Nameless – The Chapel

Below is the video and script for my thesis project, a 30-minutes chapel service called Nameless, held Monday, March 3, 2014.

Juliana Bateman– Samson’s wife (Judges 14)
Natalie Renee Perkins – Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:34-40)
Ranwa Hammamy – Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2:1-10)
Ashley Birt – Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:15-26)
Jessica Christy – Job’s wife (Job 2:1-10)
Shamika Goddard – the witch of Endor (1 Sam 28:3-25)
Emily Hamilton – the woman from Tekoa (2 Sam 14:1-22)
Sandra Rivera – widow of Zarephath (I Kings 17:8-16)
Lindsey Nye – guard
AJ Turner – the narrator
Zach Walter– the rhythm

longer view

As people enter, Lindsey will be seen guarding the Tomb of the Unnamed Woman.

 Zach will be lightly playing a military beat on the cajon.  

 

AJ:

Samson told his father and mother, “I saw a Philistine woman at Timnah; (Juliana perks up) now get her for me as my wife.’ But his father and mother said to him, ‘Is there not a woman among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?’ But Samson said to his father, ‘Get her for me, because she pleases me.’ His father and mother did not know that this was from the LORD; for he was seeking a pretext to act against the Philistines.

As he returned to Timnah, a young lion roared at Samson, who tore the lion apart with his bare hands. But he did not tell his father or mother what he had done. Then he went down and talked with the woman, (Juliana perks up again, a little) and she pleased Samson. After a while he returned to marry her, and he turned aside to see that there was honey in the carcass of the lion. He scraped it out into his hands, and went on, eating as he went.

His father went down to the woman, (Juliana a little less enthused) and Samson made a feast there as the young men were accustomed to do. When the people saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him. Samson said to them, ‘Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can explain it within the seven days of the feast, I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments. But if you cannot, you shall give the same to me.’ So they said, ‘Ask your riddle.’ He said, ‘Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet.’

But for three days they could not explain the riddle.

On the fourth day they said to Samson’s wife, (Juliana visibly and audibly annoyed) ‘Coax your husband to explain the riddle to us, or we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?’ So Samson’s wife…

Juliana:

Sheesh.

AJ:

  …wept before him, saying, ‘You hate me; you do not really love me. You have asked a riddle of my people, but you have not explained it to me.’ He said to her, ‘Look, I have not told my father or my mother. Why should I tell you?’ She wept before him every day that their feast lasted; and because she nagged him, on the seventh day he told her the answer. Then she explained the riddle to her people. The men of the town said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,  ‘What is sweeter than honey?  What is stronger than a lion?’

And he said to them, ‘If you had not ploughed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle.’

Juliana:

Seriously?!? (stands, begins ranting)

AJ:

Then the spirit of the LORD rushed on him, and …. (Juliana confronts him) … WHAT?

Juliana:

“Samson’s wife” this and “Samson’s wife that.”

AJ:

That’s who you are… isn’t it?

Juliana:

I have a name! Without me, this whole stupid vendetta against my people wouldn’t be close to fulfilled. Without me, there is no story.  Samson gets a name. Even his second wife, Delilah, gets a name. What’s MY name?

(AJ is visibly shaken with the realization, sits)

Juliana:

All I did was fall in love with a handsome foreigner. I didn’t know I was going to be used. I didn’t know I was going to be accused of being unfaithful and deceitful just to further some warrior’s tale. The least you could do is the courtesy of a name. What’s my name? WHAT’S MY NAME?

(whisper, in time with drum) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?

Ashley:

I supported my husband Lot when he asked us to leave my home. Of course I turned back to look once more on Sodom, the town I loved. I sacrificed my life for my husband and daughters, whose own future was uncertain in these terrible times, whose lives I could have protected. But you only call me Lot’s wife. What’s MY name?

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?

headstonesRanwa:

I saved a Hebrew child in an act of civil disobedience, knowing my father had ordered all the Hebrew children to be killed. I raised him like my own son, and risked further exposure when I let him go to his people to lead them out of Egypt. Without Moses, there is no Exodus. But you only call me Pharaoh’s daughter. What’s MY name

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?

Jessica:

I lost everything too. I lost my home, my friends, my children, my livelihood too. I stood by my husband Job through all of the pain and suffering. I was angry at God too, but I also remained faithful to my husband and to my God. But you only call me Job’s wife. What’s MY name?

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?

Shamika:

What people forget is that Saul came to me. He sought counsel, and even though I eventually recognized him, I saw how terrified he was, and I not only helped him seek wisdom from the spirit of his father, I fed him. Without me, Saul might not have become a great ruler. But you only call me the Witch of Endor. What’s MY name?

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?

Emily:

I stood before King David to lobby him on behalf of Joab. I alone was strong enough to stand before the king, using my wits to political advantage. And I wanted to – I wanted to ask this king why he had planned destruction of the people of God. I was a powerful political voice for my time, but you only call me the woman of Tekoa. What’s MY name?

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?

Sandra:

I was a widow without family or means, the poorest of the poor, when Elijah arrived in my town. He demanded of me a meal, when I could not even feed myself or my young son. Yet this man was compelling, and I did feed this stranger, who went on to become a beloved prophet and miracle worker. But you only call me the widow of Zarephath. What’s MY name?

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?

Natalie:

My father was returning, triumphant from battle. How could I know he had made a vow to God that would put my life in jeopardy? I only wanted to welcome him home, but he blamed me for bringing him low, when I was the one to be sacrificed. I lost my life because of my father, but you only call me Jephthah’s daughter. What’s MY name?

(joins whisper) What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name? What’s my name?

