Category: influential reading material


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A short introduction to the life and work of Stevie Smith for the Spiritual Reading group meeting at the Carmelite Library in Middle Park.  After a short talk to contextualise the work of the artist we read some of the works aloud and hold shared discussion reflecting on what they might mean…

Stevie was born Florence Margaret Smith in 1902. At 3 years of age, the marriage of Stevie’s parents broke down and she moved with Mum, Ethel and big sister Molly from Kingston Upon Hull, Yorkshire to Palmers Green in North London. Contact with her father, who was in shipping, became single line postcards saying things like: “Off to Valparaiso, Love Daddy”

Contracting tuberculosis peritonitis  at 5, Stevie was taken to a sanatorium at Broadstairs in Kent for 3 years. Being separated from her family was hard and Stevie has said that this is when her preoccupation with death and fear arose.

When Stevie’s mother Ethel became ill, Madge Spear, affectionately referred to as “The Lion Aunt” came to live with them, raising Stevie and Molly.  A feminist who had no patience with men, formidable Aunt Madge raised a family of women attached to their own independence counter-cultural to the ruling Victorian idea that “father knows best”. When she was 16, Stevie’s mother died.

Stevie studied at Palmers Green High School then went to Mrs Hoster’s secretarial academy – the North London Collegiate School.  It was around 17 the “Stevie” moniker came into common use arising from riding in the park with a friend who commented that she reminded him of the champion jockey Steve Donoghue.

Stevie suffered depression all her life that expressed as nervousness, shyness and intense sensitivity.  Straight out of the Collegiate school Stevie became a secretary at a magazine publishing company, and eventually became the private secretary to Sir Neville Pearson with Sir George Newnes and Newnes Publishing Company where she worked 1923-1953.  In this time Stevie had published 3 autobiographical novels and 4 of the 9 volumes of poetry published in her lifetime.  The themes of her work traverse: loneliness, myth and legend, absurd vignettes, war, human cruelty and religion.  Stevie’s line drawings, which she called her “higher doodling” often weren’t published with her poems, that happened later when collected works were published, and the pictures weren’t necessarily drawn to go with particular works but she would merely pick out whatever seemed appropriate.  They often lend a note of whimsy to words of touching depth or sharp parody to her satirical set-downs.  Stevie used comedy to talk about dark things and used the tools of her craft to resist domestic ideology around class, religion, marriage…

While her early novels and volumes of poetry were a great success, the work of the 1940s and early 1950s had been less well-received. She was seen as eccentric and the style of her poetry out-of-fashion.  One account suggests Stevie invalided out and was given a full pension following a nervous breakdown at work that led to her attempting suicide at her desk after an incident threatening her boss with a pair of scissors but another says perhaps more discretely that Aunt Madge became bedridden and Stevie left work to care for her. Stevie perceived death as she did god, someone perhaps to have a dialogue with ‘scolding for taking her loved ones and those whom the world will miss’, someone she had to acknowledge and comes to terms with the existence of. Stevie has said that she was “so consoled by the idea of death as release” that she didn’t have to commit suicide it was enough to know that death was there to look forward to. This god death is often expressed as kinder in her writing than the God of church and religion.

A come back after the period 1953-1955 when Punch was almost exclusively the only established periodical willing to publish her work. Stevie undertook a collaboration with Elisabeth Lutyens and Heidi Anderson when she struggled to find other outlets for her writing.  The arrangement and performance of her poems between her own readings were very engaging for audiences and led to Stevie eventually developing her own unique performance style of singing her poems.

Between readings Stevie would often sing, using sonorities and tonalities for effect, 2 or 3 of her works to familiar tunes she borrowed from Anglican hymns, folk melodies, popular music hall songs, a military march or tunes she made up in these styles.  While setting hilarious captions to the table book “Cats in Colour” in 1959 was I’m sure, a highlight, it may have been surpassed by receiving the Queens’ Gold Medal for Poetry in 1969. The last decade of her life saw her increasingly in demand to give readings not only to societies but schools.

Stevie died from a brain tumour 7 March 1971

Katherine Firth’s thesis on “The MacNeices and their Circles: Poets and Composers in Collaboration” provides insightful context of the time and place of Stevie’s writing.  The influence of modernism in the 1920s-30s had a destabilising effect on meanings – skilled practitioners were able to create works that reflected their own ambivalences, scepticisms and self-criticisms and you see a lot of this in Stevie’s writing – especially on the subject of religion.  Resisting her High Anglican and Tory Aunts’ influences with her lefty friends. This group of friends were influenced by Aristotle’s writing on poetry on the root word for poetry and action being the same so there was a sense that the words should be working to explain or impart something.

While Stevie lived a largely secluded and celibate life, aside from a few flings with both men and women, Stevie was a resolutely autonomous woman and rejected the idea that she was lonely.  Intimate relationships with friends and family kept her fulfilled. This was a time of cliques and gangs – groups of writers, producers, painters, composers, performers and critics that interacted socially and professionally in overlapping circles while retaining distinct identities.  Stevie corresponded and socialised widely with other writers and creative artists. She was chief bridesmaid and Louis MacNeice the best man at the wedding of the novelist Olivia Manning to the poet Reggie Smith. George Orwell was close and Sylvia Plath a fan.

