Sabbath in Slices

I can’t remember the last time i had so much table space, so many empty hours.

Summer is always painted a shade of allure: no readings to finish, sweet treats all the sweeter in the Carolinian heat. I graduated. I finished my Bachelor’s Degree, and with finishing came the flurry of packing and cleaning and thesis defending and family hosting and saying goodbye to beloved Mount Holyoke.

I’ve been so lazy since then. There are so many summer plans i’d made, and even after only a few days of crafting and working part-time i still find my 9 AM cup of coffee listless, quiet. I am trying to enjoy the quiet but the anxious tick of the academic in me won’t shut up. Won’t let me think i really can just breathe. Like i’m coming uncoiled, but there’s a catch in the spring that keeps reeling me back in.

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A Love Letter for Mount Holyoke.

It began with a trip visiting my aunties in some place called Amherst, Massachusetts, and my father speaking sternly to me over the formica kitchen counter.

“While we’re up North visiting them,” he said, “I want you to look at Mount Holyoke College.”

“Mount Holyoke? What is that?”

“It’s a women’s college,” my father replied. I think he even braced himself for my reply.

“A women’s college?” I spat. “Over my dead body!”

Famous last words.

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The Author’s Note: “Son of God”

I have a new published work out – a short story, entitled “Son of God” in Mount Holyoke College’s literary magazine, The Blackstick Review. An excerpt:

“Son of God”

“Of Zebulun, fifty thousand seasoned troops,

equipped for battle with all the weapons of war,

 to help David with singleness of purpose”

– 1 Chronicles 12:33 –

 Zebulun, North Carolina, is the town that Israel forgot; the Wal-Mart parking lot stretches fatter than cars can fill, styrofoam cups piled beside crusting waste bins. There is not a truck without a Confederate flag or a church without a fire-and-brimstone mantle.

Nothing good could ever come out of Zebulun.

Joshua was about to turn eleven and, for his birthday, had asked for another My Little Pony doll. He imagined his own hair turning the same shade as the lilac hair that sprouted from her mane. He knew every song and every line from the DVD collection of the show his parents had first purchased for his sister some four years earlier.

His mother had taken him shopping for presents the Wednesday before his birthday. They were not of much money, nor of many options, so to the overflowing parking spots of Wal-Mart they went.

Joshua made a beeline for the toys section. His father had warned his mother that, being in middle school, Joshua had no business asking for toys anymore. But Joshua paid his father no mind, and so neither did his mother.

The cardboard sign for the Ponies had peeled, tight rows of brown corrugation interrupting the magenta and purple promises that “Friendship is the Best Magic of All!” A February birthday always meant the shelves were lean with all that had been pulled from deep storage after the holidays. None of the toys corresponded with the price tags and there were dents in the plastic casing.

Joshua, however, did not notice the desolation. With glee, he fingered the edge of the princess pony. The packaging was particularly damaged, which was probably why the doll was left in the wake of Christmas. Joshua looked expectantly at his mother. He lifted his eyebrows, a smile tucked in the corner of his face.

Joshua’s mother gave him a gentle grin in return, lifting the toy off the rack and leading him back to the checkout. The man running the register shot a questioning look at the doll, and then at Joshua, but he bagged it anyway.

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[SPOILER ALERT: the following author’s note contains details from the full story!]

I don’t think it is my best work.

But it is the story i have tried to write all semester.

The assignment was to write a story inspired by a newspaper article. I was home for Jonathan’s birthday and the Durham Herald was unfurled on our kitchen table. I combed through, looking for something to supplement my usual off-beat attempted-humor. Instead, i read “When Reality isn’t Magical for Youth,” an op-ed by Lydia Lavelle. She was writing about an eleven-year-old boy who had attempted suicide after being bullied for loving My Little Pony.

I wept. He was only eleven years old. He was only eleven years old.

The story was born then, with only a few of the fact of Michael’s reality before me: he was eleven, he was bullied for liking “girl’s toys” and he had tried to kill himself. I know now, from following his facebook page,  that his youth group and church community has surrounded him and his family with true Christian love. I am so glad my story is not what really happened.

