Mary Magdalene

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​I have always been intrigued by Mary Magdalene, maybe because with all the followers of Jesus she kind of stood out. She wasn’t his mother or other family member; she wasn’t the daughter or spouse of one of his followers, but she seemed to drift in and out of the Gospels much the way the other Apostles did. She was from the same area as most of the Apostles, near the Sea of Galilee, probably from the fishing town of Magdala, which appears to give her its name.

While Jesus didn’t particularly send her on mission work away from him as he did with the other Apostles, she was there to witness His ministry and evangelize about it, traveling after the Resurrection to the far reaches of Gaul, preaching His Word there, and then spending her final years in prayer and contemplation in a cave in France, near Arles, called Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Prior to her thirty years of solitude, she preached and taught after arriving in a rudderless boat, showing us modern Catholics the inclusion of women preachers from the beginning. (One needs only look to St. Brigid and St. Hildegard of Bingen for two examples that Mary was not the only woman in this role). Her journey is not well documented, and as with much of her life is sometimes conflated with both Mary of Bethany and the sinful woman (from Luke’s Gospel). However, she is mentioned by name twelve times throughout all four Gospels suggesting that had she been anyone else, it would have been mentioned. It took until 1969 when the conflation was officially removed by Pope Paul VI and she was acknowledged on her own.

For a long time, and sometimes even today, she was thought to be a prostitute or the wife of Jesus, both of which are deemed historically inaccurate. On the other hand, she was beset by seven demons, all of which Jesus drove away. She may have chosen to follow him after he performed this miracle and returned her to herself. Either way, she appears to have been a part of his earthly ministry for most of his time and then after. Unfortunately, she left behind no writings of her own.

I also find the stories of her prominence in Jesus’ discipleship believable because of John and Paul’s depiction of her in such an important and dominant part of the resurrection narrative. I have observed both of them to be sexist and dismissive of women, and so I think their inclusion of Mary gives more weight to her role as well as a stronger plausibility in my mind. In fact, in the Gospel of John, he characterizes her as the first apostle.

In appearing in all four Gospels as she did, she is shown from different perspectives and parts of the whole story of what she witnessed. Being the earliest of the four, I’m more inclined to agree with Mark’s image of the empty tomb rather than some of the other representations.

She traveled alongside Jesus as he led his ministry both as witness and disciple. She isn’t seen in a woman’s role (as Martha and Mary were in their household). She also is not an elder wise woman or a mother like Elizabeth. She asks for little if anything unlike the mother of Apostles, James and John. In fact, Luke’s Gospel talks about her support of Jesus’ ministry financially.

She remained in Jerusalem and near to Jesus for the crucifixion, his burial, and resurrection. She is the one who discovered that his tomb was empty and was the first witness of that event, and upon further scrutiny discovered Jesus himself, although she did not recognize him at first. He directed her to return to the other apostles and announce his return. She was the first one to testify to his Resurrection, and in telling the Good News to the Apostles, she is rightly called the Apostle to the Apostles.

Her feast day is today, and a few of her patronages are close to my own heart. In addition to places she is patron of, she also watches over and intercedes for apothecaries, contemplative life, converts, and women.

Today’s Readings:

Collect 

O God, whose Only Begotten Son entrusted Mary Magdalene before all others with announcing the great joy of the Resurrection, grant, we pray, that through her intercession and example we may proclaim the living Christ and come to see him reigning in your glory. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
John 20:1-2, 11-18 

On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the Body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.”When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”Jesus said to her, “Mary!”She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,”and then reported what he told her.

Further reading:

Who was Mary Magdalene?
Unknown Role of Christian Women in the Early Church
Thoughts on Women in Ministry
Did the Vatican Hide Art that Depicted Female Priests?