New West End venues, technological advances and the rise in the role of the BBC in disseminating music were changing performance media.  Contemporary composers were looking to their poet-peers for lyrics, there were a range of styles of popular music and they borrowed from each other.  There was a desire convey Modernist idioms to reach a broader social and cultural context, making music and poetry relevant to the political and economic circumstances of the audiences listening. There was an idea that a poems words will do its work on someone if it is palatably wrapped as a hymn or cabaret tune.  The music groups of the day wanted audiences to be improved AND entertained.

Susan Thurman’s thesis provides this concise synopsis:

“Smith’s poetry reveals three major attitudes toward religion, which sometimes overlap: first, she is the agnostic who cannot make up her mind–she has faith in a god in whom she does not want to believe, yet she loses faith in a god in whom she does want to believe. Second, she often writes poems which confidently reject God; she is the atheist expressing approval of the decline of organized religion, strongly attacking both the Catholic and Anglican Churches. She vehemently rejects God and Christianity in such atheistic poems as being untrue, but if possibly true, then cruelly unfair. Third, however, she is a believer who replaces the Christian God of eternal damnation with what she views as a more merciful God of her own making. She tries desperately to create a God for herself in whom she can believe.” As she says of herself in her image on the poster for today’s event: “In yielding and abnegation I spend my days”.

Stevie often attracted labels like “eccentric”, “odd”, and “difficult” with causality attributed to her gender… Not Waving But Drowning is one of Stevie’s most well-known works speaking to our individual isolation within society.  Between the poem and the paradoxes of Stevie’s own life: participant or observer, believer or atheist, here to live or here to die? Cynthia Zarin draws a parallel – saying “she is at once the stranger and the traveller, both waving and drowning” – we’re going to wrap this up with Stevie reading that piece, it runs for about 2 mins and you’ll hear her at the start describing what the work was about…

References/Further Reading:

Anne Bryan. “Stevie Smith and God
Katherine Firth. “The MacNeices and their Circles: Poets and Composers in Collaboration on Art Song 1939-54”
Stevie Smith. “Some Are More Human Than Others.”
Stevie Smith. “Stevie Smith Collected Poems”
Stevie Smith. “Two in One: The Frog Prince and Other Stories/Selected Poems”
Susan E. Thurman. “The themes of God and Death in the Poetry of Stevie Smith
Cynthia Zarin. “The Uneasy Verse of Stevie Smith”

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1  Me nolentum fata trahunt is a play on a line from the Roman Seneca: Ducunt volentem Fata, nolentem trahunt. This means “Fate leads the willing, and drags the unwilling”. So, Stevie Smith’s line means “because Fate drags me, unwilling”.

 

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All rights to this work belong to the Stevie Smith Estate with Faber & Faber and have been reproduced here for educatonal purposes only.

i am not your negro

“You do not have to change to face me but you do have to face me to change”

James Baldwin

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CL: First heard the term “intersectionality” after starting my blog Black Feminist Ranter which ticked several “oppression” boxes. It was a label applied to me to inform a sense of ‘place’. A description of where the intersections of oppression are overlapping. It’s in the feminist sphere that is being played out but dividing and othering instead of being done well. It’s not being used to subvert and challenge systems but by those wanting “ally credit”.

RH: How we use the word… it’s made equivalent to representation e.g. have a quota of female politicians but the systems don’t change. What about sweatshops? What about Western interventions in the Middle East? Supporting Hillary and the first potential female President is great but don’t say “She’s going to be great for all women” – be specific. Say “some of her policies are good” or “Hillary being President will be a good start” but not making sweeping statements like: “What’s good for women is good for all women”, that erases the experience of those her policies don’t benefit.

CL: Why did that election result get pegged on the non-white women? Hate that… everyone asking: Where are the African-American women? Stats show it’s white women that didn’t vote for Hillary.

RH: They had to ask – “Who will be worse?” All minority groups voted for Clinton.

CL: Similar here re Gillard. First Australian Prime Minister – a win for dissecting feminism but she was legislating in NT and making cuts to single mother benefits… I couldn’t fight on those issues because I had to defend on the left re gender.  We are being compromised in these situations.

RH:  Allies need to understand the dilemma and acknowledge it. Intersectional feminism should understand that dilemma but it doesn’t. It needs to acknowledge the reasons others might be unsure and have concerns. For example, media around the Wonder Woman film discussed the Zionist views of the lead actress and called for boycott.  I didn’t advocate for that. It’s only one woman’s opinion.    It should be ok that Arab women might not be able to jump on this empowerment train. Allies need to understand.  There’s a refusal to see.  e.g. “The Wonder Woman character existed long before this actress – the movie’s still worth celebrating!” I was called racist. Intersectionality was used against me… disappointing.  This placed not just Eastern feminism against Western feminism but feminism within the West.  Behind the scenes analysis of the politics what appears and doesn’t is far more interesting to me than the actual movie.

CL: My voice can be sought out to fill a diversity quota.  e.g. speaking on Aboriginal Beauty Pageants – didn’t see celebration of Aboriginal beauty as worth working for (dress, heels, make up…) told I’m denigrating my racial identity. White panellists get slut shaming… called fat… whore… but not racial commentary.