I want to make one thing very, very clear: my short story is fictional. It is not Michael’s story, i am not telling it for him, and you can follow his story and make a donation to support his recovery on

I wrote my story based on what i have seen and known growing up in North Carolina, growing up as someone who chooses Jesus and chooses love without seeing these choices as conflicting.

And as glad as i am that my story is fictional, i do believe the truth in it is, tragically, very real. 

I crafted the story intentionally to sound almost Biblical, littering it with so many references it clobbers any Biblical scholar over the head with symbolism. I did this because i think Jesus condemns hypocrisy as much as God loves all of us.

It fascinates me that people who read this story often assume Joshua, the little boy inspired by Michael, is gay. Though i am of the John Green bent that books/stories belong to their readers, i do want to say i never wrote this story with Joshua’s sexuality in mind. I wanted to dip into a deeper critique: that we associate gender so inextricably with sexuality, that we think feminine things are so degrading that boys liking pink things must immediately be of a “lesser” or “deviant” sexuality, that humans have the ability to so shame a little boy for loving something that he thinks his life is no longer worth living.

Of course the narrative of gay kids being forced in the closet by conservative Christian communities is a real thing. But what scares me so much is that the very idea of being gay – of being a feminine boy, of liking something designed for girls, God forbid – is so repulsive, so pervasive, that it drives children to suicide. At that point, though sexuality is important, the reality of a person’s sexuality becomes almost a moot point because the taboo has more power than reality.

I didn’t write this story exclusively to show how queer people ought to be loved by Christians the way queer people are loved by Christ. I wrote it to show what a culture of hatred, of homophobia and of exclusion, can do.

Because if we call ourselves Christians, we all have to remember that which Mother Theresa taught us: Every one of them is Jesus in disguise.

Sermon: Resurrection in the Dark

Sermon, April 27th, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, South Hadley, MA.

Text: John 20: 19 – 31

Resurrection happens while it is still dark.*

Our text this morning picks up immediately after last week. It is evening of the same day, the same day when earlier that morning Mary Magdalene had found the empty tomb. She had run to tell the disciples – and though Peter and the Beloved Disciple saw the tomb, they returned home. Jesus appeared to Mary, calling her by name. But the disciples, we are told as this story unfurls, are gathered in a locked room, afraid.

Resurrection happens while it is still dark.

Even though the disciples have heard the good news, even though some have seen for themselves the miracle of the empty tomb – they are gathered in a locked room, filled with fear. Fear of what has happened to Jesus, fear of the Pharisees, yes.

But what if the disciples were also afraid of the empty tomb? What if they were afraid of what the resurrection meant?

And then, in the midst of the locked room clouded with fear, Jesus appears. Jesus shows the disciples the wound in his side and his hands and feet. And it is only then, only after the disciples can see that his new body is the same broken one laid in the tomb, it is only then that we are told all believe. Jesus breathes on them, wishing peace upon them.IMG_8105

This had to be a bizarre encounter for the disciples. They have already been through so much. As bright and lily-filled as our Easter is now, as full of resounding joy, that first Easter was filled with trepidatious wonder.

A pastor once told me that there are only two reasons why people come to church. And these are two, simple, questions:

“Is it true? Can God be trusted?”

“Is it true? Can God be trusted?”

I think these questions have existed long before our resounding trumpets and lily-filled services. I think on that day, the day that Mary Magdalene saw our Lord at the empty tomb, the day that the disciples gathered in fear in a locked room – i think on that day, they were asking the same questions.

Is it true? Can God be trusted?

Jesus leaves the disciples, who are filled with wonder.

But Thomas, called the twin, was not there. We are not told why, but we are told that Thomas’ absence is what leads Thomas to doubt the disciples’ story. Thomas does not believe that the risen Jesus walked with his friends.

I think “Doubting Thomas” gets a bad name. It’s almost as if Thomas has become his surname, like he is known first and foremost by the nickname doubting. But to me, Thomas has always been where i find myself in this story. Resurrection is a wild and wondrous event. Resurrection is the promise that death is not final, that God can be trusted.

