Skip to content

Sabbath Day – Extinction

October 27, 2016

I was born in 1969. In my lifetime, nearly two-thirds of all wildlife have disappeared, according to a new study by the World Wildlife Federation. TWO-THIRDS! Wildlife populations worldwide are now one-third of what they were when I was born.

Just think about that for a minute.

You should not be able to unthink it.

I’ve known for some time we are living through a planetary sixth extinction, but still …

We are living through an apocalypse.

A slow motion apocalypse.

And it’s our fault.

How do you go to work when you are acutely aware of this?

How do you do anything?

And then there is this…


  • At least 26 school children were killed yesterday in Syria by Russian and/or Syrian forces (set in my mind against the photo this week of the Syrian boy and his bicycle standing in front of the hellish scene of a burning oil field lit up by ISIS, further fueling planetary death);
  • The Standing Rock protest is being forcibly cleared even as I write; this is a military invasion of sovereign nation for the purpose of resource extraction (which will fuel planetary death);
  • The evidence of our failing democracy yielding to oligarchy and corporate rule; and
  • The everyday challenges of family, finance, home, work, church and community.

I’m grateful for this dreary Sabbath day to think unfocused thoughts, to do laundry, to read some highly distracting books, and to cuddle with my son so that I can go back to work tomorrow with a sense of resiliency in the face of an ever diminishing future.

I Thank You, God, That I’m Not Like Him!

October 23, 2016

A Sermon prepared for the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost, October 23, 2016, though I was unable to deliver it because I had to attend to a medical emergency at the hospital on Sunday morning. The exegetical portion only is offered here for reflection. It was to have continued with a stewardship appeal, which I save for another occasion.

Luke 18:9-14

Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

jesus_mafa_pharisee_publicaJesus MAFA

There are several things to note about this short parable. The first is that two men went up to the temple to pray. When we think of someone praying, we tend to think of something quite personal, or even private. Something one does alone, quietly, interior – not aloud, an intimacy with God. However the prayer in this parable is something more akin to worship. “And two men went up to the temple to worship”: to participate in the liturgy, a formal service where people join together in the public worship of God. We must picture here a whole congregation if we are to understand the story.

Let me further add that the two men went up to the Temple at dawn to worship.” There are several clues in the story, including the mention of atonement in verse 12 (in the Greek), that suggest that the service these men were attending was one of two daily services of atonement, the first of which took place at dawn and the second near 3:00 in the afternoon. The priest would sacrifice a lamb as an atonement of the sins of the people, and while the meat was the slowly roasting, filling the room with a pleasant aroma, and smoke from the burning fat ascended heavenward, personal petitions, “prayers,” would be offered. Their sin being covered by the sacrifice, the people could offer personal petitions, not unlike the pink prayer request slips we use, except that each person spoke aloud for themselves. After the morning service, petitions could continue throughout the day and cease with the afternoon sacrifice. That both men pray aloud suggests that when he telling the story, Jesus was imagining the sunrise service. You can imagine it, can’t you? The people pressed together, the pungent smell of roasting lamb, the liturgy spoken by the priest, the petitions being spoken by the congregation, from their mouths to God’s ears on the smoke rising from the burning sacrifice.

So “two men went up to the Temple at dawn to pray during the morning atonement service, one was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector, and as the smoke from the morning sacrifice filled the room, the Pharisee, standing alone, began to pray thus…”

Now here I must say, particularly in light of all of the potential anti-Jewish readings, the long legacy of anti-Jewish readings, the long history of Christian anti-Judaism, that we, today, must assume the greatest respect for the Pharisee. I would assume that for those to whom Jesus first told this story, the Pharisee was a figure of great honor, some scholars think Jesus was a Pharisee. Jesus doesn’t tell this story because people expected the Pharisee to be a hypocrite, but because they would be shocked by his hypocrisy. So it is all the more surprising when this guy begins “to pray.” His piety is off the charts, even for a Pharisee. He fasts twice each week, even though fasting was only required once a week. He tithes everything he owns. Now the Bible required a tithe, sacrifice of 10%, only all basic grains, olives, wine, and oil. But it specifically exempts other agricultural products from the full tithe, and nowhere invites a tithe on non-agricultural products. But this guy tithes everything. We’re supposed to admire him.

Which is what makes his so-called prayer all the more surprising. What he says can hardly be called a prayer. Public prayer would consist of giving thanks to God for life, for one’s life, and for God’s many blessings. It could then include petitions for one’s needs. “Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Give us this day our daily bread. And lead us not into temptation.” But this guy doesn’t give thanks for life, only that his life is not the life of another who he disparages. There’s no thanksgiving for God’s blessings, only an inventory of his own accomplishments. And there’s no petition of need, because he apparently doesn’t have any. He stands alone, apart from the congregation, finding fault in others, apparently unaware that “the search for faults and failures in others does the greatest harm of all to the critic himself.”[1] “I mean, who does that?”[2]

And then comes the prayer of the tax collector. Tax collection brings up images of the IRS, income statements and individual tax returns. But Roman Law simply apportioned obligations to each region based on population, and then hired a third party to collect the revenue in any way they could. The tax collector would’ve been a Jewish collaborator, a local, someone who knew the people and where to find them, but worked for the occupation. So long as the tax-collector met his obligation to Rome, in any way he could, then he could keep everything else. He was a figure of hatred, rather than pity, which meant he had to work hard to meet his obligations, and often failed. Rome was a tough master. Nevertheless, it was his job to find everyone, and make them pay for the occupation they hated.

This man, beats his chest in lamentation, and standing far off, prays. Our translation says, “have mercy on me, a sinner,” but the Greek is much clearer – “O God, make atonement for me, even me, a sinner.”

In the end, both men who had gone up to pray in the Temple during the atonement service, go back down, but this time the tax collector is in the lead. And it is he who has been justified, made right, at-one with God, atoned.

God, we think, I thank you that I’m not like the Pharisee!  

Ah, and there is the rub, the way the parable works, it sucks us right in to making that judgment, ensuring that as we try to distance ourselves from becoming the Pharisee, we do exactly the thing we condemn him for.

And before we think, oh I guess I’m the tax collector in the parable or I should want to be him, remember the tax collector collaborated with Rome; siphoning off a little extra often for himself. He may have felt he had no choice and was compelled to perform this service to his nation’s military and political masters. But one always has a choice.