RH: I get racial and gendered criticism. “This Ruby Hamas bitch has both clit-envy and penis-envy” – manages to be offensive on Arabic, Muslim, terrorist, gender – so many layers! I shared it on my page to diffuse it. Not about me but anyone who shares these characteristics.

CL: Comments on how I look, highly gendered, but go back to words like “quadroon”.  I sometimes take the piss or shut it down… I’d like to be called a whore for once and not something that’s dissecting my race! I was on a panel of feminists once – I said something about “smashing systems” in my introductory statements and was sidelined for the rest of the panel – the white feminists talked amongst themselves.  Those that have to navigate gender + race + disability – they are more extreme/radical because they have more to overcome. It was a horrible experience. It was a basic entry-level discussion, why weren’t we part of that conversation? I was only asked for “special comments” re race in the closing questions.

RH:  Any event invitation I receive I’m asking , am I token or not? Do they value my voice and what I have to say? And then I say, whatever… they’re still giving me a platform.  I long for the day I’m asked to talk about politics, and my experience… not as a labelled pigeon-hole “Muslim” or “Aboriginal”.

CL: The person who is Trans and Aboriginal and woman and has a disability and from a low class background… we need to amplify her voice.  Smash at all those levels at once.

RH: If they are liberated, everyone is liberated. “identity politics” shouldn’t set us against but with. I’ve always tried to bring identity politics back to broader oppression.

CL: The show the Handmaids Tale – loved it at first, then I started to see the mainstream reaction.  Women enslaved, bred, imprisoned… with religion used as justification. That was one generation ago for me. Oh, white women are going to be treated like Aboriginal and African-American women. In the book the slaves are unequivocally white, coloured people are shipped off to die from radiation.  Some kudos to the author for sticking to what she knows but in the TV show, in this Fascist, Puritan,  authoritarian world… women of colour are also selected for breeding with wealthy white men and I should believe it?! This is white-washing racial dynamics. “This is just around the corner for us” This white response is not helpful compared to that of people of colour which says: welcome to our world – this has already happened and is happening.

RH: “Can you imagine if there’ll be a war?!” [re Trump/Korea] Yes. I have already lost half my family to that. I don’t need to imagine what that’s like.

CL:  When we are blended into white narrative, we’re not given our own.

RH: Given a female Dr. Who – that was a big deal.  An Arab actor was recently cast to play the leading role in Aladdin. An Arab not in a role as a terrorist or savage illiterate – those roles that have been used to perpetuate negative stereotypes.  Can’t just think about gender (woman as Dr. Who), that an Arab man is cast in the role of Aladdin is far more significant for me.  Is feminism the new weapon of whiteness? We hardly heard anything about that casting at all.

Question: How do you balance the need to be calm to be taken seriously vs. expressing righteous/legitimate anger?

CL: A bit of anger is good, use it to tear the system apart. I have no obligation to make racist, sexist, wealthy people feel safe.  e.g  Heritier Lumumba in doco Fair Game, laughed along with racist insults in the locker room to try and fit in… you never win that way.  We need to use our anger in legitimate and practical ways.

Question: What would your top-three recommended structural interventions be?

CL: I’m part of the union movement. Anything that draws attention to the structural issues.  Intersectional engagement is often superficial.  Highlighting – make sure other voices are heard e.g. An Aboriginal man will have different views than me, or a more conservative woman… there is not one homogenous view for women or for Aboriginal people.

RH: Acknowledge there is a problem.  Still at that level… can’t think of a list of structural changes yet when still trying to get people to acknowledge that there’s a problem. Need to be given power/influence – in media, politics… I guess I’m still trying to find that answer.  I don’t think we’re close to solving that.  Need to see more women from non-white backgrounds opinions valued… to talk in general terms.

Question: Do you have any advice for emerging voices?  How do you decide which point of view will be appropriate to speak from, how do you get past that/prevent silencing?

RH: I didn’t write about anything happening in the Arab/Muslim sphere for ages.  Mortified when something I wrote was appropriated by people who hate me.  I don’t wear a veil but cultural still encouraged to be quiet, modest… I learned to pick a time to broach it. Try to ever do it in a way that isolates Muslims, there’s sexism and racism across all cultures.  I cop a lot of backlash from my community but lovely messages from young Muslim women makes it worthwhile – scarcely – becomes ammunition for racists.  I had to learn that I can’t be responsible for how they use or mis-use my words.

CL: I was terrified to talk about violence against Aboriginal women.  That conversation is used to assimilate to whiteness and religion, a conversation owned by conservative Aboriginal people, for example if I write a piece protesting Dondale and Invasion Day turn around and say “why don’t you care about violence towards Aboriginal women?” Used to indicate that I don’t care.  Exhausting process to do but I counted the numbers over the past two years.  I need to defend space for my own voice. This argument is used to denigrate my other work.

 

 

 

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The prayer of the martyrs ought to be outlawed, forbidden on our lips.  In the middle ages, popes placed whole towns under interdict. No public prayer, no eucharist, no baptisms, no burial service for the dead – until public crime was expiated.  The Church could not continue the work of Christ while the will of Christ was violated, despised.  In somewhat the same way today, the pope should order all churches closed, all services suspended in those nations which prepare nuclear war.  A universal interdict! For the nuclear arms race threatens the greatest crime since the crucifixion – the Hiroshimizing of all the earth, a firestorm, the finis of the human adventure…

…The moral void precedes the cosmic one, and prepares for it.

