A Sermon on Judges 19

[TW: rape, murder]

This semester, i am enrolled in my first Preaching class. This sermon was delivered on the 24th of September, 2015.

Text: Judges 19: 1 – 30 CEB 

I am a lectionary preacher.

I love the rhythm of my Episcopal services where we have ordered texts, something from each part of the ordered Bible – an Old Testament, an Epistle, a sung psalm if we’re feeling extra high on the church ladder and a Gospel.

I love the lectionary. I love that we go through the whole Bible every three years – years of completion, years spent with the texts in a waltz with one another – how Paul is speaking to Moses, how Hagar is drawing water with the Samaritan woman – i love that the lectionary weaves all our stories together.


Except that the lectionary – my beloved, ordered, sensible lectionary – is not the whole story. There are pieces of the Bible missing from the lectionary.

I knew i had never heard a sermon in church on the infamous rape and dismemberment of the concubine in Judges. I had asked a lot of questions about why these horrifying texts of terror were in the Bible.

But i had not thought to ask why they were not in the pulpit.

I wonder what our silence is saying.

So when i was preparing to preach for you today i went to the lectionary website, as is my custom, but this time, i searched for a list of texts not included in the lectionary. And yet even the tab that tells you what texts are ex-cluded is a list of the texts that are in-cluded – even in our list of what is out I had to do some excavating through what is considered “in”!

What is our silence saying?

This text today is a text of silence.

And perhaps, the most notable silence is the silence of God.

I know i’m preaching to a room full of bible folk so i imagine most of you know that this Judges text is strikingly similar to the famous Genesis text of Sodom and Gomorrah – if you recall, two angels of the LORD are taken in by Lot when the evil people of the city surround the house and attack, yelling that they want to have sex with the men. Lot offers his two virgin daughters to sate their evil appetites.

But in Sodom and Gomorrah, these angels blind the attackers and save Lot’s life, along with his family.

There is no such saving here.

When the men of Gibeah close in around the house of the Levite and his host, when the men of Gibeah began howling for the blood and rape of the Levite, the host mimics what Lot did – he offers his own daughter and the secondary-wife of the Levite.

But no angels intervene.

The anger of the crowd worsens, we are told “the men refused to listen to him” and so the Levite grabs his secondary-wife and throws her out to the crowd.

The host has told these men they can “abuse” her and “do whatever you want.”

So they do.

She is raped

and abused

all night long



as dawn


God does not swoop in, there are no angels protecting her from her husband’s cruelty or these men’s unspeakable evil. In this Bible we hold as holy – in this Bible’s arguably most gruesome scene against a human God



What does our silence say?

I think our silence on this text says a whole lot about our fear of God’s silence.

I think we are afraid of this text – we are afraid that there is such obvious evil and such obvious failure on God’s part. So out of our fear, we stay silent.

But God’s silence is not the only silence in this story.

The Levite, after he throws his wife out to men he knows will rape and abuse her all night long – this Levite has the callous audacity —

to go to sleep.

Did you catch that? While the secondary-wife is collapsing on the doorstep where her husband was staying, the narrator of the story casually drops that her husband – some time later – “got up in the morning.”

While his wife faced this agony, this man chose to close the door, turn down the lamp, and go to sleep. It did not matter her screaming, or her begging for mercy, or the battered torment her body was enduring – her soul being ripped out, piece by piece. It did not matter that she was the unceremonious sacrificial lamb because she was never anything more than a disposable object of sexual pleasure.

It did not matter what horror she endured, so long as he could get some shut-eye.

Who do we throw out the door so that we might sleep in comfort?

What farmworkers have we ignored, dwelling in shacks not so different from slave quarters on the plantation, facing sexual trafficking and abuse and underpay? Who have we thrown out so that we might buy organic and think that this is exoneration for the sin of empire that we are each of us complicit in?

What homeless have we scurried past on the street, anxious to avoid their guilting stare as we plea “no change, sorry,” because we know one dollar won’t change a damn thing? What people have we let rot in the street so our three bedroom homes might have enough “breathing room” for us in them?

What womyn have we ignored, when we see someone fondling her when she is drunk or when we whisper “in that shirt, she deserves it”? What womyn have we told repeatedly that they must push down, cut off, pull apart and shut up so we can keep sleeping in comfort?

Who have I thrown out the door so that I might sleep in peace?

Who have you?

What is our silence saying?

When the Levite woke up from that peaceful slumber, he found his wife clutching the doorframe.

“Get. up.” he says.

She does not move.

“Let’s go!” he says.

She does not move.

Grunting in annoyance or frustration or guilt or all three, he heaves her limp body and throws her on the donkey. So that they can go to his home.

We do not know if she is alive or dead. The text is silent. But we do know when the Levite gets home, he decides this horror of his own making must be addressed. So he takes up his knife, and he slices her apart – limb by limb – until the twelve pieces that were once a soul-body are the call to a man’s war.

