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