But resurrection also happens while it is still dark. And in the dark it can be hard to choose to believe.

Thomas had watched his friend, the man he believed to be the son of God, brutally killed. He knew the reality of death and the incredulity of life after death. I think his doubts are completely understandable. He is a man who has suffered much and who has been promised that which seems impossible.

And yet, Jesus re-appears to the disciples a week later – and this time, Thomas is among them.

Jesus invites Thomas to touch him in the side, to see the wounds in his hands.

Jesus tells Thomas “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” So often i think we hear this as a reprimand, as Jesus shaming Thomas for needing tactile evidence in order to believe in the risen Christ.

But i see this as a commission. Jesus appeared to Thomas while Thomas was still doubting. He did not wait for Thomas to believe. Jesus invited Thomas to touch him, beckoned Thomas to step from doubt into faith.

And though Thomas doubted Jesus, Jesus never doubted Thomas.

Jesus blesses Thomas as he blesses us all.

Nadia Bolz-Weber writes that “Easter isn’t about making us perfect; it is about making us new.”

And newness, new life, doesn’t heal the wound in Jesus’ side. New life does not free Thomas of his doubts, does not free the disciples of their fear. But like Mary Magdalene, we are called to believe anyway. Believe when we are full of doubt, believe when we are terrified, believe when all we want to do is lock ourselves away from the world.

For the wildness, the wonder of resurrection is with us, even while it is still dark.




* Barbra Brown Taylor, “Learning to Wait in the Dark


Thesis: Submitted.

Cue: blog about how utterly anticlimactic it was to shove three $30 binders fat with 119 pages into professor’s mailboxes. Subsequent happy dance, alone, in dimly lit department lounge. Mild asthma attack.

Slow walk back to dorm, took brief nap.

Response: photoshoot with self, thesis, and about 2/3 of the books consulted and employed in the writing process.




i call it: thesis face phases.

i call it: thesis face phases.

T-minus six days until the defense.

Jesus Loves Queer People! Reflections on the #UMassUnited Counter-Action to the Westboro Baptist Church

Almost a year ago, the amazing Rachel Held Evans wrote a piece on the CNN Belief Blog entitled “Why Millennials are Leaving the Church.” Of the many reasons she elucidates, she fundamentally argues that the contemporary church must be more authentic and, consequentially, extend Jesus-like love to all people:

“Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving . . . 
“What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance . . .
“We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.”

Last Wednesday, bundled in my wool coat against the (unwelcome) mid-April freeze, friends and i made our way to our neighboring school, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Two weeks prior, UMass became home to the first out Division I basketball player, Derrick Gordon. It was a huge moment for the Pioneer Valley, and a huge moment for breaking down homophobic barriers in a traditionally masculinist, homophobic space.

And not a few days later did the infamous Westboro Baptist Church announce that they would be making camp at UMass to protest Derrick’s courage. (Well, that’s not the way put it, but you know what i mean.)

I sprang into action, contacting as many of my Mount Holyoke friends as i could rallying around a counter-protest. Of course, the folks at UMass were doing the same thing, but rather than giving the WBC more airplay by orchestrating a massive counter-protest, these leaders created something called #UMassUnited. A movement, a march, and a rally focused on creating an uplifting, queer-positive space that celebrated the love between people of any gender and the love of our wider community. So that Wednesday, we MHC pilgrims rolled up with our poster boards and scarves ready to join their ranks.

We wanted to outshine the WBC so much that our love was greater than the hate they bore on their signs. We wanted to show that Derrick Gordon is a whole human being, whose sexuality should not have to be so politicized as it is only one facet of his identity. And we wanted to embrace all among us who were scarred by the venom spewed by the WBC.


That night, watching video clips and reading articles covering the demonstration, i knew we’d been successful. Almost every news outlet mentioned the #UMassUnited protest before mentioning the five WBC people who decided to show up for twenty minutes across campus.