Lindsey:

(stops marching as guard) What of all the other unnamed women? The widows? The wives? The daughters? The sisters? The lovers? The sick? The faithful? The outspoken? What of their names?

All:

  (joins whisper, which now gets LOUDER) What’s my name? What’s My Name? WHAT’S MY NAME?

SILENCE.

Natalie moves to “her” headstone, places a rose, and sings “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”. At end, Zach begins to drum a heart beat.

 

Kimberley:

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, to remember these women.

These women – who walked among us.

(Juliana places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone)

These women – who lived and breathed, who loved and lost.

(Ashley places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone)

These women – who played as young girls, who learned to cook and sew, who learned to love their family and their God.

(Ranwa places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone)

 These women – who felt and thought and sang and prayed.

(Jessica places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone)

 These women – who made choices.

(Shamika places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone)

These women – who were chosen.

(Emily places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone)

These women – who are only known in relation to someone else.

(Sandra places rose and sits at ‘her’ headstone; Lindsey sits near the tomb of the unnamed woman.)

  These women lived in a long ago time in a far away place… but they have been living in me for nearly three years. Their stories – their heartbreak, their pain, their suffering, and their joy – have filled my thoughts. I want to stand next to Lot’s wife as she makes her final goodbyes to the home she loved. I want to comfort Samson’s wife as she finds herself torn between the men of her family and the man she loves. I want to hold Jephthah’s daughter to shield her from her father’s shocking pronouncement. I want to stroke their hair and hold their hands and call them by name.

But we have lost their names, and with them the fullness of their stories.

In this holy book, this Word of God, women are largely unnamed, unnoticed, unremarkable.

But let us be clear. God didn’t do this. This is not God’s problem. We did this to each other. Over centuries and millennia, through tellings and retellings, through writing and redacting, through additions and deletions, women’s names got left on the cutting room floor.

What we are left with is a text that along with serving as inspiration, is a model of how we are to live with each other. This model, which says it’s okay not to name women, even women without whom the story wouldn’t happen. This model, which says it’s okay to withhold names as long as the woman has no family or no means of support. This model, which says it’s okay to rape and dismember, as long as the woman is a concubine. This model, which finds no reason to name daughters who don’t obey… or daughters that do. This model, which says women do not actually get counted, but simply come along, among the masses. This model, which says even powerful and influential women don’t need to be remembered by name.

You might think that God is okay with it. But God didn’t do this. We did this to each other.

And God’s not okay with it.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who gave their lives in the Triangle Shirt Factory fire, or in the name of women’s suffrage, or in one of the many devastating wars we have fought, or in back alley abortion clinics.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who cross the borderlands and give up their given names in order to escape the notice of INS officials.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who are losing their lives while protesting in the streets of Turkey and the Ukraine and Venezuela.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who have been sold into slavery or the sex trade.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who have been raped and who are shamed into hiding the truth of their trauma.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who sleep on the steps outside our buildings and whose basic needs cannot be met by a system that is increasingly ignoring them.

God’s not okay with our not knowing the names of the women who serve us and care for us and protect us every day – the woman at the front desk, the housekeeper, the visiting nurse, the beat cop, the barista, the cashier, the soldier.

These women have names. They have stories. They have influence. But they too are in danger of not being remembered, of joining the unnamed in the great cloud of witnesses.

But we don’t have to keep the cycle going. The scribes and clerics gave us this sacred text, full of women placed in only one particular part of the story, known only in relation to someone else, known only for a place where they existed, known only by the terror of their texts. These scribes and clerics gave us a model we must reject. What happens when we actually speak their stories? Phyllis Tribble suggests that we must speak for these women, to “interpret against narrator, plot, other characters, and the Biblical tradition – because they have shown … neither compassion nor attention.”

Imagine if we give them our attention – how much harder it would be for us to accept some of the situations the Bible describes for us. What if we knew that Jephthah’s daughter was musical and had learned new songs to play for her father when he returned from war? What if we knew that the widow of Zarephath had been known to bake the best bread in town, back when there was plenty? What if we knew that Pharoah’s daughter found out she could not bear children of her own yet loved them desperately? If we had stories like these, suddenly, we might not accept the fate of these women – we might not accept that they weren’t that important to the stories in which they appear, and we would not accept that we should not call them by name. Just as we cannot accept the damage and disregard namelessness does to women today.

Today, let us make a change.

tomb  Dearly beloved, let us pray.

God of many names known and unknown,
hear our sorrow as we mourn these unnamed women…
in their death, we are all diminished…
their stories are alive, but all is not well.
Hold us as we take one step today to right this wrong,
to stand for these women,
to hear their stories and bear witness to their power,
to feel their presence and confess their present reality.
God, be with us in our struggle to make sure everyone is known,
to show even the long forgotten their inherent worth and dignity.
Bless us, God, with ever opening and softening hearts
as we remember the women.

Amen.

 

We will never know the names of these unnamed women in the Bible – those are lost to history. But there are names of women who have touched our lives that should not be forgotten. They are mothers, and aunts, and cousins. They are teachers, and counselors, and neighbors. They are activists, and preachers, and thinkers. We have all been touched by the lives of incredible women, without whom our own stories would not progress. Let us celebrate and name those women – let us turn this tomb of unnamed women into a space of remembering women and their names.

Folks are invited to write these names on stickers we pass out, and place them on the tomb. Meanwhile, the beat changes from heartbeat to an Afro-Caribbean rhythm.

As people gather, Ranwa leads us in Israel Naughton’s “I Am Not Forgotten”

named 

Kimberley offers a loving benediction.

 

 named with bread and roses

named - mom

 

One Comment

  1. Pingback: STLT#97, Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child – Notes from the Far Fringe

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