The Book of Ruth and the Bechdel Test

12 Aug

In church last Sunday, I didn’t know what was going to happen when during the reading part, two women stepped up to the altar and another to the pulpit. They began to read parts from the first chapter of the book of Ruth, one as the narrator, one as Ruth, and one as Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi.

When Ruth said to Naomi, who has just been cranky and bitter with Ruth in her grief, “No, wherever you will go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people will be MY people, and your God will be MY God,” I began to cry.

I didn’t exactly know why until this week I was reading further in the book of Ruth for my sermon this weekend, and remembered the Bechdel test. This test is, briefly, passed, if two named characters who are women speak for any length of time about something other than a man.

It is shocking how many TV shows and movies fail this test, and it’s even more shocking when you read the reasons given for this…that the “audience” (you know, the dummies like me who consume the media) won’t pay for it if women are talking to each other about….well, “whatever it is that woman talk about.”

In recent years this has been proven to be false, because of movies like Frozen, The Heat, Brave, and Pitch Perfect, which grossed a stunning amount of money as well as the others that passed the test. Nevertheless, when you start looking at it, it’s exceedingly rare both in pop culture and in the Bible to see a story that passes the test.

And I think the reason I started crying in church is the same reason that I started crying in the movie “Brave,” that it’s so rare to see someone like me depicted on screen or in a story having a complex life, conversations, relationships, friendships, with women. You know, like we’re PEOPLE. And when I started thinking about it, my favorite stories both in the culture and in the Bible are the rare ones where we get a glimpse into womens’ lives, not just as they relate to men, but as they relate to each other and as they are portrayed as full human beings. Like I said, it’s shockingly rare.

The only other stories that questionably pass the Bechdel test in the Bible are:

1. The apocryphal book of Tobit, in which a woman is reproached by her father’s maids (who are unnamed)
2. The gospel of Mark, when the women murmur to each other, “Who will roll the stone away?”
3. The gospel of Luke, when Mary and Elizabeth see each other and talk about their pregnancies (this one is arguable, because they are talking about boy babies, but I’m going to give it a pass because it’s such a long conversation about more than romantic partners)

That’s it.

We KNOW those stories are there. We know that, behind all those lists of kings and thrones and wars and power-grabbing, there were women, having full, complex lives. But we don’t hear the stories.

All the better to rejoice when we do, whether it be in Orange is the New Black (not for the faint of heart) or the Book of Ruth (ALSO, not for the faint of heart! Hello, Chapter 3!).

We can be bitter like Naomi, or we can go ahead and tell the stories that we can, and tell them wherever we can, and tell our own, too. And give our time (and our money) to those filmmakers who are brave enough to tell the truth about womens’ lives.

A story of children

17 Jul

Kara’s blog: A Beautiful Life

One of my dearest friends had an encounter that I wanted to share with you. I realize that it’s now a political situation, but it’s also about childrens’ lives. I can’t stop thinking about these children… I have met parents in Central America, and they do not love their children any less than American parents do. For a life to be so bad that you would send your baby to risk terrible things in order to have a small chance at a better life….it has to be pretty terrible.

I’m proud of the the Lutheran Church, because our shelter has housed these “border children” long before it was in the news. Because no matter what you think politically, these are children in danger, and we’re called as Christians (and also as human beings) to care for the least of these.


On my 39th Birthday

1 Jul


The older I get, the more I’m coming to realize the truth of this poem, and how Jesus never talks about “up in heaven.” Instead, he says “the reign of God has come close to you today!” My family went to Wild Goose this weekend and it comes home to me when I’m outdoors all weekend, listening to people talk about the work that’s being done and the work that’s yet to be done. I keep hearing, especially today, WHAT WE NEED IS HERE.

Lutheran Lent Part Two: BEST LENT EVER!

17 Mar

I’m having the best Lent EVER.

That’s a relative term, you understand.

Lent is usually fraught with all kinds of things…general busy-ness due to the sheer volume of worship services going up by 30% this year plus regular kid and family business.

And I usually tend to add on some kind of discipline that weighs on me, like a physical discipline or fasting from something or whatever it might be, so you can add in guilt to the equation. Even if I don’t “cheat” from whatever it is that I’m doing, I sure end up thinking about it a lot.

This year, in my quest to just BE, I’ve found out two things.

One, sometimes BE-ing is hard. I have indeed been tempted to turn this into a “have-to” kind of thing, like scheduling ten minutes to just BE. I’ve been hard on myself when my mind races, because I’m not just BE-ing like I said I would. Ridiculous. But true.

Two, it’s also been really awesome. By releasing myself from some weird pressure to DO something, I’ve created space for those things to actually happen. I’m enjoying sermons, both mine and not mine. I’m showing up on my yoga mat and running when it’s not crappy outside, just for fun.

I don’t know if I’ll do this every year, because I think disciplines are good…I think they help us convert and shed our skin to a NEW way of being, if that’s what needs to happen.

But this year, this is GOOD. I watched my favorite movie the other afternoon between meetings and was not at all surprised to see this wisdom at the end. I can do that too!

Ash Wednesday for Lutherans

5 Mar

sunsetSo, this year for Lent, I’m doing NOTHING.

