all oppression shall cease: a feminist theology of power

One time at Jesus camp, a stranger called the office to ask if I would "give my sexual testimony" at a local purity retreat. I declined their request, because WHAT, but it still cracks me up every time I remember. This is not that (you're welcome), but it is, in a way, my feminist testimony. How's that for an intro?

I didn't grow up in a feminist home and never took a women's studies class, but academia still played a key role in my understanding of feminism. I got my BA in religion and history and spent a semester studying poverty and community change in Washington D.C. Those disciplines and experiences rooted me in where we've come and awakened a desire to keep forging ahead toward equality.

Feminism is sometimes criticized (and rightly so) for failing to acknowledge the experiences of people of color, but I learned feminism through a decidedly non-white lens. Studying black feminist history, liberation theology, community organizing, and the devastating human effects of environmental racism, I realized how oppressions are linked and bound up in abuses of power.

In a lot of ways, power is the crux of my understanding of feminism and my theology, too, but I envision power in a radically different way, and I suspect that's a big part of what critics misunderstand.

Our world has a jacked-up relationship with power. If we're Christians, we might admit that our world has a sinful relationship with power, and as a Church, we are chief among sinners.

Racism, rape, poverty, abuse, environmental degradation, sweat shops, hate speech, human trafficking, child labor, and everyday inequalities, indignities, and violence based on skin colorsex, gender, class, disability, sexual orientation, and more--these aren't unfortunate inevitabilities but actual manifestations of oppressive power (that, if I'm honest, I participate in and sometimes benefit from).

I think the reason people bring up the "matriarchy" boogeyman and accuse feminists of wanting to "turn the tables" on men is because it's virtually impossible to envision gender or racial equality when most of our power structures are built on and sustained by gross inequalities.

But for me, feminism isn't about gaining power in a broken system; I want to burn the whole thing down and start anew. 

This is where my faith intersects my feminism: worldly political and religious power crucified Christ, and when he rose from the dead, Jesus made a spectacle of their oppressive power, greed, fear, and blood thirst. The liberation we seek is found not on the altar of empire but the upside-down Kingdom of Christ.

Jesus subversively upended one of Rome's most potent symbols of oppression and death, raising something whole and holy in its place. Christ's Kingdom grows up among us by another kind of power, and we're charged to bear its fruit: repentance, humility, servant leadership, and radical, resurrecting love.

My feminism grew out of the classroom but was nurtured in a faith that all humans are created in the image of God and that the only power that rights the world's wrongs is found at the foot of the cross and an empty tomb.

That's the kind of feminist I am.

{Day 1} Feminism and Me: On Tuesday, February 26, link up at J.R. Goudeau’s blog,, and write about these questions: What is your experience with feminism? What’s a story or a memory or a person that you associate with that word? Why does it have negative or positive connotations for you? How do you define the term, either academically or personally? What writers have you read whose definitions you want to bring out? Or, if you don’t have a definition, what are some big questions you have?


the word of life

The Logos of God is not the scripture
but the Son; the Word-made-flesh who spoke
creation into bloom moved in next door.

I AM and it was; it was good. It can be still, if we will
go and do likewise, embodying the greater Word
of life, of healing and repentance.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one.
Fix these words, impress them on your children,
weave them into work and life. Whatever you bind
will be bound and what you loose is free indeed.

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
write them on the tablet of your heart.

These words aren't idle; they are our life and
Christ our namesake. Speak him well.


five years long (and counting)

On this day in 2008, I published my first post here. I told stories, wrestled, and wrote my heart to keep from losing myself in the diapers and demands of new motherhood.

At first, I wrote essays for me and stories for a handful of family members scattered far from home. Along the way, I stumbled into poetry and feminist critique, and these words forged paths outside this small town, connecting us in ways I never envisioned and for which I'm grateful.

Will you indulge me in a look back? My first blog header was a wordle. Fancy, clearly.

This photo was the best existing one of me for a long time and was my avatar for years.

Jessi of Naptime Diaries made this header, and when I met Erika at Relevant, I discovered that she has the very same tree of life as a tattoo but with wild, winding roots. Kindred, we.

Last summer I re-titled (and shortened) my blog to the smitten word. The old domain obviously remains, and if anyone knows anything about adding/redirecting urls, I'd love to finally move it.

