#momtheology: Jael the Kenite and the ‘Me Too’ Hashtag

In the days of Jael, caravans ceased

and travelers kept to the byways…

Most blessed of women be Jael …

She put her hand to the tent peg

and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;

she struck Sisera a blow, she crushed his head,

she shattered and pierced his temple.

~Judges 5:6,24,26

Several years ago, at the suggestion of a spiritual guide, I got back into jogging. I woke early every morning and went out on the Spring Creek bike path near our condo and I ran until I was tired, then came back home. More than just exercise, it was a way to sort through what was in my head; to deal with my anxieties, worries, fears. And it worked. I would say that it turned out to be sound advice to run.

But I noticed something every morning. I’d get about a quarter mile from my front door, accelerate up a berm on the trail, and then, struck with some sense of fear, I’d turn around and look behind me, expecting to find someone there. And not just anyone, but an assailant – someone who might push me down and harm me.

I’d think it was just a fluke deal, except it happened every day, and always at that same spot on the trail. I put the image out of my head each day when I got home figuring I was just paranoid or being too sensitive.

But at some point, after weeks of this sensation, I told a clergy friend. “Am I crazy?” I asked, after telling her my story. No, she affirmed. She, too, had experienced this fear and dread when walking alone.

I’m not going to assume this experience is universal, but it seems common enough. To walk or run alone as a woman is to tango with the risk of harm to one’s well-being.

I hadn’t thought about that visceral experience on the bike trail, nor the scripture from the Old Testament book of Judges that I quoted above, in quite some time. But something triggered those recollections. And it is something that has maybe triggered other women’s memories this week, too.

If you hadn’t guessed it, “me too” is trending on social media. This originated after allegations were made that Harvey Weinstein, cofounder of Miramax, had sexually harassed countless women and raped several others, including prominent actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow.

To further exacerbate this recent news, recorded footage of Weinstein harassing women was released and subsequently denied by the accused.

This possibly could be overlooked, explained away as the everyday debauchery of Hollywood, but unfortunately it is a narrative that sounds eerily familiar to another misogynist harasser with power and money. That’s right, I’m talking about President Donald Trump.

So many of us are raising our voices to say it is not okay. It wasn’t then, it isn’t now, and it should not be a part of our narrative in my daughter’s future.

Some of us, you might say, are praying for a reversal.

And for me, all day yesterday, as I read my friends’ "me toos" I thought of a lesser known scripture from the Old Testament.

If you aren’t familiar, during the time of ancient Israel when a Prophetess named Deborah served as judge, the Israelites were being oppressed by the Canaanites in Hazor. Deborah learned that King Jabin’s men, led by a soldier named Sisera, would be heading her way, so she alerted Barak from Kedesh to be ready with more arms, more men, more horses. Sisera was surprised when he advanced Mount Tabor and found his enemy prepared for his arrival. His fleet was destroyed, and the mighty oppressor fled the battlefield on foot, hoping for safety with a neutral family of peasants in the tribe of Heber. Instead, he met his end. Asking Jael, the wife of Heber, for water, instead he was given a warm cocktail. Hoping to rest on his sojourn back home, instead he meets a swift death, his brain penetrated by a humble tent peg. Who could have seen that coming?

Jael_tuant_Sisera_01.jpg

I’m not a man-hater. It’s probably silly that I even have to make that disclaimer. Because highlighting unacceptable behavior on the behalf of some men does not indict all. But it does open eyes that might deny that such a reality exists. I mean, what would cause millions of women to share the two words “me too” publicly, in a flood of Facebook posts?

Here’s what I recall from my own historical narrative of compromised safety and sexual harassment.

I remember hanging around a campfire at the Lake of the Ozarks with my boy cousins and my grandparents’ hired hand, a man who went by the name ‘Dody.’ I thought nothing of it. We kicked logs into the fire and he told a few jokes. But later, when I went into the house, my grandmother was overly concerned. “I don’t want you alone with him,” she said firmly. “He’s not family, he works for us.” I puzzled at her fear. Why were my boy cousins allowed at the fire and I wasn’t? Why was an untrustworthy man allowed to be around the house – if his presence around her granddaughters scared my grandma so much?

I was maybe eleven years old then.

I remember my first supervisor, or one of them, when I was in high school. He was a middle-aged pool salesman, who jokingly suggested one day that I wear something more “low cut” to work.

I was fifteen.

I remember a peer my junior year in high school calling me over to the lockers so he could make a lewd comment about what I was wearing. That day, as per my punky-usual attire, I was dressed in thrift store Levis and a vintage polo shirt. I remember feeling like no matter what you do, as a young woman, you are at the mercy of objectification. I fell to tears in my classroom across the hall.

I was sixteen.

There are other stories, too. In my early twenties, I left an iconic bar in Austin where I had anticipated seeing a quintessential Austin performer, Toni Price, because an overly intoxicated man was squeezing through the crowd simply to brush up against all the women gathered there. I sacrificed that fun night out because I did not want to be harassed.

We may not live in a world of ancient Prophetesses, desert tent-dwellers, and songs heralding the deadly tent peg of a peasant woman.  But I do think for some of us when we proclaim “me too” we are actually praying for a reversal of power. We are tired of expecting compromised safety is the norm, and like Jael’s tent peg, our enumerated “me toos” say: it’s time to listen - we mean it this time.

#momtheology: Mother's Day and the Myth of St. Mom

  Mother with Thorns and Turkey from  Mother  by  Judy Olausen

 Mother with Thorns and Turkey from Mother by  Judy Olausen

When I was growing up, there weren’t many women from the Bible elevated in sermons. Yet I could always count on the Mother’s Day service to include a reading from Proverbs Chapter 31 followed by an oration praising the noble wife presented and extolling her domestic perfection.

Because of this yearly tradition, there was a season of my young adulthood in which I resented the proverbial “perfect woman.” She seemed to have all the qualities I lacked. She was an early riser, a tidy housekeeper, and the bearer of many children. She mystified me, I guess. Was she a spokeswoman to represent the important work of womanhood? Or was she an unrealistic figure of excellence who would haunt me forever?

I have since come to see her as both. She is at once an exemplary, model woman and an exaggerated, mythical creature.

When I say "myth" I am not disrespecting sacred scripture, nor downplaying this figure’s power. Karen Armstrong, author and religious scholar, calls something a "myth" if it happened once and also happens all the time. [1] I find this definition fitting for our heroine, the Proverbs 31 Wife, because she was likely a composite made up of real traits that existed long ago … and her characteristics also echo now into our contemporary day and age.

This “myth” language gives me permission to accept our ancient Wonder Woman not by dismissing her qualities, but by holding her lightly—playing, even, with the imagination of her, contemporized. I invite you to join me as I lift up motherhood with the help of biblical wisdom.

For instance, the writer of Proverbs praises "the capable wife" (verse 15) because she “rises while it is still night.” But I say unto you, Modern Mom: “Blessed are you who wakes at 3 a.m., 5 a.m., 5:30, 6:30 (and so on…), yet still adorns her fussy infant with affection come morning.”

Or as the biblical writer in verse 16 extols the woman who “considers a field and buys it” and “who plants a vineyard with her own hands.” Lo, I say unto you, Mom of 2017: “Praised be your name when, though you are ragged, you miraculously remember to pay your mortgage each month!” And, likewise: “Blessed are thy hands that succeed at feeding your toddler food of nutritional value!”

As I revisit Proverbs 31 now, I’ve noticed some things that didn’t stand out before. For example, it seems that the woman introduced is a woman of means. She considers investments, she has support staff to carry out her household chores. However, these are not the root of her fulfillment.  Instead, verses 26-28 remind us what gives mama her true wealth, her real power. The writer says of this amazing woman: “She opens her mouth with wisdom … her children rise up and call her happy.” What is her wisdom? What makes her happy? The answer stems from the things that cannot be bought or brokered; it rests in the realm of home and hearth, the community of wise women, and the support of a loving, faithful marriage.

And so, I second those words and I say unto you: Mothers, wherever you are, glory to you for the wisdom you share with one another, for the ways you tend to your children’s hearts so that they feel loved, safe, and secure, and for the times they catch you truly delighting in them, in yourself, and in your life ... and they rise to regard you as happy.                

[1] Karen Armstrong, The Case for God (New York, 2009) p. xi.

Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

Mama Bear Books: 8 Feminist Perspectives to Devour Now

Throughout my life, I would have always described myself as a feminist, but I didn’t read feminist works or take a women’s lit class in college. I didn’t think of it much beyond, “Yes, I believe women deserve equal opportunities to men. Being a woman does not make me lesser.”

It wasn’t until these last few years that I’ve really started to consider it more. It must have something to do with how freeing our 30s are. Then, Emma Watson (can I get a shout out for Hermione?!?) created a book club on Goodreads at the beginning of 2016 with the intention of reading and sharing feminist works. And so, my real feminist education began.