10259951_2266412825118_2675391619399941410_nI was quite chuffed to find my own sign was mentioned here, on LGBTQ Nation, and littered across Instagram. I meant every word and i was grateful that LGBTQIA people were so excited to see a Christian in their ranks.

But it was even more exciting to me to see how many other Christian signs there were in the crowd, people taking a stand for love and reclaiming a faith co-opted and corrupted by the likes of the WBC. Two of the speakers at the rally were pastors at local churches. The cohort of MHC students who i’d come with all bore signs with God-like themes: “God is Love” read one, another with 1 John 4:7 written out.

It never fails to amaze me, to humble me, and to keep me faithful when so many Christians come out for queer rights. And maybe this shocks me because, as much as i agree with Rachel Held Evans’ piece, maybe we are the majority. Maybe folks like the WBC have been given too much screen time and rallies like #UMassUnited aren’t as sensational to talk about.

10246297_2266228900520_6162120665235027386_nI meant the front of my sign. I still mean it. But i had also made my sign double-sided, in part because i wanted people to still read it when i held it up in the air, and more so because there is a second message i think necessary to the one “Jesus loves queer people.” On the back, i wrote “Jesus Loves ALL of US.

I was working very, very hard to mean the back.

The part about all of us. And as much as it singes my throat to admit it, all of us includes and included those five people from the Westboro Baptist Church.

The beauty of #UMassUnited was in the celebration of love, and in the refusal to give into the hate of the WBC. I may not welcome the WBC views, attitude, language, or theology. But i’m pretty sure Jesus would still welcome them to the table. Not out of approval of what they say, but because they, too, bear God’s image.

Whenever i am struggling to remember this all-embracing theology, i turn to one of my favorite human beings: Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In a sermon given in 2005, he made this radical statement:

“This family has no outsiders. Everyone is an insider. When Jesus said, “I, if I am lifted up, will draw…” Did he say, “I will draw some”? “I will draw some, and tough luck for the others”? He said, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all.” All! All! All! – Black, white, yellow; rich, poor; clever, not so clever; beautiful, not so beautiful. All! All! It is radical. All! Saddam Hussein, Osama bin laden, Bush – – all! All! All are to be held in this incredible embrace. Gay, lesbian, so-called “straight;” all! All! All are to be held in the incredible embrace of the love that won’t let us go.”

I love that. I love it because we have a religious leader who has fought injustice after injustice losing no steam as he fights the next battle. I love it because he says God loves terrorists, God loves us in our often fruitless labels.

And i love it because it means God loves broken me as much as She loves Derrick Gordon and those five people who came from the Westboro Baptist church.



Senior Symposium Presentation

I wrote about my baby last week – my senior thesis, capping off at 120 pages on a womanist/feminist interpretation of the Christian Liturgical year. While ten minutes feels like an inch of what i had to say, here’s the presentation i gave at the Senior Symposium on Friday, should you like to watch it!

You might want to turn up your volume to hear. Many thanks to Alex (whom i reference in the film as having presented right before me on God and the Holocaust) and Nora for filming!

Baby Announcement

My baby weighs a couple of pounds, sitting at precisely 115 pages now. No trimmings yet; all bare bones, the introduction and the chapters and the endless endnotes. I was in labor for eight months.

I quit doing an honors thesis last fall. Even though i’d written about it, thought about, planned its length and topic since i first walked on Skinner Green. The pressure was too much, the culture of no-sleep and endless-stress that seemed part and parcel of writing such a monster completely unappealing. Especially because my therapist and i had worked so long on me learning to let go and let God. (Well, my phrasing. She’s not from North Carolina.)

It was a release. My advisor, Jane, told me to just keep reading, keep writing small papers, and we would just do an independent study. That seemed perfect: i got to indulge my craving for womanist theology whilst foregoing the purple-eyed haze everyone else seemed to be in.


It was just before Thanksgiving, and my backpack was plump with books on Jesus and womanism published in the last five years. I rattled off summaries, drawing my breath to talk about a womanist Christology when –

“Has nothing changed?” Jane stared me down. She’s got that deadly mix of Steel Magnolia and a feminism born in the 1960s. My stomach plummeted.

