14 June 2017

Genesis 1: probably not the way you heard it in Sunday School.

On Sunday 11 July 2017 at Southwest Central Houston, I preached my first sermon. I am 68 years old; I never thought such a thing would be possible in the fellowship where my husband and I have chosen to worship and serve since our university days. I am publishing my sermon as written and I was pretty close to the script. There were a couple of stutters and missteps early on but I did get into the groove. One of my male friends said, "I saw that silver hair in the pulpit and you started and I said, 'Oh, oh! we're in trouble." I certainly intended this sermon as a response, a corrective, to much faulty teaching, doctrine, and practice.
 I will also add a link to the audio posted by my church.

I had prepared a PowerPoint and there were a number of additional slides. I attempted to use only slides which I believed to be in the public domain but I am only going to publish the word clouds I made myself and NASA's Carina Nebula. 

Call to Worship: “Every Sunday people come to church overwhelmed by chaos.” (Walter Brueggemann from notes I made during a lecture I attended) As our own Phil Rice so often prays, “Our world is a mess…” We are overwhelmed by the mess and chaos of politics, poverty, illness, loss, exhaustion, pain, indecision... Yes, we gather here as people overwhelmed by chaos. We gather here to encourage one another, to proclaim faith in the Creator, to remember Jesus, and through our presence and our praise, by the Spirit of the living God, we “transform chaos into creation.”  (WB said, "by our liturgy we transform... )

{The congregation read the 8th Psalm in unison and I cited that Psalm in my conclusion.}

Cynthia Bird graced us with her spoken word performance of “The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson, 1871-1938.

 Link to the recording. After Cynthia, I begin speaking about 06:25

I had trouble loading this audio on my iPad.

The Creation: not like you heard it in Sunday School 
by K Cummings Pipes 11 June 2017

 The message I bring today is rooted in my concern for ever increasing numbers of friends, family, and even a few of my former Sunday School kids who come to me and whisper, “In my heart I believe, or really want to believe, in a loving God but I just cannot believe…” And the thing they cannot believe is usually some very simple version of The Creation Story which denies all the evidence of geology, physics, astronomy, and biology…” And it breaks my heart that we Christians have needlessly erected such a barrier to faith.  The Apostle Paul wrote:
“…that which is known about God is evident, for God has made it evident. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.” {Romans 1:19-20}

So today we’re going to take a fresh look at the Word of God.
The Word of God
Before the Apostle Paul wrote a single letter to the church…
Before tongues of fire and the Holy Spirit-filled preaching of Pentecost…
Before “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” and “was the light of all humankind… (John 1)
 Yes, The Word of God before
Before all the Writings of Hebrew Wisdom that “are a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path…”
Before the Prophets…
Before the Law
Before the 10 “words” of Sinai
Indeed, before any word was ever written...
Before the voice from a burning bush called Moses to lead God’s own people to freedom…
Before Jacob…
Before Isaac…
Before God called Abraham…
In the beginning...

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and empty and darkness covered the face of the deep, The Spirit of God was moving gently on the face of the waters, the breath of God moved across the face of the deep.

Then God said…”

Yes, that’s it! The Word of God! When God spoke and “made evident, His invisible attributes.”

“Then God said, ‘Let there be light! And light there was! And God saw the light was good.”
We call this text the creation story but it is not historical narrative. It is a poem and the word, create  בָּרָ֣א  bā-rā in Hebrew Strong 1254 will not be used again until v. 21 (when God creates the life of the sea and the birds) and again in v. 27 (when God creates the life of the earth and then humans in God’s own image)
Contrary to what you may have heard, contrary to what I once taught
create does not mean “make something out of nothing.” Creation means something new! something is that has never been before
The Hebrew word conveys a sense of “feeding” as wool is fed onto the spindle when making thread or  as a weaver “feeds the loom”. There may be a reason we say “the web of life” Everything is woven together.
The Hebrew word create also conveys a sense of “fattening” or growth through abundant nourishment.  
{There was also a slide with Psalm 90:12 Teach us to number our days...}

Thus, Creation is not instantaneous; it is a process over time. And that is why the Genesis text includes 6 time markers and a Sabbath rest.
We are finite beings and we experience time as finite. We have little concept of eternity. But God is not finite and His Days are not as our days.

But at least one thing we all learned in Sunday School is absolutely correct! 
Only God creates.

Rather than a focus on the word create, what the text says repeatedly is that God spoke, And God said…”
So, this text is primarily about the Word of God, the Spoken Word of God. Other than speaking, God’s actions on the first days are “separating and dividing”: Light from darkness. Day from Night. Waters above from waters below. Heavens. Sea. Earth.

And God said “Let there be Light”
And God saw the light was good.
God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness God called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

Evening and morning” this phrase marks the transition form one Creation Day to the next. In it we may see images of completion and new beginning.
Remembering that the first verse described earth as “empty and dark” and that God spent the first days separating light and darkness, we might also see that phrase, evening and morning, as a boundary separating darkness and light. 
Or we could view it, especially since it is closely associated with a numbering, as the end of one step in the creative process and the beginning of another.

