Posts tagged women

So I've been hosting this summer chat on the book Radical Reconciliation. You can find more details about that HERE. We just finished chapter two on Rizpah, and I thought I'd share a few thoughts with you. 

I am really digging Rizpah. I keep returning to her story because I continue to be absolutely intrigued by her. If you've not heard of her, please read II Samuel 21:1-14. 

1. I am not entirely sure she is seeking reconciliation. It has taken me years to articulate for myself that justice comes before reconciliation. Rizpah doesn't seem at all interested in reconciling anyone. She is clearly focused on defending the dignity of the bodies she protects. She is intent on caring for them despite the stench, despite the danger, despite the carelessness on the part of other people. She is singularly focused. And yet her actions bring more than I suspect she anticipated. I find great hope in this.

2. I cannot get over the poetic nature of her using the sackcloth as a tent. The sackcloth was meant to aid her mourning. We see the use of sackcloth throughout the Scriptures. But Rizpah doesn't just wear it or rip it... She uses it. She uses it to form a tent to protect her from the elements as she protects the bodies. That blows me away. I still cannot comprehend the pain of mothers who fight for the dignity of their children who have been murdered due to state violence. I dont understand how they march, how they speak, how they host vigils and services and rallies. I refuse to pretend to "get it". I just want to honor it. I want to honor their strength. 

3. But even with all of that said, I dont want to dehumanize Rizpah. I dont want to make her super human or superwoman. She needed a tent because she needed protection. I imagine she was fearful and tired and overwhelmed. I imagine she got sick once or twice out there. I imagine was scared out of her mind the first time she had to fight back a large animal. I imagine she was hurt and lonely all by herself up there. I imagine she wished someone would do more than just talk to her or about her. I imagine she wanted some help. And I imagine she made some people mad. I imagine there were those who defended what David had done. I imagine some people thought he actions were too much, over the top, disrespectful of the state, of the king. I imagine she was altogether human. 

This 3rd point is important to me because this work is hard, yall. I think some people assume that it comes naturally for women of color, or that we have no choice. But let me clear up any misconceptions. Turning sackcloth into tents is hard work. Beating back those who would do us or those are love harm, is excruciating. I get my feelings hurt all the time. All the time. The hate mail hurts, the aggressive, accusatory "questions" hurt. Being put on the spot, embarrassed, shut out, looked over, and passed over- hurt. I am human. My sisters who do this work are human. I love Rizpah for her strength, but I refuse to indulge that she might have been impervious to pain. 

Still Rizpah  makes me want to be better. She makes me want to expect more. I think of Rizpah and I sense my own strength to fight for my community. 

I've met a lot of Rizpahs. Those who are tired of the hashtags because you feel the loss of each name you type. I imagine there are some Rizpahs out there who are overwhelmed by having to fight for so many lives- not just those who are close to you, but the collective, the lives all over the country, all over the world. I suspect that many of you are tired from beating back the buzzards- those who would continue to disrespect the names, the lives of people you love. Tired of fighting against the media (mis)representation, tired of sharing that yet another death will go unpunished. My guess is many of you are tired. If I may, I want to say that you are not alone. That we are not just talking about your efforts; we are with you. We fight with you. You can sleep in the tent for a little while, because you no longer fight alone. Rizpah did this work all by herself. But I am determined to start a tribe that knows you dont have to fight alone.

We are with you. 

Bring Yourself
Photo by Anna J Yoder. Click Image to view her portfolio. 

Photo by Anna J Yoder. Click Image to view her portfolio. 

I am learning to bring all of myself to my work. For a long time I thought I had to chop myself into pieces in order to be understood. I thought separating my womanhood from my blackness was the only way I could operate in the world- perhaps the only way to make sense of the world. By separating myself, I believed I could gain control. If I only brought my womanhood to women's conferences, and ignored my race, I could fill up one bucket while ignoring the other. Similarly, in social justice spaces that are dominated by patriarchy, I thought I could stuff my womanhood down, put it on hold, throw it on the back burner and focus on racial justice for a moment. While these are clear spaces where I am highly aware of the "need" to split myself in half, there is a sense that I am regularly doing this. 

I walk into a room and people aren't sure how to react to the black woman standing before them. Is that because I am black or because I am woman? If I was a black man would they respond the same way?  Or if I was a white woman would I have gotten the same treatment? If I am asked to speak about race, do I only tell stories that I am certain involved race only? If someone agrees with everything I think about racial justice but doesn't have a problem with patriarchy, do I get to address that? Or must I split them in half as well- cheering for the justice side but pretend the patriarchy isn't somehow at play in the moment? 

