Our next post for Women’s History Month centers of how seminary is a blessing and a curse for many – a blessing in that it gives you the chance to intensely study your faith but a curse in that doing so you shake your spiritual foundation to its core. In a excerpt from her coming book, One Coin Found: How God’s Love Stretches to the Margins last week’s author – Rev. Emmy Kegler – shares her struggle of how to talk about God when so many other’s God-talk is hateful, dismissive, and violent. Please read, comment, and share.
Francisco Herrera, PhD student and Interim Editor
In my second year of seminary, I stopped speaking of God.
Talking about God seemed an exercise in futility. All I saw was philosophical babble that had, at best, stopped caring about application and practice, and more often, was fully culpable in the systems that had contributed to the suffering and death around me. The God of my Christian ancestors might have been rich in interpretation, but the God of American religion was distant, domineering, destructive—and male.
I saw God clothed in skin God never knew: lily-white, pure as snow. I saw that the God of America could not be the God of a black Democratic president. The God who had brought the Israelite children out of slavery in Egypt was coming to look far more like the Romans who killed the Son than the Hebrews who had borne him.
I saw God used to throw aside science, to ignore the cries of creation, to stifle the shouts of the oppressed. The American church proclaimed that faith was a self-alignment with right doctrine, a confession that switched the eternal railroad track from Hell to Heaven, but made no alterations in the journey here on earth.
I saw God used to manipulate and destroy. I heard that God was a God of righteousness, of expectations, of swift vengeance. This God would not tolerate insubordination. Those who could not obtain and preserve their own purity were already forsaken.
I saw God used to sanction the actions of men. I heard that God was trampling out the blood of the conquered, not only masculine but dominant, militant, eternally victorious. The American church promised that God would dress us in holy armor and guarantee the conquest of our enemies.
I saw God turned from source of love to the reason for hate.
I thought I would not speak of God anymore. But then in me echoed the words of Jeremiah: If I say I will not mention the Lord, or speak any more in God’s name, then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones… I did not speak of the domineering and distant God, who meted out judgements from His throne on high. That God had no goodness for me. But that same word “God” that soured in my mouth in class and mocked me in every paper was the God who met me in the Scriptures, a God I needed and craved. That God, the real God, stood in stark contrast to all the offerings of the religion that devoured the people on the margins of life.
The God of the Scriptures came close enough to touch the earth. At the beginning of it all, the spirit of God was a wind that soared over the deep, a breath that stirred the waters into waves. God knelt in the dust and knit together a creature made of earth—the creature who would become our ancestor, we broken and beautiful creatures made of the same stuff as dust and stardust. Again and again God appeared: a voice, a messenger, a promise, a promise, a promise to us who had wandered away or been chased off. When the people cried out in slavery, God was close enough to act. God turned water into blood and dust into gnats and nothingness into frogs until the weight of God’s call for freedom hung in the air like death and Pharaoh said Get out. Get out, and don’t come back. And again a wind moved over the waters, and again dry land appeared.
God stayed close, too immense to be held and yet too loving to be gone. The God of the Scriptures pleaded until the divine voice cracked, begging our ancestors in the wilderness: I brought you out of slavery. Don’t chain yourself to other gods who will drain you dry. Don’t claim the reckless power of Egypt for yourselves, crushing your neighbor beneath the weight of your own supposed magnificence. I set you free. Try to stay there. Time and time again our cruelty cracked God’s heart, and time and time again God would not go. God had not set the world in motion only to disappear to the far reaches of the cosmos. There was no where, the psalmists found, that God could not be found too—not even in the seeming endless dark.
The God of the Scriptures, in fact, has met us clothed in darkness. God appeared not in a glorious golden tearing of heaven’s snow-white clouds but in startling places, fiery and dirty and shadowed. God burst into flame in the middle of a desert, an echoing voice from everywhere and nowhere: I Am Who I Am. God hid in cloud and lightning.
God has met us clothed in weakness. God stood on the side of the underdog, the minority, the slave, the oppressed. God cried out in the devastated voices of the prophets: The oppressed! The widow! The orphan! How have you gone so long and so far away from what it means to love the least? God closed the divine eyes and whispered a promise: the servant of God would be so tender that a bruised reed would not break under his feet, nor a dim wick be snuffed out by his hand.
God put on skin and walked among us, no less than perfectly human and yet so much more, his feet dusty with Judea’s sand, his cheeks a shining reflection of the desert’s heat.
When the Romans came to arrest him, he was indistinguishable from the Jews around him, and could only be betrayed with a kiss. When God died, the sky turned black and the curtain of the temple tore down the center. The body of God, forehead and feet, eyes and elbows, dreaded hair all wound up with dust and sweat and suffering—the flesh that had held the divine was empty, wrapped, hastily buried in a borrowed tomb.
And then God was up again, out in the world, untamed and uncontrollable. God walked through walls and cooked fish and held out wrists and feet still marred by nails. Resurrection had not taken away the pain, the wounds, the vulnerability. It had transformed them from death into new life. That was how Love had defeated Death; not in domination but in transformation. God was real, scarred, human—no lily-white perfection. This was no conquering force, no marching army. This was love at its finest and rarest and most raw.
This was a scrabbly God, gleaning what was dropped, picking the losing side every time.
This was a brown God, dressing in skin rich and dark.
This was a God who worked not with a commanding voice but in a whisper that was best heard in sheer silence.
(Excerpt from One Coin Found by Emmy Kegler copyright © 2019 Fortress Press. Posted by permission. No further reproduction or reposting is allowed without the written permission of the publisher.)
Emmy Kegler is the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Northeast Minneapolis and the founder and editor of Queer Grace. She is also a co-leader of the Queer Grace Community, an outreach ministry by and to LGBTQ+ Christians in the Twin Cities. She lives in Saint Paul with her wife Michelle and their two dogs and cat. Her first book, One Coin Found: How God’s Love Stretches to the Margins will be published this April.