The trap here in the parable is that while in everyday life the Pharisee is the one to emulate, in worship life he is not. And while in worship life the one to emulate is the tax collector, in everyday life he is not. In other words, neither of these guys are the role model. Both of the characters, however, invite hearers and readers to think about our faithfulness to God and whether we have what St. Augustine called “the right measure of ourselves.” The trick of the parable is we are to emulate neither – rather both characters invite us to ask, what does faithfulness require – in life as part of a worshiping community and in life as part of the wider world.


[1] Ibn al-Salibi, cited in Kenneth E. Bailey, Poet and Peasant & Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke. Combined Edition. (Eerdmanns, 1983). P. 150. A good bit of my exegesis is drawn from Bailey, as well as Luise Schottroff, The Parables of Jesus. (Fortress Press, 2006).

[2] I couldn’t help myself:

Sabbath Day – Bridge and Lighthouse

October 14, 2016

There are days when keeping Sabbath feels like an indulgence. And then there are those when I realize just how much I am fed by having time to put everything back into perspective.

I did not set out to walk today. Instead, I left the house with a book of essays on urban planning and went to a coffee shop. However, I couldn’t concentrate because the day was already so beautiful and was calling me back outside. So…

…I drove over the Tappan Zee Bridge and down 9W and the Palisades Parkway to the Englewood Boat Basin in NJ – on the other side to the Hudson. It’s a 35 minute drive and I brought a few Dylan CDs, as it was announced today that Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Windows open. Music cranked. As was my spirit.


I first visited the Englewood Cliffs a month ago. At that time I hiked north. This time I hiked south on the Shore Path. My goal was the Little Red Lighthouse on the far side of the river. I hiked south on the white blazed Shore Trail as far as the Ross Dock Picnic Area. Another two tenths of a mile brought me to a long set of stairs climbing the Palisades. Notice the blue blaze up ahead. This blue trail (stairs?) connects the white blazed Shore Trail below with the aqua blazed Long Path above. The southern terminus of the Long Path is the GW.


This was my first time walking the George Washington Bridge. I stood and watched the power of the water below me for a while, the winds creating wonderful patterns and waves and the sunlight a kaleidoscope on the surface. There are regular signs offering hope and help to potential jumpers. The rattling of loose fencing, though, was enough to keep me far from the side rail. (No actual danger, but the rattling of the fencing leaves one with very physical sense that one should not trust the railing.) I shared the path with a couple of walkers and many bikers.


On the far side of the bridge I had to follow a maze of pedestrian bridges, paths and tunnels to reach Fort Washington, part of the Hudson River Greenway. Tucked below the “Great Gray Bridge” is the famous Little Red Lighthouse, a NYC Landmark and on the National Historic Registry. Most children (and adults) know of it through the book by Hildegarde H. Swift and Lynd Ward, which you can view and have read to you here.


Another perspective on the bridge from below.


And the lighthouse from above.


Since I am having fun, having discovered how to draw on photos, here I am in Hudson Heights, below the bridge, looking back at the Boat Basin where my car is parked.


The homeward journey brought great views of the Palisades, and the very beginning of autumn leaves around Fort Lee, that are one of the reasons I came out today.


My afternoon was our typical Thursday afternoon family routine: a visit to the animals at Greenburgh Nature Center, an early pasta dinner, a walk of the dog, and homework. I will be on a short vacation, starting tomorrow, so the balance of the evening was spent packing with an early bedtime.

Miriam, Mom and Me

October 11, 2016

Faith Sharing is a regular part of worship at the White Plains Presbyterian Church. The following testimony was shared by Elder Phyllis Worthington on the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost in the Season of Stewardship, October 9, 2016



I begin by quoting Jeremiah:  “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you hope for the future.”  These words, written to the exiles in Babylon, took on a very special meaning for me at about this time last October, when out of the blue, I began my extraordinary personal journey of faith.


I have always enjoyed taking advantage of the impressive adult education curriculum which is of such vital importance to our individual spiritual growth here at our church. I perceive it to be a prominently positioned informal continuation of the worship service through the study of the scriptures in a classroom setting. For me, it has always been thought-provoking and spiritually fulfilling.  To have the opportunity to listen, to participate, and to interact with inspiring theologians and learned biblical scholars remains to be the proverbial “icing on the cake”, leaving my whole being energized. I leave the church with my spiritual appetite appeased!

As most of you are aware, for the past 10 or so years, we have welcomed Phyllis Trible as a guest lecturer and teacher.  With her my recent faith journey began.  I have attended Phyllis’ classes for several years.  Through those years, from time to time, we have exchanged pleasantries. I remember one time in particular, having a conversation regarding my lack of understanding for the scriptures because where I was raised we spent more time memorizing verses than getting to the meat of the matter by discussing and interpreting them.  My understanding of the Bible – especially the Old Testament – left me confused and insecure.  In that conversation with Phyllis we found that we shared a common background.  Lo and behold, we discovered that we were both raised in the Southern Baptist tradition!  We both experienced and participated in Sunday School sword drills (in case you are wondering what a “sword drill” might be, I’m sure we can find some time during her class to define and demonstrate for you).  Also we shared the love of the old Southern Baptist hymns from the Broadman Hymnal; and then there was the obvious:  we both share the same first name!

Another common bond worth mentioning is our love of classical music.  I had previously explained that the only way I really knew the scriptures was through singing them – through sacred anthems, Handel oratorios, Bach cantatas, Masses by a myriad of composers, and of course, solo repertoire.  All of these sacred musical vehicles carry the message of the scriptures, be it Old or New Testament, and fragments of texts would stick in my head, embedding themselves in my heart.  A few of my favorites I’ll share as examples: From Isaiah – “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne.” From the Psalms – “He watching over Israel slumbers not nor sleeps”; this morning’s anthem also from the Psalms, “O pray for the peace of Jerusalem”; from the book of Ruth, “Entreat me not to leave thee”; from Zechariah, “Rejoice greatly, o daughter of Zion, shout, o daughter of Jerusalem”; Matthew – “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” – and on and on it goes.  For years I could sing the Bible, but not always grasp what it really meant.

