Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter: Believing Idle Tales

by Amanda Rohrs-Dodge

Luke 23:55 - 24:11

The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how the body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

“But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them”[1]. It is probably safe to say that most of us have been taught, from a very early age, not to tell idle tales. The fable of ‘the boy who cried wolf’ comes to mind. Do you remember it? A young boy is sent into the field to tend a flock of sheep, which is pretty boring work. Thinking he would play a practical joke on the townspeople, he cries out that there is a wolf attacking the sheep, causing everyone to drop what they are doing to come to his aid. When they arrive, there is no wolf, only the boy who is amused by his ability to trick his elders. They tell him not to do it again, but of course he does, with the same outcome. But then one day a wolf does come. And when the boy calls out for help, no one comes to his aid because they think he is once again trying to trick them. In some tellings of the story the sheep die; in others, it is the boy himself who gets eaten by the wolf. The moral of the story? Don’t tell idle tales, because when the day comes that you’re telling the truth, people might not believe you.

These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. The women who came to the tomb on that Easter morning stumbled upon a traumatic surprise: the body of Jesus was gone. Not only that, but suddenly two strange men appear before them, bringing good news that initially begins almost as an interrogation. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Remember how he told you...?” The women do remember, and they run to tell the others, to tell their story of what has occurred that morning at the tomb, but they are not believed. The women try to break the silence of fear and mourning, but their words fall on deaf ears. They are not believed. Sometimes it is easier to believe the truth is not truth at all, but only an idle tale.

On Wednesday, March 20 students at Drew Theological School gathered together to break a different kind of silence. At 11:20am, during the weekly chapel service, members of Dr. Traci West’s class, “Ethically Responding to Violence Against Women” broke the silence surrounding violence against not only women, but also men and transgendered individuals. Students in the class offered various reflections surrounding the issue of violence. One student shared the concerns they had of offering pastoral care to female victims of male violence when they themselves were male. Another student shared her story of being raped by her boyfriend in undergraduate school, and the ways in which her religious upbringing had kept her from seeking help. A third student shared a story that reflected the complicated experiences of immigrant women who are victims of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, whose stories are often not believed. After each reflection a piece of pottery was broken, symbolizing not only the violence that had been done but also the power of breaking the silence surrounding these multiple forms of violence (click to see parts 1, 2, and 3 of the service)

That very same evening students, faculty, and even the dean of the theological school performed Eve Ensler’s A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer, a collection of monologues that told stories of violence against women and girls. Stories of young adolescent girls who were nearly sexually assaulted at parties. Stories of women pulling the trigger during times of war. Stories of girls who were hidden in vats of banana beer to protect them from soldiers looking to rape and kill them during civil war. Story after story after story... stories that, when seen in the paper or on the internet may be glossed over, maybe not as an idle tale, but as something that happens somewhere else. Something that happens to other people. Something that is far removed from many of our experiences. But that night, in that space, as these stories were embodied by the men and women of the Drew Theological School community, the truth came out. These stories were not idle tales. They were believed.

Sometimes it is easier to believe that the truth is nothing but an idle tale, to remain in denial. Like the disciples on that first Easter it can be easier to not believe the women’s stories, because if we were to believe them... then we would have to do something.

In verse 12 the story continues: But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. The note in my study bible says that “other ancient authorities lack verse 12”[2] which causes me to ask, why was this part of the story added? Is it perhaps because a later community was uncomfortable with the disciple’s lack of belief? Did they need to have someone in the story believe that the women could have been telling the truth? Like Peter in the story, something about these women’s stories seems to be more than an idle tale. And like Peter, we find ourselves in a place of needing to know the truth for ourselves, leading us to the tomb, to the source of the story. What we find is that the story is true: the tomb is empty, the body is gone, the silence has been broken.

Peter goes home, amazed. But we cannot simply go home, not after hearing the truth. There are other silences that need to be broken, other bodies to stand in solidarity with, other stories that need to be told again and again until the truth is revealed. We must break the silence surrounding violence against women, be it by praying and preaching, or listening and speaking, or even dancing in the street as a part of One Billion Rising, the "biggest mass global action to end violence against women and girls in the history of humankind."
Perhaps most importantly, we must have ears and hearts open to hearing the stories. We must hear the truth in what the women say; we must believe. And then we must run, to see and share the truth for ourselves, breaking the silence, re-envisioning the world.

[1] I am indebted to fellow classmate Kelly Lee (Drew Theological School, ‘13) who made the connection between the women’s resurrection story not being believed and the way in which women’s stories of abuse are often not believed.
[2] The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible, NRSV


Amanda Rohrs-Dodge is the student assistant pastor at The United Methodist Church in Madison, located next to Drew University. She graduated with her M.Div. from Drew Theological in Dec. 2012, and is currently an MA student at Drew, focusing on the New Testament and women's and gender studies. She lives with her husband who is a United Methodist pastor and their three cats, Vinny, Yoko, and Tebogo.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday: The Journey to the Cross and Transformation

by Kara Crawford

Cross-posted on the Ministry with the Poor Blog.

May this immolated body and this blood
sacrificed for all nourish us so that we
may offer our body and our blood
as Christ did, and thus bring
justice and peace
to our people. Let us join together,
then, in the faith and hope of this intimate moment of prayer…
(Last words of Oscar Romero, March 24, 1980
Oscar Romero: Reflections on His Life and Writings,
by Dennis, Golden, and Wright, pg. 98)

These were the last words spoken by Archbishop Óscar Romero on March 24, 1980. He died while celebrating Palm Sunday Mass at a small hospital chapel in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. He was gunned down as he held up the chalice to consecrate the communion wine.

Over the thirty-plus years that have followed, Romero has become a legendary figure: a champion of the poor, a voice for peace, justice, and nonviolence, a martyr for his faith, and a transformative presence in the Catholic Church and in El Salvador In fact, Salvadorans are pressing Pope Francis to beatify Romero, the first step toward sainthood in the Catholic Church.

Romero was born on August 15, 1917 in Ciudad Barrios in the Salvadoran department of San Miguel. He entered the minor seminary at the age of thirteen, and then began his journey towards ordained ministry. Over time he worked his way through the Catholic hierarchy in El Salvador serving in a variety of roles. He was regarded as conventional and reserved, within the customary bounds of church tradition and practice, at a time when the Catholic Church in El Salvador was divided over a brutal civil war that pitted rich and powerful established interests, including the government and the Catholic hierarchy, against poor people, rebels and their religious allies fighting for economic justice.

On February 23, 1977, Romero was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador. His appointment was not celebrated by those clergy who had aligned themselves with the revolutionary forces fighting with of the poor. One of those radicalized clergy, a Jesuit priest named Rutilio Grande, was a close personal friend of Romero’s.

Romero could neither understand nor condone how his clergy friend could have aligned himself with the guerrilla groups in his pursuit of justice for the poor. But then, on March 12, 1977, just a few weeks after Romero was appointed Bishop, Fr. Rutilio was assassinated. To Romero’s dismay, there was no effort to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Rutilio’s death had a profound impact on Romero’s vocation, faith and worldview. It was a turning point in Romero’s journey of faith and ministry. Sometime later, he said, “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, 'If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.’”

Throughout the next three years of his life and ministry, Romero became increasingly engaged in the struggles of the poor, living and working among them and allowing for their stories and struggles to become one with his own. He lived a simple life, in a small house near the campus of the hospital in whose chapel he was assassinated. That he celebrated his final Mass in a hospital chapel rather than a cathedral speaks volumes of his living in communion with the most vulnerable in Salvadoran society.

In 2010, I was privileged to travel to El Salvador with a group from DePaul University. While on the trip, we visited a number of sites that were significant during El Salvador’s civil war, including a number of sites related to Romero’s life and martyrdom. While I was in the chapel where he was assassinated, I was struck by the powerful imagery and symbolism of his final act – consecrating the communion wine. The blood of Christ, shed for all suddenly became profoundly incarnate before my very eyes.

Good Friday is upon us, and as my Lenten journey comes to a close and I turn toward Easter Sunday, I cannot help but reflect on Romero’s walk with the poor, a personal conversion that led to him to the cross.

What moves me most about Romero is that his witness to the injustices, oppression, marginalization, and violence inflicted upon the poor of El Salvador opened his eyes and heart. In this process of conversion, he allowed himself to be transformed by the Holy Spirit working in and through the poor. In his walk with the poor he found the courage to stand with them—to the point of death-- and, like Jesus, boldly speak and embody the biblical message of liberation of the poor and oppressed. (Isaiah 61:1-2, Luke 4:18, Luke 6:20)

Two weeks before he died Romero said: “I have been frequently threatened with death. I should say to you that, as a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection: if I die, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.”

As we journey with Christ to the cross, are we willing to stand with and be transformed by the poor? As Romero demonstrated in his life and ministry, it is in walking with the poor that we become emboldened and empowered to take up the cross and follow Jesus in working to bring about peace and justice, nourished by Christ’s sacrifice.

For more information about Archbishop Oscar Romero see the 1989 biographical film Romero, the book Oscar Romero: Reflections on His Life and Writings (Dennis, Golden, and Wright, 2000), and many other books and resources.


Kara Crawford is a United Methodist Mission Intern. She is currently serving part-time at New Day UMC, a new church start in the Bronx, NY, and part-time at the General Boardof Global Ministries in support of the Ministry with the Poor Area of Focus of The United Methodist Church. She is a graduate of DePaulUniversity in Chicago, IL, with a BA in International Studies and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. Prior to her current assignments, she served in Bogotá, Colombia with the Centro Popular para América Latina de Comunicación doing workshops in human rights and communications with groups of women and children. A member of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference and a lifelong United Methodist, Kara is passionate about engaging The UMC in conversations around what it truly means for us as a church to live out Micah 6:8: “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday: We gotta wash each other's feet

Today, we remember events that it seems impossible for us to remember, events that happened centuries ago. We reenact. We inhabit stories, live into texts. We repeat the words: "Do this and remember me." "If I have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet."

We are supposed to wash each other's feet.

Here is what I think that means, for young people seeking God and seeking justice in the world today.

It means taking care of each other at our most vulnerable places, the places that we want to hide away.

It means that, while we're rallying at the Supreme Court or celebrating divestment victories (and asking "what's next?") or organizing for worker justice or calling our members of Congress, we don't forget to take care of each other. We don't forget that we are all soft and hurting, that we each come with our own stories, our own wrinkles, our own mess.

It means that we never forget that we work for justice because people, real people, are being hurt. That those people have names. That they have stories. That this is not ultimately about particular policies or parties or pieces of legislation--those things are all of vital importance, don't get me wrong--but about people. People we need to listen to. And that often is going to mean, inasmuch as this is at all possible, divesting ourselves of power. Or at the very least being critical of the sort of power that keeps us from caring for each other as equals.

We have a lot to do. A lot of work to take on. A lot of tasks to accomplish. But we have to remember that we will not always be tireless in our work for justice. That we, and the people we work with, will stumble. Will struggle. Will burn out.

We have to be willing to bend down into those places, and to love, to love, to love.

Friends, one thing we have to remember. We gotta wash each other's feet.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Palm Sunday: Triumphal Entry

See Luke 19:28-40.

The image of the statue, ropes twined around it, mid-topple, framed by blue skies and crowds of people--- this image is etched in my mind, as are vague memories of tanks rolling through town, so many American flags, and the unbridled triumph in the voices of politicians. This triumphal entry, on April 9, 2003, was fed to us as the signal of the USAmerican victory over an evil-doer. The staged Marine-led toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in Baghdad was narrated to us as a triumph of democracy and goodness and hope. And yet, here I am ten years later, listening to reports of cancer and murder and suicide and I can't seem to find that democracy and goodness and hope we were promised as the statue fell.

Our pro-war propaganda machine tells us that this is how we bring about freedom: tanks and toppling. But there is another Triumphal Entry we celebrate this week that tells us something different. It tells us that God's victory arrives not on a tank but on a lowly colt. It tells us that people shout for joy not because of deeds of military might, but the deeds of power they saw in healing miracles. It recognizes that the one who comes in the name of God comes not in a military uniform but as a political agitator for peace. Jesus came into Jerusalem on the back of a colt promising a different kind of victory, a different kind of freedom than that proclaimed in the ten years since the USA invaded Iraq.

People recognized that difference and it scared them. Some of the Pharisees in the crowd commanded Jesus to stop. On Friday, we will remember the consequences of Jesus' triumphal entry, a crucifixion that resembles more the day to day suffering of Iraqi civilians and abandoned USAmerican veterans suffering from PTSD. And yet, too many of our churches will forget the connections this Holy Week, forget the roots that extend into our own times, tell ourselves that the story we remember is a spiritual story that demands nothing of us but "belief." So I urge you this Palm Sunday to pray. Lift up the cause for peace in Iraq in your congregation's sharing of prayer concerns. Educate yourself about the ongoing struggle in Iraq--- just because the USA has declared the Iraq War over does not mean that the mess and terror of war has been alleviated. And, of course, our government wages war and supports war in many other countries too.

It is our responsibility as Christians to remember Jesus' entry in Jerusalem and the lessons it teaches us of freedom and peace this Holy Week.


Shannon Sullivan serves the Deer Creek Charge, a two-point charge in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. She is a graduate of Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey, and blogs at You'll Never Guess What the Heathens Did Today.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

International Women's Day: A Call for Intersectionality

by Katey Zeh

Crossposted at Methodist Federation for Social Action and the General Board of Church and Society's Faith in Action.

Proverbs 31:31: “Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.”

The writer of Proverbs 31 writes of an ëschet-chayil, which depending on the particular biblical translation, can be read as a virtuous, noble, excellent, or capable woman. But as I reflect on the ongoing global struggle for women’s dignity, I prefer another translation of ëschet-chayil—a woman of valor. The term valor is often associated with conflict and even war, and describes a person who approaches danger with bravery and courage.

What are the characteristics of a woman of valor, according to Proverbs 31? She is trustworthy, hardworking, charitable, and strong—and she is to be given an equitable share of the fruits of her labor.

I know this woman of valor. I have met her many times. She is the one running a rural health clinic in Kenya, serving a community that otherwise would have no access to health care. She is the one in Nicaragua educating her peers about domestic violence and family planning. She is the one making safe birthing kits for those she will never meet.

As the global community prepares to honor International Women’s Day on March 8, I have been wondering, what ought to be the role of the church in commemorating these women of valor among us? The author of Proverbs 31 gives us some direction. First, we are to give thanks for the courage, bravery, and diligence of women in our own communities and around the world. Second, we are to ensure that all women receive that which they have earned—honor, dignity, and access to resources.

Many people are familiar with the statistic that while women do a majority of the world’s work, they own less than 1% of the world’s land. But that is only one aspect of the gender gap that contributes to women’s undervalued position in their homes, communities, and countries. We must continue to move away from a piecemeal approach to gender equality and begin to look intersectionally at the many injustices women face, impeding their sacred worth as children of God.

We must wake up! Did you know that a young woman in Chad is more likely to die giving birth than she is to receive a secondary education? What does this say about how we value the life of the girl child? The roots of our world’s deepest suffering—violence, HIV/AIDS, poverty, malnutrition—disproportionately impact our sisters in Christ. We are called to be partners with God in creating a more just world for all God’s children, and that means addressing the sins of both our personal and systemic sexism.

As an advocate for maternal health and family planning, my challenge is to recognize that my lens on women’s empowerment is often myopic, and that I must reach out to partners both within and beyond The United Methodist Church who can help me better understand the complexities of not only ensuring women’s survival, but also enhancing their ability to thrive. I have asked myself difficult questions like, what good does it do to build a birth facility if the women of the surrounding communities have no way to get there? Have we really achieved success if a woman has a healthy birth but only two months later dies of malaria? These questions are challenging, and will require a concerted response from the global community, including the church.

On April 3 at 3pm Eastern Time, I invite you to join the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet project and United Methodist Women in a conversation that will explore two equally serious but oftentimes siloed issues: domestic violence and maternal mortality. Violence against women is a global pandemic that denies women's their bodily integrity. When a pregnant woman suffers partner violence, she may suffer injury, miscarriage, or even death. I hope you will journey with us as we explore ways for the church to respond to theses issues in a collective, unified way.

Please register for the webinar by April 2nd. This event is open to the public.

Katey Zeh is an advocate and organizer for reproductive justice. She directs the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet initiative of the General Board of Church and Society, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. She lives in Cary, NC with her soon-to-be-husband Matt and their dog Lucy.