Sometimes, when I’m stuck writing a sermon, I’ll take a tea break and see if I can find one on YouTube that might inspire me. It’s a very hit or miss strategy. But one thing that almost always happens is that my search results pull up a long list of sermons preached almost exclusively by middle-aged white men. When a woman shows up in a thumbnail, more often than not, she is giving a children’s message, not a sermon. I’ve been trying this technique for three and a half years now, and I can tell you the exact number of times that I’ve come across a sermon by a fellow young clergywoman:
It was one time.
When none of the voices I find online sound anything like mine, it’s a lonely feeling. It’s an echo of all the conversations I’ve had when people have assumed my clerical collar was a costume, or told me that I would never be a “real” pastor, or openly expressed shock that any woman would ever be “allowed” to preach (which is a thing that women have done for centuries, but never mind).
And it makes me wonder what other voices we aren’t hearing.
As you may know, I’m a big fan of the Academy Awards, and Oscars night is basically my super bowl. For over a decade, I’ve dressed up, paper and colored pencils in hand to sketch out my favorite dresses, and compared my predictions to the final results. I usually get about 16/24 right (which was what I got this year as well, in part because this year I decided to mark my preference rather than my prediction in categories where I couldn’t make up my mind).
I love movies, especially when they are made and written well. One of the things I love about the Oscars is having a reason to watch a bunch of movies that I might not otherwise have seen. Over the years, there have definitely been a few movies that I didn’t remotely enjoy and still don’t think deserved awards, but there have also been quite a few that I think about often.
Historically speaking, there have been many stories that Hollywood has chosen, for whatever reason, not to tell. It often makes me wonder what other stories we aren’t seeing.
Since last August, I’ve had a hard time putting into words the feeling of loss I have following the devastatingly early death of Chadwick Boseman to cancer at the age of 43. I would probably never have met him in real life, which is undoubtedly also true of any other celebrity whose career I might follow. But some people come to represent ideas and possibilities much bigger than themselves, which is certainly true for Chadwick Boseman, the actor who, to my great surprise and ire, was NOT posthumously awarded the Oscar for best actor this past weekend. Although he would have deserved it based on his work in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (the film he was nominated for), the Academy might also have considered the impact he has had in the world in general and in Hollywood, specifically. He first took on the mantle of Black Panther in 2016 and starred in the eponymous movie in 2018, which meant that he was an actor of color playing an extremely powerful superhero AND king in a movie that celebrated African culture and vision without assuming that an ideal society would be based on European imagery. That’s the kind of story that hadn’t ever been told before, certainly not in a huge budget mainline film.
All of this is to say that this year’s awards stirred up in me a complicated mix of sadness and regret for all the voices we don’t hear, and all the possibilities that we’ll never know because a life was lost too soon. Giving the award to Chadwick wouldn’t have brought him back, but it would have been a very fitting way for the Academy to honor and acknowledge the stories that it hasn’t always allowed to be told.