…What could be more contemptuous of the God of creation than the presence of the Beast in the sanctuary?

…”Every time a bomb falls in Vietnam,” wrote a Catholic from Saigon in 1966, “every time a village is burned or a child maimed, all your fine Christian words, your words about peaceable Christian intentions and good faith, are put to naught.”

…His works are otherwise…

– His works are performed in the desert, where people are at the end of their rope, without armies, weapons, protection, money, self-assurance, magic rites, strange gods.
– His works are a liberation. They unmask our inward slavery, out fitful wills, our egos, our violence.
– His works are penitential. They include a willingness on our part to endure his absence, his silence, his furious anger.  They will not allow is our fifty-fifty compromise; so much for Caesar, so much for God. (For those who serve God, there is nothing left for Caesar.)
– His works are gracious, in the root sense of the word. His favour does not wait upon our “ups” and “downs,” the narcotic of our moods, nudged this way and that by the tides of this world. “Turn to us that we may turn to you.” His is the first move. Indeed how else could we be moved?

…when we pray, we pray to an exiled king, a renegade among the peoples, a raging holy one, steeped in dishonour.  He is the sport and mockery of all, pushed to the edge of the world, edged out of consciousness.

…Grant us at least the presence of your absence.  Let us taste that void, at the heart of the raucous yelling of prisoners, the void between the bars, between the hours that hang around like days, the days that stand like years. Touch our hearts that die in your absence. Bitter, bitter.

 

excerpts from pages 50-68, Beside the Sea of Glass, Daniel Berrigan

A stunning invocation to authentic practice and expression of faith both for non-violence/nuclear disarmament but also any other issue of justice.

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In July a friend posted a link to this article “Against Self-Criticism: Adam Phillips on How Our Internal Critics Enslave Us, the Stockholm Syndrome of the Superego, and the Power of Multiple Interpretations” – it’s one of those rabbit hole things where you follow links within links to whole other articles… in a good way.  I think I experience some intersectionality in self-criticism being female and having a spirituality that calls me to try and live as a “good” person. Parking tidbits here so I keep thinking about them.

  • what kind of person would your critic be if you met them in person?
    boring? cruel? bully? abusive? would you keep them in your life?
  • if the critic mutilates, deforms, distorts our character… whose voices do you trust to speak to your character? what would you say if it were happening to someone else? what does it look like to defend yourself the way you would defend someone else against this kind of negativity? what techniques do you have for combating the critic when it’s a voice that feels loud?
  • the article refers to this critic as a mechanism of “unrelenting internal violence”. As an advocate of non-violence what tools and techniques are available to you to respond to, engage with and mitigate the impact of the critic?

 

“…in our capacity for merciless self-criticism. We tend to go far beyond the self-corrective lucidity necessary for improving our shortcomings, instead berating and belittling ourselves for our foibles with a special kind of masochism.”

“In Freud’s vision of things we are, above all, ambivalent animals: wherever we hate, we love; wherever we love, we hate. If someone can satisfy us, they can also frustrate us; and if someone can frustrate us, we always believe that they can satisfy us. We criticize when we are frustrated — or when we are trying to describe our frustration, however obliquely — and praise when we are more satisfied, and vice versa. Ambivalence does not, in the Freudian story, mean mixed feelings, it means opposing feelings… these contradictory feelings are our ‘common source’ they enter into everything we do. They are the medium in which we do everything. We are ambivalent, in Freud’s view, about anything and everything that matters to us; indeed, ambivalence is the way we recognize that someone or something has become significant to us… Where there is devotion there is always protest… where there is trust there is suspicion.”

“You can only understand anything that matters — dreams, neurotic symptoms, literature — by overinterpreting it; by seeing it from different aspects as the product of multiple impulses. Overinterpretation here means not settling for one interpretation, however apparently compelling it is. Indeed, the implication is — and here is Freud’s ongoing suspicion, or ambivalence, about psychoanalysis — that the more persuasive, the more compelling, the more authoritative, the interpretation is, the less credible it is, or should be. The interpretation might be the violent attempt to presume to set a limit where no limit can be set.”

4 – 5 August 2017, the Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies curated a symposium to explore feminist theological perspectives on dialogue, disagreement and conflict, as well as the intersections of theology with ethnicity, race, and cultural “norms”. Welcoming international keynote speakers M. Shawn Copeland (Boston College, Boston), Ruth Duck and Cynthia Wilson (both Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Chicago). 

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Elizabeth Boase

Came up with the topic of this session/panel through an open process of listening… counter-cultural and subversive. How can our medium be our message?

Katherine Massam

“If you persist in your efforts to influence the official church, to become part of its decision-making, you will only break your heart and lose hope. What you must do is go around to the back and CREATE A GARDEN. Some day they will look out and see its beauty and marvel at its life.” – Anne Thurston

See the reality. Patriarchy is real. We can become socialised and complicit. Benefit ourselves from the patriarchal system. It is a personal (individual) and systemic (collective) task to change this. Need to create a new ecosystem that’s collaborative. The top-down systems are easier, faster, feel more efficient… than being collaborative, must choose not to want to replicate or reinforce existing structures.