Her silence is the most painful for me in this whole text. The Levite’s evil i can understand, because it is an evil i know i participate in everyday. The evil inherent to empire – the evil that builds up society so that i woke up in a house with room enough and want enough for me, but not everyone did. He throws her out for his own comfort.

God’s silence, too, i can understand. The silence of a parent who watches their children turn from tender, innocent infants to people capable of genocide, of murder and rape. It is the silent, stunned horror of:  I raised you to do this? Despite all the love – and all the joy – this?

But her silence. Her silence kills me.

Not once have we heard her story; when the Levite comes to fetch her, we do not know why she left. When she allows the Levite into her home – as if she had much choice – it is her father that speaks. Her father speaks so much he delays their journey. Her father’s clamoring sets them on the course for what will be her demise. Her husband’s fear and desire for security rips her into pieces.

And all the words she is given are grasping hands at the door.

When have you been the secondary-wife? When have you been so silenced, so cast aside and so ripped apart that there was nothing left but to claw your way toward a door, hoping it was open, only to find it shut?

What is our silence saying?

Judges 19, verse 30: “think about it, decide what to do,

and speak.”

On Being Interview

What do you with doubt?

It’s hard, in this moment, sitting in my studio-slash-guest-room-slash-closet, to think about doubt. My cat is curled on my notes (excuse not to re-read them). I’m still humming on the high from this past weekend. The Why Christian? conference refilled me – trans womyn, queer womyn, womyn of color, white womyn all leading, together. It felt like the red tent – womyn who had been told a hundred and one times why they were wrong, or unclean, or unwelcome, and instead of breaking we’d bonded together.

And, tucked in a little corner of this big cathedral, were four NPR womyn asking us: what do you turn to when you struggle? I think there was no more important question to pose to a group of us gathered in the struggle. The struggle of trying to stay faithful when we’re told we’re not allowed. Not allowed to preach. Not allowed to wear that. Not allowed to say that. Not allowed to be that.

This was my answer:

Brave Goose

IMG_4866He sat in the front seat of the rickety golf cart. “This your first time to the Goose?”

I swear, his white beard was past the nipple line.

“Yes,” we tittered. My knuckles were tensing around the seat.

“Well spread your wings and let the Holy Spirit make you fly!” He lifted an arm out of the cart for emphasis. I worried the cart would tip, that we’d splatter on the trodden dirt of the campground.

But that was about all the conversation we had time for in our ride to the check-in booth, my friend Erin and i. She was speaking, i was entourage-ing, and we were both nervously anticipating our first time at the Wild Goose Festival in the mountains of NC.

A lime green wrist band later, we plopped down in two rickety white fold-out chairs at “the River” tent. We learned, from J Yoder and Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, that “safe space” is often used as a tool of white supremacy for white folks to legitimize the right to say whatever they want. Because, you know, it’s “safe” and anything that threatens our safety – even when it’s being called out for violent words – is therefore not acceptable in safe space. So, they sought to create brave spaces, spaces where we could speak boldly, without rules, save one: it’s okay to be uncomfortable. In fact, it is encouraged.

There was no better place to begin my wings-out-of-the-golf-cart day.

Yoder emphasized, particularly as a white person, that dismantling our privilege as white people is not about reaching some clean-cut finish line where we get handed buttons that say, “Congrats! You’re Not Racist!” The desire to have such a clean-cut thing is itself a product of white supremacy: something controllable, something comfortable, and something easily labeled. Rather, the point of white people engaging in anti-racism is to learn to be okay with discomfort. 

I thought about my own struggle with this blog in the past few months.

There hasn’t been much on here, but that’s not because i haven’t been writing. I’ve just been too apprehensive to hit that blue “publish” button. All that i could think to write about – all that i could do when i looked at the cursed cursor blinking on my screen, was why we assume white is so default we create black letters on a white screen and call it normal. The brutal attack on all sides against black people in this country has left me wordless and woe-filled. But i didn’t want to spill my grief here and take up more air space with this cisgendered white woman’s tears. This was partly a genuine desire to assume a posture of listening, of repentance, rather than speech and proclamation. And partly a real and healthy hesitation to put things on the internet when they are still too raw to talk about in person.

If i’m honest, though, it was also out of fear of being wrong.

I wanted a safe space, where my vulnerable words would be protected by our mutual code of comfort. Instead, i needed to be pushed into a brave space. A brave space where i can say both to my white siblings that we are all complicit in what Dylan Roof did by virtue of our silence, and i can say to my siblings of color that, as much as i can know them, your woes are my woes.

There’s a lot more i’m thinking, and processing, from “the Goose” this weekend. And i’m hopeful i’ll be brave enough to write about that here. Tonight, though, as the clock ticks towards twelve and i can’t sleep for fear of cowardice, i’m going to hit publish and try to be okay with not being comfortable with that.


On Tuesday morning i woke up with gravel in my throat. Gone are the days of student health, of moping in my dorm and calling my mom until she convinces me i need a doctor.

At least, that’s what i told myself.

So up, showered, to the doctor i went; the fever clocked and aches measured within half an hour of the urgent care opening. I did good, i thought. I didn’t sleep in, i sent the emails needed to miss class, i didn’t even make my husband come with me to the doctor. Waited in the pharmacy lobby for thirty minutes until that opened, too. Took my meds, in timely shifts, and tried to not complain and do the Adult Thing and get better.

That was Tuesday.

By Friday evening i was convinced the doctors had missed a record case of the flu, my self-pity a puddle of tissues and cough drop wrappers.

Melt-y eyed and miserable, i pled with Jonathan for something other than Netflix to stave off my boredom and anxiety of walls in-closing. There were theatrical puffs on my nebulizer. I was moving from gross-sick to panic-stricken-sick, the kind that starts to wonder if i’ll ever see the light of day again.

Gently, laughingly, he plopped me in the car. Thirty minutes later i had what i really needed: a fat stack of coloring books with a replenished stock of crayons.

And Saturday morning he woke up sneezing.



Madonnas in the Alley

One of the most enchanting aspects of our wander around Central Europe was the profusion of religious art. In allies, tucked under windowsills, nooks on the most mundane of buildings.

loreta madonna

Just outside of Loreto, Prague

I love the reverence for Mary, and for maternal divine images. One of my favorite reliefs was of Saint Francis cradling a Christ child in a small Bavarian village.

friar wandering writes

My absolute favorite was in the graveyard attached to Nonnberg Abbey, the famous nunnery of Maria von Trapp (both in real life and the film).

 collage black madonna wandering writes


Juxtaposed to the remnants of communism in the Czech Republic, it seemed a small miracle these relics of medieval and Renaissance art remained. I thought it had to be at least part for history, for culture, for their simple beauty.

Continue reading

Committing + Confirmation: On Finding a Church Home


We’ve committed. Hell, we had our first confirmation class this morning. After years of waffling, of hurling insults of elitism and masculine language, of denying the abiding current of the liturgy – a current that sustains and challenges – Jonathan … Continue reading

God as a Child

Me + Becca at our First Communion.

We moved eight times before my seventh birthday. Chapel Hill was the pin on the map my mother pressed into concrete, telling my father Switzerland and Singapore were perfectly commute-able for him, but her children had friends, and so did … Continue reading

Postcard from Prague

PRAGUE title slide

In October, Jonathan and i did what we love to do most of all: took off for a new place to meet each other all over again. My brother Thom was studying in Prague for the semester and it was … Continue reading

Viscera Interview

Halloween 2009, when Rebecca and i went as the sun and the moon!

Halloween 2009, when Rebecca and i went as the sun and the moon!

I first met Rebecca Ripperton when i was told she was my twin.

Not really my biological twin, of course, but my twin for the course of the community production of Twelfth Night we’d been cast in as sophomores in high school, she as Sebastian and i as Viola. Later, she would be my own Beatrice when i directed Much Ado About Nothing. Our friendship blossomed from that shared love of theatre and Shakespeare.

Now, Rebecca has launched a wonderfully creative new project: Viscera Stories, a journalistic venture meant to provide insight into people’s innermost selves. As she describes it,

“We, as human beings, are too varied and seemingly-complex to merit anything less ambiguous and powerful. It seems as though it is in our very nature is to be obsessed with stories, and to understand and define ourselves through the telling of tales; it is a way to uncover our innermost selves, our viscera, to the world.”

Ever a lover of a good story, when she asked me to be one of the subjects interviewed i was more than honored and delighted. Her questions were sometimes painful to answer, not because she was intrusive but because they were such thoughtful questions that really sought the heart of my own story.

Below is a snippet from my interview, and you can read the whole piece here. Rebecca is doing some truly earnest, poignant work on Viscera and i cannot wait to see how it grows!

Viscera: In you journey toward faith, what have been some of the hardest pills for you to swallow about God, Christianity, or human existence?
LMD: That everybody hurts.I wish I could say what has bothered me most has been the rampant sexism, racism, and homophobia in the church – which, obviously, bothers me on the molecular level – but I think the more I walk with people who I’m tempted to first write off as hypocrites the more I learn that God loves them, too. And being a feminist pastor means I dance that line of holding people accountable and care for their whole, imperfect selves.

My husband taught me this the most, really; I was ranting against the misogyny of an old white guy in our church, and it was Jonathan who said “Yeah, but when he’s dying of cancer in a hospital, someone has to go and pray with him as he readies himself to meet God. Even racist Christians need pastors to do their funerals.” And I was like, “shit, that’s what radical love looks like.” Leading a Jesus life seems to me to be the pursuit of the impossible.

Be sure to check out the whole interview here and look into the rest of Rebecca’s amazing work!