Everything i was talking about – the need to understand Christ as gender-full, as embodied in the faces of people of color and not just a white guy with a splendid beard – it wasn’t, well, new. More nuanced, yes, but nothing too drastically different than Kelly Brown Douglas or Jacquelyn Grant in the 1980s. Critiques of masculine God-language go back a long ways, farther than even Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1848.

Her question plagued me the whole break. It wasn’t just a question of research: this project had always been more personal than that. It was a fundamental push against the anthem of change, the promise that feminism and Christianity were working, in inches, but working, towards a better beloved community.

And then i was back on the thesis track.

I’ve worked since then to answer her question, but instead of taking the usual de-constructive route (tackling a thinker or ideology and ripping it to feminist killjoy pieces) i’ve undertaken a project i see as re-constructive: writing an interpretation of the Christian Liturgical Year through a feminist/womanist lens. It’s in its final phases now, one enormous PDF waiting for copyedits and Jane’s last Southern-sensibility-critique.

On Friday, at 2:15, i’ll be presenting on my baby as part of the Mount Holyoke Senior Symposium. (More logistics here, under “Religion”) I would love it if you’re around and wanted to come here a piece of the story that led to this project, and why i think it is a meaningful discourse for feminists/womanists of faith to be having.

In her recent interview with Micha Boyett (fellow Talking Taboo contributor!) Erin Lane asks Micha why her new book Found was the book she wanted to “birth out into the world.”

While my thesis is by noooo means a full-length book, i love this imagery of the book as a child. As something you create and love and then have to let go, and let God.

And let me tell you, it’s been one hell of a pregnancy.

The Choice in the Valley

Sermon, March 30th, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, South Hadley, MA.

Readings: John 9: 1 – 41, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8 – 14, and 1 Samuel 16:1 – 13

10152680_2252741083333_490793048_nIt was only after my own grandmother passed away, almost exactly a year ago, that i began to really appreciate MaMa.

MaMa is as vibrant and as strong as the red North Carolina clay she was raised on. I remember when we first met: i had gone to my now-fiancé’s hometown to meet his extended family. I was immediately grateful then for how easily she beckoned me into their family, her matter-of-fact country sensibility making me feel right at home.

I had loved MaMa from the moment we met, but in that sad irony of not knowing what you have until it is gone, it was only really after the loss of my own grandmother that i began to deeply appreciate her presence and gift in my life.

MaMa and I share a birthday week, so the family threw us a joint birthday party. Holding her hand and blowing out the candles was the best way to enter my twenty-first year. We began talking on the phone more frequently, our visits lasting longer. She became a grandmother to me of her own right: truly the woman i turned to when i was sick and needed a recipe for chicken-and-rice or needed that Steel Magnolia reassurance that things were, really, going to work out.

And then in October, MaMa fell off a stool and broke both her leg and her wrist. Lying, immobile, in the hospital, she received the results from a biopsy done the week before.

She had cancer. For the third time.

It felt like the kind of melodrama found in only the most lavish of soap operas. Except it was real, excruciatingly real. My fiancé and i sat in her hospital room, beholding a woman as strong as the red North Carolina clay plugged into a machine: fragile and in pain. She would not be able to start any cancer treatment until her leg healed, and that alone would take months.

We knew we were simply at the beginning of a long walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

That line is taken from our Psalm today, Psalm 23, and it is easily one of the most famous in the Bible. I have heard it read at funerals and in hospital rooms much like the one MaMa sat in last October. The whole verse is this: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me, your rod and your staff- they comfort me.”

As I prepared for this sermon, i repeated this verse to myself, over and over again. As i did so, i could not rid myself of the image of MaMa in that hospital room. Of MaMa, and all who love her, walking together through the valley of the shadow of death.

She has started Chemo now, which has made her feel like she has an endless case of the flu. It is hard to feel like our family is fighting this cancer when even the medicine makes her feel sick.