God comes to us disguised as our lives. #mystics #incarnation.

We must reflect on our experience.  While this can be seen as “pooling our ignorance” or becoming “stuck”. Transformative education should see everyone in the room learning. Teachers and student.

Ref: Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Paulo Freire

Ref: “Aint I a Woman?” speech by Sojourner Truth

4 touchstones:

  • experience, shared
  • reflection, deepended
  • faith, expressed
  • insights, reinforced

Stand and stretch: Open posture = strength and confidence, closed posture = stress.

Tania Wittwer

As a member of committees or commissions work to have more female members.  Not merely top-down leadership but appeal and create opportunities for mediation and consensus decision-making. Create sub/small working groups as an opportunity to develop trust. Coach and support up and sideways. Whiteboard ALL the ideas, then ask: What’s worth fighting over? Headship/submission >> connection to domestic violence.

Deidre Palmer

As a young adult participated in life-giving community and unjust structures.

Ref: In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins – Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza

Ref: The Church and the Power of the Spirit – Jurgen Moltmann

Church as a liberation community. Non-hierarchal. Acknowledge. Affirm. Name power balances. Job titles reflect the role your play, NOT status.

Changes forged out of pain.Movement of the Holy Spirit, moves toward equality. Apart from and despite the church. Need to partner, be active learners and work with God to mend Creation. Justice is integral to the gospel.  The political is personal. We must raise up those whose voices have been silenced or diminished.

In the Uniting Church, the power is shaped by Councils – not individual but collective.  Rotating and reviewed leadership.  There has been a resistance to structures… making decisions as ‘synods’ and ‘assemblies’ instead of small groups, power-concentrated and speaking for others. There is a commitment to keep our foundations broad and have full participation. Individual voices and gifts are affirmed within the collective.

Look around and ask: where are the places and spaces where things are working well now? What makes them different? How do you resist? What does formation look like there?

In-table discussions: We extend the metaphor – first woman makes a garden (outside patriarchal systems), second woman dwells in the house trying to renovate it while it’s inhabited (working within patriarchal systems) third woman describes open-plan design with indoor/outdoor flow (something that combines both elements)… sometimes easier to know what your role is, to resist/advocate/speak-up when working within the patriarchal system.

 

Poem: I put my piece of truth – Talitha Fraser

 

People of Colour @ Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies – Seforosa Carroll

Yesterday there was a separate gathering for Aboriginal and those identifying as People of Colour.  Acknowledge the paradox of this: the need to have a gathering separate from this one (not participating) and being allowed to gather separately (so valued that this is resourced however is needed).

Last year was the inaugural gathering of this group and there were perhaps 3 POK here. This year that is more like 20. Want to acknowledge what has gone into that increase. While there is interest in our theologies and our feminist theologies – this is not the platform where we can discern what that is for us – we want other space.  We want to encourage and mentor POK women to do papers.  We think our creativity and cultural epistemology have something to contribute. We want to do our own work to grow, to develop our confidence and voice… down the track we hope to then be able to share that in this space. To come together and find comfort en masse.

We each have a uniqueness in God – that uniqueness celebrates and glorifies God. We don’t meet separately to ‘keep ourselves apart’ but to move from what is common to what we can say about our difference – in this way we can learn from each other and keep our identity – Adele Ventris

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Africana Womanist Theology: A Hermeneutic of Suspicion and Hope – Rev. Cynthia Wilson

The marginalised bring their hermeneutic to their marginalised space.

Born in New Orleans: black, woman, pastors kid, one of six children (only girl). Had to figure it out for myself.  This was in some ways insulated because my brothers and father were protective but I feared for the men’s lives daily in the bayou and cypress trees where black bodies swung.  I sang because I wanted to cry out for life for my brothers.  The dark cloud hanging overhead was overcome through song… Holy Ghost will not descend without a song.  African proverb: When you sing, you pray twice.

  1. Womanist Theology confronts the demons of race, womanhood, and political capital that ravage the lives and spaces of Black women. At the same time, it vigorously affirms their God-likeness.
  2. Womanist Theology acknowledges, affirms and critiques the attributes of their faith community, the church and beyond.
  3. Womanist Theology seeks to call into question forces that suppress Black women’s voices while investigating certain epistemological presuppositions.
  4. Womanist Theology interrogates the theology of Black males, replacing it with more inclusive, liberating reconstruction of knowledge and authority.
  5. Womanist Theology utilizes an anthropological and dialogical method utilizing the following sources: personal narratives, domestic violence, psychological trauma, womanist ethnography, and syncretistic religiosity, real life stories of poor/Africana women, and other women of colour throughout the world.
  6. Womanist Theology turns up the volume of voices that are illiterate, economically deprived, that hold the environment in high regard, and that are typically ignored by this 21st century capitalist world.
  7. Womanist Theology re-kindles AND validates Africana women ancestors through Ritual “Re”-membrance.

UBUNTU “I am because you are.”

SAWABONO “I see you.”

Personal pronouns don’t function he/she, me/you but are grounded in the universal “we”.

Eschatological hope, although sometimes I wish my eyes hadn’t been opened, “my heart says yes and my feet say Go!“…someday we will be the free people we were created to be.