Last October was different.  As our friendship developed I wanted to know more about Phyllis’ life as a biblical scholar and teacher.  Her response was that I should read an essay recently published in a book called “I (Still) Believe”.  In it, Phyllis sketched a picture of how faith and biblical scholarship intersected in her life.  My interest had been peaked.  I searched the web and came upon a wealth of books, articles, and information that began to feed my soul in ways that to this day are indescribable.  I felt the Holy Spirit working within me.  I stayed up late at night reading the Old Testament, struggling to understand by laying my assumptions aside and taking a fresh look at the scriptures through the eyes of the feminist I knew I had always been.  I could not eat.  I lost 15 pounds.  The more I read and re-read, the greater my hunger for knowledge of the Bible grew, and manna from Heaven was my nourishment.  I learned new words.  BIG words. HEAVY words.  Words like exegesis, hermeneutics, feminist hermeneutics, and eisegesis.

My passion and ravenous appetite to read as much as I could on feminist theology increased.  One day I happened upon a pamphlet entitled “Feminist Approaches to the Bible”.  The copyright was 1995, and it contained four essays by well-known feminist theologians, including Phyllis Trible!  The title: “Eve and Miriam: From the Margins to the Center”.  I mention particularly this article to show how my singing of scriptures led to rediscovery and inspiration which now links me forever with Miriam. The Miriam portion of the essay haunted me, and frequent nudging within my soul compelled me to read it again – this time jogging my memory, reminding me of my own “Miriam moment”.  This I relate to you now:

We are all familiar with the story of Moses parting the Red Sea, God freeing the Israelites of bondage from the Pharaoh and Egypt, the sea swallowing the Egyptian soldiers with their horses and chariots.  As Phyllis relates this story, she speaks of Moses “taking the center stage”.  Her words:  “Israel celebrates the victory won.  A magnificent song appears on the lips of Moses and the men of Israel (Exodus 15:1-18).  The first of many stanzas set the tone and the content:

I will sing to the Lord
who has triumphed gloriously.
Horse and rider God has thrown
into the sea.”

As I read those words, in the deep recesses of my mind, I felt something tugging.   Those words were extremely familiar to me, but I didn’t recall Moses singing them.  My experience was different.  As I read on, Miriam does indeed sing a slightly different version of the Song of the Sea.  My “AHA” moment arrived.  I ran upstairs to my music library and began hunting for my copy of the Handel oratorio, “Israel in Egypt”.  I found it immediately, and a program fell out of the score.  Sure enough, on May 15, 1983, (33 years ago!) I had been hired by the Westchester Choral Society and Orchestra, to sing the soprano solos in this oratorio!  For those of you who remember Tweet Timmons, you may have known that she was a member of the Choral Society, and she ALWAYS recorded their concerts!  I looked, and there it was! I found the cassette, and listened.

My memory of performing Miriam’s Song of the Sea was very vivid because it made a profound impression on me at the time.  After all of this glorious Handelian singing took place, there was what we call in musical terminology, a coda, which is a capsulated version of the theme that was just performed.  In this portion of the oratorio, the tenor soloist rises and sings what is called a recitative (a sort of narrative) in which he announces:

Then Miriam the prophetess,
The sister of Aaron,
Took a timbrel in her hand,
And all the women went out after her
With timbrels and with dances,
And Miriam answered them,

Amidst the orchestra and double chorus, Miriam stands and delivers in an a cappella declaration, proclaiming:

Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously!
The horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea!

The chorus and orchestra respond magnificently, singing God’s praises, thus ending the oratorio.  Very dramatic stuff!  Very Miriamic!

I was brought to tears as I played that recording, and it motivated me to go one step further.  I took that segment of the recording, added slides of Moses parting the sea, and of Miriam leading the women in song and dance, in order to create a video tribute to Miriam, which I sent to Phyllis, expressing my gratitude for inspiring me to use my musical talents to honor Miriam.  The circle was complete.

This next part is not easy for me to talk about because it was a vulnerable moment which changed my heart and enlightened my way of thinking.  Throughout the beginning steps of my faith journey, I questioned, “Why, Lord?  What is happening to me?  What is it you want of me?  I’m here, Lord.  I’m listening.”  We all get impatient and have to be reminded that we are living “in God’s time.”  As I continued to question, so it was that I was reminded of the same – “in God’s time.”  One evening as I readied myself for bed, I became overwhelmed with God’s perfect love surrounding me, in me, filling the room.  I stood there, bearing all to God with tears streaming down my face, praying for guidance and understanding.  Once again, the Holy Spirit entered my body, and suddenly tears became shaking sobs as I listened and simultaneously understood with every fiber of my being what it was like to surrender one’s self to the Lord.  I felt the invisible shackles break away from my body, leaving me in a state of total serenity.  I had just felt “the peace that passes ALL understanding”, and it nearly took my breath away.

Continuing on the path of this spiritual journey, whatever troubles and medical mishaps befell me (suffice it to say, there have been many), I continued to experience that peace.  I would find myself humming a portion of Psalm 119, “Great peace have they which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them.” (KJV) The words were very much alive and well within my soul!


In my adult life, there has been a very large obstacle in my memory which occasionally rears its ugly head.  It was an unresolved problem from childhood, involving my relationship with my mother.  Here, I read from 1st Corinthians: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.”  In a recent adult education class, this scripture spoke volumes to me, for I experienced yet another watershed life-changing event.  This past spring, Barbara Horan led a two-week series reviewing a book on The Beatitudes.  We specifically examined “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy”.  Barbara continued, explaining “Mercy is the primary form that God’s love to the world assumes.”  Out of this sentence spawned a discussion on the act of forgiveness.  As the discussion progressed, many in the class spoke of their experiences of the difficulty of forgiving, but after doing so, each had described in one way or another how the weight of the world was lifted from their shoulders.  In that classroom as I listened to these stories of “letting it go”, I once again felt overwhelmed and tears began to stream down my face.  Why, you may ask?  I was reminded of my feelings as the third child growing up in the 1940’s, where there were many times when I resented my mother.  These feelings of resentment and bitterness are best described by my much wiser (now deceased) baby sister, Lisa, who once wrote these words: “…Wounded memories kick in automatically, because a child’s anguish has the capability to produce hurt for a lifetime.”  Let me repeat: “A child’s anguish has the capability to PRODUCE HURT for a lifetime.”

That is exactly what happened to me with my childish thinking.  You see, I could only perceive my mother as selfish, self-serving, and living a double standard – that is, acting one way at church pretending to be a Christian, and then acting totally the opposite at home. The root of bitterness was planted in the soil of hurt.  What has perdured in my mind all these many decades later is the selfishness my mother constantly exhibited with her first four children.  Harsh words from this septuagenarian, who supposedly is now an adult and has put away childish things!  I think not!