Travel – Harriet Tubman – William Seward Statue, Schenectady, NY

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Statue of Harriet Tubman and William Seward installed at the Schenectady (New York) Public Library. Dedication May 17, 2019. (c)2019

Attending the dedication and unveiling of this new statue was an incredibly moving and surprisingly learning experience. I thought I knew who Harriet Tubman was and her place in history, but in listening to the speakers, the experts in African-American history and the history of Harriet Tubman in particular, I was more than a little surprised at how insufficient my knowledge of Harriet Tubman was. My knowledge was merely on the periphery, and lacked a more indepth substance of her life and who she really was. I was pleased to have had the opportunity to impart this new found information on someone at the statue the following day.
Unless we’ve taken electives in high school or college that focus on the African-American experience, much of this substance is missing. I knew the basics. My daughter is currently studying for her seventh grade finals which include the Civil War, and I don’t think that Harriet Tubman is included much beyond those bare facts that I remembered. Her knowledge (and mine prior to this event) could fit into a thimble.

This would be a travesty in any study on the plight of the slaves, but it is even more so in my home state of New York, where Harriet Tubman eventually made her home.

Put simply, her life was a miracle. She was born on a Maryland plantation where her parents were slaves and where she was forced to work as well as being loaned out. She was named Araminta and called Minty. He didn’t change her name to Harriet until later on in her life, naming herself after her mother.

She was hit on the head by a large object by a slave owner in town. She was unconscious and bleeding, and it is believed that she sustained a concussion. From that time on, she would involuntarily fall asleep at all sorts of unpredictable times. She also had dreams and visions that she took as signs from G-d, calling them revelations. He guided her and she her people to the promised land of the North. She was often referred to as Moses because of her embracing of the Bible’s Exodus story.

Timeline of Harriet Tubman

She was illiterate, and never learned to read or write. I think that her statute outside a public library is such a testament to how far you can come and who you can be when you use whatever skills you have.

She made thirteen trips back and forth to get slaves north, her final rescue in 1860. Because of the Fugitive Slave Act, she brought the slaves in her charge including her parents further north to Canada, to St. Catherine’s where they lived for a time but found it too cold.

One of the things I didn’t know was her role in the Civil War after her time with the Underground Railroad. She was a cook, a nurse, scout and a spy. She carried a pistol. She guided a raid that liberated seven hundred slaves at Combahee Ferry, and that was after helping John Brown plan and recruit for his Harpers Ferry raid. Despite her service for the Union Army, she didn’t receive a government pension until 1899. She was also involved in women’s suffrage with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

She was unstoppable.

Harriet Tubman Historical Society

Harriet Tubman in Auburn, New York, 1911. Public Domain. (c)2019

William Seward, in addition to buying Alaska, was the governor of New York and the Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln. On the night of Lincoln’s assassination, he was also attacked as part of the same plot, and stabbed several times, but survived the attempted assassination and brutal assault.
He was an early abolitionist and provided monies for their works including the Stephen and Harriet Myers home in Albany, NY.

He and Harriet Tubman became close friends. Seward sold Harriet land in Auburn, New York where she settled and moved her parents there when it was relatively safe and St. Catherine’s became too cold. I’m not sure they found the Upstate New York climate much warmer than southern Canada. The land she owned became a refuge for her family and other former slaves. She sold some of it for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and founded a home for the aged for African-Americans. She lived there until her death in 1913. She was buried in Auburn with semi-military honors. 

She and Seward had become so close that she trusted he and his family to care for her niece while she continued her work as conductor on the Underground Railroad and her Union Army service, although the girl may have actually been Harriet’s daughter.

It was this friendship that formed the inspiration for the statue at the Schenectady Public Library.

Video of the Dedication

L-R, Top to Bottom: 1/2. Two views of Tubman-Seward Statue, 3. The three men who worked tirelessly to make this project happen, 4. Rev. Paul G. Carter, former pastor at the AME Zion Church in Auburn, NY, 5. Rev. Paul G. Carter, his wife and the sculptor with the statue, 6. The plaque on the statue, 7. Historian Marsha Mortimore with the statue.