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Veiled Resistance: The Cognitive Dissonance of Vision in Genesis 38 – Carolyn Alsen

Helpful if you read Psalm 38 for context

Wearing a veil is seen as touching on two issues gender domination/headship and ethnicity. Wearing a veil is carrying these dual layers and wearers are doubly ‘colonised’. Who is the ‘ideal reader’ that Genesis 38 is written for? …white, Israelite, male?

Tamar, through choosing her clothes, can identify as “foreign woman” or “Israelite woman” and as widowed or prostitute.  There are social and cultural norms about how she is seen and not seen according to what she is wearing. Reading through the passage: who sees and doesn’t see her? In this story Tamar employs the conforming veil as an act of resistance.

Woman using perceptions of the veil as a weapons is still happening now > suicide bombers in Nigeria.

To wear a veil meant you were upper-class and married. If you wore them when you weren’t these things > punishable offence.

The Bible mistranslates “temple officiates” as “temple prostitutes”

zonar (gendered) social position of women (or subordinated men) when they sell sex.

hatas’if, veil (non-gendered) take off, wrap up, cover, put on.

Is it to be punished for the wrong use? Or is it normative use?
Licit – accepted socially but not morally vs. deviant.

        Remove widows garments :: have meeting in veil :: put on widows garments again.
could get in trouble
(tribe)

what is seen and not seen?
‘gaze’ and ‘identity’

– what is going on between how others see Tamar and how she sees herself?

Law-keeping ?          Law-breaking?
Israelite?                    Canaanite?
Solidarity/priest       Othering “zonah” fetishcised

Unresolvable.  Ambiguity of identity contrasted with public visibility.

Hera and Judah have different opinions of Tamar – who’s right or who’s wrong? Is Tamar both?

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“Because of the Angels”: The Unveiling of Women and the Body Politic – Sally Douglas

Helpful if you read 1 Cor 11:1-10 for context

Paul gives three reasons why women should have their heads covered:

  • inferiority
  • cultural norms
  • “because of the angels”

“The angels” refers here to those evil angels fallen from the Heavenly Court who rape and wreak havoc. (Gal 1:8) Enochian angels fell from heaven for women “going to them”. The consequences of this rape ruined men, women and the earth… > gave birth to giants >responsible for evil in the world. Killed in the Flood but spirits stay on the earth. Rise up against women and children because they come from them >>climate change.

Veiling is a source of conflict.

Try saying it’s down to individual choice but that seems insufficient. Still perceived that it stops a woman’s flourishing and personhood. The “malevolent constructed male gaze” exists to the detriment of women AND men. As objects of male desire we can reduce the risk from male gaze by altering our dress/wearing veil.

Irony – genital mutilation – advocate in the east but it’s happening in the west.

Commodity either way.  A woman might well feel liberated by wearing a veil or genital mutilation, not arguing that, but dehumanising malevolent constructed male gaze needs to be named and called out. What might safe-guard women now?

If the gaze of Christ is given precedence. Not the white skin, blue eyed, blond, pretty Jesus but the One, Cosmic, Sophia… that nourishes. 2 Cor 3: Veiling and unveiling of Moses. Collective language, shared experience and ongoing.

13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3)

2 Cor 4: Mystical gaze of Jesus, we are gazed upon, encounter Divine, are changed.

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ…. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

The same lens through which we see God, each other and ourselves can give us freedom. In this gaze we can be liberated from the power of all other gazes. There is an invitation and provocation in that.
We are given a choice – not controlled or influenced by nor in resistance to. We are all beloved subjects of the Divine.

Exorcism is for victims.  Not much about evil spirits in the Old Testament but then in the New Testament – boom!

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Hillary, Shame and Psalm 71 – Michelle Eastwood

Hillary Rodham Clinton 1975 m. Bill Clinton, 1980 had daughter Chelsea, 1993 First Lady.
BA and Yale Law.  Awarded “Most Admired Woman” 20 times altogether and 14 years in a row.

Moses vs. Aaron and Miriam – cloud makes, only, Miriam leprous. Only woman is affected. Author trying to minimise her leadership.

Abortion reduces both maternal and infant mortality. Hillary grilled for her position. Evangelical Christian Right’s perception is that bible gender roles are under attack (by feminists for their own power and glory), values compromised, slippery slope to decline of the world as we know it.

Bill’s infidelity held against Hillary… didn’t handle it well, misogyny, sexism…

Helpful if you read Psalm 71 for context

Psalm 71 is a song of lament and a cry for justice.  Women are shamed a lot in the Bible.  In this passage shame is shifted to dealers. v7 I have been a portent (faithfulness) v18 grey hairs (Hillary still stands, a testament to those who have tried to shame her). The shame is not destroyed but displaced. Evangelical Christian Right their own undoing > Trump. In the gospels Jesus is shamed – a sense we become more godly through experiencing shame.

4 – 5 August 2017, the Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies curated a symposium to explore feminist theological perspectives on dialogue, disagreement and conflict, as well as the intersections of theology with ethnicity, race, and cultural “norms”. Welcoming international keynote speakers M. Shawn Copeland (Boston College, Boston), Ruth Duck and Cynthia Wilson (both Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Chicago). 

