Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Iceberg Cracks...

Northern edge of Iceberg B-15A in the Ross Sea,
Antarctica, 29 January 2002.
Thank you to Wikipedia.

My prediction: the Roman Catholic Church will ordain women by the year 2050.  I've been saying this for twenty years.

I didn't realize it would start with a shortage of priests deep in the Amazon jungle.

It was clear, however, that the shortage of male priests would be the main factor in causing the Church to open ordination to women.

Here's evidence of a crack in the ice, one small piece about to calve:

The Roman Catholic Church may allow married priests deep in the tropical jungle where most priests from elsewhere don't want to serve.

It already allows a few elderly married men to continue as priests after converting to Catholicism from the Anglican church.  And small Eastern Catholic branches of the church in Ukraine, Lebanon, and elsewhere allow married priests--sanctioned by Rome.

There's also a hint that women in some official role may be allowed.  Stay tuned for whether it's as deacons or some other invented office.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian American feminist

Thank you to Mona Eltahawy for her courageous reporting on Egypt.

The NY Times published her opinion piece today on the death of Mohamed Morsi.  She's an Egyptian American born in Port Said, Egypt.  She speaks out on women's rights in the Arab world.

Mona Eltahawy
Contributing Opinion Writer
Mona Eltahawy is a contributing opinion writer and public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues and global feminism. She is the author of “Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution,” and the forthcoming “The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls.” @monaeltahawy

See her work and awards on Wikipedia

Rest in Peace, Mohamed Morsi

Mohamed Morsi (1951-2019)

With sadness I read about the collapse and death of ex-President of Egypt Mohamed Morsi while testifying in court yesterday.

This kind and humane man was born in a village in the Nile Delta.

He earned a bachelor's degree in engineering at Cairo University.

He earned a doctorate in material science from the University of Southern California.

He taught at Cal State University in Northridge, for a year or two, where I was teaching 2007-2015.  

He returned to the state of Ash Sharqiya to teach at Zagazig University.  

When the Arab Spring uprisings occurred in 2011, long-term dictator Hosni Mubarak was toppled.

In 2012, in Egypt's only free and fair election, Mohamed Morsi was elected, representing the Muslim Brotherhood.  I made all my students take note that a former CSUN professor was now President of Egypt.  They had to learn what the Muslim Brotherhood was and who Morsi was in my courses in Women & Religion during 2012 and 2013.  

President Morsi, alas, was an engineer at heart, not a politician.  He lasted only a year before his defense minister, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, seized power in a military coup.

Coptic Pope Tawadros II took part in the council that organized the coup.  Two months later 817 people protesting the coup were killed by the military.  Many survivors fled to Turkey.

The US did not officially admit that it was a coup because that would have meant cutting aid to Egypt, our ally.  President Obama allowed that looking the other way to happen.

The coup should have been the end of the story.  But it was not. Professor Morsi was not allowed to return to teaching.  

el-Sisi branded the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group though it had long been part of mainstream politics in Egypt.  

He kept Morsi in prison without his medications for diabetes, high blood pressure and liver disease.  He was subjected to numerous trials and at one point was sentenced to death, a decision later overturned by a court.  

The NY Times reports:
Unlike most prisoners in Egyptian prisons, Mr. Morsi was barred from receiving deliveries of food and medicine from his family, said Ms. Whitson of Human Rights Watch. In addition to being held in solitary confinement, he was denied access to the news media, letters or other communication with the outside world. His wife and other family members were allowed visit just three times in the six years he was imprisoned.

He died in a sealed, soundproof cage about to testify at yet another trial.

"This is murder, 100%" said Mohamed Soudan, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood's politicial party, the Freedom and Justice Party, who lives in Britain. 

Egypt was once a great civilization.  Now it's a mess with more than 40,000 political prisoners... some say 60,000.