Juneteenth

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Juneteenth is a celebration of African-American Emancipation. It commemorates the day in 1865 in Texas that General Gordon Granger read the proclamation declaring that ALL SLAVES ARE FREE. While Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in his Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 with an effective date of January 1, 1863 that did not include border states not in rebellion or Texas where slaveowners moved to escape the fighting (unless these slaves escaped to non-slave states).

Now, they were all free with all the rights and privileges of all Americans (except of course for the reality of being Black in America in 1865). 

One year later, in 1866, Freedmen celebrated the first anniversary of Juneteenth in Texas.

Contending with whites only spaces that continued for too many years, many pooled their money to buy land of their own in order to congregate and celebrate. Emancipation Park in Houston, Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia, and Emancipation Park in Austin are three of these places.

While celebrated in several states as a recognized holiday or observance, the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation is seeking an official designation of Juneteenth as an observation in all 50 states through Congress.

What is Juneteenth by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Juneteenth Holiday (from Vox)

Slate (from 2015): The Black American Holiday Everyone Should Celebrate But Doesn’t

Juneteenth Honors March to Freedom (from 2008)

From the television series, Black-ish:

Harriet Tubman – Reflection and Opinion (Cash Value: $20)

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Harriet Tubman postage stamp, 1978. Public Domain. (c)2019

I had intended to share a post about my attendance at the new Tubman-Seward statue dedication in upstate New York, and I will do that later in the week. But then with the announcement that the Tubman twenty dollar bill was postponed, I wanted ot share some of my thoughts o that, and that will follow, however these last two weeks have been noting short of coincidences if there really are such things.

Harriet Tubman was one of those historical figures remembered from childhood, the elementary grade lesson watered down and never addressed again.

When I saw the opportunity to attend the statue dedication, I took it, and I was moved beyond what I could have expected. So much so that the next day, I drove my family there. While we were there we met a woman and I got to share some information with her about Harriet and William Seward. She in turn told us about a food truck gathering with proceeds going to ARC. We went over, had a good lunch, and helped a great coase.

Then, yesterday I attended the last of a four week series at a retreat center. This one was called A Dreamer’s Mind, and the presenter began with the story of Harriet Tubman! I leaned even more than I’d learned at the dedication, and after all of these meetings with Harriet throughout the last few weeks, I know quite a bit more and I feel as though I’m carrying a small piece of her with me. Not a bad companion.

This was what I wrote at the first reflective time:

“Well, well, well, we meet again! LOL!

She’s everywhere for me recently. I have two blog posts that I’m preparing for and having just been to her statue at the library, she’s on my mind quite a lot in the last two weeks.”

And I think this is why when the decision to put Harriet on the $20 was reversed, or postponed or whatever the Secretary of the Treasury called it, it hit me a little harder than it normally would have. In fact, Harriet’s appearance on the $20 bill came up in the group conversation, and no one else had heard about the postponement except for me. It isn’t the same as others’, but sometimes I feel as though being so aware of what’s going on in the world is my cross to bear. It’s one anyway. A topic comes up, and I know something. Do I speak out? Or stay quiet as if this public information is a secret because I’m the only one in the room who’s heard it?

In this case, I spoke up. I usually speak up. I will admit to being snarky and just a little petty where the President’s involvement was concerned, and I apologized to the two women I was speaking to (although they didn’t disagree with my sentiment) and was able to say what I wanted to in a more diplomatic, all audience inclusive way.

I think the President’s a racist; at a minimum a bigot who believes every negative stereotype about minorities. I also think that since the President admires Andrew Jackson, he doesn’t want to replace him with a black woman. It’s really that simple. He could have taken the high road and said, ‘you know what, I didn’t make this decision, it was already set in motion, let it continue,’ but this President’s pettiness knows no bounds.