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Questions, Connections and Stories – Ruth Duck

Womb of life, and source of being, home of every restless heart,
in your arms the world’s awakened; you have loved us from the start.
We, you children, gather ’round you, at the table you prepare.
Sharing stories, tears and laughter, we are nurtured by your care.

(Chalice Hymnal, 1995 Ruth Duck)

Many women clergy are part time – is that our of necessity or by choice?

Invited to share our gifts with the church but not invited into leadership and planning.

Sugar-coated feminism unites people by choosing to ignore our differences. Are woman respecting one another in their diversity? How can we share a position on issues without marginalising one another?

Been re-writing hymns since 1974, need to be wary of use of language e.g. using light (good) and dark (bad) > this language reinforces racial stereotypes.  Need to be using accessible and expansive language.  Not just male or female but neither like living water, bread, vine….

Galatians:  27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Lead on, O cloud of Presence, the exodus is come,
in wilderness and desert our tribe shall make its home.
Our slavery left behind us, new hopes within us grow.
We seek the land of promise where milk and honey flow.

(The Faith We Sing Hymnal, Ruth Duck ref: Exod. 13:21-22)

 

“Being ordained and finding a job are two different things”
– Bryan Cones

“A woman in leadership is not necessarily a feminist in leadership”
– Stephen Burns

 

At the table of Christa – Nicola Slee

The women do not serve
but are served

The children are not silent
but chatter

The menfolk do not dominate
but co-operate

The animals are not shussed away
but are welcomed

At the table of Christa

There is no seat of honour
for all are honoured

There is no etiquette
except for the performance of grace

There is no dress code
except the garments of honesty

There is no fine cuisine
other than the bread of justice…. (cont.)

WELCOME TO HER TABLE

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“Why don’t you call him your husband?” Negotiating the Heteronorm – Bryan Cones

In a parallel reading of the Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant (same-sex civil union) and the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage  in the Episcopal tradition we see differences in the rubrics (instructional notes), spoken words, and bible readings selected.

  • erasing gender from language also erases hierarchy
  • same-sex couple recognised as arriving as a couple/unit rather than starting the liturgy as individuals who are brought together but the rite e.g. compare: do you take this man/woman to be your husband/wife vs. I [name] take you [name]
  • taking or giving language? e.g. compare “do you take…” language vs. “I [name] give myself to you [name]”
  • Hetero weddings use Genesis or Mark reading; Covenant Blessing uses Ruth or Samuel.

What are some of the implications of the differences?

Wedding symbolising Christ with Church.  Return to Creation – brought together by God, made by God, seen as “good” by God. None of that in the Covenant Blessing but instead Trinity readings – work in the world and perfect communion.

Is this version equivalency or equality? Relationship not treated the same by theology or text.  Changes to the gendered language has impacted the liturgical theology.  Different, competing (?!) theological accounts.

Biblically “covenant” not helpful language as it has usually followed some punishment/ judgement (Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel…).

A relationship is already present and active – church ritual recognises and affirms what’s already there.

Missed an opportunity to have one liturgy.  A liturgy should be written recognising all types of households and relationships and families that are currently being erased.

Like the Catholic approach of couple marrying themselves to each other but others witness… helpful to have resources to offer but not to impose them I think.

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‘You don’t understand me’: Serena Williams, Christology, and non-identity – Janice McRandal

Between tennis, race, her gender… we don’t see Serena in the fullness of her humanity. We hold her up to an ideal of personhood and she becomes a series of failures of conform.

Born 6 September 1981 in Compton, Serena has 23 Grand Slam titles and is one of the greatest sportsman of all time. She is seen as both hypersexual and hypermuscular.

People of colour are seen to have “natural ability” whereas white people are considered as being intelligent and working hard.

Serena disrupts narrative. A commentator calls her a “crusader” and she responds:

“Nah, I’m just doing me.”

Another interview ends…

“You don’t understand me.”

Theology is trying to understand (perhaps proscribe?) the personhood of Christ… but we need to let Jesus move not be locked in. Jesus can, and does, say: “You do not understand me.” e.g. WWJD bracelets lock in ‘rules’ about what that looks like with non-normative standards… this creates exclusion.  This is a commodification of Jesus. Which Jesus do you buy/sell? Once you make something a commodity you will want to measure it’s productivity and see a return on investment.

Disciple-driven sublimation          vs.          Christology of non-identity

Not a timeless call but relationality… Knowing here and now.  This gives us multiplicity instead of a single discourse. We need to de-economise theology from capitalism.

Unknowing is a dispossessing that remembers and forgets.

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Poem: Listen (I lost my voice again today) – Talitha Fraser

“Why the Body Matters: Feminism and Christian Faith” – Shawn Copeland

Theology is worrying about what God worries about – God worries about the world that is broken.

The terms body, feminist, and Christian have many diverse meanings and understandings.  Also, imperatives, involved in a period and a context. Symbols that point to what is visible and invisible. Gender, race, sexuality become concrete in the body. The body is us but there is more to you and more to me. SImilar but different. SPirit and body are not separate but one. We need embodiment and engagement and communion with other embodied selves.

There are physical and social layers of meaning to gender, sex and sexuality.  Meaning and worth are allocated externally to our bodies through sex, gender, sexuality. The transcendence of men is an ideology.  God makes the earth… Creature. ALL created matter very good. This is contextual theology.

