’s anger of love as we embrace ALL of God’s children.

As my blogging sisters already stated,
Maybe God is angry and we should listen to her.


Open Doors

It does not take a Ph.D. in public media to see that women have been at the forefront in our news and politics. (Let’s go ahead a give a giant shout-out to Wendy Davis!) Sen-Wendy-Davis-filibusterAside from the government attempting to (re)take control of the female body through draconian legislation and fear-mongering, not the least of which stems from ignorance and a lust for power, a phenomenal and well-orchestrated event transpired this past weekend. The FBI succeeded in their largest nation-wide bust on the sex-trafficking industry here in the US. Over one hundred individuals were freed from the tyranny of their pimps and trading routines with even more arrests made to secure the freedom of the innocent. The majority of those rescued were women, the youngest only 13. Unfortunately in this case, good news does not make the bad more palatable. Like the ubiquity of the sex-trade for one instance.

I preached a sermon this past week from the lectionary passage Luke 11:1-13. The “Parable of the Persistent Neighbor” is a quirky little pericope exploring the idea of charity and compassion. The protagonist needs a loaf of bread to entertain some unexpected guests. Unfortunately, he called upon his neighbor at midnight for the favor of sharing his bread. Inconvenienced by the late-night call the benefactor eventually shares of his resources–not because they are friends, but because the guy was so persistent in his asking. He was not going to leave until he got what he needed! The crux of the story comes when Jesus says that God is not the curmudgeon neighbor trying to cover his head with the pillow when our middle of the night door knocking won’t cease. Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened. God is eager to share the gifts and goods that make for abundant living.

Except when we are still lost and the door is locked, right?


Are women across the globe not knocking loud enough? Have we not been knocking all night, so to speak? How dare our governments turn a deaf ear to our knocks. (Let’s give another shout out to Wendy Davis, our s-heroic persistent neighbor!) And what of the governments around the world who leave their female populations even more lost and wandering than America does?

God is a communal God. Jesus lived in community and spent his life compelling others to care about those who are left out in the cold night after night seeking food/security/shelter/equality/justice. God acts through God’s community of people. God continually shapes us into God’s fuller intentions for us. This means that we get to help God respond to those persistent and pesky knocks. The great doors of freedom and justice do not magically open on their own accord, especially with the winds of patriarchy and dominance bellowing to keep them shut! This means we have to react against the thrusts of looming legislation, entitled power-hungry, politically savvy men, and rise up ourselves in the middle of the darkness to usher in those whose rights are compromised.


The Women’s Center operates with an open door policy. (Well, not literally 24/7; I like to sleep in my own bed at night.) As we are formulating and growing our calendar of events for the coming academic year, we seek to be in partnership with the God who says, “Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.” We long to see this promised reality now. We also seek to participate with other women and organizations in Louisville who are also about the business of sharing our resources with those who have need. Will you partner with us?

A few events for you to anticipate this Fall:
October 10th  Celebrating National Coming Out Day (10/11) in Chapel
October 13th Louisville AIDS Walk
November 17th  Transgender Awareness Memorial Service in Caldwell Chapel

Events TBA:
> A film showing of “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” followed by a conversation with two women seeking ordination in the Catholic Women Priest Movement.
> Our Light + Lunches with special guests from the community

Finally, William Sloane Coffin, former senior minister of The Riverside Church in NYC and rhetorical genius extraordinaire prophetically claimed in a sermon about the subjugation of women during the 19th and 20th centuries that God will not be mocked. (Published in this book.) How so? Sloane Coffin instructs us to remember early suffragists. These women who were martyred for their work and who are today celebrated, emulated, and revered. They are in our history books, their work having paved the way for many of the liberties we to which we are privy. We have erected statues in their honor, in some cases in the very cities that outlawed and murdered them. 01302012_AP070523074824_600Women like Anne Hutchinson, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojouner Truth (just to name a few of the big ones) along with more contemporary names like Katie Geneva Cannon, Emilie Townes, Sheryl WuDunn, Hillary Clinton and now Wendy Davis inspire and remind us to run with God to open wide the doors of oppression and truth.

What will our great-grandchildren celebrate in a few years because we kept our doors open with God today? Indeed when one who seeks is found and one who knocks is let in, God’s justice prevails. God will not be mocked!

“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!

Take Back the Night

Take Back the Night, e.g.

Take Back the Night, e.g.

Our neighbors in Harrison County, Indiana, will participate in the movement to Take Back the Night tomorrow, Thursday, April 23, with a rally on the Corydon, Indiana town square, 4:30-7:00 p.m.

Additional details are available online in a letter from Gloria Z. Wood, Executive Director of Harrison County CASA

The Women’s Center at LPTS takes a special interest in this event because the keynote speaker will be our friend and colleague Rus Funk of Menswork. (OK, and because Acting Director, Heather Thiessen, will be able to stop by the rally on her way home to Corydon, something that doesn’t happen every day.)

The timing of the event focuses attention on April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, an initiative of the National Sexual Violence Research Center (NSVRC). This year’s theme is “Prevent sexual violence — in our workplaces!” and uses the slogan “Respect works!” Sexual violence on the job is more common than we like to believe. The NSVRC reports that “U.S. employees experienced 36,500 rapes and sexual assaults from 1993 to 1999” while working or on duty. Given the place of work in most people’s lives, given the role the community of work plays in providing a place of belonging and meaningful effort, these assaults are particularly devastating, as well as costly to victims, their colleagues and their employers.

The event underscores that April is also National Child Abuse Prevention Month. (More information, as well as an extensive collection of resources, available from the Child Welfare Information Gateway of the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.) The power dynamics of sexual assault and of child abuse link these two forms of violence tightly to one another.

In both cases, increased awareness — of how to prevent, avoid, and respond to assault and abuse, and how to provide the support targets or survivors of assault and abuse need — shatters the silence and shame that still often surrounds traumatic assault events, challenges blaming-the-victim tactics still encountered in law enforcement, community and family settings, and contributes to making communities less violent and more hospitable places for women and men.

Take Back the Night, indeed.

More Time for Our Space!

Rev. Deborah Fortel, Friend of the Women's Center

Rev. Deborah Fortel, Friend of the Women's Center

Yes — the Women’s Center will be extending its regular hours. We’re always open Tuesday – Friday, 12:30-2:00 p.m., except when events require our staff to be elsewhere, like Winn Center or the basement of Schlegel Hall.

But starting yesterday we’ll be extending our Tuesday hours later into the afternoon most weeks — generally until 4:00 p.m. — with some variability due to prior commitments on the part of our first active-duty volunteer:

Rev. Deborah Fortel, a long-time supporter of the Women’s Center, recently interim pastor at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in New Albany, currently working on a D.Min. with a focus on congregations in transition, and someone who has a few hours a week to spare doing work in the Women’s Center! Deborah will mostly be working on projects related to fund-raising (an ongoing activity here — see our donation page). By doing that work in the Center, she can also make the space accessible during those hours for others who would like to drop in, stay awhile, chat, study, talk, . . .

Frankly, we’re delighted!

The Women’s Center mission statement says it’s a place for gathering, and it is. During the approximately 18 months since the Center moved from its first location in the lower level of Nelson Hall to its new, spacious location [WE LOVE IT!] at 100 White Hall, we’ve seen gatherings ranging from impromptu chats, planning meetings (lots of those), only slightly more formal lunch hour presentations and dialogue — with and without images (see posts below, e.g.), breakfasts, open houses, lunches (concluding celebrations of the 3rd Annual Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture events and the Wedding of Justice and Love), and dinners, batik workshops, pricing parties and closing celebrations for the Fall Arts and Crafts Sale, . . . OK, we think readers will get the idea!

Still, we’ve continued to want . . . well, more. The Nelson Hall space used to be accessible whenever Nelson Hall was open, usually unattended, but always able to receive a visitor. Not so our White Hall space [much as WE LOVE IT!]. We don’t believe “faith” is a synonym for “wishful thinking in the wake of irresponsibility.”
With that in mind, the security issues with the multi-room space, that includes a kitchen with working electrical appliances, closets with doors that lock, etc., simply don’t permit us to leave the space open and unattended.

So we’re glad Deborah can help us open the Center a bit longer. And, we are hopeful that Deborah will be the first of more volunteers here at the Women’s Center, who will help us open the Center longer still. (Indeed, Sonja Williams has already said she, too, would like to spend a few hours in the Center, and we are in conversation with others . . .)

Together, we will be able to make the space even more of a gathering place, and as a gathering place, a place of community, and community’s manifold blessings: conversation, conversion, conviviality, — even, we hope, at least from time to time, those glimpses of the possibilities for God’s realm of justice and peace that remind us of what all this gathering is for.

Please stop by the Women’s Center on a Tuesday afternoon and welcome Deborah Fortel!

[Source for the image: an entry in Lifelong Learning @ LPTS, the blog created by Director of Lifelong Learning and Advanced Degrees and Professor of Ministry David R. Sawyer (who is also Deborah Fortel’s husband), which features the text of one of Deborah’s sermons — definitely worth reading!]

Why a Venite Café?

Still thinking about V is for Venite . . .

Lis Valle at the Venite Café

Lis Valle at the Venite Café

Wednesday night, February 11, saw the Winn Center dining rooms turned into an almost magical Venite Café, complete with cozy lounge furniture, soft lighting and other appropriate decor (art decoration provided by the ever-resourceful Marie McCanless), as well as instrumentals and stage, refreshments provided by Ted Burke’s Dining Services, and a special feature centerpiece cake detailed by Gail Monsma and Johanna Bos. The talented seminary performers who took advantage of the open mike format, too numerous to mention by name for fear of slighting any!, outdid themselves, aided and abetted by emcees Brennan Pearson and Megan Case.

So, some readers may ask, why? What is the purpose of a . . . we might be tempted to call it . . . festivity in the middle of a week of events focused on a serious subject like violence against women and girls?

A part of the answer is that the Venite Café was not simply a “festivity”, but featured serious offerings of talent as well: from song to poetry to personal monologues, the subject matter of the evening continued to touch on the subject matter of the week: the presence and persistence of violence against women. The content highlighted the connections of this violence to perceptions of women as sexual objects rather than sexual subjects, as part of the environment of things rather than as members of the world of human beings.

A part of the answer is that the Venite Café provided a venue for the creative energies of a wider group than the cast of the Women’s Center’s production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. This was, indeed, one of the initial purposes of the event. “Some people will want to write their own monologues!” “Some people will want to share their own stories!” Since that sharing isn’t something that can be accommodated within the frame of the registered performance, we created a venue in which it could be accommodated, and could provide an occasion for building community and enjoying each other’s talents and gifts.

But after being there, listening to the many talented and thoughtful and ribald and personable seminary performers, sharing the evening with all of these folks, many of whom are preparing to minister to the church, all of whom play some role in their various communities of faith, at least one other reason suggests itself.

V-Day contains a significant subtext having to do with women’s embodied lives and the role of physical pleasure in the context of those lives. That is a complex subject — historically, women’s allegedly insatiable sexual appetites provided a rationale for the exclusion of women from positions of responsibility and the imputation of inferiority to women. From approximately the Victorian period on, however, women’s alleged sexual reserve, innocence, even disinterest provided a rationale for the confinement of women to domestic environments in which they could — so the ideology went — be protected from harsh external pressures and could devote themselves to maternal and domestic occupations suited to their temperaments and gentle desires. (There is a distinct flavor of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” to this story.) On the whole, however, women themselves have had little opportunity and less language to give accounts of their own experiences, describe their own preferences, and affirm the importance of pleasure in the context of their lives.

It is not a coincidence that people whose pleasure is a matter of no importance are also people whose pain is, still too often, a matter of no concern.

Part of the meaning of violence against women and girls is given, made intelligible, by the possibilities for creativity, enjoyment, celebration, and conviviality that flourish in places and spaces where violence is, even temporarily, banished. Part of the meaning of violence against women and girls is given by the song, laughter, exuberance, delight, joy that we witness in places and spaces like the Venite Café, all of which is missing from the scenes of violence against women, the faces and lives of those it touches.

Joy may be one of the fruits of the Spirit — available in a context of love and peace — but it’s realized in the body: in the human body, and — ideally — in the body of the community that is called to make cultivating that fruit, and that context, its mission in the world.

One More Time!


for the Women’s Center at LPTS’ production of
Eve Ensler’s award-winning play The Vagina Monologues
11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
in the Women’s Center

One more chance, all you women of the LPTS community, to dust off your reading skills and dramatic flair, come over to the Women’s Center, and join the ecstatic throng who will be bringing this production to campus on February 13 (8:00 p.m., Hundley Hall, Gardencourt; we plan to make tickets available on line reasonably soon).

IF YOU CAN’T MAKE AUDITIONS TODAY, but want to participate in the production, please contact the Women’s Center by email at womenscenter at or by phone at 502.894.2285.
We want EVERYONE INTERESTED to be able to take part.

The documentary Until the Violence Stops will screen in the Women’s Center during the auditions.

(Note: Until the Violence Stops will also screen: Friday, December 5, 3:00-4:30 p.m., Winn Center; Thursday, January 8, 7:00 p.m., Women’s Center. This moving and illuminating film provides particularly clear insight into the significance of the performances of The Vagina Monologues on college campuses and in community centers across the nation and around the globe — including the first one here at LPTS, this coming February!)

V-Week is Coming

V-Week is Coming