It’s not just that President Jackson was also a racist or even that he wasn’t a great president or stand out human being, but the fact that he perpetuated the genocide of millions of Native Americans by force marching them west, and not providing for them as promised in the treaties of the Grant Administration should be enough to keep him off the bill in the first place. White Europeans took this land. }That is our legacy. It doesn’t determine our future, but we need to acknowledge it, and at the same time acknowledge the Native Americans, not as a collective, but as individual tribes with different cultural and religious practices. They were here first, and it is our obligation as Americans to never forget their sacrifice. Despite being involuntary, it was still a sacrifice that every American should know.

What does this have to do with Harriet Tubman?

We acknowledge her existence in the way we water down what we deem too controversial. I’ve learned things in the past two weeks that I’ve never heard of about her, and she is taught in every school in America. She lived and died and is buried in my home state of New York. How did I not know these details of her life?

One thing that Harriet Tubman’s face on our money is a step towards recognizing who built this country. Our monies, for the most part represent our founding; our history. We need and should know our history, and having it represented on our money is wholly appropriate. But slaves also built this country. They sacrificed their families and their lives. Once freed, they build their lives from nothing. The pioneered the west. The raised crops. They’ve done everything free Europeans did except they did it under much worse conditions that are still seen in many ways today.

I look forward to Harriet Tubman (and other women and people of color) being included in our country’s public representation, on money, naming streets and buildings, and other ways we express our gratitude for our historical counterparts.

I want to share this conversation on Nicolle Wallace’s show, Deadline: White House about the change in the status of the $20 bill.

For anyone who wishes to have their own (legal tender) Tubman Twenty, here is a link for the stamp. I have not ordered one, so I do not know anything about this seller.

Leaders | Freedom | Diversity | Friendship

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I had the honor of attending the dedication and unveiling of the Harriet Tubman-William Seward Statue at the Schenectady, New York Public Library. I will post more about this event in the next few days as well as today’s related family adventure, but I need to say how much I learned from the speakers and how emotional I found this event. I feel blessed that I was able to attend.

Sculptor: Dexter Benedict, Penn Yan, NY. Photo (c)2019

Sybil Ludington’s Ride

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Sybil Ludington postage stamp, USPS, public domain. (c)2019

​We all know Paul Revere and we practically take the Longfellow poem as historical fact and we pass our elementary social studies exams and move on, probably never thinking about the rest of the country during The Revolutionary War. Several years ago I read a novel by former President Jimmy Carter that centered on Georgia during the Revolution. It was eye-opening in that I never considered the part of the colonies further south than Virginia. As a New Yorker, I am both excited but also sad that it took this long into adulthood before I even heard her name and then to discover a new Revolutionary hero from right here in New York: Sybil Ludington.

She wasn’t very widely known outside of her home areas around Kent and Patterson, New York.

On April 26, 1777 (two hundred forty-two years ago today), at age 16, Sybil rode her horse, Star to alert the Revolutionary militia forces in Putnam County, New York and as far as Danbury, Connecticut. Her ride was more than twice the distance of that than Paul Revere, longer than any of the other men to have made similar rides. She began at around 9pm, and rode forty miles in darkness until about dawn.

Her father was Colonel Henry Ludington and Sybil’s intention was to warn her father’s troops. It was believed that Danbury was targeted because they had a Continental Army supply depot there. At home, she also thwarted a royalist from capturing her father and turning him over to the British.

A statue of her on her horse depicting the ride is erected in Carmel, New York. That statue is also the ending place of a yearly 50K footrace that approximately follows her historic ride.

She is buried in Patterson, NY and has had her ride commemorated on a postage stamp in 1975.

Learn more here:

Historic Patterson

Sybil Ludington’s Statue in Carmel, NY

Teatime Tuesday

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A Nice Cup of Tea [George Orwell, 1946]

I discovered this gem through The Telegraph’s 2016 piece on Orwell and the perfect cup of tea. After re-reading 1984 and having Orwellian references since the 2016 election, this was something of a breath of fresh air to see Orwell’s name attached to. It’s kind of amazing what you find with a simple Google search.

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