Friday, December 9, 2011

Today a friend is coping with a son who threatens both suicide and violence to others.

Yesterday I learned that a friend of one of my daughters had died of a heroin overdose on Thanksgiving Day. 

The day before I was walking my dog at 4:30 pm when I saw a helicopter hovering in a fixed position a few blocks away.  It turned out that a student had been shot multiple times in the torso at 3:30 pm near the high school.

I recall the words of Mark Doty in his memoir Dog Years, "Getting a dog is a contract with grief."  He explained that when you get a dog, you know it has a life span of 15 or 16 years at the most, but you still throw your heart into the relationship, eventually facing loss.

Children are like dogs in that respect.  You don't generally outlive them, but you set out on a unknown path with a being you love, not knowing where it will lead.

Choosing to bear or adopt a child is an act of courage.  It certainly entails pain as well as joy.  Hooray for all of us who do it and try so hard.

If one could distill "humanity at its best," the suffering of parents would be in that pure drop.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Princessing: A Tough Job

What a thoughtful article by Naomi Wolf about the "I want to be a princess" phenomenon among our little girls.

Wolf tells feminist mothers not to worry: this desire to be a princess can reflect a desire for more power and authority, not just pretty dresses.

Discussing Kate Middleton, Wolf says "Princessing is good, hard work these days."

I admit to a less enlightened attitude as my daughters chose princess costumes on Halloween after Halloween...

Hey Roz, Ellen, and Marie: I'm now on board with the princess thing.

Thank you to Laila Ayoub in my RS 304 class at CSU Northridge for pointing this article out to me.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gimmicks for God

Valerie Prado, a student in my class this fall (RS 304 Women & the Bible), sent me the link to an NPR report last September about a woman's experiment with trying to live strictly by the various statements about women in the Bible.

I'd heard the report then but let the woman's antics slip by without any comment.  They do, however, deserve a rebuttal because she is turning them into a book that claims to be about "biblical womanhood."

Taking statements out of context without any consideration of the purpose for which each one was written, Rachel Held Evans lived for a year by passages ranging from Proverbs 31 to Ephesians 5:22.

Because Proverbs 31:23 says, "Her husband is known in the city gates," she stood at the "Welcome to Dayton" (Ohio) sign and held a poster saying "Dan is awesome."

Doing that and other things like letting her husband choose which Netflix movie they would watch clearly had nothing to do with what God wants from us humans. It was just a publicity stunt for her book. 

Rachel chose to ignore Ephesians 5:20, "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ," so she could act out the next verse, "wives to your husbands as to the Lord."  She also chose to ignore the last 37 years of biblical scholarship by women who care about this issue, starting with All We're Meant To Be by Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty in 1974. 

But hey, maybe her gimmicks and her book will cause people to think about what "biblical womanhood" really is... to move beyond the simple imitation of various random references to good/bad women and reflect on how the genders should relate and what it means to be a person who serves and praises God. 

Micah 6:8 clearly answers the second question for both genders:
"What does YHWH require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Abuse upon Abuse

Ten years old and giving birth by Caesarean section... being cut open.  Better than being ripped open by the head of a baby. 

The girl checked into a hospital in Puebla near Mexico City "because she was suffering from seizures and other potentially fatal complications."

"The birth has been reported to the state's Attorney General Office and is under investigation as to whether the girl was raped, and if so, by whom." 

Whether the girl was raped?  She had a choice over whether to have sexual intercourse? Does a 9 or 10-year-old even know where babies come from and what the consequences of a "choice" might be?

The article then reports on an 11-year-old girl in Northeast Mexico who was also gave birth. 

Finally Fox informs us, "State laws in Mexico prohibit abortions for young mothers unless there is proof that they were victims of sexual assault.  The legal age of consent in Mexico is 12 years old." 

So 12 year-olds and older can say yes and it's not rape. 

For girls 10 and 11, any sexual intercourse that occurs is rape, duh.

Final insult: the 10-year-old, after seizures and surgery, is being told to breastfeed this infant.

Thank you to Guadalupe Ruiz for alerting me to this story. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Anita Caspary, Feminist Nun

What an unlikely life: born in rural South Dakota in 1915, she earned a doctorate in English at Stanford University in 1948 and went on to lead her order, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to sever ties with the Vatican.,0,4520954.story

Her rebellion started with obedience to the mandate of Vatican II for all Catholic religious to match their ministry to the needs of the modern world.