I need this education in women’s voices, not just for myself, but for my daughters AND my sons, and for my future students. With each book I read, I find myself considering new things, feeling emboldened and sometimes outraged, and also incredibly proud to be able to call myself a woman alongside these women. And I wear the label feminist with a boldness I never have before. My advice is to read We Should All Be Feminists first, and then keep going! There is so much more out there; these are just the books that resonated with me the most in my first year of feminist reading. Happy reading!

8 Feminist Perspectives to Devour Now

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Pick up copies of this beautiful essay and pass it out like a feminist super hero.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: Perspectives on feminism, race and pop culture. Very thought provoking.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed: A collection of letters and advice issued in the Dear Sugar column. No holds barred and delightful.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: Do you want to know what life is like for women outside of the U.S.? Read this book.

Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein: If you have CHILDREN between the ages of 0 and 22ish, read this book!!

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon: Love the approach this book took to her life story. She is a serious badass and my hero!

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou: A beautiful memoir about how her mother’s absence and presence so greatly affected her.

Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun & Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes: She beautifully gives us all permission to be ourselves!

Lindsey Sinnwell is a married mother of four living in the suburbs in Iowa and will be contributing a monthly literary reflection on the Mama Bear Blog. After spending 12 years as a stay-at-home mom, she is returning to her alma mater to pursue her teaching certification in English. She is much cooler than she sounds and is always looking for new book-loving friends. You can find her on Instagram at @mrssinnwellreads.

5 LESSONS A MIDWESTERN MOM CAN LEARN FROM HER EAST AFRICAN SISTER

5 LESSONS A MIDWESTERN MOM CAN LEARN FROM HER EAST AFRICAN SISTER

"Just as it’s essential to acknowledge what’s broken and do what we can to help relieve suffering, even if it’s a world away, it’s also important to pay attention to the beauty present as well. As I’ve traveled through East Africa for both work and pleasure, I’ve grown to admire much about the way women cultivate community and raise their sons and daughters. In fact, I believe a Midwestern mama can learn a lot about motherhood in the cradle of humanity."

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Lessons Learned From My First Months As Podcast Host

I was doing a little editing on the podcast that we will drop on Monday and I just was kind of stopped in my tracks a little bit. Tabitha, our guest, is full of wisdom and kindness and fierceness. She shares these traits with our other guests. It occurred to me that though 2016 has been a really hard year in many different ways (or maybe just a hard few final months—it’s hard to gain the perspective when it still feels like we are in it) I have learned and grown because of this podcast and the women I’ve been blessed to spend time with every week.

We’ve said it before on the podcast but it’s true, our culture tries telling us that as women we are to be in a constant state of competition with one another. That there is some destination that only allows one woman to have it all, this woman will of course reach this destination with the best style and most flawless face, hair, and nails. What a total bill of goods we are sold. Though the last handful of years have been full of examples in my own personal life about the actual truth being that when we help another woman succeed we are in turn paving the way for our own success—this podcast has proved it to be true every Monday and every Wednesday.

Leslie and I hope that by giving our guests a bigger platform we can help them succeed, whether it’s by selling more books or by garnering more donations for their non profit or whatever their pursuit. We also hope we can just make them feel successful for an hour at the very least. That we can give them the little confidence boost that comes when someone says, “You are worthy of our time.” And in turn our guests help the podcast. They tell their friends and family that they’ve recently sat down with a few women—one of whom laughs maybe a little too hard and too often (that’s me) and the other who is the epitome of style, class, and perfect English (that’s Leslie). Women helping women helping women.

For a long time I pictured the glass ceiling shattering around one woman with her fist raised, bold enough to climb the ladder and just crazy enough to believe she was worthy of constant ascension. Now I know better. Now I know that wherever a glass ceiling is shattered there too are the hundreds of women who made the moment possible. The ones who silently did more work than her male counterparts just to look competent. The ones who boldly stood up for herself against sexism and misogyny. The ones who promoted other women to higher echelons within the company or who pushed the ideas of women to the front of the business model. The moms who raised these women to believe in themselves, to stand up for themselves,and to nurture their female friendships. This podcast is a microcosm of that truth—we get where we’re going because of the millions before us and the millions still to come.

Thank you so much for joining this tribe of glass shatterers in 2016. My resolution for 2017 is to continue to bring you the stories of women who are inspiring a tide of other women to live joyfully and with great compassion, knowing that behind every great woman is a hundred more encouraging her and holding her accountable to her very best self.

Happy New Year, friends.

-Tesi