When i talk to MaMa on the phone now, i am tempted to stay in the valley. I want to stay in the anger, the pain, the chaos that comes with the inexplicable question: why does a God of mercy let such suffering happen?

It is the ultimate question each one of us asks. In times of divorce, of death, of sickness, of depression, of loss.

But the psalmist does not leave us in the valley. The last line of this psalm is this: “and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” Even in the midst of deep sorrow, the psalmist is singing praises to God.

Psalms historically were often sung – a practice we continue even this very morning. I find singing especially symbolic when talking about sadness. As one of my favorite theologians, Nadia Bolz-Weber, writes, “singing in the midst of evil is what it means to be disciples.” *

Singing in the midst of evil is what is means to be disciples.

Our Gospel today is a story of a man who has borne a terrible illness and been, miraculously, healed. And yet all around him, the Pharisees and even his own parents are full of fear at the miracle of his healing. And their fear turns to anger, as the Pharisees convene to discuss the “sinfulness” of the healing: that Jesus healed this man on the Sabbath day.

Jesus did not follow the Pharisees rules. He did not perform a miracle at a prescribed time, he did not wait for permission to reach out and be with someone in pain.

God’s miracles do not follow our rules.

This works two ways:  the first is that God breaks our assumptions about when we can do right, and God breaks our assumptions about who is saved and who is sinful. Sometimes I think it is easy to blame the Pharisees, to think they were too blinded by their own prejudice to see Jesus. But we, too, can be the Pharisees.

God’s miracles do not follow our rules.

The second way this works is, i think, is much harder to stomach. God does not perform miracles on our time. And this means that as angry as i may be that it was a blind man and not MaMa who crossed Jesus’ path that day – as grieved as i may be that her healing process is breaking her wide open – i cannot force God to fix her.

But I can choose to sing the Psalm.

I can sing praise to God even whilst living in the valley of the shadow of death.

Paul tells us in our Ephesians reading today that “once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of the light.”

As the blind was made to see, we too can learn to see in our suffering. This does not mean that suffering is mandated by some bearded man in the sky. But suffering provides us with a choice: we can choose to dive into those layers of our human experience, emotion, and connection, or choose to become bitter and angry.

We must choose, as Paul writes, to live as children of the light. We must choose to see God’s work in our lives, even when we feel God is absent. And we need each other in this process. MaMa told me the other night she would not be able to face chemo without the prayers and helping hands of her loved ones surrounding her.

In all three of these intertwined texts today I think there is one crucial theme: God does not abandon us in our darkness. God does not leave us in the valley, God invites us to live as people of the light, God does not abandon the blind man.

When the disciples first see the blind man, their first question to Jesus is: who sinned to make this man blind, him or his parents?

Jesus replies: neither.

Jesus saw the man as a human being with an affliction, not as an affliction attached to a human being. Jesus saw a human being suffering in a way no one else around this blind man could see.

Jesus broke all our rules to walk with us. Jesus broke all the rules by inhabiting a human body and suffering with us, as i know God is suffering with MaMa. God does not abandon us in the valley – and God’s presence with us is not dependent on our ability to feel God’s presence.

For though God’s miracles do not follow our rules, God is always, always, performing miracles in our lives.


* Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & a Saint (New York: Jericho Books, 2013), 201.

(I’ve had an internship at a local church for the academic year, and several of y’all have asked to read my sermons, and i figured this was the easiest place to share. Thanks!)

A Little Bit of a Rebel.

I remember when i was given the dress: black, capped sleeves and a full, hoop-ish skirt that looked both bohemian and bona fide all at once. Mom had taken Granny shopping and i, insolent, was dragged along to Coldwater Creek.

Not prime hunting grounds for a fourteen-year-old.

While Granny picked out her usual sweaters with mom and the attendant, i amused myself by trying on the dress. I didn’t expect to like it, and even less did i expect to open a box with the black dress tucked inside for Christmas that year. Granny had seen me prancing in front of the dressing room mirror and Mom had helped her tuck it inside her stack of cardigans.