It's been five years, 707 posts, and quite a bit of fun. Thanks for walking this way with me.


let love

{image by Annie Barnett, available from Be Small Studios. used with permission.}

Because Love that protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres is more dazzling than diamonds and more enduring than candy hearts:

Let love.
Let it melt the frozen and forgotten places, where the wild dancing has gradually slowed to solid ice while no one was looking.
Let love.
Let it wash over those multitudes, the harsh words, the friendly fire. Unclench those fists.
Let love.
Let it open the front door to the friend all shut up in her own head, let it linger on the couch til words come. Let it set another plate, wash the next load of laundry.
Let love.
Let it break that hard heart into a million little pieces.
Let love.
Let it bind up. And let it build up. Let it stitch together the broken into quilts of comfort and mercy.
Let love.
Let it hang onto threads of hope, choose joy again and again and again.
Let love.

Happy Valentine's Day, lovelies. Please go read the rest of Annie Barnett's blessed benediction here. (Find more of her gorgeous watercolors at Be Small Studios.)

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

beyond the possible

Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani have been at the helm of one of the most extraordinary churches in America for over fifty years. Beyond the Possible: 50 Years of Creating Radical Change in a Community Called Glide tells the story of their lives, their church, and unfathomably transformation wrought in San Francisco's Tenderloin District and beyond through the passion, love, and dedication of Glide Church and community.

It is a remarkable book, beginning in Cecil's childhood in segregated west Texas in the 1930s. He recounts harrowing and heartbreaking stories of racism and oppression in America and his own experience as the first of five black students at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. Janice spent her own childhood in Japanese internment camps. Both were well acquainted with injustice and longed to be part of something better, of healing and new life.

Cecil moved to San Francisco in the 1960s to pastor a dying white church in the heart of one of San Francisco's most notorious neighborhoods, a place where homelessness, addiction, violence, poverty, and sex work were rampant. He opened Glide's doors to everyone, resurrecting that dying church and the community itself by turning Glide into a safe haven, a center for city revitalization, and a catalyst for social activism and spiritual change.

The book fascinates. Glide was inclusive long before that was a cultural buzzword, welcoming people of all races, incomes, sexual orientations, and gender expressions, as well as addicts, sex workers, and people experiencing homelessness and mentally illness. The stories are jaw-dropping: the community organized against police brutality, embraced the unwashed and unstable, had unfathomable run-ins with hippies, and helped thousands experience healing after abuse, incarceration, and much heartbreak.

When Cecil came to Glide, it had 35 congregants. Today, it has 10,000 members, (and 25,000 volunteers serve its programs annually). They serve three hot meals a day, seven days a week and operate integrated housing facilities for working families, the mentally ill, and formerly homeless. Glide birthed community centers, after school programs, health clinics, and recovery programs, and they've changed the face of the neighborhood for the better in myriad ways.

The chapters are named after some of the church's core values, including Creativity, Freedom, Nonviolence, Recovery, Diversity, The Beloved Community, and more. Glide's commitment to storytelling, vulnerability, truth-telling, empowerment, and radical acceptance is inspiring, but Beyond The Possible doesn't pull punches, either. They share some of the hard and ugly realities encountered in fighting addiction, racism, and systemic poverty and glimpse the long road of healing after abuse and the ongoing difficulties inherent in a truly diverse community. They also share how publicity and celebrity friends brought a Glide a spotlight and funds as well as personal and other problems.

Cecil Williams ministers from and operates out of an understanding of liberation theology, and as I read, I realized how much the white church fails to comprehend Black theology in particular. Some might not find the book to be entirely orthodox (I'm not sure if Janice would describe herself as a Christian), but it offers an important perspective and a needed counter to some of what passes for orthodoxy in many evangelical churches. Williams and Mirikitani have much to teach the rest of us about love-in-action and the part we can play in bringing tangible, good news to our sisters and brothers here and now.

There's a lot to like in the book, especially for those interested in sixties counterculture and history, social ministry, community development, church diversity, vulnerability, shared power, church growth, social justice, storytelling, or faith activism. Honestly, if you're looking for a lot of Jesus, this may not be your cup of tea exactly, but a more conservative church or Christian could still gain a great deal of wisdom from the perspective and example offered within these pages.

For folks burned by trauma, closed doors, small questions, and church-as-usual, Beyond the Possible might just been the good news you're longing to hear.

Book provided by TLC. Opinions mine.


burying the alleluia & signs of repentance

At the Episcopal church where we worship, lent is a penitential season. The liturgy is somber, and on the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday, we bury the alleluia. The children letter and decorate posters, and the alleluia is interred until Easter, absent until it leads us again into the celebration of resurrection.

Alleluia means "praise the Lord," and it is an expression of joy. During lent, we do not fast from praise, certainly, but as Jesus fasted forty days in the wilderness in preparation for ministry, lent is similarly a sobering time, characterized by asceticism to prepare our own hearts for the weight of the cross and significance of Easter.

Had I been able to find the liturgy online, I would have linked, but instead I transcribed it here from Sunday's bulletin.

The Burial of the Alleluia

I heard a great voice of many people in heaven saying, Alleluia:Salvation and glory and honor and power be to the Lord our God. And again they said, Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Alleluia! The Lord does reign! He is clothed with majesty. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! 

There is a time to laugh and a time to weep. A time to dance and a time to mourn. As we enter the season of Lent, bring forth acts that are suitable signs of repentance. Remember that the sacrifices of God are a humble spirit. It is a humble and contrite heart that God does not despise.

Until the day when Christ's resurrection is celebrated with joy and gladness, we commit our joyful ALLELUIA to God who gave it.

Let us pray (in unison)
O God, look with favor on your people gathered here. We know that we have sinned and deserve your punishment, yet we look to you for mercy. Spare us, as you have spared your people in the past. During Lent, help us to reorder our lives so that others can see your presence. We ask this in Christ's name. Amen.

Happy are the dead who die in the faith of Christ! Henceforth, says the Spirit, they may rest from their labors. So says the church of its ALLELUIA.

Today it dies until with Christ it rises at his glorious resurrection. When he died, he dies to sin, once and for all. Living as he lives, he lives to God. In the same way you must regard yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God, in union with Christ Jesus. Amen.


Anyone hitting up a Shrove Tuesday pancake supper? I'm a little sad our church isn't hosting one this year, but 'tis the season for fire hall Friday fish fries, an admittedly huge highlight for me in these grey, late winter weekends.

Jen Luitwieler is kicking off a series of lenten reflections this week, and Margaret Feinburg is reading the WHOLE BIBLE over the next forty days. (Read more and download her Wonderstruck by Scripture here.) Kirsten Oliphant's Consider the Cross: Devotions for Lent is 2.99 for e-readers. Kris Camealy has a free lenten e-book availableMason ties lent to resisting consumerism, and Kamille mediated on Isaiah 58 last year.

Do you observe Lent in your church, family, or community? We enjoy soup suppers and compline services, and our church is going through Scot McKnight's 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed together. I also am continually challenged and nourished by Bread And Wine: Readings For Lent And EasterThe Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime, and Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

Do you have any favorite prayer books, practices, or resources for lent? Some fast from certain habits or indulgences, while others "take on" other devotional, spiritual, or ascetic practices. The season begins Ash Wednesday this week, and I'd love to hear what's stirring your heart.


i love the 90s (skanking to the beat)

Katie’s dad took us to our first concert in middle school, enduring 100 degree temps, ear plugs, and a sea of rowdy youth to win his firstborn’s heart. My parents would never in a million years have accompanied us to see the Violent Femmes, but they were down with handing over their mini van keys a few years later. Newly licensed and suburban bred, I was unaccustomed to highway merging and city driving, but hell if that would keep us from Phish with the hippies, Dave Matthews with the frat boys, U2 with the youth group kids, and myriad festival shows that endeared 90s alt-rock to us forever.

Do you remember when ska was a thing and how it got us dancing? Skanking is the genre’s two-step, an exuberant jumble of hunched-bouncing, skip-kicking, elbow-swinging, and air-punching. Ballroom it was not (and despite its name, it bore no resemblance to club dancing either!).

When I was in college, third wave ska was having its last hurrah. A local band played campus, and I danced my heart out, catching the eye of a cute boy with blue and blond spotted hair.

“I never met a girl who could skank like that,” he confessed with a smile.

That sounds truly terrible. Apologies all around.

I’d seen ska shows before–The Bosstones, The Specials, Goldfinger, Reel Big Fish–but I’d taken them all in from the sidelines as a spectator, afraid that the cool police might out me as a poseur for not abiding unspoken rules of engagement. I hadn’t learned to skank in any legit mosh pit anywhere. Nope, my technique was honed at Christian music festivals and in church sanctuaries, fists pumping to the Jesus-praising horn sections of The Supertones, Five Iron Frenzy, The Insydyrz, and The W’s.

This is my confession. Come and get me, cool police.

Teenage girls are culturally programmed to be self-conscious (which the public scrutiny of women’s bodies does little to ameliorate), but somehow I found momentary freedom from that at Christian rock shows, which pushed me out of living primarily in my head and freed me to exorcise my insecurities on the dance floor. In a sweaty Supertones concert pit on a Pennsylvania farm, I inhabited my own body with the sort of jubilance usually reserved for athletes, earth mamas, and the naturally confident. (And the heathens, natch.)

