“Shouts and Whispers” | Women Doing Theology | March 3, 2019

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Text: 1 Kings 19: 3-13

Speakers: Christina King, Bethany Davey, Becca Lachman

(Christina) Elijah Runs Away to the desert after his life has been threatened: Elijah walked another whole day into the desert...Finally, he lay down in the shade and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel woke him up and said,

(Bethany) “Get up and eat.”

(Christina) Elijah looked around, and by his head was a jar of water and some baked bread. He sat up, ate and drank, then lay down and went back to sleep. Soon the angel woke him again and said,

(Bethany) “Get up and eat, or else you'll get too tired to travel.”

(Christina) So Elijah sat up and ate and drank. The food and water made him strong enough to walk 40 more days. At last, he reached Mount Sinai, the mountain of God, and he spent the night there in a cave.  While Elijah was on Mount Sinai, God asked,

(Becca) “Elijah, why are you here?”

(Christina) He answered, “God All-Powerful, I've always done my best to obey you. But yourpeople have broken their solemn promise to you. They have torn down your altars and killed all your prophets, except me. And now they are even trying to kill me!”

(Becca) “Go out and stand on the mountain. I want you to be there when I pass by.”

(Christina) All at once, a strong wind shook the mountain and shattered the rocks. But God was not in the wind. Next, there was an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. Then there was a fire, but God was not in the fire. Finally, there was a gentle breeze, and when Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his coat. He went out and stood at the entrance to the cave. A voice asked,

(Becca) “Elijah, why are you here?”

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“Don't you know
They're talkin' 'bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper”

(Bethany) The Women Doing Theology Conference took its title from these lyrics by Cleveland-born singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman. (And yes, we all sang it together on the first night!) But it was palpable when we did--what does “revolution” mean to a black singer-songwriter? To LGBTQI pastors? To American women, or Canadian, or Colombian? What’s a whisper to me might be a shrill shout to you.
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“Don't you know
They're talkin' 'bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper”
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Christina: So the women went out and ran from the tomb, distressed and terrified. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. After Jesus rose from death early on Sunday, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had driven out seven demons. She went and told his companions. They were mourning and crying; and when they heard her say that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe her.
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Becca: “Reworking history requires that we rework our souls to recognize that those who have not mattered in our history books are the ones who should have written them.” -Kaitlin Curtice, writer, Native activist, mother, wife, married to a Mennonite, member of the Potawatomi nation
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Bethany: I wonder, what would Mary Magdalene’s version of her story be?
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Christina: “Revolution is something turning around.But revolution has another meaning: revolution is when the way things are gives way to a new world order.” --Malinda Elizabeth Berry, seminary professor, mother, black woman
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Becca: There are over 20 verses in the Bible that mention childfree women, and most of them--the stories we hear on nearly every year-- resolve in some kind of miraculous birth. I wonder if we re-imagined some of these verses how much could we also nudge the re-imaging of what it means to be valued in a body that identifies as female, or to widen our definitions of family? Here are a few possible examples of such new translation-liberations:

Becca: Genesis 25:21-- “And so he prayed to God for his wife, because she was barren. But God was silent. And he prayed to God for his wife again, because she could not have a child, and because he could not father a child. And God said, “Come stand by the water with me...” And he prayed in shouts and curses! ...and.... finally silence...because he and his wife were still barren. And God did not grant his prayer, and still loved them both.”

Bethany: Judges 13:3-- “And the angel appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, there is so much you can grow inside you. Sometimes it looks like a child. Sometimes it looks like a melody. Sometimes it looks like a love whose face you’ve always wanted to recognize. You will not carry a child, but you will carry God’s face in many forms.”

Christina: Psalm 113:9-- “God gives the woman--no matter if she’s a mother or wife or not--a home and hollow to rock her sorrows and joys together. No need for diagnosis, no need for tearing clothes and breaking the best pottery in grief. “Woman,” hear the Spirit proclaiming: “You are already whole to me. Go out and live in this blessing.”
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Becca: A sign at many of the women’s marches across the world: The future is female. In the first garden, the future was made in God’s image--both male and female--made in God’s image. “The future of God is female” could have been an actual verse in Easter’s resurrection story. Unlike other women in the Bible, Mary Magdelene isn’t identified as anyone’s mother, wife, or sister. During my teaching days at Ohio University, I was shocked to learn that there’s no biblical evidence that she was a prostitute. Instead of Magdalene being remembered first as a leader in supporting Jesus’ ministry, powerful church fathers, starting with Pope Gregory the 1st , reshaped her story in order to bring people back to the church, blurring her with other women mentioned in the Bible to intentionally create the ultimate example of the fallen and redeemed woman—a woman more than willing to return to an institution and narrative controlled by men. Just in 2016, Pope Francis made the annual observance on the Catholic calendar of St. Mary Magdalene into a major feast, celebrating women as the first bearers of Good News and making Magdalene an equal to male saints.
But here we are in 2019, still working on finally thinking of women as reliable witnesses.