She and the IHMs came to the conclusion that they needed to stop wearing the habit and to leave any teaching jobs where they had 60 to 80 students in a classroom. They decided a teachable limit was 40 students. They also decided their nuns should be allowed to complete their BA degrees before starting to teach.

Cardinal McIntyre, archbishop of the Los Angeles diocese, was furious about these uppity nuns.

By that time, Anita had become president of Immaculate Heart College in LA and then Superior of her order, which stood up to pressure from him to keep teaching for low pay and heavy work loads.

In retaliation, McIntyre made sure that wealthy Catholic donors withdrew their support from the order's college. It closed in 1980.

The sisters formed a new order, the Immaculate Heart Community, which includes both Protestants and men among its 160 members today.

Anita wrote her story in 2003, Witness to Integrity: The Crisis of the Immaculate Heart Community of California (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press). I treasure my signed copy.

When I met her, she was a fiery 85, still giving lectures and speaking out for women in the Roman Catholic Church. In recent years she attended the annual IHM lectures in a wheelchair, still gracious and highly respected.

My father too was born in South Dakota, in Trent in 1914. about 130 miles from Herrick, where Anita was born in 1915.

His ambitions were waylaid by the Depression and alcoholism. Hers were fulfilled by her faith and determination.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sex in the Church

Sexuality has never been an easy topic within Christianity. It's hard to balance spirit and body.

The Feminist Agenda Network (F.A.N.) in the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii tackled this subject Oct. 14-15 at Claremont Presbyterian Church an hour east of Los Angeles.

"Building for the Future: Institutions, Sexuality, and Justice" in the Presbyterian Church USA was the title of F.A.N.'s working retreat.

Around thirty women got together for a retreat led by Kate Ott, associate professor of Christian Social Ethics at Drew Theological University in New Jersey.

The approval last May of a vote in Minneapolis in 2010 set in motion big changes in the PCUSA: persons who have life partners of the same gender can now be ordained pastors. And persons who are pastors can now be open about having a same-sex committed relationship.

It's not going to be easy to understand and implement this new policy. Actually, it asks every church member to rethink her/his views on sexuality.

Kate started us out with the question, "What is 'Christian' sexuality?"

We looked at a sheet defining "holistic sexuality" as including sensuality, intimacy, sexual identity, sexual health & reproduction, and sexualization. From birth to death, sexuality is present in all our interactions, Kate said.

That reminded me of Carolyn Heilbrun writing that there is a sexual energy "between any friends who share a passion for their work and for a body of political ideas" (Writing a Woman's Life, p. 108).

Ott asked us what a sexually health church would be like in terms of its staff and volunteers, its care and healing ministry, its Christian education, and its policies.

She told us to go back to our churches and ask, "Do we have a safe church policy?"

The June isue of Colloquy will include an article on sexually healthy seminaries.

Kate chose the encounter between Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman begging for help for her sick daughter (Mark 5 1-20 and Matthew 15) as important for our attention.

Jesus rebuffs her twice, but she persists. He has interacted with women, with Gentiles, and with foreigners before, but in this case the woman is three times removed from him--by gender, by ethnicity, and by religious differences. His limited time is for the House of Israel, not for everyone who crowds around him.

Nevertheless, she persists and in doing so teaches Jesus that the limits raised by his ministry caused injustice.

"God changed--he grew a little bit," Kate said, asking us to think how we sometimes behave the way Jesus did on this occasion.

"We parcel out our resources," she said. "Monetary resources, our time and our energy..."

Like him, we need to change. "Our preferencing of whom we represent" is not good.

Women's goals or sexual identity can't be our only justice-seeking goal. We need to work holistically--not be closed to environmental issues and racial issues, for example.

Jerri Rodewald explained that the synod used to have a Women's Advocacy group; that was followed by the White Glove Mafea, a forerunner of F.A.N. The goal of all three organizations was to address women's concerns within the Presbyterian Church.

I was delighted to meet these women from Ventura County, Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and as far north as San Rafael. Good music, good food, and lots of laughter.

Many are retired, but Kate quoted theologian Letty Russell as saying, "No one really retires; they rewire."