Splitting myself was both a way of survival and a way of believing in the world. Let me tell you, its so easy to find women who care about womanhood and activists who care about racial justice. Finding folks who are willing to take on multiple forms of oppression are significantly harder to come by. 

But this way of survival leaves much to be desired. I want more. I want more than survival. More than half truths. More than sort of allies. More than halfway on board institutions. I want more than dissection- of myself and of those around me. I want wholeness. 

I want to bring the complicated mess that I am to the table because I didn't create the complications. I didn't erect racial injustice, and I didn't build patriarchy. I didn't inform white supremacy, and I didn't write books on a woman's "rightful place". 

I see the world as a black woman. It is the perspective God gave me. It is the lens through which I see the world. Its how I understand the world- how I talk, how I walk, how I think, how I write, how I move in the world. 

Black and woman. This is a gift. Its so easy to forget what a gift this is because patriarchy and racism would have me believe otherwise, would have me believe that I am less than, that the weight of both is too much to carry all at once, that I must focus on just one if I am to be effective. Lies.

I believe in the legacy of black women who refused to be satisfied with lies. I believe that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I believe that I am created in the image of the Divine. I believe that I am at my best when I bring my wholeness to the table. I believe that the weight of racism and patriarchy cant drown me. I believe that I am perfectly made for resistance, for freedom, for community. 

If there are others out there, working to dismantle multiple oppressions, navigating multiple identities, I want you to know that I believe in us. I believe in our wholeness. I believe in our legacy and our future. I believe in our work, in our community, in our sense of self. 

Bring yourself. All of you. And I promise to bring myself, too. We'll practice. And we'll get better. We'll do it together. We'll cheer one another on. And in holding hands we'll find that we are stronger together. In holding hands we will find that oppressive systems don't stand a chance. In holding hands we will find ourselves. We will move closer to the whole being God created. We will live. 

Be brave. Being yourself is resistance.

For Cynthia. For you.

This is for Cynthia. 

And this for you when told that you deserved to be harassed because your clothes are too skimpy, too revealing, too low cut, too high waisted, too sexy, too skinny, too attention grabbing. This is for you because you can't wear anything unflattering enough to guarantee not being harassed. This is for you because you were taught to take ownership for the vileness of strangers.  May this weight be forever cast off; its not yours to carry. 

This for Cynthia.

And this is for you who stared down the barrel of a gun and wondered if today would be the day, the one when you couldn't make yourself small enough, when you couldn't stay out of the way, when your cloak of invisibly was broken. This is for you because no matter how much you gave, loved, sacrificed, offered, released, tried- it was never enough to create permanent change. May nonviolence not be an abstract concept but a practice in every aspect of your life. 

This is for Cynthia.  

And this is for you who couldn't share that you've been sexually assaulted because he is a nice Christian guy with a good GPA and is well liked, and sex isn't a word you use on a Christian college campus. This is for those who were coerced by an authority figure- someone you were supposed to be able to trust. May truth win. 

This is for Cynthia.

And this is for you who cannot speak about what happened that day, that night. Who doesn't want to remember but cannot forget. Who must drive by the same spot. Who must go to the same class, same job, same church. Who must sleep in the same bed, or in the same house, or under the same roof. Who cannot trust. Who cannot get away from the trauma. May healing be yours. 

This is for Cynthia.

And this is for you who must hide- in closets, in bathrooms, in bedrooms. Who hide the bruises, the scars, the scrapes, the burns. Who hide from family, from friends, from pastors, from coworkers. Who put on your smile with make up, who use visine to hide red eyes, who knows more tricks than anyone should to cover the pain. May visibility finally equal love. 

This is for Cynthia.

And this is for you who attend a church that never talks about abuse or harassment or assault or rape. Who has heard numerous sermons on being submissive, but not one on how much you deserve respect and love. Who believes this is Divine. Who believes this is love. May our churches do better for you. 

This is for Cynthia. 

And this is for you who tried to tell, tried to tell the men you loved and were asked 20 questions about what you should have done differently and how you handled that badly and how you should do 25 things differently next time. Who knows there will be a next time. May you be heard by someone who will protect you. 

This is for Cynthia.

This is for you who tried to tell your mom, your girlfriends, your sisters but were silenced instead. Who dropped hint after hint but no understood. Who expected words, hugs, comfort, and a game plan. Who received a lecture on why you must stay. Who expected more. May you be heard by someone who will protect you. 

This is for Cynthia. 

And this is for you because everything hangs in the balance- a home, a family, children, money, career- your entire world. This is for you who risk it all when you attempt to leave. This is for you who loves someone who stays. This is for you who lost someone who had the courage to leave. May freedom and peace be yours. 


Cynthia is a woman I loved deeply. She was my parents best friend, who in many ways took on the role of my aunt. She tried to leave her abuser, and when she did was chased out of her home and held at gunpoint in the middle of the street. He shot her and broke the hearts of many- most significantly her children. I still think of her often.

Knowing what can happen to a woman who tries to leave, I have no time for judging why women stay. I hope all of our hearts will be ruled by compassion rather than condemnation. They have enough condemnation in their lives. Choose to sing a different song- of love, of peace, of care.


This is for Cynthia, I miss you. -Austin

My Faith & Feminism

#FaithFeminisms has been the slowest conversion of my life. There was no flipping of a switch, no church service revelation, no falling to my knees in wonder. The connection was borne slowly, tumbling and kicking inside, peeking out to see if it’s safe, grasping and begging for air. The midwives of friends, authors, sisterhoods, mentors and preachers it has taken to help her live would form quite an extensive list- crisscrossing the country, reaching from heaven to earth.

It almost never was. There was too much of “Eve is the reason sin entered the world” and “Ham’s curse is the reason Africans were enslaved.” What is a girl to do knowing she begins curses with one hand and embodies them with the other?  There was nothing redeeming about my womanhood or my race in Scripture. Eurocentric depictions of the Divine didn’t help either. Sunday school Bibles, archeological documentaries, feature length films all created a white, male God and white, male figures.

But then I grew up. With a great deal of encouragement from incredible role models, I learned to study The Word on my own and found myself. 

I found myself in an African princess who saved the life of Moses by defying the decree of her father Pharaoh. Yes, a princess only too happy to work across ethnicity, class and politics to form a sisterhood that would let Moses live. I found myself in an African woman who would lead a people to freedom alongside Moses (and once again save his life). And they weren’t the only women I found. Far from being naturally inferior beings, I discovered women who took risks.  I found myself between Ruth and Orpah, one who stayed the other who travelled- both making the best decision for her life. I found myself between Vashti and Esther- one who walked away from the palace to preserve her self-dignity and the other who risked her life for the sake of her community. I found myself in Deborah who would lead a battle, Jael who would finish it and Abigail who would stop one from occurring. I found myself in Eve who was not created as an inferior version of Adam but was formed purposefully by the hand of the Divine to be a good and accurate reflection of Truth and Love. I found that Ham wasn’t cursed at all.

My feminism began the moment I learned the Bible was not shaming me. If the Divine was not ashamed of me, I need not be shamed either. These women pointed the way toward a womanhood that was not dependent on male acceptance of who I am or what I want. In them I found courage to choose my own way, to defy social convention, to resist oppression,

Before I knew it, I was maturing. My feminism was finding the intersection of race. It was exploring my own privileges while acknowledging the oppressions. It was expanding to include all women, all races, all classes, all forms of social injustice. It was expanding to seek equality, wholeness, rightness- shalom. It’s still expanding as I walk with friends down intersections unknown to me.

But there are some things I know for sure:

My feminism will always live at the intersection of race. It recognizes the Divine within all black women, all women of color, all women, all people. It doesn’t erase me from the Bible or make me the scourge of it. It proclaims the innate goodness of womanhood.

My feminism isn’t afraid of American history. Doesn’t erase my narrative from the American story. Doesn’t deny slavery, Jim Crow or their consequences for black women. Doesn’t diminish Jim Crow or its impact on black communities. Doesn’t ignore the social statistics of women of color and the ways our suffering lives on.

My feminism breaks through despite being afraid. It builds movements and pushes them forward, thriving on the edges and at the margins. It seeks new ways of being. It imagines beyond what it can see. It’s rooted and prophetic, often risking materialistic desires. It doesn’t need to step on others to rise.

My feminism loves as hard as it fights. It basks in the glow of sisterhood. It nurtures relationships. It gives generously, protects fiercely, laughs freely, weeps courageously, dances with child-like abandon. Like shared wine and chocolate cheesecake with her best friends at midnight, it drinks deeply.  It lives.

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