Jesus had gender, sex, race… existed within the social morays of his time and transcends these. Feminism is not monolithic but pluralist. Where bodies matter… eucharist matters.

We need to live in a humble praxis of solidarity
with the bodies piled up.

Race

Statements such as “racism did not exist in the US before Obama” silences and makes invisible.

Having no race then can also therefore mean no identity > race matters SO much.  When race is considered an objective condition intelligence is seen as fixed and hereditary.  When one is equal to one’s race your identity becomes “fixed”. This tramples on personhood and experience. Racial formation (or deform-ation) is organised around a society of oppression.  Knowing race becomes crucial to “knowing” relationships – how to relate to and treat people. Are you black or brown? Chinese or Vietnamese? Once I can categorise your identity I will know how to treat and talk to you.

Sex and Gender

There is a disconnect between our body and our identity. Became medical.  Sex is biological and our gender is subject to socio-normative treatment/behaviour.  There are differences amongst women… what about class, race, sexual orientation…?  You can be dually discriminated.  Plurality of discourse can be disruptive.

Ref: Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

Eucharist

Love forms one body with our body. Joined with the eternal transcendent. Solidarity is the incarnation of Christian love. Standing with the other in their otherness.

Owe the wealth and privilege we have to exploitation, massacre, death, slavery… we need to acknowledge the humanness of the other. Even if we suffer rejection or loss.

Solidarity must always affirm life.

Christianity

Stand beside/join with others. Because you are the body of Christ. It is your mystery that lies behind the altar. Our gendered, raced, sexed bodies are one in eucharist. Our ceremonies – we must give as as well as receive.

Be what you receive.

Incarnation means loving others.

political theology > systemic theology. What does it look like to do communion in Baltimore or Ferguson, Missouri (#blacklivesmatter). Not just “All that we have” but “ALL that we have” How can I express myself without my hands, my voice, my body…?! My body is not an illusion. Our body has to be part of our spirituality. It’s what sops us being all-spirit.  Ordinary and extraordinary that.  We are given and embodied example (enfleshed) of what that looks like lived out. [Christ].

Ref: Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her

Q+A

Latin ‘procure’ meant ‘care for’ NOT ‘acquire’

Multiculturalism – honour diversity and richness without “smushedness”. Individuality and interculturality – no domination/subjugation to make alike.

How? Engage, encounter, serious conversation, humility… not acquire or appropriate.  Can’t pick up the cultural mores but you can learn. The Word is being made flesh now.  It’s about being filled with divine breath and living that out.

 

 

To Xia

My dear,
I’ll never give up the struggle for freedom from the oppressors’
jail, but I’ll be your willing prisoner for life.

I’m your lifelong prisoner, my love
I want to live in your dark insides
surviving on the dregs in your blood

inspired by the flow of your estrogen

I hear your constant heartbeat
drop by drop, like melted snow from a mountain stream
if I were a stubborn, million-year rock
you’d bore right through me
drop by drop

day and night

Inside you
I grope in the dark
and use the wine you’ve drunk
to write poems looking for you
I plead like a deaf man begging for sound
Let the dance of love intoxicate your body

I always feel
your lungs rise and fall when you smoke
in an amazing rhythm
you exhale my toxins
I inhale fresh air to nourish my soul

I’m your lifelong prisoner, my love
like a baby loath to be born
clinging to your warm uterus
you provide all my oxygen
all my serenity

A baby prisoner
in the depths of your being
unafraid of alcohol and nicotine
the poisons of your loneliness
I need your poisons
need them too much

Maybe as your prisoner
I’ll never see the light of day
but I believe
darkness is my destiny
inside you
all is well

The glitter of the outside world
scares me
exhausts me
I focus on
your darkness –
simple and impenetrable

 

The poem was written by Liu Xiaobo, anti communist, writer, poet, activist, for his wife Xia from prison.

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“It must be our prayer. In spite of the fact that the prayer is denied, reviled, contradicted, made sport of, mistranslated every hour of every day – by the powers and dominations, by Church and State, by law courts and schools and think tanks. Yet, the prayer needs to be verified, insisted on, repeated, persisted in, learned by heart, shouted in unison, enacted, pondered. It exists indeed only to the degree that it makes sense to Christians, that they stretch their wills and voices to its understanding. To make of it their credo; to make of eternity their native ground.

…At every hour his angel of deliverance comes to us. In noise and stench and foolish anger, and the ever-flowing spate of damaged lives. In the evidence of breakup all around – broken bones, broken hopes, splayed carcasses of sound beginnings. In this jail. Where we must dwell. Not a lake of glass, you understand. But in a desert of fire. The ever present demons within. enticements. Despair. Depression of spirit. Disabused hopes. And even with one another; a certain paralysis, outreach cut short.

…The prayer would deny it.  “All manner of things shall be well.”  We must, by sheer grit of faith, live in that future, live it until it is as vividly present as any beloved possession, any loved one, could well be.  We join those for whom all manner of things is well; they join with us, for whom all manner of things is intolerably unwell. The future and the present join hands – barely, but truly. The meeting is incandescent, an ecstasy in the midst of torment.
You can understand the prayer, its audacious character, only if you understand this: the prayer is everywhere and at all times denied.”

 

An excerpt from Beside the Sea of Glass by Daniel Berrigan

 

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