Years later, after my parents raised two more daughters from a different generation than we older girls, I discovered that Mom had expressed deep regret for the way she treated us, and even went so far as to single each of us out and ask our forgiveness.  I remember her asking my forgiveness, and on the surface, I forgave her, but in my heart – my bitter heart – I knew I had not.  My mom went to her grave thinking she had been forgiven by me, but I knew differently!  My anguish was still producing hurt for a lifetime.  Would I never grow up?

Returning to our adult education classroom setting, as I listened to all of those stories of forgiveness, and as the tears rolled down my cheeks, I suddenly felt that tremendous burden lift from my shoulders with the realization that holding this grudge in my heart was indeed, very childish.  That root of bitterness which had produced so much unnecessary anguish for me over the years was pulled from the soil of hurt and replaced again with the “peace that passes all understanding.”  Mom, I finally “became an adult and put away childish things” – I have forgiven you.  Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?


In conclusion, I return to Jeremiah – “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you hope for the future.”

As I have learned to walk “in God’s time”, my spiritual journey continues, and to whatever path the Lord directs me, I am secure in knowing God will always look out for me and keep me out of harm’s way.  God’s hand was present (probably nudged on by my mother) when I crossed paths with an extraordinary biblical scholar and feminist who opened my eyes to take a fresh look at the scriptures and further encouraged me to question assumptions that we so often bring with us to the text.  She has demonstrated to me that feminist theology is woven in the Bible as bedrock theology.  I now know it is okay to reexamine and appropriate the scriptures in a way that affirms the role of women in our world!

Regarding the new-found serenity, I continue to experience after forgiving my mom, I look to the book of Ephesians: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

I would like to close with one of my favorite “Trible Quotes”:

“Do not abandon the Bible to the bashers and thumpers.  Take back the text.  Do not let go until it blesses you.  Indeed, make it work for blessing, not for curse, so that you and your descendants, indeed so that all the families of the earth, may live.”

As for God’s next path for me:  Who knows?  Perhaps I’ll enroll in seminary!  After all, in God’s time, it’s never too late!

Sabbath Day – The Giant Stairs

October 7, 2016


It’s a New York thing.

The Palisades of Northern New Jersey tower majestically over West shore of the Hudson River. From the time I first saw them I wanted to climb them. Though actual climbing is not allowed – you can see in the photo above where a whole section collapsed into the river in 2012 – the aqua blazed Long Path traverses the top of the Palisades while the white blazed Shore Path scrambles along the boulders below. I did a loop hike utilizing both.

After dropping August off at school, I drove to the State Line Park just below Exit 3 on the Palisades Parkway. I had never been before, and the views are incredible – though I did not know that till later in the day because the river was blanketed in the a dense fog when I arrived. The parking lot was filled with birders who couldn’t see 30 feet in front of them. This made the rapid descent from the parking lot rather spooky. A series of stone stairs (and switchbacks) built almost a century ago brought me to the Shore Path, and I headed North.


The Giant Stairs are a series of talus fields extending for more than a mile along the shore. My forgotten walking poles would have been in my way, as I had to use my hands continuously to climb over or jump from rock to rock.


For three quarters of an hour I don’t think I placed my feet flat on the ground (what ground?) but balanced on the edges of scree or placed them flat against vertical stone sheets. Once past the Giant Stairs I arrived at Peanut Leap Cascade, an impressive – but at this time of year underwhelming – waterfall where I found this rope swing. I can’t explain it, but this swing brought me great joy. It was at least an hour’s walk from the nearest access point. Who hung it, and how long has it been here? Would it hold me? I didn’t think so.


I also passed through these woods where everything grew at angles that made them look wind blown, but in fact seem simply to have been reaching for water and sun. The whole world seemed slant and I found myself swaying as I walked. Honest, the camera was being held straight, it’s the world that was off balance.


At Peanut Leap, the Shore Path climbs through a natural break in the Palisades to rejoin the Long Path which meanders along the top, sometimes no more than a foot and a half from the vertical drop. Here I circled back above the wall in the photo at the top of this post.

A couple hundred yards beyond this point I crossed through a rusted chain link fence marking the border between New York and New Jersey. The gate was open.


But you don’t need to hike many miles for these vistas. These views are also easily accessible from the State Line State Park. From there I could see the Tappan Zee Bridge to the North and the Bronx and parts of Manhattan to the South. I could make out the tallest buildings in White Plains rising above the tree line, and beyond them the Long Island Sound! Even further, I could make out Floral Park, Queens!! This, on a not very clear day.

The hike didn’t take nearly as long as I expected, and a quick trip back home left me ample time to read until August got home from school. Noelle made her favorite Cuban black beans and rice for dinner, August visited his goats at the Greenburgh Nature Center and walked a neighbors dog he is looking after, and the two of them left me home alone for the evening to do whatever I pleased. What a rare Sabbath gift.

Throughout my hike, I had this quotation by Nancy Frey about pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela running through my mind, particularly the penultimate line. It is cited in Rebecca Solnit’s beautiful Wanderlust: A History of Walking

When pilgrims begin to walk several things begin to happen to their perceptions of the world which continue over the course of the journey: they develop a changing sense of time, a tightening of the senses, and a new awareness of their bodies and the landscape. . . . A young German man expressed it this way: ‘In the experience of walking, each step is a thought. You can’t escape yourself.’

Each step is a thought, indeed. Or a prayer. . .

Happy Sabbath

What If?

October 2, 2016

A Sermon preached by the Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church, Blessing of the Animals / World Communion Sunday, October 2, 2016. A version of this sermon was originally written and preached by (his wife) The Rev. Noelle Damico for a congregation in Florida on September 25. As a birthday gift for Jeff and to free him up for a day of celebration (Oct. 1), the sermon was adapted for WPPC to gather up our social commitments, our trust in and love of God, and welcome a newly baptized child into the community of faith. A special Peace and Global Witness Offering was taken to support pilot programs in five cities to specifically address what the PC(USA) has called “the worsening light of the African American Male” 

Luke 16:19-31

This parable of Lazarus and the rich man is a familiar one. According to Luke, Jesus tells it to his disciples and to a group of tax-collectors and Pharisees that had come out to hear him.

At first glance the parable seems pretty straight-forward. Oh, we think. Well the rich man shouldn’t walk by Lazarus. He shouldn’t let him suffer; he should help. And, assuming we are the rich man, if we don’t help the poor people around us, then we won’t go to heaven. It’s a cautionary tale and one the church should heed. End of story. But there’s more.

The parable pivots around the concept of crossing a huge divide.

The divide between Lazarus and the rich man on earth is the divide at the property’s edge where on one side a man suffers horribly and on the other a man lives in extreme ease; and the divide in life beyond death, where again we see one man suffering horribly and the other living in extreme ease – though this time their fortunes are reversed.

The divide in the after life is impassable. There is absolutely no surmounting it. But on earth? On earth there is a gate.

There are two gates in this parable. There is a literal gate where Lazarus and the rich man encounter each other. The gate is that place where the two worlds, one of suffering and one of ease that might seem to be separate, are shown to be related. For the rich man can pass through the gate and move between these two worlds freely. That’s the literal gate in this parable.

But there is also a metaphorical gate in this passage.

Did you hear it? And now I can see by your faces that the wheels are turning. Metaphorical gate, metaphorical gate, wait, where’s the metaphorical gate? Good! Good! That’s what parables are supposed to do, get the mind working! The metaphorical gate is the most important moment in the passage. And that metaphorical gate moves us from the world within the story, to world outside the story. And if we truly pass through that gate, rather than just hear about it and nod and think “yup, that’s the gate;” glad I know what it is,” the promise is that our world will be utterly transformed.

The story that Jesus is telling doesn’t exist in the ether. It has a context – as does Luke’s retelling of it. Now in Jesus’ day, you’ll remember that the Roman Empire was occupying Galilee and Judea. Usually we think about this briefly during Christmas when we read the tender and shocking birth narrative of the savior of the world not being born to a powerful family in a splendid palace, but being born to a poor, unmarried couple for whom there was no room in the inn. Luke writes these familiar words: “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.”

But the Roman occupation was not peaceful. Two decades before Jesus’ birth, its army slaughtered its way through Galilee, destroying whole villages and enslaving those that survived to build monuments to Rome’s glory. Then Pompey the Great sacked Jerusalem. The Roman Empire suppressed the population and extracted resources from the region through direct military conquest and forced labor but also through administration and the collection of heavy taxes that made the majority of the population who survived living at subsistence, ever more vulnerable. That’s why Joseph and Mary with him had to be registered. The census wasn’t just a head count. It was a head count so Rome could know who was available to tax. The occupation and the way it structured economic and social relationships was further guaranteed by terror – the terror of crucifixion. Rome crucified thousands upon thousands of people as a way of keeping order. They crucified people who were accused of sedition, of being enemies of the state. Jesus himself, eventually, was among them.

The characters in Jesus’ parable are not just individuals; they are characters whose actions and whose words provide a snapshot of the imperial world of Jesus’ day. The rich man, you’ll note, is dressed in purple, a color regulated by the Roman Empire: only those associated with Rome could wear purple. Lazarus, in his extreme suffering, illustrates in his very body, the brutality of the Roman occupation on the masses of people whose dignity was exploited and whose resources were viciously extracted.

The tax-collectors and Pharisees would not have had to stretch their minds very far to know that when Jesus told this parable, he was describing the vicious impact of Rome’s occupation that was made possible by those who collaborated with it. This is not a story about how individual rich people need to be charitable toward individual poor people if they’re going to get to heaven. This parable describes the way unaccountable power, greed, and violence distort relationships in our world; shaping our economic and social relationships with each other, consigning the very few to luxury and many to horror. But Jesus is not telling this parable it to immobilize the Pharisees and tax collectors – he’s telling it to move them, to change them.

Remember, there is more than one gate. The hearers are all very familiar with that literal gate through which Rome and its collaborators extract resources and dignity from the people and then continue, heedlessly or even righteously, on their way.

But there is another gate, a metaphorical gate; a gate that causes them and us as hearers to wonder “what if?” It is Abraham who points out this second gate saying in response to the rich man’s request for Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his family. Abraham says, ““If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’

But what if they did? What if they did listen to Moses and the prophets? And what if they not only listened but acted? What if, instead of seeing Lazarus as a thing to be used, a means of production or revenue generation, a tool for building monuments, or a threat to be suppressed, what if, instead, the “rich men” listening remembered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself,” and came to recognize not only Lazarus’s humanity, but their own as well? What might happen?

A couple of months ago we began reading the second half of the Gospel of Luke. It opens with Jesus, having completed his work in the Galilee, determined to go to Jerusalem. There he will speak and demonstrate God’s in-breaking kingdom among the occupying Roman forces and the leaders of the religious establishment. Jesus’ ministry of shared meals and communal goods, his non-violent response to a violent world and his building of a community committed to God and one another has set the pattern his disciples are to follow. All he could promise them was that the way would be hard – and by that he meant both the way of life they were to model and the physical way that was the road to Jerusalem – but that they would be participating in bringing the kingdom of God near.


Over the past years our nation has become ever more aware of the racism that continues to infect our society. Though our nation has elected a black man president, twice, we dare not think we are in a post-racial America, that opportunities have magically opened up or that violence against people of color has abated. Like the divide between the rich man and Lazarus on earth, racism, woven into the fabric of our society, has continued to create separate and unequal institutions, neighborhoods, schools and workplaces. Whether we look at the segregated patterns of housing here in Westchester – for which the USDOJ has placed the county under a court-mandated settlement to change but which county officials continue to aggressively fight – or we look at continuous stream of violence by police and the shocking miscarriage of justice at all levels of the criminal justice system against people of color, particularly against black and brown men, from the Supreme Court, to the Congress, to the grindingly slow operation of the courts, to abuse in the prisons themselves, there is no denying that we live in a divided society. And that those divides are not just individual, they are systemic.


But this congregation has been taking up the “what if?” From studying Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, to advocating for police accountability here in White Plains, from successfully working to Ban the Box from government employment applications in White Plains, from marching to proclaim black lives matter, from engaging with the Presbytery Prison Partnership – we are crossing the divides erected by our society and proclaiming our love for God and love for each other. By providing stories that went into Noelle’s testimony in Federal Court about the dire need for fair and affordable housing in Westchester, from working hand in hand with Community Voices Heard to advance these housing goals on a municipal and state level – we are crossing the divides erected by our society and proclaiming our love for God and love for one another. Over the last several years our congregation has marched in support of immigrants’ rights, provided immediate and ongoing, essential material support to an immigrant family made homeless by Hurricane Sandy, and just this last week our church Council joined an impressive coalition of community organizations to advocate with congress, county legislators, local municipalities and our neighbors for the settlement and support of a substantial number of refugees in Westchester, Rockland and Hudson Valley communities. The Call to Action is posted on the bulletin board out in the hallway.


The divides that exist in our society are only truly crossed when we recognize our common humanity. That means not just doing a good deed, but digging in, listening, reasoning together, and working together to build a bridge of love, as Moses and the prophets commanded.

Our work is certainly not done, but it is underway. May we continue to notice the divides, to stretch across them, and to build to overcome them, for the healing of our community, nation, and world.

UNiTE to End Violence Against Women

October 1, 2016

A Sermon preached by Dr. Jennifer Grace Bird at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on The Fourth Sunday in the Season of Creation which was observed by the congregation as Orange Day to End Violence Against Women and Girls, September 25, 2016. Professor Bird is the author of the highly recommended Permission Granted: Take the Bible Into Your Own Hands (Westminster John Knox, 2015).


I have to admit that I do not often preach these days. I am much more comfortable in the role of teacher.     But for some reason I did not hesitate when Jeff suggested that I preach today, in addition to teaching later this morning. Chalk it up to what I know about all that Jeff and his wife and partner Noelle do and care about. I deeply respect what they have given their lives to doing, deeply respect and am inspired by their courage, compassion, convictions, and chutzpah. I suppose I didn’t dare miss out on such an opportunity.

That said, I should warn you that this morning I’m going to be laying down several related threads – just putting them out there. I hope you’ll suspend any expectations of a typical sermon outline and try to weave along with me ~ I will raise a finger letting you know I’m about to introduce a whole new thread.

The reason I prefer teaching to preaching is because the way I see things, there are too many issues that need to be addressed, changes that need to be made, in relation to what people do with scripture or in the ways we are unconsciously yet collectively still upholding some elements contained within. Thus, in general, I’m not a preacher, I’m a problematizer. While I may wrap things up with encouragement, I’m much more interested in raising awareness. I’m a fire-under-your-buttocks-lighter. I’m an educator at heart; I always have been, and I suspect I will be to my final breath.

I start off every course that I teach in a higher education setting with a discussion of a quotation attributed to Aristotle, which says: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it.”

In the discussion that ensues of what this line means, students inevitably touch upon being open-minded, choosing to listen to others’ ideas without judgment, and ultimately to try to understand, truly understand someone else’s perspective. This understanding is key, for me. In fact, I usually tell my students that I believe that it is the key to world peace. Understanding ~ with the implied “why this group of people is upset,” “where the conflict started,” or “why they believe what they do,” etc. When we seek first to understand another’s perspective – respectfully enough to pass it along accurately to someone else – we have to leave our rebuttals and challenges to it aside, and just sit with it.

I find myself taking up this practice rather often these days, for instance, in the “Black Lives Matter” fomentation. Though I am decently well informed on the social issues and history related to and undergirding racism in our country – and try to raise people’s awareness of the role that the use of the Bible has had in it all – it is still important that I stop and listen to the fears and experiences of people around me. It prevents complacency, and keeps our energies focused on addressing the right problems, it seems to me.

And so it is with this kind of respect and seeking-to-understand that I approach biblical texts and their afterlives.

When Jeff and I exchanged messages about this morning, his mention of your commitment to the UNiTE to End Violence Against Women and Girls campaign got me rather excited. You all are conscious of this mission year-round, not just one time a year! You all consciously, even excitedly wear orange on the 25th of each month to remind yourselves and others of the ongoing issue. I was deeply moved by this commitment of yours. [I’m sorry that I didn’t have an orange blouse to wear for today – I’m grateful for the ribbons.]

When I went to the UNiTE website to get some more specifics about the mission and goal of the campaign I was, again, moved, but also a bit dismayed. Let me explain.

The moving part:

In case it has been a while since you have visited the website, or for those of you who never have, across the top of the home page is a quotation attributed to Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations. It says:

Break the silence.
When you witness violence against women and girls, do not sit back. Act.

I suspect these simple, clear, direct words from Ban Ki-Moon function something akin to scripture for people working in conjunction with the UNiTE campaign.

[hold up a finger]

Though I am also struck by how similar this line is to the “if you see something, say something” campaign that is posted all over NYC, in the aftermath of the various terrorist attacks around the world. Why is it, do you suppose, that we can so quickly choose to step up when it comes to terrorism that threatens to be wreaked upon us collectively, but it seems like a chore to do so for the verifiable portion of our population who actually experience it on a daily basis?

Allow me to offer a few answers to that question:

  • the terrorism women and children experience usually happens behind closed doors, not in public;
  • the terrorist is usually someone they love, so they are seen together in public, however strained the dynamic, and are conflicted about reporting the abuse;
  • our culture is such that we are trained to think there is something shameful to be such a victim, so speaking up is not encouraged; and when someone has the courage to do so, they are usually not taken seriously     or the process is too lengthy and additionally traumatizing to be worth pursuing;
  • and finally and perhaps most importantly, sexism is so ingrained in our culture that we are often simply numb to it, have accommodated ourselves to it, and don’t like having it pointed out. I say that this last answer is the most important because I think it is at the root of all of the other reasons I just listed.

Back to the UNiTE website:

As the statistics and vision and mission of UNiTE indicate, violence against women is a global issue, found in every nation, regardless of its status as first world, 2/3rds world. One of the fast facts on the website tells us that, “Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria, according to World Bank data.”[i]

UNiTE’s purpose is driven by the belief that “this violence is an expression of historically and culturally specific values and standards which are today still executed through many social and political institutions that foster women’s subservience and discrimination against women and girls.”[ii] [Did you notice that religion is not listed?]

There is a list of 11 specific realities or relational dynamics that are on the radar of this movement and campaign (trigger warning: several of the topics themselves are intense):

The categories of issues listed:

  • Violence by an intimate partner
  • Sexual violence
  • Sexual violence in conflict
  • Violence and HIV/AIDS
  • Female Genital Mutilation/Genital Cutting
  • Dowry Murder
  • “honour killing”
  • Trafficking in persons
  • Violence during pregnancy
  • Discrimination and violence
  • Sexual harassment

This campaign brings together nine different UN offices and agencies that have an impact in countries all around the world, in their efforts to end violence against women. The list of ways they band together in Partnering, Mobilizing and influencing Law and Policies is impressive, to say the least. But since I am not here trying to drum up donations to this cause, let me skip to

The dismaying part:

I did find, under the Virtual Knowledge Center to End Violence Against Women, some programming modules that instruct people in the formation or changing of laws and policies. But while helpful, a part of the picture, laws and policies do not get at and change the source of the problem.

To that end, I am heartened to see that a specific “Education” module is forthcoming. Given what I have seen on their website so far, though, I am a bit nervous about what will and will not be included in those materials. I am hoping that those educational materials will be aimed at educating children beyond traditional patriarchal dualistic gender expectations. But we shall have to wait to see what kind of content the folks at the UN deem is relevant and appropriate for educating in such a way that will effectively address this issue. [Trust me, I am keen to see what it is and wish I could be at the table to have some input.]

What I did not see is a component that is talking about the role of religion in it all, much less making an intentional effort to address it. It seems to me that it is no small factor that most religious traditions     around the world began within cultures that were significantly, if not thoroughly, patriarchal in their worldview. Thus these religious traditions continue to embody a whole range of conscious and unconscious beliefs that privilege males over females.

I would argue that religious traditions are the primary vehicle for transmitting these “historically and culturally specific values and standards … that foster women’s subservience and discrimination against women and girls.”

If we want to make effective changes in terms of how females are treated, should we not begin with how cultures teach children to see themselves and each other? Should we not address the institution that touches on the deepest, most important component of our communities and identities: religion? It is no small matter how we define who God is, and who humanity is in relation to this God, and who gets to name God and lead worship in connection with this God, and how men and women are given voice and empowered, or not, according to religious scriptures, doctrines, and traditions.

Everything from the way we characterize God’s nature to the value we unconsciously ascribe to men and women – all following the lead of our scriptures and doctrines – plays out in our cultural scripts and family dynamics.

If the UNiTE campaign is about creating a more just future for women and girls, I do not think that it (or we) can afford not to address the foundations, doctrines, and scriptures of these global religions.

[hold up a finger]

As soon as I typed that last line, an image of the Dalai Lama flashed through my mind. In an interview ten days ago at the European Parliament, where he was responding to the recent bombings in NY and NJ, he rejected any attempt to connect religious identities to violent actions. He said,

Any person who wants to indulge in violence is no longer a genuine Buddhist or genuine Muslim, because it is a Muslim teaching that once you are involved in bloodshed, actually you are no longer a genuine practitioner of Islam.[iii]

The professor in me cannot help but want to take a poll of the Muslim students that I teach, to see if they are all aware of this teaching. My experience with such things suggests that not all are.

But he continues with a more troubling assertion, about the “true nature” of all religion:

All major religious traditions carry the same message: a message of love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment, self-discipline – all religious traditions…. These are the common ground, and common practice. On that level, we can build a genuine harmony, on the basis of mutual respect, mutual learning, mutual admiration.[iv]

There is so much of me that wants to agree with him on this statement. But as a biblical scholar living in the 21st century, I cannot in good conscience nod my head in agreement with his overall claim. Instead, I do think that this esteemed, rightly venerated, Nobel Peace Prize winning, wise man has made a rather dangerous claim. Reading his words again and again, as I prepared for this morning, his outright dismissal of the effects of sacred texts shakes me to my core.

I have had to work through my own unhealthy ways of relating that were fueled, in large part, by the combative and argumentative and debate-like proving one’s point nature of the New Testament texts that I was immersed in in my emotionally formative years.

I have to work, quite hard, on a daily basis to get people who have not been shaped by biblical texts to see the effect that they do have on people. Truly. To outsiders, who are not inoculated to them, the harmful elements of the Christian scriptures are so obvious that they simply cannot believe that anyone well educated and kind and loving would even attempt to uphold them. I have to try to show these “outsiders” that most folks are not doing so intentionally, but quite unconsciously. That is the power of these texts and their afterlives.

[hold up a finger]

And this is where a five-minute clip of Trevor Noah, from the “Daily Show,” this week sneaks into my thoughts. His response to the shooting of Terence Crutcher gets at this issue of how powerful systemic racism is, how people can be immersed in a racist outlook without even realizing it. (I considered playing a part of that clip, here it is) His comments shine a light on how pervasive unchecked racism is, and can be applied to this realm of the effects that sacred texts have on our collective consciousness.

Most of us have been taught to expect scripture to be entirely heteronormative, for example – and thus we read it that way, even in the face of obvious examples to the contrary – do you think it is a coincidence that so many conservative, “bible-believing” Christians think that only hetero- relationships are normal?; we are so accustomed to there being 12 male disciples that suggesting that, as Luke’s gospel tells us, there were female disciples overturns some people’s apple carts. People within the Catholic branch of the Church are so accustomed to male-only ultimate leadership that they cannot even comfortably wrap their minds around the fact that scripture not only does not back up that tradition, but, as we will discuss in class, male-only leadership is a product of men’s fear not the freeing message of the gospel.

So I find the esteemed Lama’s assertions that “all religious traditions carry the same message: a message of love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance,” and so on, to be not only naïve, but also quite dangerous because of this naïveté. He is a man in the spotlight, deservedly so in so many other contexts. But I will take him to task on this one [if you’re interested – look for a Huffington Post piece on this, this week.]

Much like the work being done by the UNiTE campaign, which does not explicitly acknowledge the detrimental role of religious texts and traditions in the global issue of violence against women and girls, the Lama’s claim overlooks the sources of hostility and the words that incite violence       that are embedded in the sacred texts of the three monotheistic religions. In the video, the Dalai Lama is emotionally impassioned, which he does not often get, and somewhat adamant about his points regarding mutual love and respect, and there is even a tinge of frustration in his voice throughout the section that I quoted, above. It seems he is desperate for people to get along. It seems to me he is not getting at the root of the issue.

I take up this same adamant passion, my friends, when talking about the effects of the Christian scriptures. We cannot continue to ignore what is actually there, from Genesis to Revelation, that not only justifies and sanctions animosity toward “others,” but also incites judgment of anything deemed “non-normative”; encourages “us vs. them” thinking; and a way of being in the world that says that the correct way of understanding and relating to God begins with the words of a few dozen males that are recorded in the Jewish Bible, the Christian Bible, or the Qur’an. And we cannot continue to pretend that the depiction of women, as the property of men, as second class humans to men, whose bodies can be used and treated however the male privilege at the time sees fit – we cannot continue to pretend that these elements of scripture are harmless, ancient ideas and that they do not have an active afterlife in our current relationships and social expectations.

