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.

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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?

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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.

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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!

Squinting at Justice

A view from a scenic overlook

One of the luxuries of summer at the Women’s Center is having some additional time to sit back and reflect on why we do what we do, with an eye towards making the connections between our mission statement and our program more articulate for students and members of the wider community. What motivates the project, or mission, of the Women’s Center? When the Women’s Center achieves its pre-eminent objective, what will it have achieved? Of the various ways that question could be answered, perhaps the best is that a vision of comprehensive gender justice will have come to fully inform our understanding of good human life, our continuing strivings for the developed life of the church, and our anticipations of God’s realm of justice and peace. That is another way of saying that the task of the Women’s Center is to “write the vision” of full justice in matters of gender, large and clear enough that people can catch it, and brightly enough that they are inspired to pass it on. Saying that, however, also discloses the perilous nature of this project, or mission. Because writing any vision, especially a vision of justice to be sought and achieved, is always perilous; writing a vision of gender justice in particular is doubly perilous; and whether anyone in the Women’s Center is in a position to do so is open to question over and over again.

The problem of blurry vision
There is always a problem with articulating a vision of the desirable future. That problem stems from the mismatch between the people we are, with the knowledge we have, based on a knowable world that is far from good and just, and the reality of that other, fully different, world. It is a mistake to label the gulf between this world and that one “unbridgeable.” The bridge between those worlds is transformation itself. But the effects of transformation are holistic, affecting our desires and preferences, the very categories of our knowledge, our social arrangements, everything. For that reason, the present is never the best place to catch the vision of the good world in all its clarity and precision. We don’t get good reception, we might say, on this side of the bridge. At best we have approximations, of unmeasurable degrees of blurriness.

Worse, however, once we latch on to that distorted image, we can quickly cast it in stone. What first strikes us as a grandiose, almost unimaginably utopian vision of realized justice hardens over time into shackles of injustice around the ankles of the pilgrim community, making it harder and harder to move down the road of transformation. The people called to live into a world of harmonious justice and peace are also called to move past the impediments to that justice and peace as transformation in the direction of that justice and peace reveals them to be impediments. We, however, often prefer to enshrine our first, dim intuitions of beckoning justice as timeless, unalterable commands. For this reason, there is always a perilous and potentially treacherous balance to be struck between articulating a clear and attractive vision, and leaving room for the maturation and transformation of that vision.

The special problem of gender
If articulating any vision is problematic, articulating a vision of change that involves gender is especially so. The special problem that besets gender justice arises from the extraordinarily close, constitutive, and confounded relationship gender has to us and to the realities we are capable of perceiving as delightful enough to want to run towards. Gender is a basic category of human identity and human relationship, and it is everywhere; none of our social arrangements fail to incorporate it, none of our meanings lie outside of it. As a consequence, our definitions of concepts like “justice” and “equality” always already incorporate concrete understandings of the gendered way things are, always already incorporate our “blind spots” — with respect to what it means to be a real person, for instance, and how gender plays into that — and our visceral understandings of normality — with respect to what constitutes “violence,” for instance, in contrast to ordinary enforcement of normal standards of deferential behavior. Our very imaginations of what would be good, pleasant, desirable, are formed in and by a world of existing gender arrangements, and the desires of our hearts are saturated with their colors. A vision of gender justice painted in truer colors can easily seem pale, or garish, alongside the familiar injustices we have learned to long for.

The precarious position of the present
The Women’s Center and its staff are aware of these problems, and aware that we are not exempt from them. So we are also aware that whatever concrete vision we have of comprehensive gender justice is partial, provisional, open to examination and question, and liable to change and continuing articulation. The most certain elements of the vision we have are negative ones: gender justice won’t include violence against women and girls, will be incompatible with rape and sexual abuse, will not sacralize the silencing of women’s critical insights or the sidelining of women’s gifts and talents. Gender justice would not forget to remember the history of women’s participation in and contribution to human society, including the society of the church. Comprehensive gender justice would not walk hand in hand with the implicit knowledge that “man” is the normal standard for humanity, and “woman” needs to be considered only in exceptional circumstances. But such negative criteria leave open for discernment and development the ways real life could take shape to give positive expression to the world without those particular forms of suffering. So much remains to be seen.

But for that very reason, we believe, the project and mission of the Women’s Center that is the struggle to imagine and envision the concrete character of gender justice contributes to the ongoing project and mission of living into the Reign of Heaven. Because the challenges of vision are not, ultimately, unique to the Women’s Center or to the project of gender justice. They are problems core to the social, political, and economic mission of the church as a whole. We hope and trust that our lives and our work are moving in the direction of that just and peaceful world promised in scripture. But as we move, we learn, and change. We notice old sufferings as new problems, recognize hitherto marginalized people — sometimes, ourselves — as centrally important for an understanding of justice, and so come to realize that standards of justice we once thought expansive are still inadequate, even as we must acknowledge that the emerging standards are not yet fully clear.