Mona Eltahawy's commentary in the NY Times today says it all:
Mohamed Morsi Died in a Soundproof Cage:
What six years of deliberate and sustained cruelty tell us about el-Sisi's Egypt.

Here's how she describes the prison where Morsi was held:
 At first, Mr. Morsi was held in a high-security prison near Alexandria, and then later in Tora prison in the notorious special wing nicknamed Scorpion Prison, which a former warden said in an interview “was designed so that those who go in don’t come out again unless dead. It was designed for political prisoners.”

See also:

LA Times article:

NY Times article:

Friday, June 14, 2019

Notes from a Hebrew Geek

The Hebrew Alphabet starting from the upper right:
aleph, beit, gimel, dalet, hei, vav,
zayin, het, tet, yod, kaf, lamed,
mem (shown in two forms), nun, samekh, ayin, pei,
pe at the end of words, tsadei, qof, reish, shin, tav.

I love taking Hebrew!

I started in 2008 when I needed to know Hebrew to teach Women & Religion at California State University, Northridge.  We surveyed women in ancient religions in Sumeria and Akkadia; women in Greek, Roman and Egyptian religions; women in Judaism; women in Christianity, and women in Islam--all in one semester.

Also I needed Hebrew to read the Psalms.  I like to read five of them daily to complete all 150 in a month.  Sometimes I just skim and pick one to focus on.

But the psalms are poetry--songs!  Why read them in English?  Why read Shakespeare in Russian?

What really drove me to learn Hebrew are the acrostic psalms--the ones in which the first letter of each line begins with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  See the alphabet above.

The acrostic psalms are Psalm 9-10, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, and 145.  See also Proverbs, chapter 31, and Lamentations, chapters 1-4.

For example, here's the acrostic part of Psalm 9 and 10.  The two are actually a single poem because the lines of Psalm 9 begin with Aleph, Beit, Gimel, (Dalet is missing), Hei, Vav, Zayin, Het, Tet, Yod--and there the sequence is interrupted by lines that don't match.  Then Psalm 10 takes up the order again with Lamed, Mem, Nun, Samekh, Ayin, Pei, Tsadei, Qof, Reish, Shin, and Tav.  Welcome to Hebrew geek land! 

The meanings of the key words that start each line in Psalm 9 are:
Thank (odeh) as in the common Hebrew word "Todah!" (Thank you)
In You and In turning (B'shuv)
Destroyed & Nations (Goyim--non-Jews, a word that is often used by Jews speaking English)
The (enemy) & He (Hu)
Will be (vihi)
Sing (zamru)
Have mercy  (honeni)
Sank (tavu)
Return (yeshuvu)
For  (qui)
Eternally (lanetzach)

I like to know which are the key words, even when I'm reading in English.

The meaning of the key words that start each line in Psalm 10 are:
Why (lama)  (as in Jesus' words on the cross)
Far removed (marom)
Innocent (naqi)
Lair (sukkah)
Poor (ani)
Mighty limbs
Arise (qumah) as when Jesus told a dead child to rise
See   (raitah)
Break (shevor)

Notice how many cognates there are between Hebrew and English:
Shevor  ---   Shiver into pieces
Qumah --- come
Hu --- he
Ha --- the

There are at least four cognates in just this tiny sample of Hebrew words.  That's because both Hebrew and English are Indo-European languages--like German, Latin, French, Spanish, Arabic, etc.  

For me, languages are endlessly intriguing.  And no, I didn't learn Akkadian or Sumerian, Egyptian or Arabic to teach women in religion.

Here's a delightful bit of trivia:  In the first chapter of Genesis, the words often translated "formless and void" are tohu va-bohu in Hebrew.

Tohu is related to the word tehom a few words later, often translated "the Deep." 
Possible depiction of the killing of Tiamat
By Ben Pirard at nl.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

And both are cognates with Tiamat, the watery goddess from which all life is born in the Akkadian creation story, Enuma Elish.  She represents sea water, and she mates with Apsu, representing fresh mater.  She births all life, but her male progeny rise up to kill her, leaving only Apsu and a bunch of male gods.  

I first learned about the tohu-tehom-Tiamat connection while reading a footnote in The Inclusive Bible published by Rowman & Littlefield and translated by Priests for Equality. Bible scholars Robert Graves and Raphael Patai first pointed out the connection.

Akkad and Sumer were cities in the vicinity of Ur, where Abraham and Sarah were living when YHWH told them to Lech lahem --Get up and go "to the land that I will show you" (Genesis 12:1).  

Ur was a great city of Mesopotamia, near the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, in Sumeria.  So of course the emigrants from there knew about the goddess Tiamat and carried her name in their vocabulary to represent primordial salt water and birth.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Memorial Day for Nicole Brown, Ron Goldman

Today marks 25 years since O.J. Simpson killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman on June 12, 1994.

Those of us who lived through that day and the trial and coverage ever since still shudder.

I can't drive my car down Bundy Drive without thinking about the crime as I pass the townhouse where it occurred. 

Thank you to Ron's sister, Kim Goldman, for her new podcast, "Confronting O.J. Simpson," and for continuing to pursue Simpson and the settlement of $33.5 million awarded to his family by a civil court.

They have received less than 1% of that amount though Simpson receives an NFL pension of perhaps $19,000 per month, as well as royalties from his films.  He spends his time golfing in Las Vegas and proclaiming that life is good.

Thanks also to Los Angeles Times crime writer Richard Winton for today's front-page report and to Kim Goldman for her 2014 memoir, "Can't Forgive: My 20-Year Battle With O.J. Simpson."

My kids performed with Nicole's kids in the Dance for Kids performance that preceded the murders.  I was there backstage with her and some of the other mothers.  The day and its aftermath had a big impact on me and my family.

See also:

LA Times Timeline of Murders

His Name is Ron: Our Search for Justice by the Goldman Family

Thursday, June 6, 2019

More clergy abuse: Luz del Mundo

To all the young survivors of Garcia's abuse
Sexual abuse turns out to be the Achilles heel of male control of Christianity. 

Patriarchy's grip on religion continues to loosen--thanks to a tip to California's Department of Justice made in an online clergy abuse complaint form.

Today's LA Times reports that prosecutors have asked that the bail for Naason Joaquin Garcia--accused of rape, trafficking, and child pornography--be raised to $50 million.  He is international president of La Luz del Mundo, the largest evangelical church in Mexico.

The reporting of abuse began with the Roman Catholic Church, moved to Protestant churches--most recently the Southern Baptist Convention--and now accuses the leader of Luz del Mundo, which has 40 congregations in southern California and others in more than 50 countries around the world.  He was arrested at LA International Airport on Tuesday.

What do the Catholics, the Southern Baptists, and Luz del Mundo have in common?  A religious studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, Andrew Chestnut,  comments:

"These kinds of churches that are extremely authoritarian, hierarchical and based on cults of personality around strong pastors lend themselves to these kinds of abuses."

Of course, the faithful are being told to pray for their poor, persecuted leader.  

Of course, women in this group "must dress modestly and cannot rise to leadership positions," according to reporters Leila Miller, Cindy Carcamo, Ruben Vives, and Maria L. La Ganga of the LA Times.

Three women were arrested with Garcia for procuring young girls and delivering them to him for his use sexually. 

"It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea," says Jesus, "than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble" (Luke 17:2).  

I wonder if these men--and these three women--actually read the Bible and what their mind does when they come to verses like this one. 

Thank you to my friend Barbra Graber and others in the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, (SNAP), who provide online resources to report cases, make public the names of abusers, and support survivors.