As I have said in many classrooms and sanctuaries around the country, it is not enough to say that we are about love and empowerment and the wellbeing of all people today, when we continue to read and consult scriptures that often embody a message that is directly antithetical to such commitments.

[raise a finger]

There is a reason that as I first read through the list of issues that UNiTE seeks to address that I found myself back in modes of thought that I had while writing my dissertation. In it, among other things, I address 1 Peter 3: 1-6, which effectively mimics an abusive relationship. This passage tells women to silently endure the harsh treatment from their husbands; that they can win over their husbands with their actions; and to stop expressing themselves outwardly. For a nice added bonus, it also has sexual abuse in the backdrop. We see this in its reference to Sarah, who “obeyed her master” (i.e. Abraham) when they entered Egypt and allowed herself – as if she had a choice – to be taken into the Pharaoh’s concubinage. Most people read right past this element of the story in Genesis 12 because they are too focused on Abraham and his plight. But Sarah’s body is offered to the Egyptians in order that “things may go well for [Abraham],” and they do! This is the one and only time in either testament that Sarah is referenced as someone to emulate (In case you are wondering, I think that in Romans she is just a placeholder.)

We may balk, today, at the idea of pimping out one’s wife in order to secure one’s own safety. But it was just another day-in-the-life-of-Abraham in Genesis. Is Sarah important to the narrative and to the creation of the people of Israel? Of course she is. But is her life valued the same as her husband’s? No. No, it is not. This snapshot is, in a sense, an encapsulation of what scripture conveys, cover to cover with but a few exceptions, about the value of women and their bodies and their lives.

And as I read this summation, I’d like you to think about how these elements are the foundation for, enable and perpetuate the violence that is inflicted against women and girls, to this day:

  • women’s bodies are not their own;
  • they literally belong to the men in their lives;
  • their lives are not as important as the lives of the men around them;
  • and their most important contribution to society is through the use of their wombs and their vaginas.


In 1 Peter 3, Sarah is held up as someone to emulate. The audience for this part of the letter is told that they are “daughters of Sarah, if [they] do what is good and are not frightened by terrifying things.” [Most English translations really tone down the intensity of that last phrase.] Due to its being in the bible, this short passage in 1 Peter has helped   create misunderstandings about abusive relationships (specifically that the victim can win over the abuser) and has lead to countless women being encouraged to remain in abusive situations instead of seeking their own well being. Since I cannot help but see the world through biblically informed lenses, I have no problem seeing the connection between some of the ideas in the bible and the issues that UNiTE seeks to address.

So, are there any helpful passages for the matter at hand? I turned to passages in scripture that talk about God hearing the cry of the oppressed. But in every case, the God who saves or delivers is also the one who destroys “our enemies.” For example: In 1 Samuel 22:

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon the Lord …and I am saved from my enemies. …

~ which cannot be separated from ~

35 He trains my hands for war …. 38 I pursued my enemies and destroyed them, and did not turn back until they were consumed. 39 I consumed them; I struck them down, so that they did not rise; they fell under my feet. … 41 You[, God,] made my enemies turn their backs to me, those who hated me, and I destroyed them. 42 They looked, but there was no one to save them they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them…. 43 I beat them fine like the dust of the earth, I crushed them and stamped them down like the mire of the streets. … 51 He is a tower of salvation for his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.

This passage of 1 Samuel, which is repeated in Psalm 18, sounds more like words of encouragement to the King to go forth into battle confidently, perhaps because that is basically what it is. These passages of scripture reinscribe a belief that God is on “our side,” and that God is working with us to vanquish our enemies.

I am not able to embrace the lines about God as my: “horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; [who saves] me from violence” because it is intertwined with the claim that “[God] made my enemies turn their backs to me, those who hated me, and I destroyed them…. 43 I beat them fine like the dust of the earth, I crushed them and stamped them down like the mire of the streets.”

It is a battle minded warrior who even needs to speak about God as a “horn of salvation” and a “stronghold,” is it not? Having the mindset of a battle minded warrior does not get us to world peace, nor does it help us in the cause of ending violence against women and girls.

So, if I should want a biblical justification for bringing about justice, or seeking to deliver those whose daily realities include sexual and emotional violence and abuse, where should I turn? Do I go to the Exodus narrative? I’m afraid the biblical texts do not work here, either. The underlying need – the crying out for justice, for God to see and hear and to do something about the oppression: This is the thread from scripture that connects with us in the 21st century. There is an important distinction, though, which is that in Exodus, it is God who does most of the work; today we know that the hard work is up to us.

Additionally, the outlook of Exodus 1-15 is still that God delivers a chosen people at the expense of others. Beginning in Exodus 3:

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

In scripture, God hearing the cry of his people is always bound up with the need to establish them as their own people in someone else’s land. You cannot separate the two. That is what much of the Hebrew Bible is trying to deal with, [raise a finger] and this, too, is an element of scripture that continues to play out, in such a messy and violent and conflict-ridden way, to this day, in that same stretch of land.

Instead of a word of encouragement, it was my intention, today, to problematize and give you a glimpse at the underbelly of scripture, and, perhaps more importantly, the still quite present effects of it.

There are struggles and pain and violence in relationships today that the biblical texts do give witness to.

But the ways those events are handled in the biblical stories are not helpful for us today, as they are examples of the “historically and culturally specific values and standards …that foster women’s subservience and discrimination against women and girls.”[v] [quoting the UNiTE website, again]

You inspire me by your commitment to being continually conscious of the need for the UNiTE campaign, and in doing your part in ending violence against women and girls. I hope you will join me in continuing to find tangible ways to:

Break the silence.
When you witness violence against women and girls, do not sit back. Act.




The Seductions of Quantification: Measuring Human Rights, Gender Violence, and Sex Trafficking (Chicago Series in Law and Society)

  • Series: Chicago Series in Law and Society
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (June 10, 2016)
  • Language: English

                                    ISBN-10: 022626128X
Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice (Chicago Series in Law and Society)

  • Series: Chicago Series in Law and Society
  • Paperback: 269 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (December 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226520749

                                    ISBN-13: 978-0226520742

Domestic Violence at the Margins: Readings on Race, Class, Gender, and Culture

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press; 1 edition (March 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813535700

                                    ISBN-13: 978-0813535708





[iv] “Dalai Lama: There are no Muslim Terrorists.” Huffington Post September 20, 2016.