The Real “War on Christmas” is not Starbucks, it is Consumerism

This week, Starbucks decided to remove the “Christmas-like” designs on their cups in favor for a more “neutral” red and green. Predictably, the Religious Right saw this as yet another attack in the infamous “War on Christmas.”

Equally predictably, my Facebook newsfeed – full of people i love, most of whom are progressive Christians – responded in kind with articles and memes that said things like: “If one family in one out of every 3 churches adopted a child, there would be no more orphans in the USA … but please, tell me more about how offensive this red cup is” … or, “Honey, if your faith is threatened by this coffee cup, you need Jesus” et cetera, et cetera.

It’s not that i disagree with any of the above statements about Christianity being, well, more complicated than a coffee cup. My concern is this: in most of these memes, which boast of good things that good Christians ought to be doing or thinking about, the Starbucks brand is clearly visible. And whether or not this is the intention of the person posting, or the words on the meme itself, what this visually signals is that Starbucks – a massive corporation – should be associated with good Christian things. 

And yeah, this branding is also a cue to the casual scroller that this is a message about the blessed Starbucks debate. That’s what branding does; it instantiates a product into the popular discourse in an immediately recognizable way. But brands are also insidious in how they operate: as images made for products intended for public consumption, the brand itself becomes associated with what that public decides.

So the subliminal pairing of a red Starbucks coffee cup and a message about foster kids might suggest – however tacitly – that foster kids are being cared for by the corporation said brand represents.

An i am just wary of progressive Christians labeling any massive, capitalist corporation as “good.” Especially a corporation known not only to buy out local businesses, but one that is not as “Fair Trade” as it boasts. 

I want to be clear: again, I don’t think everyone posting these memes are waving pro-capitalism, yay-exploitation flags. They’re waving soundbites, likely out of some deep frustration with the whole “War on Christmas” brand of Christianity making our jobs, as future/current pastors, rather difficult. That’s real.

But when these (admittedly ridiculous) consumer/product-based faith arguments emerge, I’m always hungering for a deeper conversation.

The conversation i wish for, instead, is one that opens us up vulnerably and honestly to our increasing dependence on consumerism. 

Like, what the hell are we supposed to do when corporations are so massive we cannot escape them?

There was a point last winter where i was visiting Starbucks twice a day for my caffeine fix. As a seminary student, i was depleted of energy, of compassion, of time – so it told myself – and the only thing that could keep me writing one more paper on colonialism’s modern Christian project (or what have you) was another triple shot of espresso. Starbucks was close, we’d received a few gift cards for Christmas, and before long i had a regular order in the drive-thru.

(I’d like to take this moment too to be clear i’m not indicting the baristas who work at Starbucks, because having worked in the food industry too, i know how much having a job can be necessary and how you as the coffee-maker have nothing to do with big corporate decisions. And all the baristas i knew there were incredibly kind. So life is complicated.)

So there i was, drinking the equivalent of six cups of coffee (or more) a day, telling myself i had to be a machine for Jesus.

There is a lot that is unhealthy about this picture.

But one of the biggest ills i see now was my total belief that this capitalist machine was what was going to bring me closer to my degree, a degree i was working for to serve Jesus. 

None of us are free from the sin of empire. None of us. 

Even if we shop local, eat local, tick every box for wholsesome living, farmworkers are still being exploited, American agriculture is still displacing overseas agrarian markets, and racism and sexism still hold the power. Even now, as i rarely visit that Starbucks line and have decreased my caffeine intake to a cup of tea or two a day, i’m not free. I’m still complicit in this sin of empire.

This is pretty depressing, but it’s also a reality that demands a better answer than sitting on our hands and waiting for the Kingdom to come fix it for us. And while lots of people – my friends, my peers, myself, people i don’t even like – are  not sitting on their hands. They are doing tremendously important work towards justice, and Pop Progressive Christianity sound bytes do little to applaud, amplify, and advocate for this love-justice work.

Maybe i’m asking too much of social media dialogues. Maybe the complexity i hunger for only exists inter-personally, but i’m not totally convinced.

Maybe we can use this moment differently. We can heave a huge sigh at the incredulity of Christians claiming oppression in America … and then we can talk frankly about how the ways in which we consent to the co-opting of Christmas as something to be bought and sold.

Girl Hate & Wild Worth: A Sermon on 1 Samuel 1:4 – 17

[TW: fertility grief]

1 Samuel 1:4 – 17

On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” [continue reading…

I want to talk about girl hate.

Girl hate is when a woman gets a promotion and instead of her fellow womyn and gender minorities celebrating her hard work, they see her as a threat.

Girl hate is when facebook is plastered with womyn making a mockery of all those ‘dumb girls’ who just got engaged because instead of celebrating another’s happiness, pseudo-feminist bitterness is seen is clever and cool.

Girl hate is tearing down other womyn so that we can buffer our own insecurities and jealousies with a line of fire sure to hurt other womyn worse than their success scares us.

Girl hate is (at least partially to blame) when mothers say a child deserves to be body slammed at school for speaking her mind. 

Girl hate is not the only expression of patriarchy, or racism, or injustice – but it is an engine that drives patriarchy forward. And girl hate is not solely perpetuated by womyn. Girl hate reinforces the idea that womyn are each other’s competition, girl hate instantiates that a woman’s worth is in relation to men or to masculine power, and girl hate keeps us fighting each other instead of standing in solidarity.

In the text today I see a classic example of girl hate.

Penninah has children. Hannah does not.

Hannah and Penninah’s worth are defined by their relationship to men. Who their father was. Who they were married to. How many sons they have produced. Penninah has won the motherload with, well, being a mother – she has reached the highest rung on a short ladder to power and she is determined that she, and she alone, will keep her position at the top.