So we are in the position of squinting at the justice we long to see: trying to make out the shape of something a little too distant to see clearly, while trying to move in its general direction. Of course we look forward to the time when we no longer see as through a glass, dimly and blurrily, but with perfect clarity. But in the meantime, it helps to know that from time to time we arrive at something like a scenic overlook, when the view becomes momentarily clear, even breathtaking. Then, the project, or mission, of the Women’s Center is to point, and shout, so that everyone can see what we see.

Equal Pay Day at LPTS

Many members of the Seminary community wore red today to show support for pay equity


Today is officially Equal Pay Day at Louisville Seminary!

Today is, as many know, Pay Equity Day: the day women’s earnings catch up with those of men’s — from the previous year. The reason Pay Equity Day isn’t December 31 — as it would be if women made, dollar for dollar, what men do — or even January 1 or second, as it would be if women made just about exactly what men do — is that women nationally earn just 77 cents for each dollar men earn. In Kentucky, the figure is a bit worse, 74 cents.

Women’s advocacy groups and organizations have made this day an occasion to raise awareness about ongoing wage discrimination and the ways it affects women. The immediate effects, of course, are that women are more likely to be poor than men. The cumulative effects, however, are dramatic — including an estimated $900,000 – $1 million dollar impact on lifetime earnings that reduces pension and Social Security benefits, and that leaves older women living on smaller incomes on into retirement.

Pay equity is an issue for the church in several ways. The church is called to raise a voice for justice, and this is a clear issue of justice. More concretely, the persistence of inequitable pay is a pervasive influence in the lives of congregations, as it is a pervasive influence in the lives of men and women in our world; it is one of the conditions that is present in every one of the congregations in which women and men who are preparing for pastoral vocations will serve. The equity issue also affects pastors directly. A Barna research study indicated that women pastors, on average, earn 93% of what men earn. That’s substantially better than the national average for women, but still noticeable.

The Women’s Center is pleased and proud that the administration of our seminary shares the commitment to equal pay. Mr. Patrick D. Cecil, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, came out to the LPTS quad this morning at 11:30 — wearing red, along with many members of the community, to show support for the cause of pay equity — and read an official statement proclaiming April 12, 2011, Equal Pay Day at LPTS. The proclamation itself, which looks particularly impressive in its frame, with the seal of the Seminary affixed, is currently on display in the lobby of Nelson Hall. At the end of the week, it will take up permanent residence in the Women’s Center.

The text of the proclamation (for which we admittedly owe a large vote of thanks to the Kentucky Commission on Women) is moving. It reads:

WHEREAS, forty years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, women and people of color continue to suffer the consequences of inequitable pay differentials; and

WHEREAS, according to statistics released in 2010 by the U.S. Census Bureau, year-round full-time working women in 2009 earned only 77% of the earnings of year-round, full-time working men, and in Kentucky earned 74% less, indicating little change or progress in pay equity; and

WHEREAS, according to a January 2002 report released by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, women managers in 7 of 10 industries surveyed actually lost ground in closing the wage gap between 1995 and 2000; and

WHEREAS, according to an analysis of data in over 300 classifications provided by the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics in 2001, women earn less in every occupational classification for which enough data is available, including occupations dominated by women, such as cashiers, retail sales, reisterd nurses and teachers; and

WHEREAS, higher education is not free from wage discrimination according to a U.S. Department of Education analysis, reporting that, after controlling for rank, age, credentials, field of study and other factors, full-time female faculty members earn nearly 9% less than their male counterparts; and

WHEREAS, over a working lifetime, this wage disparity costs the average American woman and her family $700,000 to $2 million in lost wages, impacting Social Security benefits and pensions; and

WHEREAS, fair pay strengthens the security of families today and eases future retirement costs, while enhancing the American economy; and

WHEREAS, Tuesday, April 12 symbolizes the time in the new year in which the wages paid to American women catch up to the wages paid to men from the previous year,

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Patrick A. Cecil, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, do hereby proclaim Tuesday, April 12, 2011:

EQUAL PAY DAY

at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and urge the members of the Seminary community to recognize the full value of women’s skills and significant contributions to the labor force and to encourage businesses to conduct an internal pay evaluation to ensure that women are being paid fairly.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the official seal of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary to be affixed.

