Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Laura Downton

Women's Herstories: 
Laura Downton

Laura is in her last year of theological studies at Princeton theological seminary.  Throughout her time at PTS she has been dedicated to lifting up women's voices and cultivating an anti-racist atmosphere at the seminary. Students at PTS have the opportunity to preach in Miller Chapel once during their senior year.  Laura's sermon on Queen Vashti from the book of Esther is magnificent, and she has allowed me to post it here.

Scripture Reading: Esther 1:10-22

Prayer: Challenge us, God who is Love, in this time of Lenten waiting & turning. May we hear Vashti's 'no' and in it somehow find our yes, with your healing balm. Amen.

Sermon: Her No Was Her Yes

     A refusal stirs through the years, the translations, the pages before us. Our text introduces us to a Queen whose words we are not able to hear. Yet in Queen Vashti's action, we hear a resounding, pealing, earthshattering 'no.' A blatant, glaring, unexplained, unapologetic refusal. Queen Vashti's 'no' comes in her refusal to obey the king's order that she come wearing her crown- and only her crown, to expose the beauty of her body to the King's palace officials. He has summoned her at an hour reserved for the concubine. 'Proper wives' have been dismissed for the evening and as the wine has continued flowing, Queen Vashti has been ordered to come. A complex matrix of honor and shame are hanging by threads wound tightly in the tangles of her next move of acquiescence or resistance.
     We can almost hear the palace walls shake with rage, dishes flying, glasses breaking as the king receives word that the Queen will not come when bidden.
     Queen Vashti's defiance has widespread consequence. Her refusal threatens not only the King's authority over her, but that of every husband in the kingdom. You see, her 'no' is so threatening, so upsetting to the order of the day, that a royal decree is necessary throughout the whole land that asserts that the man is to be master of 'his' household.
     What if word spreads to the women of the land? Vashti's defiance will be a model for the women of the kingdom.
     Queen Vashti's rebellion against being made the King’s toy comes at the cost of her crown, her status, her life as she knows it. Her story lays bare the consequences of confrontation of domination- the danger of refusal to be the object. The Queen is disappeared from the narrative. The danger of her refusal ripples out into a threat to the way power is wielded, held and denied.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Women's Herstories: Why Gomer Married Hosea

Today's sermon was not easily transcribed. So instead I am posting a short story I wrote a while back.  This is the story of why Gomer bothered to marry Hosea, which I have often wondered about. In 2007, I took a class from Dr. Jacqueline Lapsley at Princeton Theological Seminary on Women in the Old Testament. At about the same time I read Dr. Lapsley's book, Whispering the Word: Hearing Women's Stories in the Old Testament. Both the class and her book urged us to listen for women's voices in the silences in scripture. In the places where women's voices are not recorded, we might discover new possibilities for how to understand scripture, long lost whispers from women silenced by violence, fear, and neglect.  Scripture does not record how Hosea felt about Gomer or what Gomer thought about being married to Hosea. For centuries, theologians and pastors have speculated about their states of mind and recorded their speculations as fact. Listening to Gomer as a woman who has also known sexual violence, this is the story Gomer whispered to me as I wrote my midterm for Dr. Lapsley's class.

Fair warning: The story of Gomer and Hosea is dominated by themes of sexual, physical and emotional violence. This short story is not particularly explicit, but it is haunting. If you are uncomfortable with these themes, please feel free to not read!

“So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim…”
(Or The Story of How Gomer Came to Agree to Be Hosea’s Wife)
Loosely based on the missing pieces in Hosea 1:2-4

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Nawaal El Saadawi

Women's Herstories: 
Nawal El Saadawi

Nawal El Saadawi is an Egyptian author, activist, and speaker. She is a professor and medical doctor. She is often in some trouble with religious and secular authorities. I admire her tremendously.  You can find an excellent and brief biography of her life at her website, and you can also follow along the news of her court trials.

Her own memoirs are beautifully written. Her life has been complex and full of adventure and sorrow, and she shares deeply of what it has been like to live on this earth so far. At the top of her website are these words: "To the women and men who choose to pay the price and be free rather than continue to pay the price of slavery."

I first read one of Nawal El Saadawi's novels in seminary: The Fall of the Imam. The novel fascinated me with its flowing time and deliberately complex characters. It is the story of a girl named Bint Allah (the Daughter of God), and it is the story of the weaving together of silences and solidarity, resistance, death, and the life to be found in refusing to accept meaninglessness. It is a puzzling novel, and at times the women's characters flow into each other without border. It is a sad novel to read, but having known violence from men, this novel speaks to my heart. There are places where I simply nod, "yes, I have known that."

I read her memoirs next: A Daughter of Isis and Walking Through Fire. These led me to two of her books which have influenced me in different ways.

Women's Herstory Month

This month is Women's Herstory Month. I thought I might do a few posts about women creators who have influenced me. My own stories are woven between these women through my sermons and my life, and I am grateful for the men and women who have pointed me to these grand story tellers.

A quick note about feminism: Feminism is a very broad term that means different things to each and every person who claims it. To me, feminism is a discipline that seeks the freedom and voice of all people, understanding that women's voices have been particularly silenced and distorted. This includes cis women who have lived their entire lives as women. This includes trans women who have chosen to embrace their bodies as women. This includes trans men who perhaps have lived part of their lives as women and have embraced their bodies as men. And, beloveds, feminism includes the men who stand in solidarity with us, bearing witness to our struggle, knowing that they are not truly free until we all are.  Gender is a fluid concept, and not all of us fit cleanly into one category or another. Gender interacts with race, class, religion, sexuality, and other aspects of our identities to form each unique and beautiful creature. May each of our stories, as told by our bodies and souls, be lifted up in voice and song. And may we honor one another deeply in the telling.

And if you have to ask me "What does this have to do with God or Jesus?" then you haven't been listening to my story.