It’s easy for us to say this is a remnant of those bygone patriarchal times – to laugh at the ludicrousness of womyn lamenting over their inability to conceive.

This would be a mistake. Fertility grief is still very real and is about far more than a longing for power. Fertility may have been a means of power, but I am not saying that Hannah’s desire for children was only a lust for power. Hannah’s pain is multi-faceted.

And the patriarchal context of womyn tearing down other womyn from spaces of limited or marginal power is – as i’ve said – still an incredibly real phenomenon.

And girl hate hurts.

Hannah is blistered by Penninah’s cruelty. She feels worthless. Elkanah loves her – and this is a treasure, perhaps the treasure that fuels Penninah’s jealousy. Elkanah does not shame his wife, nor blame her for their shared infertility – and in this, he is a good and faithful husband. But he is also a man with two wives who does nothing to intervene on Hannah’s behalf. For all his love, Hannah still does not feel heard.

So she takes her sorrow to God.

“O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, do not forget me – and give me a male child!”

Hannah may feel the deep, acute ache of longing for a child but finding nothing but barriers. Hannah may know the boundlessness of the love she has to give but the sorrow that stretches wider when that love has nowhere to go.

And Hannah prays because she sees her infertility as inadequacy.

Hannah laments because feels worthless.

And all the while Hannah is praying, the priest Eli has been watching her from the doorway.

Eli stood in the doorway.

Eli is the clergyman who stands in the door, thinking he or she can stand between someone and their access to God in God’s house. Eli is so preoccupied with holiness, with appropriate worship that he does not see the holiness in Hannah’s wild sorrow.

The text says Hannah is praying in her heart, but her lips are moving – and because of this, her voice is not heard.

Her voice is not heard.

While being silent and not being heard may look like the same thing, Eli clearly does not hear Hannah. No one but God, it seems, hears Hannah.

And because she laments in a forced silence Eli thinks she is drunk.

Eli thinks she is a spectacle, something to be laughed at, sneered at, mocked –

A spectacle is something done for public consumption.

And when Eli, full of his own self-righteousness, tells Hannah she is a drunken spectacle, Hannah will not have it.

Somewhere in her lamentations – maybe the author was too busy writing down Eli’s stupidity to record the exact moment – somewhere, Hannah had a revelation.

Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman,” she tells Eli.

Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman.

Hannah came to the temple feeling worthless. By the standards of her girl-world, of the patriarchal obsession with womyn as vessels for production – Hannah was worthless.

“Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman!”

Somewhere, somewhere in her prayers, Hannah has realized something – Hannah’s worth is not bound up in what Eli thinks. Hannah’s worth is not bound up in her genitalia, in her womb, in her capacity for reproduction. In her lament, Hannah saw herself stripped bare –

and she saw how beautiful she really is.

for I have been speaking out of my anxiety and vexation all this time.”

All this time, I have been naming my fears and my sisters did not hear me – instead, they jeered at me, mocked me because their inch of power was more precious than our solidarity.

All this time I have been naming to God what I need because no one around me will hear what I have to say

And all this time you have been laughing at my suffering like my desire to be with God in God’s house is nothing more than a spectacle.

Bumbling, Eli clambers for the higher ground – he clears his throat, he draws up taller, maybe straightens his stole or thumbs his collar. Better yet if he throws in a paternalistic wink to remind Hannah that she’s just a girl, anyways – “God grant your request.” He says.

Like Eli can tell God what to do.

Like patronizing one-liners – “just pray harder,” or, “it happened for a reason” or “God doesn’t give us what we can’t handle” – are all the pastor needs to do in the face of grief.

But Hannah is no long willing to not be heard. So she looks at Eli and says “Let your servant find favor in your sight.”

Hannah has fallen to her knees before God, begging God to remember her.

And somewhere in that conversation with God, Hannah found her worth. She is no longer willing to let Eli continue to mock her pain by not taking her seriously.

We can and we should bring our lamentations to God, as Hannah does. Hannah straight up tells God that God has forgotten her – and God can handle Hannah’s anger.

But sometimes, we do well to remember God’s answers to our prayers can be empowering us to be bold. Sometimes, our actions are the answers to our prayers. Sometimes, it is up to us to remind Eli that this is God’s house, not his.

Sometimes we need reminding that this is God’s house, not ours alone.

“Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank, and was not sad any longer.”

Hannah is not given a promise by God. Unlike Sarah, whose barrenness is always countered by the promise that God will give her a son – Hannah is not given anything

Eventually, yes, Hannah is remembered by God and gives birth to a son.

But if we read as Hannah having a boy as her “happy ending,” than we are doing her a serious disservice. Because the text doesn’t say, “Hannah went home and was sad until she learned she was pregnant.” The text says ,

“Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank, and was not sad any longer.”

This isn’t to say that knowing our worth necessitates happiness – sometimes, knowing our worth helps us grieve more deeply.  But Hannah chooses to let her grief empower her.

She leaves her sadness behind when she gets up and swaggers out of the temple,

Because she leaves behind her sadness when she realizes it does not matter that God has not promised her a male heir. It does not matter that Penninah will keep mocking her.

Hannah leaves her sadness behind her when she realizes she has worth.

Her worth is in being a bold, audacious daughter of God. And nothing – no barrenness, no fertility grief, no girl hate, no patriarchy, will take that from her. Nothing can take her worth – not being barred from the pulpit, not bad biblical hermeneutics, not submission doctrines, not purity pledges, not permanent placements in associate pastor roles, not a lower salary, not an attempt to take away her right to her body, not being bodyslammed in a school desk for speaking her mind –

None of these evils, no matter how much they try, none of these can take away the worth of a child of God.

Because Hannah – lamenting, barren, womanly, wild Hannah – she, too, is made in God’s image.


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