We are glad to have been able to bring the issue of pay equity to the attention of the community today, and hope to keep the community aware of it, and thinking about how the church can respond to it, in the months and years to come.

Last update April 19, 2011

Health as Social Justice

Loretta Ross of SisterSong

Loretta Ross of SisterSong

Yesterday, we had the pleasure and privilege of attending an amazing conversation on women’s health as a social justice issue. It was amazing in part because it took place among a large group of representatives of a wide range of diverse organizations, mostly based in Louisville, all concerned with one or more aspects of the complex, intersecting problems of women’s health, women’s rights, health equity or health justice, social justice, reproductive health and politics, along with emphases on dimensions like race, religion, and class.

The meeting, billed as a community conversation on health equity for women, was a joint project of the Kentucky Health Justice Network, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research, held in the main conference room of the Center for Women and Families. It made clear to the attendees just how much is already going on in the area of health, social justice, women’s rights, and equity in the state of Kentucky, and how much opportunity exists for concerted action and partnership.

Distinguished visitor Loretta Ross of SisterSong, Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, led off the conversation with a discussion of the history of her organization, its central organizing principles (1, a woman’s right to have a child; 2, a woman’s right not to have a child; 3, a woman’s right to parent the child(ren) she has), practices (drawn from the discipline of “re-evaluation counseling,” a form of discernment of the emotional subtexts at work in a political or practical decisionmaking context), and insights.

The conversation produced a number of lapidary insights. Ross’s discussion of the imperative of considering the total context in which women make decisions, including decisions about reproductive health and reproductive life — relationships inside and outside the family, the state of those relationships, finances and work and job security, housing and its expense and availability, insurance and the availability of health care, among other contextual aspects — highlighted the way discourse around women’s reproductive decisions so often treats these decisions in the abstract. Ross credited her organization’s adoption of a “human rights” framework, based on the International Declaration of Human Rights, as having clarified both the organization’s mission and provided a framework for an intentionally diverse coalition of groups representing women of color to pursue the goal of persuading people to work together for common purposes rather than to agree on everything. That was an intriguing notion (which, I confess, reminded me of Augustine’s description of the City of God!).

The issue of experience and unintentional exclusions arose. How do we keep from forgetting about all the people we aren’t, don’t talk with, don’t spend time with — ? Ross’s answer — you can’t have another person’s experience, but you can learn to pay attention to your own experience, and share that with others — in the end seems to work out to “paying attention”, and to remembering that my/our experience isn’t universal. (That is: there’s no quick fix or shortcut for this. It takes giving up the illusion of my/our own universality, over and over and over . . .)

But one of the last words was both most poignant and most imperative, and that was: if you care about women’s self-determination, you have to care about poverty. Poor people have fewer options. Justice and freedom that doesn’t reach “the least” is incomplete, and no place to stop.

[OK, not new . . . see e.g. Ex. 24:14-15, or James 2:15-16 & 5:4 . . . but worth being reminded of again and again.]

World AIDS Day Today

World AIDS Day, December 1

World AIDS Day, December 1

Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day.

LPTS will observe the day with a unique worship service this morning at 10:00 a.m. in Caldwell Chapel. The Cultural Diversity Committee will screen the award-winning film Philadelphia, to be followed by discussion of key issues raised by the film.

According to the UN 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, “Women account for half of all people living with HIV worldwide, and nearly 60% of HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa,” a region which “continues to bear a disproportionate share of the global burden of HIV . . .” Sub-Saharan Africa “is home to 67% of all people living with HIV.”

In large measure, AIDS is a disease of “the least;” it afflicts people who have been neglected, marginalized, coerced physically or financially, and then silenced by the stigma that still attaches to HIV/AIDS infection. Concern for people living with HIV/AIDS, action to relieve suffering caused by HIV/AIDS, and commitment to progress in ending the epidemic, are all concrete expressions of Christian commitment to justice as well as compassion.

Some resources for World AIDS Day:
2008 World AIDS Day theme statement
Download UN 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, Ch. 2 Status of the Global HIV Epidemic
Fact Sheets on AIDS from US Dept. of Health and Human Services
Presbyterian AIDS Network portal
PCUSA International AIDS Ministries

Thanksgiving 2008

Wishing Wimminwise Readers
much
to be thankful for
this Thanksgiving

Gathering of the Manna, Annebert and Marianne Yoors

Gathering of the Manna, Annebert and Marianne Yoors

“As it is written,
The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.

2 Cor. 8:15

” . . . when they measured it [the manna] with an omer,
those who gathered much had nothing over,
and those who gathered little had no shortage;
they gathered as much as each of them needed.”
Exodus 16:18