Christians can be a bit body-phobic, can’t we, uncomfortably embarrassed by our own bodily needs, desires, and weaknesses? I’m not convinced that Jesus was, though. He healed with his hands and looked fallen women in the eye. He broke bread with friends and used metaphors that connected spiritual truths to the stuff of bodies and earth. He stripped to the waist to wash his disciples’ feet and scandalized many by allowing a sinful woman to anoint his own feet with perfume, bathing them in tears and drying them with her hair. He defied religious custom to embrace those whose very touch would make him ritually unclean.

Jesus, the incarnate God-with-us, lived a human life replete with bodily joy, pain, kindness, and indignity. You know that quote that people falsely attribute to C.S. Lewis about how we aren’t bodies but souls who happen to reside in bodies?

That there leads to some pretty jacked up theology.

Our physical selves were knit by God to be wholly entwined with our spirituality, and the latter doesn’t trump the former. In the Nicene Creed, we affirm the resurrection of the dead. Even in heaven we’ll have bodies, and it makes little sense to live spiritual lives divorced from our bodily ones here on earth.

I grew out of my Christian rock phase but remain grateful for lessons learned there in self-forgetfulness and embodied living. In a strangely unexpected way, Christian concerts helped me to begin feeling at home in my own skin. As a wayfarer in the subculture, it did not serve merely as a “bubble” to protect, a mediator of the divine, or a fence to keep me separate from the world. Instead, The Supertones were a launching pad for me to learn to silence my inner critic, to see God outside the church, and to live a more fully incarnate faith.

And they basically introduced me to the blue haired boy, too. Thanks, Christian rock. I could have done a lot worse than you.


beyoncé & policing female sexuality

Last night, Miss Representation hosted a conversation on Twitter called #NotBuyingIt to push back against sexualized and sexist messages in big budget, big audience Super Bowl ads. (The hashtag is used for media critique year round, too.) Media literacy is a passion of mine, and I loved all the conversation sparked last night.

But then came half-time. Beyoncé took the stage by storm and some started wondering, why weren't the same folks objecting to Sasha Fierce's emboldened sexiness?

Here's why: sexually confident, powerful, and beautiful women may make some people (and especially Christians) nervous, but public expressions of female sexuality are not inherently objectifying.

A woman can be sexy and desirable, and she is still human. Dancing or dressing a certain way--or simply existing in the world in a female body with breasts and feminine curves--does not turn a woman into a sexual object. That kind of thinking can lead to draconian (and dehumanizing) modesty codes and "she asked for it" rape apology.

Many ads last night treated women's bodies like commodities to be traded, invaded, won, or owned--degrading messages that reduce women to consumer objects to use, abuse, and discard. That is objectification, and it is exploitative and ugly.

Beyoncé's sexy performance was not remotely the same thing--not even close:

So here, in the midst of commercials and a culture that objectified women and their bodies and in the middle of a sports spectacle that construes power in terms of violence, Beyoncé began her performance by upending the narrative. As she walked the length of the stage, Beyoncé showed more power in a handful of purposeful, defiant strides than both sports teams had during the entire first half. In short, during those few steps, walking as a woman, Beyoncé declared ownership of that stage — that stadium — and, more importantly, claimed ownership of her own body in the most misogynist and objectifying four hours of mass culture. (David R. Henson)

Women's bodies do not belong to men, corporations, or the court of public opinion. We do not exist for public consumption or critique. Beyoncé is a grown woman who wore a costume on a stage; it wasn't a high school fashion show (and her bodysuit was a good deal more conservative than most swim suits at church pool parties).

Our bodies are part of our humanity, and our sexuality is, too. In creating people in the imago dei and having Jesus live a fully embodied life, God affirmed the goodness in human bodies and humanity. Female bodies are not to be feared, hidden, or ashamed of--and it's not the place of Christians to cast shame upon them either.

Now, do I think that the entertainment industry often caters to the male gaze, capitalizing on sexism, sexualization, and the objectification of women? Of course. Am I buying all the messages they're selling about sexuality, value, and beauty? Not at all.

We need to be having these conversations about media and sexuality, especially with young people, but we need to be careful with how we frame them, not conflating all expressions of sexuality with objectification. Modesty policing, body shaming, and gnostic suspicion of female sexuality do not honor women. Additionally, they betray terrible theology and won't change our culture's narratives about gender or sexual ethics.

Women are people. Men are people. Being sexy is not a crime, nor does it make anyone less human. Objectification is something that is externally projected on embodied, sexual people (like us!) who are made in the image of God (like us!). It is dehumanizing and degrading, so let's refuse to engage in it anymore with our libidos, checkbooks, or attempts at moral control.

Let's be not conformed to the patterns of this world. Let's re-train our eyes and take every thought captive.

Let's take responsibility for ourselves: our lusts and our judgments.

Let's honor one another above ourselves and give glory to God. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made.

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