Barbra keeps a blog for sexual abuse survivors and maintains the Mennonite Abuse Prevention List (the MAP list), which tracks the whereabouts and current employment of credibly accused church workers.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Jews massacred at Chernobyl in 1941

Remains of synagogue in Chernobyl by Pier Paolo Mittica
Really bad karma underlies the building of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

The original town there had many Jews and was the birthplace of a prominent Hasidic movement that survives today.

But the Nazi invasion of Ukraine changed all that.  Jews were confined in a ghetto in Chernobyl (now spelled Chornobyl) and then deported.  Many fled before deportation.  Those who stayed were rounded up and shot on November 19, 1941, three months after the Nazis arrived.

There's a mass grave of over 400 Jews shot by the Nazis. 

Whose idea was it to build a nuclear plant at the site of an earlier massacre? 

Surely the blood was still crying out as operators in the plant's control room made their mistakes.

It kind of makes you believe in Satan, the advocate, warping the minds of those who shot the Jews, those who took their homes and jobs in the town afterward, those who built plant, and those who ran the safety test that went awry.  

Either that or the doctrine of total depravity is right on.

Radioactivity will haunt the site for 20,000 years.

See my earlier discussion of Chernobyl and the new HBO docu-series:

Chernobyl: Eternal Memory--as in 200,000 Years

Reactors 3 and 4 at Chernobyl

It's now 33 years since April 26, 1986, when the fire at Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine spread radioactive smoke over Europe.

Episode 5 of the new HBO mini-series Chernobyl is titled "Vichnaya Pamyat" --Ukrainian for "eternal memory."

Eternal indeed--we may not remember Chernobyl as we pursue our daily lives, but  the area won't be safe for human habitation for at least 20,000 years according to a report on Live Science.  

The cement covering constructed to contain remaining radiation will last 100 years.  It will have to be rebuilt 200 times, I guess.  If anyone is around to do that.

The USSR only admitted to 31 deaths, but estimates range from 4,000 to 200,000 or more, including deaths from cancers and radiation sickness.

Clearly, we all need to understand what happened and the causes.  If you haven't seen it yet, you need to watch these five one-hour episodes.  

My brother works as a maintenance engineer in the nuclear power plants near Augusta, Georgia.  He says   I have often wondered how – as a nuclear designer ‘terrorist’ of sorts – you could make a more lethal dangerous nuclear plant event than the RMBK one that caused what happened at Chernobyl.

I've been emailing back and forth with him about the various causes.  He sent me a four-page single-spaced analysis of the event.  I studied it. 

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said that the true cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union was Chernobyl--one of the closing statements in the last episode.

The series is less about nuclear power than about secrecy and lies in the USSR that led to the meltdown, as my husband noted.

It's sometimes blamed on a "graphite fire," but the meaning is actually "the graphite-caused fire."  (Graphite doesn't burn.)  Another factor was doing things cheaply, such as not covering the reactor building.  In Europe and the US reactors have always been at least one back-up covering.

The show makes it clear that problems started with a safety test that, once underway, should not have been delayed.  A call from Moscow ordered the delay because "we need electricity."  Apparently the day shift knew how to do the test, but the night shift didn't.  Operation fell to the night workers, who were poorly trained and just following instructions, and some of them were crossed out.  They weren't adequately trained and there was secrecy--they weren't told key things, like about the shut-down button. 

"Imagine if Yuri Gargarin had stepped into his spaceship and been told nothing, just given a list of instructions with some of the things crossed out," says Valery Legasov, Soviet scientist and chemist, in the HBO version of the Soviet trial after the disaster.

This show is all about the pressure from above that caused multiple bad decisions.  The USSR had to be perfect--no errors could be acknowledged.

"Any system with too strong an ideology... leads to exclusion of facts," comments Jared Harris, the actor who plays Legasov.  

The miniseries is based in large part on the memories of Pripyat locals, as told by Belarusian Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich in her book, Voices from Chernobylaccording to Wikipedia.