See photos:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Eleven plus Three

The three women awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace today bring the total number of women winners of this prize to 14 since the beginning in 1901.

They are:

Baroness Bertha von Suttner, Germany, 1905, peace activist.

Jane Addams, US, 1931, for leadership of the International Congress of Women in 1915, an effort to end World War I.

Emily Green Balch, 1946, for her work through the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom to stop World War I.

Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, 1976, for their work to end violence between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland.

Mother Theresa, 1979, for her charity work. She was born of Albanian parents.

Alva Myrdal, Mexico, 1982, for her work on nuclear disarmament.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma, 1991, for her nonviolent work against the brutal government of Myanmar. She is the first Buddhist woman to win the prize.

Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Guatamala, 1992, for her work for social justice and respect for the rights of indigenous people.

Jody Williams, US, 1997, for her work to ban landmines.

Shirin Ebadi, Iran, 2003, for her courage in working as a lawyer for human rights in Iran. She was the first Muslim woman to win a Nobel prize.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee (both of Liberia), and Tawakul Karman, Yemen, 2011, for their "non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."

Consider the dates of these prizes: the first three were awarded in 1905, 1931, and 1946 for work toward peace during the period of women's push for the right to vote in the US and Britain.

Those first awards came in 1905, at the height of the suffrage struggle; in 1931, when women's new right to vote caused notice of women, and in 1946, when women had just made major contributions toward fighting and ending World War II.

In each case, an award came when women were noisy in the public sphere.

No prizes came for another 30 years until 1976, when women's demands for full participation in society and government were again very loud.

Challenge to readers: Which women would have won the prize in earlier centuries, if there had been a Nobel Peace Prize?

Post your answers.

Three for Peace

Hooray for the Nobel Committee in awarding this year's peace prize to three women working for human rights!

Congratulations to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia; Leymah Gbowee, Liberian peace activist, and Tawakul Karman, currently part of the protest occupation in Yemen's capital Sanaa calling for a change of leadership.

The decision honors the peace and democracy in Liberia after civil war and speaks of hope that its larger neighbors, Egypt, Libya, and Syria, will also be able to institute and sustain democracy.

The committee cited Ellen, Leymah, and Tawakul for their "non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."

This is the first time that work for women's rights has been honored with a Nobel Peace Prize.

Thank you for this bold statement that the struggle for women's right to be safe and to work for political change is a contribution to peace.

It reminds the world that human rights include women's rights... that women are human.

To hold us back is to hobble all humanity.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Rainbow for the Truce

It was almost sunset in the Rocky Mountains when news of the truce in Washington DC reached us.

The heavens smiled with relief after two stormy days: this rainbow appeared.

The budget deal is not perfect, as Nancy Pelosi and others say.

But promises are being kept to those on Social Security and Medicare and to those who have loaned money to the USA.

If only this rainbow could promise us "never again," like the covenant between God and all living things after the flood in Noah's time.

If only the leaders of this nation could agree to work for peace and justice....

Monday, July 25, 2011

Amy: No, No, No

The news of Amy Winehouse's death reaches even into this remote valley at 10,000 ft. in the Rocky Mountains and touches my heart.

I think especially of her mother... I came close to getting the same news in 2006.

Ellen is just a year younger than Amy. I can so vividly imagine Amy's birth, the toddler years, the terrific ten-year-old days, the worries... and now this.

Roz sent me this link to Russell Brand's reflections on Amy and the disease of addiction.

KOTO in Telluride has been playing Amy's music all weekend.

I remember listening to her song "Don't wanna go to rehab, no, no no..." in 2007 and smiling.

Now it has additional levels of meaning and sadness.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

To the Layman: Lay It Down

Occupying half of page five in the newspaper on my breakfast table this morning: an advertisement headlined "Presbyterian? What can you do?"

This ad comes courtesy of The Presbyterian Layman, a right-wing rag that my father used to read back in the 1970s.

My father, mind you, was not a churchgoer or Christian, but he had migrated toward the right politically during the Vietnam War protests. My mother attended church, and he loved to get The Layman.

Two weeks ago the 173 local branches of the Presbyterian Church USA voted to allow each local branch to determine whether to ordain openly gay or lesbian pastors, elders, and deacons in the churches under its jurisdiction.

See this commentary by a pastor in West Virginia:,0,4233480.story

What a tolerant solution to the debate that has lasted years--let each local area make up its own mind.

But that's not good enough for the folks at The Presbyterian Layman.

No, they need to invade my breakfast table with a call to "stand up and be counted" against this tolerant compromise. They want me to order their book, donate to their cause, and launch an inquisition against my local church.

No, thank you, laymen.

Your book shows a cute little steepled church perched on a slim pyramid of stones, the rest of the soil presumably eroded away. Its title is Can Two Faiths Embrace One Future?

Excuse me, but the last time I checked we both held the same faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. We just read the Bible differently.

I'm not going to scan your QR code to get a free copy or donate any money to you.

In fact, I'm going to write a check for $100 today to my local congregation, Brentwood Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, to thank them for their continued support of tolerance, human rights, and the Presbyterian Church USA.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Dissing Islam

So apparently the US has "buried Osama bin Laden at sea."

We aren't big enough to return the body to his family?

We fear a funeral that becomes a demonstration or a resting place that becomes a shrine?

On Sunday evening there were promises that the body was being handled with respect for Muslim tradition--but being dumped in the ocean is surely alien to Islam, even if it was done with prayers.

What an insult: an Arab's body given to the sea, not the sand.

Why not just put his head on a post or do a dance around the body?

The macabre joy of our nation reminds me of scenes from Beowulf--warriors displaying the torn off arm of Grendel.

Can't we do any better than this? We could have turned over the body to the Saudis and let them make the decision on where to send it from that point.

Instead we offend Muslim standards of decency.

I think also of the Roman guards posted at the tomb of Jesus in an effort to make sure the body was not stolen for false claims of resurrection.

If bin Laden is going to be a hero to some, we can't stop that.

The more human stance would have been to return the body to his family and hope that other warriors will show like respect for Americans who die at their hands.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Woman Who Was Used as a Shield

Prayers tonight for peace and quiet reflection--not jingoistic celebration.

At this moment--11 pm on the West coast--people are still cheering in Times Square and in the park in front of the White House.

Yes, it is good that the terrorist, Osama bin Laden, is dead. But let us light candles and pray.

It's not a football game, not a time to yell and cheer. We should be on our knees thanking God that this particular terrorist can plan no longer, that no US military were killed in the operation, and that very few others were killed.

I pray especially for "the woman who was used as a shield" and lost her life.

Was she a fanatic supporter of Osama and Al Qaeda? Or was she sold into this life through an arranged marriage?

In any case, one of these supposedly brave warriors used her in an attempt to save his own life. She became an object--not a sex object but an object to place between him and a bullet.

Human bodies are too soft and permeable to function well as shields, so it was probably her gender alone that he thought would defend him. Men who are fighting might be reluctant to shoot a woman placed between them.

Standard gender ideology requires a man to defend a woman--to risk his life to protect her. Apparently that can be thrown out the window when a man's own life is in danger. Grab her--use her as a shield.

Why does this situation feel so familiar to me?

Women are so often used as shields. We stand out in front of men who are in conflict. Our honor is a banner for our men's honor, our family honor. Our shame unleashes male wrath to kill and replace us.

Our hijab is a flag flying the Muslim colors. Our unplanned but completed pregnancy flies the Roman Catholic colors. Our silence proclaims the fundamentalist church's loyalty to Jesus.

We are all women used as a shield. We shield our men from child care and housework, from hunger and from wilting self-esteem.

Let us pray for this woman who died in her home in Abbotabad today, and for the men who died with her. Requiem eternam dona eis.

Let us pray for a world in which victors do not rejoice over their enemy's death but soberly, quietly turn to God, asking only:

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Allah eleison.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Feminist Warning from Chaucer

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire,” wrote Catherine of Siena.

Bishop Richard Chartres spoke her words as the first line of his homily at the royal wedding today of Prince William Arthur Phillip etc. and Katherine Elizabeth Middleton.

Later he quoted Chaucer:

Love wol nat been constreyned by maistrye.
Whan maistrye comth, the God of Love anon
Beteth his wynges, and farewel, he is gon!

Chaucer's Franklin speaks these words at the beginning of his tale in The Canterbury Tales (FT 764-66).

I accidentally stayed up late trying to untangle a huge mess of yarn caused by our puppy running around the house with a ball of yarn unsupervised. It looked like a massive spider web around the chairs and tables.

Talking and untangling at almost 3 am, my daughter and I realized the wedding was about to begin and decided to watch it.

How exciting that Catherine of Siena's words began the homily, and what a priceless admonition! I had just been telling my students about her earlier in the day (I teach Women & Religion).

She was born the 25th of 26 children in 1347. She died at age 33 from illness contracted by caring for the sick and needy.

In between she had visions, experienced a mystical wedding to Jesus, became a Third Order Dominican, traveled, preached, and wielded tremendous influence in church politics. It was the century of the papal schism, and she convinced Pope Gregory IX to move back to Rome from the luxury of Avignon, France.

An uppity young woman, for sure!

The bishop's next genius move was to speak against male domination in marriage, using the humorous words of Chaucer (buried nearby in Westminster Abbey).

Of course, the sad marriage of Prince Charles and Diana hovered in the background of this wedding day thirty years later.

There was "maistrye" (domination, oppression) in that marriage for sure.

Did Cupid beat his wings and fly away? Yes, indeed.

Given that history, does William need to be reminded not to lord it over Kate?

Yes, it is well for that warning from the 14th century to hover over this day.

After all, kings have nearly always exercised the unspoken royal right of sexual access to whomever they might choose--though their wives have to remain chaste in order to insure proper paternity of continuing royal line.

If William can manage faithfulness in marriage and also strive for relative equality in the relationship, as in Paul's words "submit yourselves one to another" (Eph. 5:21), the story that begins today may have a happier ending than that of his parents.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Requiem Eternam

A friend at work, James D. Findlay, is tutoring me in biblical Hebrew. He used to write and edit for The Other Side magazine.

When I told him about Nancy Hardesty's death, he said he would add her to his prayer list.

"But why?" I asked him. "She's with God now. She's no longer in pain."

He explained that he still prays for people he loves who have departed; in his morning prayers with his wife, they mention names of specific persons, living and dead.

"I can see that praying to them, asking their support, would be good for us," I answered. "But do you think it benefits them in some way? How can that be?"

After a bit of arguing, I conceded that connecting to them in prayer each morning might have some benefit to them as well as to us, but I wasn't convinced.

On Palm Sunday, however, at the end of the service, the choir sang a piece from Mozart's Requiem:

Re-e-quiem eternam dona eis. (Give them eternal rest).

I thought of Nancy, of course. The music was so beautiful with the tender emphasis on the first syllable of requiem. I could hear one human longing for, turning to God in trust for, the peaceful rest of the other after suffering, whether a painful illness or a sudden death.

I felt that longing, that deep stirring of prayer for Nancy. Asking God to give her eternal rest felt completely appropriate.

After all, I said to myself, those words have been sung in the church for centuries. Persons wise than I must have had their reasons.

And besides, I realized, praying for requiem eternam for another expresses my own deep desire to rest in the full presence of God.

We lead such turbulent lives, but we have moments of rest and occasions of reflection that cause us to seek God's presence.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Nancy Hardesty 1941-2011

EEWC--Christian Feminism Today has released the obituary below for co-founder Dr. Nancy A. Hardesty, 1941-2011.

See also Nancy's reflections, "Some Thoughts on Living and Dying," published in the last issue of Christian Feminism Today and now available on the EEWC website at

To learn what Nancy and her co-author Letha Scanzoni were up against in 1968, see Letha's 6-part backstory to All We're Meant To Be: A Biblical Approach to Feminism in Letha's blog at

Dr. Nancy A. Hardesty, one of the earliest voices in evangelical Christian feminism, died in Atlanta on April 8 after two years of treatment for pancreatic cancer. She was 69 years old.

In 1974 she co-authored All We’re Meant To Be: A Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation with Letha Dawson Scanzoni. Presenting a new reading of Bible passages traditionally used to limit women’s roles in the church, home, and society, this book was a major factor in launching the biblical feminist movement in the 1970s.

Christianity Today magazine called All We’re Meant to Be one of the “landmark titles that changed the way we think, talk, witness, worship, and live,” ranking it 23rd among the top fifty books published from 1956 to 2006.

“For better or for worse, no evangelical marriage or institution has been able to ignore the ideas in this book,” noted the editors. Originally published by Word Books, it stayed in print with revised editions from Abingdon and Eerdmans.

A professor of religion at Clemson University in South Carolina, Hardesty had also taught at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, and Emory University in Atlanta. She held a doctorate in the history of Christianity from the University of Chicago and a Master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

Earlier she worked as an editor for both The Christian Century and Eternity magazines, coming into contact with Scanzoni in 1968 through an article submitted to Eternity.

Hardesty’s other books include Women Called to Witness (Abingdon Press, 1984), Great Women of Faith (Baker, 1980), Inclusive Language in the Church (John Knox, 1987), 'Your Daughters Shall Prophesy': Revivalism and Feminism in the Age of Finney (Carlson, 1991, and the University of Tennessee, 1999), and Faith Cure: Divine Healing in the Holiness and Pentecostal Movements (Hendrickson, 2003).

She also helped found Daughters of Sarah, a Christian feminist magazine published in Chicago from 1974 to1995. Born in 1941 in Lima, Ohio, she was raised in the Christian and Missionary Alliance and graduated from Wheaton College in 1963.

Private family services are planned, and a memorial celebration of her life will be held at the 2012 conference of the Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus, the organization founded by Hardesty, Scanzoni, and others in 1974.

“Some Thoughts on Living and Dying,” her reflection published three months ago in EEWC’s quarterly journal, Christian Feminism Today, may be found at

Gifts in her memory may be sent to EEWC—Christian Feminism Today, P.O. Box 78171, Indianapolis, IN 46278-0171.

For more information, contact Linda Bieze, EEWC-CFT coordinator:

(616) 780-1217

EEWC—CFT, P.O. Box 78171, Indianapolis IN 46278-0171

Friday, April 8, 2011

Nancy Hardesty & Eternity

Like the last two notes of Pachelbel's ''Canon," Nancy today stepped off the edge of the world into eternity.

We in EEWC had been tiptoeing through this sacred week as she slowly but gracefully walked toward standing only a breath away from that fuller presence of God.

She died in Atlanta as one of her close friends held her hand. I last saw her in Indianapolis at the EEWC gathering there in June, 2010. She knew then that it would be her last conference--the pancreatic cancer discovered and treated a year earlier had somehow metastasized--but she did not tell us, except for Letha. I saw only a luminous presence, an extra warmth and graciousness.

Nancy's reflections on this final journey appeared in
Christian Feminism Today: "Some Thoughts on Living and Dying" (vol. 34, winter 2011) and can be found on the EEWC-CFT website,

We got the call just after noon today as Letha and I returned from walking to brunch at a nearby bakery. We prayed and gave thanks for Nancy's life. The rest of the day went to phone calls and emails with our families and the EEWC community.

Nancy and Letha came into contact in 1968 when Letha wrote a piece on women for Eternity magazine. The story of how they came to write All We're Meant To Be: A Biblical Approach to Women's Liberation (Word Press, 1974) is found in Letha's blog,

I wrote to them when their book came out and at their invitation did something I had never done before: fly across the country for a conference.

At that meeting of Evangelicals for Social Action in Chicago, women who were present met and shared and decided to meet again, inviting others. The group grew into an organization. Excitement, joy, hope for change--I was swept into it.

Since that day in November, 1974, so much has happened: getting the structure for a national organization, founding local chapters, holding biennial conferences, facing shoestring budgets, starting a quarterly publication and later a website.

Nancy attended every conference, starting with our first in 1975. She took part in the initial planning committee of five people and served many terms on EEWC's Council over the years, currently as secretary.

I looked through my autograph album last week and was moved by words she wrote many years ago, taken from calligraphy by Sr. Corita Kent with the words of Ugo Betti:

To believe in God is to know that all the rules will be fair and that there will be wonderful surprises.

She's joyful now, laughing with surprise at wonders beyond our imagining.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Virginia at Cedar Crest

Today I had the pleasure of visiting Virginia Ramey Mollenkott and Suzannah Tilton in their new home at Cedar Crest in Pompton Plains, New Jersey.

Their windows look out on a pond with trees and bushes--and also spring peepers, tiny frogs who pipe a noisy mating chorus at this time of year.

We shared morning devotions and sang in a round, "For health and love and daily bread, we give thee thanks, O God."

Nancy Hardesty was on our minds because of Letha Dawson Scanzoni's report on her status as she undergoes the sacred process of rejoining her Maker and returning to dust. She's dying of pancreatic cancer in Atlanta, Georgia, attended by her partner, Evelyn.

We looked at Desperate for Authenticity, a book on Virginia's theology written by Patricia Hawley of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (2011) and heard the story of Virginia's loving ministry to this woman when she sent Virginia a transcript of it.

We looked at Jesus and the Feminists by Margaret Kostenberger (2008) and wondered why she had simple factual errors, such as saying that Virginia had taught at Patterson College for 44 years. And why did she put Virginia in the same category as two feminists known for rejecting their Christian faith, Mary Daly and Daphne Hampson?

We watched the documentary The Bible Tells Me So with Senator Dick Gephardt and other parents of gay or lesbian children.

I dined with Virginia and Suzannah in one of the three restaurants available at Cedar Crest, a community of 2,000 residents who form caring relationships together in these last years of their lives.

I heard about Emily Aumiller (a friend of Virginia and also of Phyllis Trible since their undergraduate days at Meredith College), who died suddenly on February 26. Her husband Richard continues to be a dear friend. Making friends and losing them is a part of life here, Virginia and Suzannah report.

Every Monday evening they dine with their friends Ruben and Bobbie, and I was impressed with their caring for these two, neither of whom has a faith perspective.

Ruben founded a successful business, RC Fine Foods; the lanyard around his neck says

Bobbie, a widow, worked as a secretary all her life and did not go to college, but she reads the
New York Times completely every day and is well informed on all things from international affairs to the arts. With her coiffed hair, make-up, and two strands of pearls, she looks like an unlikely friend for Virginia and Suzannah, but Virginia likes her intelligence and hopes to raise Bobbie's view of herself and her spiritual potential.

In short, Virginia is still evangelical to the core, and Cedar Crest is her new mission field.

These words we recited together from A Course in Miracles capture her ministry there and everywhere:

I am here only to be truly helpful.
I am here to represent Christ, who sent me.
I do not have to worry about what to say or what to do because the One who sent me will direct me.
I am content to be wherever She wishes, knowing She goes there with me.
I will be healed as I let her teach me to heal.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Phyllis and the Whales

Phyllis Trible lives in a sea of whales.

Since writing a dissertation on Jonah in 1963, and publishing Rhetorical Criticism: Method, Context, and the Book of Jonah (Fortress Press, 1994), she has somehow acquired dozens of whales in wood, stone, glass, ceramics, etc.

The entire pod swims on the top floor of a 21-story building in the Morningside Gardens residences across the street from Jewish Theological Seminary, a few blocks down Broadway from Columbia University.

I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with her and the whales, enjoying views of the Hudson River, trains far below on the street, and bridges visible beyond rooftops.

Perched on stools at a sunny window with this view extending beneath us, we ate lentil soup with a salad of avocado, pears, apples, and walnuts.

We talked of:

* definitions of feminism... including Rosemary Ruether's "the belief that women are fully human."

* books exploring the process of translating the "authorized version" of the Bible in 1611 (in contrast to previous versions for which writers had been in danger of burning) and the 400th anniversary of the King James Version.

* lectures last month at Wake Forest University in her honor... "The Greening of Feminism"

* the tenth anniversary of these lectures next year with the theme "Feminist Biblical Scholars and Theologians from across the Globe Explore Feminist Biblical Interpretation," March 6-7, 2012

* her recent trip to Austin, Texas, to speak at the Seminary of the Southwest (Episcopal)

*Anna Quindlen's talk last week at Barnard College about feminism in 2011...

* six-year-old Stella from down the hall who comes to visit, playing with the stuffed whales on a small rug and climbing on a stool to find cookies in a cupboard.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Follow your dreams, they say. This week is my spring break, and I flew to the East coast to visit my mother-in-law and several friends.

Monday -- Phyllis Trible in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan near Columbia University.

Tuesday -- Virginia Ramey Mollenkott and Suzannah Tilton in Pompton Plains, New Jersey, near Patterson.

Wednesday -- Letha Dawson Scanzoni in Norfolk, Virginia.

Meanwhile, all our thoughts are with Nancy Hardesty, who is dying of pancreatic cancer in Atlanta, Georgia.

If you search these names--Phyllis, Virginia, Letha, Nancy--you will find lists of the wonderful biblical feminist books they have written.

See also Evangelical & Ecumenical Women's Caucus--Christian Feminism at

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Schlafly still cranking along

Oh, shit! Phyllis Schlafly is still alive and still cranking along...

I can't believe it. This nemesis of my youth, the heady 1970s when we were trying to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, is still fighting feminism.

And she has a niece who is carrying on the family tradition in a Gen-X way.

The good news is that Meghan Daum has inteviewed the niece and provides some key information to deflate the myths Schlafly has perpetuated.,0,2982491.column

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Joyce Rupp

Today I listened to Joyce Rupp (author of May I Have This Dance?) speaking at my church in Los Angeles.


She spoke on compassion--"the DNA of the gospels"--quoting many authors from Henri Nouwen to Pema Chodron.

Change in the Church

Rosemary Radford Ruether and others spoke on a panel titled "Feminist Paradigms for Change in the Church" at Whittier College, one of several panels on Women & Religion at the American Academy of Religion/West Coast, meeting at Whittier College.

For more information, go to

Ruether Defining Feminism

What is your definition of feminism and how is it relevant to young women today?

Scholars including Rosemary Radford Ruether and Sheila Briggs answered this question to begin an intergenerational dialogue and luncheon session at a gathering of WECSOR, the West coast division of AAR, on the Whittier College campus near Los Angeles on March 27, 2011.

“My mother and all her friends were feminists,” said Rosemary. “They went to college in 1915,” a time when first-wave feminism was close to winning suffrage for women. Thus Rosemary, born in 1936, inherited her passion for gender equality directly from that first wave.

“What is feminism? The affirmation of the full humanity of women,” she stated.

“Feminism is relevant today because all cultures presently existing have been shaped by patriarchy,” she continued, arguing that we must work cross-culturally. “Feminism must take many forms; we must not negate each other but accept our diversity, as articulated in many locations. We’ve only barely begun. Patriarchy is deeply entrenched and has ways of reasserting itself.”

In Pakistan, we see acid thrown on girls attending school; in the West, women are seduced to reflect and accept male power. We also observe the attempt to make feminist accomplishments seem ephemeral.

“Feminism has to be reinvented,” she concluded, “until each generation of girl children, born with the instinct of their full humanity, grows up affirmed.” We now live in a system that distorts both men and women.

“Is feminism still relevant? To ask this question reflects ignorance, as if the successes of a few privileged groups have somehow carried over to all.”

Karen Kidd, a historian at CSU Fullerton, explained the historical development of the word feminism, which entered English from French in about 1912.

“Cutting-edge American suffragists, convinced by that time that winning the vote was inevitable, saw the need for a new term to describe the wider agenda of gender-justice that the vote would enable us to pursue, and began to call themselves ‘feminists.’” After the vote was won in 1920, these women began to address a wide range of social problems rooted in patriarchal traditions, and the wider culture began to express its doubts about this new feminism.

Sheila Briggs, professor in both the School of Religion and the Gender Studies program at USC, described “how feminism defined me as a student in Yorkshire, England, in the 1970s.” At that time in Europe, feminism was a movement of the Left, associated with socialist and Marxist traditions, she explained.

“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,” she recalled, quoting Wordsworth and remembering the first conference on feminist theology in 1975.

Tammy Schneiders, a Hebrew scholar at Claremont Graduate University’s School of Religion, contrasted feminist studies of the Hebrew Bible (“often sidelined”) and “masculinist studies,” which sometimes veer into bad scholarship.

Anne Eggebroten, a lecturer in women and religion at CSU Northridge, argued that feminism should not be so misunderstood and difficult to define; any dictionary gives a simple definition—“the principle that women should have political, economic, and social rights equal to those of men.”

She cited ten examples of the need for feminism today, ranging from the lack of a female US president and female Pope to the need for literacy and birth control to be

available to all women in the world.

A lively discussion among scholars of all ages followed the panel presentation. Subjects included the “matriarchal studies movement,” feminism and pop culture, Bitch magazine, and kids’ clothes.

Tammy Schneiders, mother of a pre-teen, described fashions for little girls as “Prostitutes R Us.”