“And God was in the soft breeze,” and also in the women’s urgent steps, and in the women’s voices.
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Bethany: Tracy Chapman’s song continues with these lyrics:
“While they're standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time in the unemployment lines

Sitting around waiting for a promotion...
Poor people gonna rise up
And get their share
Poor people gonna rise up
And take what's theirs”
Don't you know you better run, run…
Oh I said you better run, run…
And finally the tables are starting to turn
Talkin' bout a revolution
And finally the tables are starting to turn
Talkin' bout a revolution...It sounds like a whisper...”
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Becca: The artist Ben Wildflower, inspired by the Magnificat, made a woodcut this year featuring Mary, Mother of Jesus in chunky, black boots standing on a skull and snake, and raising her fist to the sky. “Cast down the mighty; fill the hungry; lift the lowly; send the rich away” surrounds her in bold type. Christians on Twitter attacked Wildflower and his image, questioning its revolutionary nature, even after he told them the words came directly from the Bible.

In a Washington Post article reacting to Wildflower’s image and how she was brought up to think about Mary, writer DL Mayfield writes: “Throughout history, I would learn, poor and oppressed people had often identified with this song — the longest set of words spoken by a woman in the New Testament (and a poor, young, unmarried pregnant woman at that).

Still Mayfield’s words: “Oscar Romero, priest and martyr, drew a comparison between Mary and the poor and powerless people in his own community. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian who was executed by the Nazis, called the Magnificat “the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary hymn ever sung.”

But the Magnificat has been viewed as dangerous by people in power. Mayfield goes on to say that some countries — such as India, Guatemala, and Argentina — have outright banned the Magnificat from being recited in liturgy or in public.” Would I recognize Mary’s call if her son was born this week in a house on N. Broadway, or in a rural hospital in Ohio’s Appalachia?
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Christina: Seen on Facebook: A man named Dave Hluchy reflecting on his mother after her
death: "She was my favorite translation of the Bible."

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Becca: After the Women Doing Theology conference, as a white woman I now think more carefully about using one of my favorite lines: “Jesus is a feminist.” When I say this, do I really take to heart the history of white, Christian American women supporting the injustice-filled layers of patriarchal structures when it’s suited them, when it’s protected them? Do I recognize that this isn’t really distant history, that it’s still happening today--will likely happen this week? Do I remember that it was American women of color who first led and are still leading movements to bring justice and equality to women, and in turn, to everyone? That black women created the term “Womanist” because feminism didn’t--and still often doesn’t-- offer them a real seat of power at the table?
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Christina: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” -Lilla Watson, Aboriginal elder, educator, and activist
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Bethany: In 1979, American writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, and civil rights activist Audre Lorde wrote to a friend

“I had decided never again to speak to white women about racism. I felt it was wasted energy because of destructive guilt and defensiveness, and because whatever I had to say might better be said by white women to one another at far less emotional cost to the speaker, and probably with a better hearing.”
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Christina: “For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The
journey doesn’t end. I became a mother, but I still have a lot to learn from and give to my children. I became a wife, but I continue to adopt to and be humbled by what it means to truly love and make a life with another person. I have become, by certain measures, a person of power, and yet there are moments I still feel insecure or unheard...

“It’s all a process, steps along a path. Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor. Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done.”

-Michelle Obama, from her book Becoming

These words – actually her entire book – spoke to me in a way it might not have before the Doing Theology conference. Womanhood – Women of Color – Career Woman – Mother – Wife. These labels are worn with honor, but they are complex and sometimes really exhausting.

Sometimes being “invisible” feels easier. The conference brought the reminder that allies and community are important because you can hand off the torch to them when you are weary.
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Bethany: A poem by Ada Limon:

When Eve walked among
the animals and named them--
nightingale, red-shouldered hawk,
fiddler crab, fallow deer--
I wonder if she ever wanted
them to speak back, looked into
their wide wonderful eyes and
whispered, Name me, name me.
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Becca: And then, there was a gentle breeze, almost like a whisper, and God passed by. God uncovered our hands from our faces, calling us by the names we had long ago given ourselves,
saying, “Get up and eat. The journey is long...Why are you hiding?”