Key characters:

Anatoly Dyatlov, deputy chief engineer of the plant at Chernobyl,  chillingly played by Paul Ritter.  He insists on delaying the test and then on doing instructions that had been crossed out.  His final mistake--insisting on firing up the reactors fast when it needed to be done very slowly.  Even the ignorant lower guys in the control room knew when to stop, but Dyatlov threatened them with losing their jobs if they didn't do what he ordered--which was to fire up the plant very fast when the core was cooling. 

Valery Legasov, a chemist and good guy of sorts who testifies honestly at a Soviet trial after earlier lying in Vienna (on Soviet orders) at a European meeting about it.  After the Soviet trial, he's told he will not be shot for testifying against the Soviet lies and secrecy if he keeps his mouth shut.  He'll be allowed to live quietly somewhere, but he refuses, writes about Chernobyl (and his text is "lost"?) and later commits suicide.  In his testimony in Episode 5, Legasov says that at 12:25 am the reactor was trying to slow down.  If they had run it at half power for 10 hours, it would not have run away.  Instead they "pulled this reactor back like a sling shot."

Ulyana Khomyuk, played by Emily Watson.  Writer Craig Mazin simplified the story by taking all the good scientists opposing bad decisions and wrapping them into one character, Ulyana Khomyuk.  Of course, I like his decision to give a woman this voice of truth. She urges the chemist, Valery Legasov, to testify even though he will probably be executed for doing so.

My brother explained the series of events in the Chernobyl explosion:
1) a steam bubble explosion,
2) asphaltic material used on the roof and as insulation melting and pooling around remnants of the reactor,
3) this material catching fire from the broken core,
4) wind distributing the radioactive burned source material.

He relates the initial explosion to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City in 1911 and to the whole history of boiler explosions.

The series dramatizes the factors and decisions that led up to everything.  "Yes, mistakes occurred in the control room, but ultimately the system was guilty--the Soviet state," says the Swedish director Johan Renck in an outtake.  

See also:

Monday, June 3, 2019

RHE: A voice not silent

Elizabeth Dias, NYT religion reporter

Rachel Held Evans continues to be heard a month after her death--this time in a podcast of the NYT product The Daily, "the biggest stories of our time, told by the best journalists in the world." .  It's aired five days a week on NPR. 

Today's podcast "The Legacy of Rachel Held Evans" features a conversation between NYT religion reporter Elizabeth Dias and Natalie Kitroeff of The Daily with audio portions from Rachel herself.

It's interesting to hear Rachel's voice.  

If you listen to this podcast and read Letha Dawson Scanzoni's thorough analysis on the website Christian Feminism Today, you've got most of what you need to know.

Of course, you could read one of her books.  I just ordered her first one, now called Faith Unraveled,  about growing up in Dayton, Tennessee, where the Scopes trial took place in 1925.  It's earlier title was Evolving in Monkey Town.

Thank you to Elizabeth Dias for all the excellent religion reporting she has done.  She has a BA from Wheaton College and an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary.

See also her May 24 report in the NY Times on arrests for clergy sexual abuse in Michigan.  Her Twitter handle is @elizabethjdias.  

For more on Rachel Held Evans, see:

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Letha Dawson Scanzoni on Rachel Held Evans at

Rachel Held Evans  (1981-2019)

If, like me, you didn't pay much attention to Rachel Held Evans until she died, you will want to read "Rachel Held Evans--Reaching Across Generations" by Letha Dawson Scanzoni.

Writing for the Christian Feminism Today website, Letha reviews RHE's online impact and how her influence spread beneath the radar of the white male evangelical leaders.

As a millennial, RHE was quick to pick up the tools of the internet, blogging and tweeting as well as writing four books.  

She bypassed the male hierarchy and built an online community very different from the power-oriented hierarchy of the evangelical world.  

In her community, LGBTQ folk were welcome.  Women preachers and leaders were cool.  She attracted baby boomers and Gen Xers as well as fellow millennials.  

Female terms for God were legitimate to RHE though infrequent.

