I define a priestess as a person who serves individuals, the community, and the divine. This role could be equivalent to a nun, a minister, or other types of spiritual leaders, including leadership of the spiritual community, activities that support community members, and communion with the divine.
"Priestess" does not refer to the gender of the person, rather to the type of service that is being performed. I use the term priestess as it's used by the Reclaiming Tradition Collective, as spiritual worker who shares power, co-creates ritual, and supports, in the case of Reclaiming, a non-hierarchically structured community.
However, everyone priestesses in their own way. One person may be a devotee of a goddess and maintain a temple space online. Another may work as a pastoral care chaplain in a hospice.
My skills as a priestess were developed through classes and participation with the following organizations:
I am currently attending United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities to receive training as an Interreligious Chaplain. I am currently in a process of discernment to decide what professional role I will choose and what field I would like to work in. Examples would be a spiritual care chaplain in a hospital setting, assisted living facility, correctional center, or university campus. I will use my skills as a priestess, coupled with my skills learned through seminary to support the community.
The theological method is the process used by theologians to connect with God’s message as it is revealed and find meaning through its interpretation. Sources of divine revelation can come in the form of scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. Theologians then engage in study and discussion of the interpretation of the messages so that they can share the exegesis or meaning of the message with a contemporary audience. Each theological method has defined epistemological truths, which are the foundational philosophical beliefs that theologians will use to judge the meaning and importance of revelations.
Contextual theology is a category of theology that recognizes the contextual nature of theology and uses parts of that context to inform the theology in development. Context is everything that is happening alongside the theological process that could potentially inform it, including the sociopolitical, cultural, racial, economic, ecological, and historic climate. All theology takes place in a variety of contexts, but it is up to the theologian and defined within the theological method they use to decide what piece(s) of context are used to inform the development of their theology.
The contexts for the development of womanist theology include the civil rights movement in the United States, the development of Black liberation theology, and the ongoing oppression of Black women through multiple facets of their identities. The quotation includes multiple indications of context including phrases like “If Black liberation theology wants to include Black women…” and “Black liberation theology’s bias against Black women” suggesting that they were not included in the movement. Williams directs theologians to review what is missing in “Biblical aspects of the community’s faith-journey are revealed in sermons, songs…” specifically for the experiences of Black women due to socio-political bias.
The contexts for the development of liberation theology include Gutierrez’s experience in Latin America working with the poor and oppressed, seeing where the church was only working for the needs of the middle class and above, and finding language and similar issues being called out through Marxism including class struggle, capitalism, and minority ownership in the means of production. Lifting the oppressed from poverty and achieving social change through praxis is a necessary foundation in liberation theology.
The contexts for the development of eco-feminist theology included the development of nuclear technologies which were a huge concern for environmental activists. The impending ecological crises between a potential nuclear meltdown and the destruction of the environment launched a piece of the feminist movement that focused on a Mother Earth goddess and which McFague adopted into Christian theology with a metaphorical God as a mother aka earth.
Delores Williams is a womanist theologian. In her writing she references the lack of inclusion of Black women in black liberation theology, the focus on Israel’s liberation to the detriment of the “oppressed of the oppressed” and “the figures in the Bible whose experience is analogous to that of Black women”. Womanist theology focuses on the experiences of Black women as foundational to its theology with a goal of liberation for all by focusing on the most underrepresented and marginalized people, Black women. Womanist theology is also a liberation theology that came as a critique of Black Liberation theology due to the lack of inclusion of Black women.
Womanist theology applies the intersectional analysis of systemic oppression developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw to draw parallels between Black women and people in scripture who face systemic oppression due to multiple facets of their identities, including race, gender, and class. In this passage, Williams referenced “the oppressed of the oppressed”. Intersectional theology, Postcolonial feminist theology, and Black Liberation theology also look at systems of oppression, but only Womanist theology specifically uses the experience of Black women as a foundation for their theological method.
Womanist theology applies a hermeneutics of suspicion with scripture, and does not take scripture literally but does include it as a foundation. Williams directs theologians to find passages in scripture that they can relate to as individuals as well as the “biblical faith, events and biblical characters with whom the community has identified”. Theologians are also instructed to apply a hermeneutic of suspicion, looking at the sociopolitical context of scripture as it was written as well as the context and biases of the interpreters along the way.
Faith in tradition is also a piece of the womanist theology foundation. Theologians are directed to look at what has been “revealed in sermons, songs… liturgy, ritual” which are part of the tradition. It is not faith without reason though, as Williams is asking theologians to look at those pieces of tradition and apply socio-political analysis to them to find the biases that will come through in their scriptural interpretation. Finally, she asks for a thoughtful look at who is missing from the stories of biblical writers, as womanist theology is inclusive of all people by focusing on those who are most often left out.
Williams would likely interpret scripture from a place of questioning and focus on the most oppressed. She would look for stories of Black women specifically as well as stories of the “oppressed of the oppressed” whose situations are most able to be identified with by a Black woman. She would pay attention to systems of oppression including racism, sexism, and misogyny, and interpret the stories from the perspective of the oppressed rather than the oppressor.
