As a part of my continued exploration of my own grief at the loss of my late wife — and of grief in general — here are the words my pastor, the Reverend Dr. Jill Edens, gave at my wife’s memorial service.
Words of Remembrance, Ps. 139 Rev. Dr. Jill Edens
Rev. Katharine Royal
Oct. 31, 2015
“A Feisty Faith”
Micah has chosen a rich and complex text for us this morning. Ps 139 combines praise of and appeal to this God who is not a distant observer but one who looks deeply into individuals. You created my kidneys is the literal translation of vs 13. This psalm is like others that understand God as a kind of final court of appeal to whom we can turn when unjustly accused. This reminder to the deity that the psalmist has been searched and known is not a claim that the writer is without sin, but a case-by-case insistence that the wicked who now accuse him are simply wrong and are unjust persecutors. This appeal for redress is made out of trust in a God who knows us completely and is also known to be a just God, a God who liberates the oppressed, a God of mercy and steadfast love.1
All of this hinges on the final not so nice verses that are not printed out in the bulletin. But knowing Kat, I don’t think she would mind my bringing up uncomfortable scriptural topics. The psalmist pleads for redress: O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me – those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for evil! Do I not hate those who hate you? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?”
The writer is hemmed in by real enemies, real injustice, real “terrorists” and he is appealing to a God who knows him intimately, a God who is trusted completely to not let this wickedness and injustice stand. Therefore the writer is willing to be searched and known if that is what it takes for God to address his complaint.2
Believing in such a God while living in a violent and wounded world drives the psalmist to ask God to deal with evildoers and to declare his hatred for everything that goes against God’s will. As shocking as this may be such an attitude is seen positively in the Hebrew Bible for it indicates a rejection of evil and injustice and reveals the writer’s attachment to what is good. It is a feisty faith, it is the faith that spoke to many of us out of heart of the Rev. Katharine Royal. Kat would not call on us to hate anyone or anything, but that she expected God and all of us to reject evil and injustice and that we should do something about it is not up for discussion.
I love that Micah chose a passage where the writer is really suffering from persecution, since Kat did so much in her life to alleviate this very kind of suffering. One among many examples is “Operation Bullyhorn” where she created an international organization that helps members learn about and deal with bullying, self-injury, abuse, eating disorders and thoughts of suicide.
Kat said in her kudzu interview: I didn’t grow up in a particularly religious home. It wasn’t until late junior high, maybe high school that I started to become interested in anything religiously and really have my own questions. It wasn’t until college that I really began to question things and what it meant to be a Christian, working out how to live as a Christian who is bisexual, in a wheelchair and feeling called to the ministry.
She identified an important turning point as the first time she every picked up a Bible . . Someone had quoted a text that really bothered her, from the Old Testament where it said if you had a defect or a disability you couldn’t come into the temple in Jerusalem. As a child with a severe disability, she said, I remember that really bothering me. [these struggles] initially led her away from Christianity and it wasn’t until she entered a Catholic high school that things started to change. She got to know people who really stood up for their faith, who weren’t afraid to ask tough questions. Through them she realized that you could be a Christian and have questions.
When reflecting on “Operation Bullyhorn,” She said “It was not uncommon for me to have kids and teenagers messaging me on Facebook, calling and texting me to ask advice or ask questions, especially if they were members of the LBGT community or were living with disabilities. She became concerned about the rising number of suicides among youth who were LBGT or youth who were disabled. These youth had decided that because of what people in their own families and churches were telling them – that they were a mistake. So many were thinking that rather than live a life as someone who is LGBT or someone with a disability, they should take their own lives to save themselves and everyone else the heartache . . . one young man who felt called to teach people about God was told that because of his disability he obviously had no faith, if he were a person of faith, God would have healed him. Obviously, he was told, he was being possessed by evil.
Kat believed that she and all of the children and young people on Project Bullyhorn were fearfully and wonderfully made, fully known and loved by the creator who knitted them in their mother’s wombs. Her advice to parents was this: “if you are going to have a child and be a parent; love them for who they are. Accept them as they are. Kids can tell if you have an agenda. They know that you are thinking “I’m going to pretend to accept you while secretly hoping that you will change.” If I could talk to a child who struggled as I did, I would let them know that there are people out there for them, who love them and who want to help them out. I’d let them know that they don’t have to fit a mold. They don’t have to do something specific to be worthy of love. They are worthy of love beyond belief for being who they are.
She not only believed that every child and young person was worthy of love, but that they were entitled to the same opportunities to grow and flourish. Kat had no patience with the thoughtless impediments that made life difficult for people who use canes, wheelchairs, walkers and ASL interpretation, who need accessible city buses and safe crosswalks. Her tireless efforts helped to form our Faithfully Accessible Ministry and our new Koinonia Circle Worship. One of her dreams was to create a fully accessible playground here at United Church.
Kat packed a lot into her 33 years on this earth, sometimes I wondered if she had rockets in that wheelchair. Marching with Durham Pride, Kat was there, demonstrating in the North Carolina General Assembly with William Barber, Kat was there, organizing a preaching festival for women in Central NC, Kat was all over it. Or as she put it: “Now we are able to start fighting and pushing against people being marginalized. We can help people see that if it’s wrong for some groups it’s wrong for every group. Discrimination is discrimination, plain and simple.
So Kat, we’ll keep on fighting, we’ll keep on reaching out until every child of God knows to their very core that they are fearfully and wonderfully made and loved beyond belief just as they are. And Kat we will be continually comforted by your feisty faith. On that glad morning when you left us, I hope heaven was ready for your determined insistence on justice, mercy and love, but I know for sure that earth was left with a void that we will struggle to fill. We love you Kat and we’ll keep fighting, we’ll keep pushing against every barrier until they all come down.
1Fred Gaiser, Evangelio, “Commentary on Ps 139″