My grandmother was never an outspoken woman; she was South Carolina sweet-aggressive to her core. Dabbing napkins at her lips even when the strokes had ravaged her mind of so many of the manners she prized. “Whatever you’d like, sugar,” her automatic reply to anything asking her opinion.

At Granny’s funeral, my mother stood in the pulpit, unable to wear her robes because it was a Catholic service and her full ordination at a United Methodist Elder seemed irrelevant to her childhood priest. She was not allowed the Eulogy, either; she had fought to say even a few words to celebrate the life of her now-dead mother.

But half an hour before the funeral, she’d asked me to retrieve something she’d left at her own church down the road. Breathless from my sprint in heels, i’d managed to make it there and back in time for the opening hymn.

My mother stepped up to the microphone after the sermon. She began by describing how docile her own mother had been in life. “But,” she smiled, preacher-smile. Eyes sucking you in and fire catching. “She raised her daughter to be something of a rebel.” Turning her head back to the priest, all South-Carolina-Sass, she donned the white stole i’d fetched for her.

“So if you’ll allow me, I’m going to speak to y’all today as that little bit of a rebel.”

I still have that black dress. It’s a few inches higher above my ankles than when i was fourteen, but i could never bear to part with it. Granny and i may have mostly listened to the Classical Station while eating Lowes fried chicken when the strokes started, but she was still my grandmother.

Which is why, this past International Womyn’s Day, i donned the dress once more.

One of my favorite new nonprofits, Women’s Voices Worldwide, sponsored its second-annual Celebration of Speech. (I’m only a tad biased in my feminist fervor for them, having worked as an intern two falls ago). The event is a day-long rotation of womyn speaking: recreating historic speeches, featuring freedom-fighting womyn in the area’s speeches, and highlighting winners of a contemporary speech competition sponsored by WVW.


My hair was curled in as 19th-century fashion as i could muster, black dress and pearls the closest i could get to resembling Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

I read a selection from her “Declaration of Sentiments,” which she delivered at the start of the suffragette movement when she was only 32. I was familiar with her speech, opening with lines taken verbatim from the Declaration of Independence, with the key insertion of “men and women created equal.” But what resonated with me the most reading it aloud were some her more poignant reasons of patriarchy’s repeated injuries against womyn:

“He allows her in church, as well as state, but a subordinate position, claiming apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the church.

“He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.

“He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.”

Even as early as 1848, feminists weren’t “just” tackling voting rights. There is a fundamental challenge in Stanton’s words both to “Biblical” male authority and to the denigration of womyn’s self-worth because of this perceived cis-male authority. Of course these early waves were imperfect; though born out of the abolitionist movement, they were enormously racist and exclusive of the fierce work done by womyn like Ida B. Wells-Barnett. These are racist ramifications we must still, as people and feminists and Christians, grapple with and work to change.

Reading as Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Reading as Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Yet the work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton did not end in vain: the 19th amendment was passed, divorce laws radically changed, and in many Christian churches apostolic authority no longer denies womyn like my mother the right to lead congregations.


With J, after the speech!

But one perusal of Sarah Sentilles’ A Church of Her Own or the introduction of Jacquelyn Grant’s White Woman’s Christ, Black Woman’s Jesus makes it clear that ordaining womyn does not universally eliminate sexism in the church.

And as i read Stanton’s fiery words, surrounded by so many womyn re-creating and creating words of their own justice-seeking bent, i was not wearied. Sometimes, when i’m plugging along at my thesis or feeling overwhelmingly frustrated that my mother could not “officially” preach at her own mother’s funeral, i have to wonder: has nothing changed? It’s exhausting, this lenten season i sometimes feel perpetually stuck in.

But mustard seeds sprout mighty branches.

My grandmother’s docility did not breed docile daughters. We turned to rebellion out of love for her and love for all our foremothers. So we keep plugging along, against the microaggressions that we are only worth what we weigh and the macro claims that as womyn, we should not pursue ordination or call on Mother God or think of Mary Magdalene as the ultimate apostle.

We remain, exhausted and exhilarated, in rebellion.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s full speech can be read here.

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