Womanist theology connects to the stories of Mary and Jesus Christ from a perspective of shared pain. The story of a young pregnant woman with few resources giving birth with little support while temporarily unhoused due to outside circumstances can share key experiences with a contemporary person. A mother losing her son to government forces, forced to watch him suffer and die with only the hope of his salvation in the afterlife is an unfortunate but common circumstance for Black mothers. Williams would look for those stories that she can connect with and that tell the story of her community, to bring hope and connection to her community. She would not interpret the stories literally, but see characters as symbolic of the struggles of oppressor and oppressed.
To learn more about Delores Williams, visit: https://www.religion-online.org/author/delores-s-williams/
Gustavo Gutierrez is the originator of Liberation theologian. Liberation theology is a practical theology that focuses on the liberation of the oppressed through the practice (praxis) of social activism and taking action to help the poor. In this passage for example, he discusses Guaman Poma de Ayala taking action to “promote justice and help for the poor”. Liberation theologians see suffering and evil as due to human action, specifically the actions of the oppressor, not the oppressed. The oppressed suffer the “evil of misfortune”, which they can be liberated from by taking action against the oppressor.
Liberation theology includes the foundational belief that we are all “the daughters and sons of God” but that "God prefers the poor in a special sense…the whole Bible is written from the perspective of the poor: its promise, its promises, are for the poor". It is also a theology of hope in that even in asking the question “My God, where are you?” Gutierrez points out we are showing faith that there is a higher power.
Liberation theology includes scripture as a source of authority when interpreted as a source of faith and hope for liberation from oppression. Reason is used to reflect on injustice and to critically investigate the sources of oppression. The empowerment of the oppressed is found in the language of the Bible, with phrases like “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth” in Matthew 5:5 and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” In Matthew 5:6.
Salvation comes in the form of earthly works. Freedom from sin would be achieved by stopping the oppression that a person is responsible for through their role in capitalism. Helping the poor and oppressed is the job both of the church and also of the individual who can take care of their neighbors.
In Liberation theology, experiences of oppression and liberation are foundational to the theology and necessary for salvation. Gutierrez will be looking for stories like we find in Exodus 2: 23-25, where the king of Egypt dies and God hears the cries of the enslaved Israelites. In this story, God remembers his covenant with the sons of Israel, and in Exodus 3: 7-12 he speaks to Moses about bringing his people out of Egypt. This is a story of oppression and salvation through God’s hand and his followers that is used as a standard example of liberation.
Gutierrez would also be looking for places where God calls upon a person or people to help the poor and in particular stories of Jesus using his power or influence to heal and empower. In Luke 10: 28 we are told to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, setting us as the caretakers of those around us in need of help. He would also look at systems of oppression and those who are causing evil and oppression and their need to repent and change their ways in order to find salvation.
Solle, Dorothee. Thinking about God: An Introduction to Theology. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers. 1997. (39)
In the last post, we left off talking about how creating a great online learning experience starts with making our learning accessible to learners.
We, and that’s the royal “we” of folks who work in the software industry, have written standards that we need to follow when it comes to access. The requirements defined for accessibility vary regionally. In the U.S., accessibility is typically looked at through the lens of Section 508.
Similar to the ADA physical design standard linked in the previous post, Section 508 defines the requirements for software to be considered accessible. Section 508 is the section of text in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that provides for equal access to electronic and information technology for disabled employees of the Federal government. [Sidebar: If you want to do business with the federal government, your software better be Section 508 compliant.] Many states also use Section 508 as a minimum requirement for their software as well as having their own definitions.
That sounds complicated. It can be, but you’re not alone in this. There is a whole field of Accessible Technology which is designed to help users in the online world the same way that technology in the physical world assists folks. Blind/low-vision users can get a lot of information via screen readers, which are text-to-speech converters that will read your site to them. Deaf/hard of hearing users can have videos interpreted via closed captioning, transcripts, and when available/if appropriate sign language translation.
One of the goals in Section 508 is to make sure the things we create, software, websites, and content, will work with those existing technologies. As of this year, Section 508 also incorporates Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to expand accessibility requirements and standardize what success looks like when it comes to accessibility.
So what do I need to do? Well, that’s going to depend on what you do, but it’s easy to get started. The next posts will go in depth on what you need to do to make sure your content delivery system and your content are accessible.
If you can’t get to it, then you can’t use it.
If I can’t get to a classroom, I’m going to miss the discussion, the lecture, lose the ability to ask questions, and my learning is very definitely impacted. We make our physical spaces accessible by following design standards that are planned to accommodate all of the bodies and abilities we can imagine in all of the ways we can think of. Physical space design standards are defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and illustrated in very specific ways here. Anything that impacts a person’s movements, from the size of a doorway to the lack of a ramp or elevator, literally prevents their access to learning.
A learner's ability to access a learning space and use the resources in it is the most basic definition of accessibility in learning. That applies whether we're talking brick and mortar buildings or online learning spaces. Our goal as instructors is to communicate the same information to all of our learners, give them space to process it and apply that knowledge through projects, teaching or other learning assignments.
