I recently finished Stephanie Bickhanon Crowder's When Momma Speaks: The Bible and Motherhood from a Womanist Perspective. I also got to interview Stephanie about the work: see video, download audio. Three takeaways stayed with me...
1. It will inspire you to preach sermons on the Biblical mothers she focuses on. (Hagar, Rizpah, Bathsheba, Mary, The Canaanite Woman, and The Wife of Zebedee (mother to James and John)). Crowder uncovers and articulates fresh insights into these mothers ‘then’, while also bridging the gap to mother’s ‘now’. By examining the way gender, race, class, and mothering intersect in these Biblical stories, she is able to reveal dynamic ways these stories illuminate contemporary motherhood.
Perhaps the most powerful example of this is her study of Rizpah (2 Sam21: 1-14). Crowder explores the various power, class, and gender dynamics that led to Rizpah having her sons taken from her, collateral damage of a broken system, before exploring the witness of her care for not only her sons, but Saul’s five grandsons.
“Rizpah’s long and solitary vigil outwardly dramatizes her private loss in a public action that commands David’s attention. Her labor of love and death prevents David and his people from perishing. Through the season, she cares for the dead because men with power do not care for the living. She engages in necro-care day and night unceasingly. As her sons and Saul’s five grandsons are human sacrifices to right a political wrong, so is Rizpah a maternal sacrifice. She has little social agency or royal authority, but her mother power is sagacious” 56, 57.
This study of Rizpah then, is linked to Rizpah(s) now, to mothers such as Sybrina Fulton, Lucia McBath, Lesley McSpadden, and Gloria Darden; Black mothers whose sons were murdered in the street, or in police custody. But these are not the only mothers dealing with death, Crowder writes about mothers who have lost children to outworking of institutional racism – poor nutrition, flawed education, and over incarceration, showing that “death does not always mean the absence of breath, but can also be actions or conditions that are not life-giving or life-affirming.” 59.
So, if Rizpah has you intrigued, get the book, because the treatment of the other five mothers is equally stimulating and thought provoking.
2. Crowder’s definition of work.
“Work is the consistent, conscientious act of pursuing those in power and challenging authority for survival, healing, health, wholeness, and future security” 89.
I won’t explore too much of her argument here, because you should go buy the book, but it pops up in a few spots in the work and culminates in her section on the Canaanite woman. It is a definition that leaves room for both “working” and “stay-at-home” mothers, capturing the spirit of why we work, rather than limiting it to recognition through pay slips and superannuation. It becomes an attitude of ‘there’s work to be done’ rather than ‘I have to go to work’.
3. The work as a case study of “womanist maternal thinking”. Crowder engages with the past and present players and attributes of womanist thought – the tripartite (race, gender, class), intersectional reading of text and culture. To this she expands womanist interpretation by bringing motherhood into the fold. Womanist maternal thought addresses the “specific racial context of African American women and the mothering challenges connected to it that are unique to mothers in this social context.” 22. This interpretive lens grounds all of Crowder’s work, the Biblical interpretation, the cultural commentary, and the hopes for what comes next – it is a lens which I would not be able to bring to the texts myself, and has (from what I can tell) received little attention in Biblical Studies and Theological circles (and probably even less from our pulpits)… and if that isn’t reason enough to add this book to your shelves and its lessons to your lives, then I don’t know what will… wait, yes I do – watch the interview and let the #sportmomma #womanistmomma Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder convince you herself.