Spirituality

Telling the Forbidden Truth

THE WOMEN IN Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith aren’t just frank. They are courageous, clever, and wildly passionate.

This anthology, edited by Erin S. Lane and Enuma C. Okoro, asks 40 women under 40 to respond to the question, “What taboos remain in the church at the intersection of faith and gender?” The result is a collection of stories by women of faith (Baptist, Presbyterian, Mennonite, Catholic, Unitarian Universalist, and more) in a variety of roles (pastor, mother, writer, teacher, student, and more).

The women share times they have felt shamed, alienated, discouraged, or alone as women seeking a home in the church. From addressing domestic violence to lust to pregnancy to the role of a woman pastor’s body, the stories are raw in the way first-person narrative calls upon honesty and vulnerability to trump perfect prose or style.

Anthologies often stick to one structural extreme: Either they are rigid and theme-driven, or loose and nomadic. Talking Taboo follows the latter. Lane’s introduction promises no arc of narrative, no solid take-away message. The stories are here, she writes, because women are agreeing to “speak for ourselves.”

The prompt “taboo” itself calls for a loose interpretation, for what is defined as taboo ultimately depends on both the writer’s and the reader’s cultural references and relation to faith. One reader may find Amy Julia Becker’s struggle to understand headship within marriage familiar, but Patience Perry’s call for faith-based menstruation rites shocking. Another reader may affirm Kate Ott’s understanding of sexual pleasure as divine, yet wonder why Amy Frykholm feels more empowered when she conceals her body behind a monk’s cloak.

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My 10 Favourite Books Of 2013

Jim Wallis’ Rediscovering Values - On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street, A Moral Compass for the New Economy: This book should come with a warning: It will upset you if you’re a fiscal conservative, but, if you are, you might want to give yourself this challenge. Wallis is as close to a ‘Dorothy Day’ as our generation has.

VIDEO: Poetry Reading by Yehoshua November

Yehoshua November, an award-winning Hasidic poet, has an uncanny way of finding the divine in everyday life. As Robert Hirschfield writes in “God ‘Beneath the Ordinary’” (Sojourners, January 2014), “November occupies…a world in which God dwells and moves in silence and mystery among people.”

Listen to November as he recites “Climbing,” one of several poems discussed in “God ‘Beneath the Ordinary.’"

 

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God 'Beneath the Ordinary'

Yehoshua November

I MEET Yehoshua November in an empty classroom in Touro College in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he teaches. The chairs and desks are piled to one side, like a barricade. We sit in a clearing beside the clutter, talking about his place as the only Hasidic poet—he is a 34-year-old member of the Lubavitch sect—on the American literary landscape, an entity ruled largely by secular academics far removed from the realities and sensibilities of ultra-orthodox Jewish observance and mysticism.

“They are the rabbis of poetry,” November laughs. He laughs so hard he doubles over in his chair. His laughter is as strange as it is infectious. Yet in all of God’s Optimism, his book that was short-listed for the 2010 LA Times Book Prize, there is not a single laugh line. His poems are serious, if lightly held narratives, some parable-like, most down to earth with a longing for heaven.

“Poetry is their vision of spirituality, their own religion, and they don’t want traditional religion brought in,” he says.

Even November’s long, reddish beard seems delighted at their rebellion against traditional religion. An antinomian Hasid and unashamed of it.

When I first read God’s Optimism, the poem I kept going back to was “Baal Teshuvas at the Mikvah” (baal teshuvas are secular Jews who return to religious observance), a poem of solidarity with those intimate others who came to Hasidism through the tunnel of the profane, commonly marked by drug use and sexual looseness, for the sake of spiritual passion held within a net of restrictions.

Sometimes you see them
in the dressing area
of the ritual bath,
young bearded men unbuttoning
their white shirts,
slipping out of their black trousers,
until, standing entirely naked,
they are betrayed by the tattoos
of their past life ...

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Removing Our Hats -- And Changing Everything

Little acts of kindness and love can have a profound impact. Ryan Jorgensen - Jorgo / Shutterstock

Desmond Tutu tells a story of when he was nine or 10 years old and he stood with his mother outside a building where she worked as a cook. This was 1940s apartheid South Africa, where black people were considered inferior in all respects. A lanky, white Anglican priest named Trevor Huddleston walked by in a long cassock, saw his mother, and doffed his hat to her.

The white man would have been expected to ignore the black woman, who amounted to nothing in her society. With one simple gesture, he went out of his way to tell her that her society had it all wrong and that she was equally valued and loved.

That moment made a profound impression upon Tutu, who wrote about it in his book, Made For Goodness

What seem like very small, ordinary acts often have immense and lasting impacts. And every interaction that we have — even with a stranger on the street — can leave some sort of mark, either helpful or hurtful.

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