There are a lot of issues that can come up when it comes to access some that will impact different audiences based on their abilities. Are you doing a live video session? Do live video sessions have captions or a transcript? Are colors used to communicate status information that a colorblind user might miss out on? There is a lot to think about but don’t let it be overwhelming. Access issues are solvable, and we have the technology and capacity to do it. And the best part is, better access is beneficial to everyone. That transcript of a video can be reformatted as a QuickStart instruction guide. A text description in place of a color-changing icon means that both a colorblind user and a low vision or blind screen reader user gets detail they would have otherwise missed.
The article below is based on my experience with implementing software based on accessibility standards in the U.S. If I have misspoken or been insensitive in my language, my deepest apologies. And I thank you in advance if you choose to comment below or use the Contact page to send me corrections or feedback.
What is equal access?
Everyone needs to be able to access public spaces, transit, businesses, non-profits, and government services. The goods, services, and programs provided need to be just as available and accessible to a person with disabilities as a person without disabilities. For example, both disabled and abled people need to be able to go to a physical school building. That building should include wheelchair ramps, an elevator, and accessible bathrooms. If you don't see those things, notice who is missing from that building, and those classrooms. And we're not talking about just the students, but also the teachers, staff, and parents. If accessible entries and basic self-care needs can't be met, then the learning space has a problem defined as a lack of access.
The need to make spaces accessible and the requirements for doing so will differ based on where you are. In the US, we have the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that you can learn about here: https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/disability/ada The hope is that businesses will make their products, services, and spaces accessible to any potential employee or customer, and that if a lack of access is pointed out, the business will voluntarily fix the issue. But in many cases, those accessibility requests aren’t fulfilled for a variety of reasons - it’s deemed too expensive, it only affects a small percentage of the population, it’s not taken seriously. When a lack of access occurs and no attempt is made to fix it, it may need to be reported to the Department of Justice who then investigates and may bring on an attorney to manage settling the situation - the goal being that the business fixes the issues(s).
Access benefits everyone, from the parent pushing a stroller who is able to use the wheelchair ramp at a street corner to the employee who now has an accessible restroom on the floor of their building because of a customer request. But access in physical spaces is just the beginning of the picture.
In the last post, we discussed how to make sure the software you use is accessible. Now we’re on to the final step that puts the power back into the hands of the user.
How do I make my content accessible? After a whole lot of years in learning management, this is a question that comes up a lot. You’ve been mandated by your department, dean, HR team, etc to make your content accessible to users. Assuming you have an idea of what that means, where do you start?
The first thing I often recommend once we get over the hurdle of defining the what and why of accessibility is to run an accessibility scan. Find out where you stand with your existing content.
One note: Remember that if your content is behind a login, for instance a course in a learning management system, the free scanners may be not able to access your content.
Use the results of the scan to see where updates need to happen. If you follow this list of tips from UC Berkeley you can knock out some of the most common problems around headers, graphics, and tables.
Don’t have a course yet? That’s ok, let’s think about the sort of content that you need. This could include videos, graphics, text, uploaded documents, slideshows, and content that you create in the content or learning management system like quizzes, polls, surveys, and assignments.
The goal is to always have multiple methods of sharing information. Have a great graphic that shows an important process? Write a text caption to go with it.
That video with great narration? Provide a copy of the transcript. I am a hearing person, but I love having transcripts when I need to refer back to a video or if I want to access content but am not in a space where playing the audio would be welcomed.
What If I’m ready to go further?The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a leader in Accessible Technology and has a great website filled with advice and tutorials to take your knowledge even further, ranging from creating accessible PDFs to avoiding interactions that require mouse movements.
They also host community of practice meetings regularly to discuss accessibility issues. While theirs might not be the right place for you, seek out communities of practice, whether they are specific to the content management software you use, the development language, your region, or any other niche that makes sense for you so that we can inform and practice more inclusive design and development together.
Here’s my two cents, in shorter terms:We all have to start somewhere.
In part three of this series on Making Learning Accessible, we take a look at what you need to do to make your web content accessible. Today’s post focuses on the tools used for content delivery and what to do if you’re not a software/web developer.
Do you manage your own content through someone else’s software?Awesome, start with UC Berkely’s ten tips on web accessibility here. Your goal is two-fold:
How do I make sure my software is accessible?First, ask. Check with your helpdesk, IT team, site administrator, or the vendor to see if the software meets Section 508 accessibility requirements. If you are the Site Administrator, see if your vendor has a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) completed for the release of the software you use. The VPAT requires the vendor to explain what parts of the software don’t meet Section 508 requirements, what workarounds exist, and if they are working on a fix.
If you can’t get a clear answer, you can do some testing on your own. There are tons of free resources and tools out there to help. A good place to start is to run an accessibility scan of your site. There are lots of free accessibility scanners available that will give results for free like this open source accessibility scanner. You input your URL, run the scan and will receive a report with any issues that can be corrected technically. Some of the items the scan will check for include: