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.

Invitation to Celebrate

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We will incorporate a brief ceremony into the festivities, currently planned for approximately 4:30 p.m.

The Women’s Center will be especially grateful for those invitees who contact us* to let us know that they plan to attend.

Congratulations, Everyone!

* by email at womenscenter @ lpts.edu, or by phone at (502) 894-2285

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.”

The 2009 Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture is Almost Here!

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The 2009 Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture is almost here! We are eagerly awaiting this occasion to meet and hear from Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, the 2009 Lecturer, both during the lecture on Sunday night, March 29, and during the seminar on Monday, March 30.

We are also looking forward to what promises to be another exceptional worship service on Monday morning, 9:00 a.m., to be led by alumna preacher Rev. Dr. F. Camille Williams-Neal.

We encourage Wimminwise readers to check out the information available on the lecture on our dedicated page, or on the LPTS website for the event, including a complete schedule of events, downloadable brochure, and access to optional online registration for the lecture and indispensable online registration for the seminar, and then make plans to attend the lecture on Sunday, March 29, come early enough to enjoy the reception and browse the silent auction, and then worship and learn with us on Monday, March 30.

We hope to see you there!

Worship in the Words of the Tradition

Still thinking about V is for Venite . . .

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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.

“Until the Violence Stops” Prompts Reflection and Dialogue

Come, days without violence!

Come, days without violence!

A group of LPTS students and staff met Tuesday in the basement of Schlegel Hall to watch the documentary film “Until the Violence Stops,” as part of the observance of V is for Venite.

The film dramatizes the experiences of five diverse communities around the work of V-Day — an international movement to end violence against women and girls — and in the process gives some of the background on the connections between Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues and the V-Day movement. As the film notes, the dramatic form of live theatre helps concretize, make more vivid, and bring home the multi-dimensional meaning of violence against women, and the need to end it, in ways that talk or literature simply doesn’t.

The same could be said about the film. In its images of participants in performances around the world, in the testimonies and faces of individual survivors, the audience sees the face of violence against women — what it means in the lives of these women reminding, standing for, the much larger (almost overwhelmingly) reality.

It’s difficult to talk after seeing this film, especially for the first time. The enormity and variety of what needs to be faced, faced down, and brought to an end can leave a person speechless. The depth of pain and suffering, barely touched, can leave a person feeling completely overwhelmed. LPTS Dean of Students Kilen Gray noted one response to the film as a wish to share the understanding the film provides with a congregation in as dramatic, vivid and powerful way as possible. As others noted, bringing the reality, emotions, needs, and calls around violence against women into the life of worship is both particularly necessary, and particularly difficult. It meets the resistance of worship committees, maybe because people feel themselves incapable of doing or saying “the right thing.”

And yet, it’s clear that silence is not “the right thing.” As Gray also noted, it’s the atmosphere of taboo that surrounds every form of violence against women that permits it to go on, to thrive. Breaking that silence, naming violence as wrong, already constitutes support for women who have endured violence and a needed call to confession, repentance and (one hopes) healing for perpetrators. Breaking the silence also begins the needed change in the systems — which tragically include the church and its institutions — that enable and perpetuate violence.

At least one thing is clear: the church needs to be present and active not only in calling for an end to violence against women and girls, but in working for that end.