"It's not about being politically correct; it's about confronting the ways in which we have made God in our image," RHE blogged in April 2008.  When we insist on God as a "he," we are making an idol.  

Letha points out that RHE "usually avoided gendered pronouns to avoid controversy but was intentional in those times that she did speak of God in feminine terms."

I confess that I didn't take much interest in RHE because she wasn't radical enough for me.  I have a low tolerance for male language in reference to God.
The idea of taking a whole year to live out "biblical womanhood" sounded to me like such a waste of time--though Letha assures me that RHE's intention was satirical.  She meant to show that complementarians pick and choose when they talk about "biblical womanhood," that really observing all the levitical rules is ridiculous for Christians today. 

I didn't need that proved.  I'm not her audience, though I do identify as an evangelical.  I claim the word evangel on the basis of its actual meaning (good news), not on my church membership or whom I hang out with.    

Thank you, Letha, for your many hours of reading RHE's books and blogs and viewing her speeches to present us with this distilled drop of who she really was. 


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Rest in peace, Rachel Grace

Cover of the order of service for her funeral
Today's gift to the world was the funeral service for Rachel Held Evans in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Watch it on YouTube--beautiful music, beautiful words, especially those spoken by Nadia Bolz-Weber.  

Songs were sung and Scripture was read--Mary Magdalene at the tomb (John 20),  "Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's possession" (Romans 14:8).

Rachel's friend Brian spoke.  Her sister spoke and one or two others.

Then the Reverend Nadia spoke, her amazing tatoos covered by a white pastoral robe.

She said that when Rachel answered a phone call from her, the conversation began "This is Nadia."  "Naaaaaadia!" Rachel would repeat.

"When I cannot worship, you worship on my behalf.... When I cannot believe, you believe on my behalf."  (I'm not sure whether these words are Nadia's or Nadia quoting Rachel.)

"Why are you crying?" Jesus asks Mary.

The Reverend Nadia says that's not a criticism as in "You shouldn't be crying."

"It's an invitation," she says.  Jesus is asking Mary to tell him why.

"I'm crying because no one will say my name the way Rachel did.  I'm crying because none of us is promised tomorrow.  As someone said, 'Grief is the price we pay for having loved.'"

Mary was crying because "To Jesus, she wasn't that crazy lady like everyone else saw her."  He had healed her of demons, and he had chosen her not in spite of who she was but because of who she was.

She might have answered, "They've taken love away.  They've taken kindness away.  They've taken my own wholeness away."  
"Woman of valor" in Hebrew
from tweet by Andi @estellasrevenge
(see below)

"When the disciples looked in the tomb, they saw laundry.  When Mary Magdalene looked in the tomb, she saw angels.  She had the kind of night vision that comes from above."

Nadia then quoted Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones, "There's nothing in the world more powerful than a good story," going on to say Mary Magdalene went to tell the disciples that "This is not the end of the story."

"We hung him on a tree.  He took all our broken junk and made a judgment.  His judgment was 'Forgive them.  They know not what they're doing.'"

"We're all fodder for God's really, really long memoir about how God loves humans."

"The resistance is winning, my friends...The darkness cannot, will not, shall not overcome it."

"Down in the River to Pray" was sung with "Oh dreamers,, come on down," "Oh daughters," and "Oh seekers."

All present were invited to take communion.  "Become what you receive," said the Reverend Winnie Varghese.

The benediction ended with words written by Rachel, "Jesus invites us into a story bigger than ourselves.  We are story-telling creatures because we are loved by a story-telling God."

Note on tattoos from the Religious News Service report--see link below:

[Sarah] "Bessey, who tearfully read the resurrection story from the gospel of John, and Bolz-Weber both displayed the tattoos they got in advance of the service. Those tattoos read, 'eshet chayil,' or “woman of valor” in Hebrew, a phrase from the Bible that Held Evans popularized."  See Proverbs 31.  

See also: