Mar 18 2014

Women’s History Month: New Narratives

MorrisonThis month is National Women’s History Month, and while it is important to share stories of transformational women, this month is also a time where we think about how we tell the broader stories of humanity. In my studies at Candler and my experience as a woman I am realizing more and more that history is not merely a recitation of facts but an arranging of those facts in a particular order. Writing history also means choosing some facts over others, ignoring facts that don’t make the story sound exceptional and judging which facts of history are most consequential.

There are many amazing women who have brought this predicament of history-telling to our attention: Elizabeth Cady-Stanton, bell hooks, Audre Lorde and Wendy Farley (to name some favorites of mine).  There are scholars who are retelling women’s histories that have been painfully obscured and mutilated by men, such as that of Sarah Baartman.  There are writers who are telling new histories, giving a voice to the women who screamed, laughed, shouted and sang and yet no one wrote it down. The spirits of these women come to us through the work of writers like Toni Morrison.

There is still much work to be done to reconstitute half the world’s history, the history of women. Hillary Rodham Clinton claimed at the U.N. Fourth World Conference in China in 1995 “Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights.” In the same way, women’s history is human history and human history is women’s history.  How do we continue to tell the history of humanity and yet still deny this simple fact?  One example surfaced in chapel last week when the preacher referenced the famous evolutionary mantra “survival of the fittest.” This little phrase contains an entire history of human existence—a history of competition, autonomy, self-interest and an illusion of fit-ness—a history told by certain men in certain circumstances.

ClintonTo tell the history of humanity as one of competition, scarcity, autonomy, fear or an abstract notion of being “fit” is no explanation for the life-giving interdependence of a nursing mother and her baby.  Survival of the fittest is not the history of immigrants who coordinate the care of each other’s children so that they can take English classes and learn to support their refugee community. Survival of the fittest is not the history of my friends in a same-sex partnership where they daily sacrifice the world’s cookie-cutter “fittest” ideals to flourish in a relationship of love and creativity. Survival of the fittest is far from the story of Jesus whose place in history marks a unifying baptism and a common table where mutuality, welcome and love are offered as the defining story of all the children of God, men and women.

Theologian Sarah Coakley is currently working with scientists to examine the implications of cooperation and sacrifice in the history of human survival.  In a Gifford lecture she comments on the “great secret that men rarely discuss…sacrifice is being done all the time physiologically in the tiring and painful human business of pregnancy, birth-giving and lactation.” (See article: “What’s God Got to Do With Evolution?” in Times Higher Education.)

Through the work of women like Sarah Coakley, we can now offer new narratives of history during National Women’s History Month.  How we tell the story of humanity this month includes the values that women have always relied on in order to survive and flourish in this world: cooperation, care, sacrifice, interdependence and mutuality. May our history become a full reckoning with humanity’s life in this world.

–Jenelle Holmes

Jenelle is a second-year in Candler’s MTS program and a student ambassador. She graduated in 2006 with a degree in English from Whitworth University in Spokane, WA.


Oct 8 2013

Risky Business

Jenelle HolmesSeminary is risky business. It is risky financially, spiritually, and let’s just get this out there, ideologically.  Defined loosely, ideology concerns the manner in which a group thinks.  So often we tie ideologies to an ideal or statement of a specific group, but for this post, I will use ideology to mean the manner or way people think about their lives and the lives of those around them.

Because we are in seminary, our manner of thinking about God, others, and ourselves often abides in faith-talk. We write about faith, claim to live by faith, seek a definition of faith, and attempt not to destroy each other’s faith. Our ideologies cannot help but operate as a living out of faith.  The mixing of ideology, faith, and seminary, what a risky business!

In the recent conversations over the last few weeks involving the LGBTQ community, the risk that Candler students embody has been quite palpable.  But risk is not foreign ground for the besieged faithful. As Candler students think about living out faith in the walls of an open and accepting school of theology, let us consider other situations where danger and faith abide together. I want to take us back to the siege of Jerusalem.

Walls are peeling back before the eyes of Zion’s residents. No family is untouched by hunger, illness, bloodshed, tears and death on the city streets, or whatever is left of them.  The people within the walls of Jerusalem, once a city for the dwelling of YHWH, not only question the goodness of God but the very existence of God as rocks and spears daily fall from the sky.

CliffLast week Dr. Scheib preached on Jeremiah 32 where in a confounding move, Jeremiah, prophet to the besieged city, buys land.  He purchases land in the middle of what seems the death of that very ground. As an owner myself of undesirable property resulting from the economic collapse of 2008, I can name countless reasons why Jeremiah is crazy for making this purchase.  Will he ever be able to live there? Reap the economic benefits of that land? Rest and restore himself on the land? Sell it if the investment proves a faulty one?  Ah, the risk of such a purchase amidst a time of utter chaos! What would drive Jeremiah to do such a thing? Is it that despite the risk, he hopes for a break from the violence around him? Violence to the people, by the people, and even violence to the very land in which the people dwell? Is the uncertainty of Jeremiah’s action more than simply a desperate grasp at a fading hope of feeling at home?

Thanks to Hebrews 11, we often consider faith as the “certainty of things not seen.”  How we think about faith (our ideologies of faith) frequently operates with a seeking after certainty, regardless of the commotion around us.  While faith might call upon us to act in a risky manner, we often associate faith with the assurance we feel despite that risk.

But what, for Jeremiah, is assured? Money? No. Peace? No. Land? Not while the Babylonians knock on the gates of the city.  Risk, in a town besieged, is the only privilege Jeremiah can afford.  I think too often, especially amidst people who have not had to risk much in their lives, risk gets a bad reputation or is considered something to be avoided. But in Jeremiah’s circumstances, risk is a way to show his agency, to act, to have faith. A faith not experienced in certainty or assurance, but in risk.

In a preaching lecture from the spring of 2012 Eddie Glaude talks about witnessing “God’s love in the very act of risk.” At seminary, students act out their faith through risk by reading challenging authors, by listening to peers who experience life, let alone God, in entirely different manners of thinking, by sitting in lectures that make them squirm or better yet, forget to breath. At seminary, we risk our very conceptions of love, God, self, and others. Seminary embodies an ideology of faith that encourages risk.

But some risk more than others at seminary.  In the last few weeks with the upheaval surrounding the Eddie Fox award we are reminded of those in the LGBTQ community who often find themselves in a besieged institution; be it the church, school, or other places where they live out their lives.  We are reminded that voices, statements, and awards are little ramparts that weaken the bastions of Christian ministry being built here at Candler. Like other marginalized communities, they live in a besieged city.

But they too, like Jeremiah, have purchased land here at Candler (seriously, tuition is $19,800 this year). They have, amidst the tumult of marginalization, tokenism, and oppression, purchased the opportunity of learning, growing, and loving at this school of theology. What a courageous and faith-full way of thinking.

While we are occasionally a community besieged by the echoes of invasions elsewhere, we can see the tilling of God’s risky love in our ministries, sacred personhoods, and our experiences of community as we continually purchase land here at Candler.  May our living in risk during this time and this space honor and enable each student with the hope of a future healed landscape inside these walls and beyond.

–Jenelle Holmes

Jenelle is a second-year in Candler’s MTS program and a student ambassador. She graduated in 2006 with a degree in English from Whitworth University in Spokane, WA.