Let me explain. One of my wonderful sister friends who is also a pastor is in a new parish this year. When you get into a new church, especially when they haven’t had a pastor for a while, they tend to want to DO a lot of things.

I think this is our impulse for Lent as well. Even knowing all the extra things I have to *do* in the 46 days before Easter (YES, there are 46! The Sundays count!), I still have the urge to add something on or give something up. This is fine. Some years, this has really worked for me.

But I don’t know about this year.

I said recently in a sermon that it’s been four funerals and a wedding in the first two months of the year, and that is true and exhausting. One of those funerals was my stepbrother, who was 36 years old. I’m tired, and I just simply don’t want add anything on or give anything up.

But that’s okay.

My prophetic friend who has the new church? She decided that instead of DOing, that maybe they should just BE. Maybe before jumping into adding new programs or making all kinds of plans that they should just simply BE together, in the presence of God.

She envisions Bible study and prayer, not as part of a program, but as part of being Jesus to each other. Simply BE-ing.

For this Lent, this seems right to me. I want to just BE. I’m going to show up for worship and lead it sometimes. I’m going to show up on my yoga mat each day. I’m going to read my scripture and meditate on what it means for that day. I might even fast. But the second that any of those things turns into a “HAVE TO” or a “MUST” or a “JESUS WON’T LOVE ME UNLESS I” I’m quitting. I’m going to stop, and just BE.

This strikes me as very Lutheran. It’s hard, but all we have to do for God to love us is BE. That’s it.

Years ago, a spiritual director and friend told me that if I couldn’t talk to God, maybe I could envision God as a color, and just sit in the presence of that color.

I saw the color of the sunset, reds and golds and oranges, and even though I couldn’t talk to God at that time in my life, I could sit there with God. I could move into God’s presence, that beautiful color. I could BE.

And so if this year is like that for you, this is what I invite you into: Don’t DO anything. NOTHING! Just BE.

Big Ol’ Advent Photo Project Roundup!

10 Dec

I’ve been taking pictures for the 3rd(?) Annual Advent Photo project, hosted by Rethink Church on Twitter and Instagram. The idea is that you create your own Advent calendar, making it an exercise in mindfulness, by snapping a picture each day that represents one word that you are given.

I LOVE this project because it does exactly what it’s supposed to do: make me mindful about Advent as I go about my day. So here are the first week’s photos for those of you not on Twitter or those other social media platforms:

Day One: GO When we were in Florida for Thanksgiving, we got to try paddleboarding for the first time. I’m SO hooked. There’s nothing I’ve experienced that’s more meditative than GO-ing along the water like this, through the mangrove tunnels and all.

Day Two: BOUND Fifteen years next year of being bound together, in the best possible way.

Day Three: PEACE I actually TOOK this photo off the dock in Florida as well. It was the sky after a giant, cracking storm, and it was that beautiful shade of grey that stretched on forever.

Day Four: TIME I noticed that pictures of my son, my brother, and my dad, all about the same age, were on my fridge. Time is a funny thing.

Day Five: FLOOD Out the car window on the way home. Unfortunately, flooding is not hard to find these days around my house.

Day Six: AWAKE I went to a pet store to get some cat wipes (don’t ask), and stopped to look at the sleeping birdies. Then, suddenly…

Day Seven: READY About to step out to lead worship. Stole, boots, and game face on.

Day Eight: WISDOM My ancient dog. She is blind, deaf, and while she had anxiety issues in her younger years, she’s pretty zen, now.

Day Nine: DELIGHT Once a year, you can go to the Fox Theatre in Atlanta for free, sing Christmas carols, and watch a movie. AND there’s snow in Georgia! Delightful.

I’ll do another roundup in another nine days or so. It’s not too late to join in…it will help you slow down, and, literally, focus. (See what I did there?)

Another look at Advent

18 Nov

ned stark

It sure is.

Advent is breathing down our necks, all of us. Pagan friends debate solstice gifts and traditions. Clergy types stress about each word for our worship services. If you live in America, there’s an almost irresistible pull towards the Target store, Cyber Monday, buying our pink aluminum trees.


Do you think I’m going to get all preachy about consumerism?

Nope. I’m not. And here’s why. I was ready to get my Advent on. I was ready to do my fourth consecutive year of the Advent Conspiracy, where we talk about how the gift of clean water is perhaps more important that that sweater she doesn’t need or that extra toy he won’t notice.

It IS.

But then I read this. Go read it. I’ll wait.

I got to meet Jenee on a Chickpastor cruise put on by the Revgals a few years ago, where we studied preaching texts with her for a few days on a wobbly Carnival ship. She’s got a way of making you see things differently, and much of that is due to her son, who has autism. She told us that when she read the Bible story of the demonic man screaming at Jesus, she read it as the demon’s mother.

And now she’s changed my preachiness about Advent to…something else.

I’m still gearing up for the assault of the ads. I’m still hoping to give to people who have less than nothing instead of giving too much. I want to walk through Target and only buy what I need (still working on that one!) But it’s been reframed.

Instead, what I want to do is look for miracles where I might least expect them. I want to celebrate consumerism, if it means that a young man might have a better life. I want to peek into mangers all over the place, searching for that baby, that miraculous child, that light in the darkness.


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