Then God said, Let there be an expanse, separating the waters above and the waters below. And God made this expanse and separated the waters above and the waters below.
God called the expanse Heaven And there was evening and there was morning, (Day 2)

God “made” וַיַּ֣עַשׂ    way·ya·‘aś   in Hebrew Strong 6213ThisInI

In Hebrew, this is neither the same word nor does it have the same meaning as create”  בָּרָ֣א  bā-rā in Hebrew Strong 1254
The verb “to make” hints at ideas of separation, preparation, purpose, provision. When God “creates” the result is something new! Something now is that has never been before. 
God “makes” by using something that is already present in the creation and shapes it, forms it to serve a purpose.

{This distinction between "create" and "make" is the crux of my interpretation of the Genesis Creation Poem.}
In this passage God made the expanse (e.g. the firmament). Later God made the sun, the moon, and the stars.

And God said, “Let the waters be gathered into one place and let the dry land appear. And God called the dry land Earth and the collection of waters God called Sea.
And God saw that it was good.

And God said , “Let the earth sprout”
Doesn’t that recall the creation image of growth through abundant nourishment? 
Note also that the text does not say that God created nor that God made.
God spoke: 
“Let the earth sprout” vegetation, plants bearing seeds, and trees bearing fruit with seeds each according to their own kind. And God saw that it was good . And there was evening and there was morning.  (Day 3)

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be for lights in the heavens to give light on the earth.

God made the sun and the moon and stars in the heavens for a purpose:
  …to rule over the day and the night and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, Day 4.

Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the heavens. God created…
(There’s that word create)
God created great sea animals and every living creature that moves and the waters swarmed according to their own kind and the winged birds according to their own kind, and God saw that it was good. And God blessed the living creatures, saying
“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the
waters in the sea, and let the birds multiply on the earth.”
There was evening and there was morning.

Day 5 was a bit different! As in the first verse, God both speaks and creates. What he creates are the living creatures of the Sea and the living creatures of the Sky. In Hebrew, they are נֶ֣פֶשׁ nephesh chay “living beings having the breath of life”

“Breath of life” recalls the first verse of Genesis, when God’s breath moved across the face of the deep, when the Spirit moved gently over the waters. That first act of creation has been followed by a second, “living creations having the breath of life.” Something new! Something now is that has never been before.
nephesh chay 
Some translators would say, “living souls.”
We should note that this is exactly the same phrase that will be used in verse 27 for all the beasts of the earth and for humankind.
And for the very first time, God speaks a blessing.
Everything that has breath has been blessed by God.

Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth” living creatures nephesh chay , each according to their own kind: Cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their own kind and the cattle according to their own kind” and so it was!
God created the beasts of the earth according to their own kind and everything that creeps upon the earth according to their own kind. And God saw that it was good.

At this point all the vegetation that the earth sprouted, all the living creatures that swarmed in the sea, all the birds that filled the sky, all the animals that the earth brought forth have been described as reproducing “each according to their own kind.” Each well suited and fruitful in its own environment of Sea or Sky or Earth.
God has seen that all this life is good.
But at this mid-point on Day 6 things are about to change

Then God said, “Let Us make humankind in Our image, according to Our likeness…”
Here, the word is make וַיַּ֣עַשׂ,  with its ideas of separation, preparation, purpose, provision. And from that moment, although humans are among the living creatures that the earth brought forth, we are no longer according to the same kind as are other living creatures of Sea, Sky, and Earth. We are not only nephesh chay, living creatures having the breath of life but we have been made “like God.” We are not limited but move between all the environments of earth, sea, and sky.
And we were made for a purpose:
“let them rule over the fish of the sea an over the birds of the heavens and over the cattle and over all the earth, over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
{After the fact, both David and I noticed that "to rule" was also the purpose of the Sun, Moon, and Stars. Something to consider.}

The purpose for which God made humans was to “rule” and in Hebrew that word “rule” means absolute authority as a king. {Of script here, I added, "sometimes I wish it didn't but it does."}
But for far too long, we have used that word “rule” to excuse our domination and greedy exploitation of Earth and its creatures.

We can learn about God’s means by “let them rule” by reading about what he required of the biblical kings “to be just and fair and merciful, to care for and provide for the poor and weak and the stranger among them.”
We can see God’s own care for the earth in many scriptures.
{There was a lovely landscape slide with Psalm 24:1 "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it.}
Because we are made like God and in God’s image our rule must be like God’s:
full of love and attention and intention,
to tend, to care, to grow, to provide, to protect all the environments and living creatures of Earth, Sky, and Sea
As Josh Day reminded us last week,“Both the land and the people belong to God.”

“God created man in God’s own image, in the image of God, God created him; male and female God created them.” And God blessed them…

Here the word is create   בָּרָ֣
Humans, male and female in the image of God. Something new! Something now is that has never been before.

 These humans, so loved by God that when we became utterly lost and separated from all that God intended, Jesus came. The Word made flesh to live, to teach, to die, and to live again to make in us a new creation. 
{I hit those last words strongly. We, individually and collectively are a new creation!}

We humans are like all life on earth nephesh chay, “creatures have the breath of life” but we also are not “according to our kind.” We are made the likeness and created the image of God.
That fact requires our recognition of God’s image in all people. 
And that recognition demands that when we look at other people, we look for the image of God.
How differently might we treat those who are strangers or poor or sick if we saw God in every face?
Is that not the point of much of Jesus’ teaching?
{My slide was Jesus a new commandment to love.}
Would we be slower to judge, slower to say “not good” to those God himself declared to be very good?
Might we not more deeply appreciate the gifts others share with us through their study of history, sociology, art, and literature?  It is commonly said that the humanities may teach us what it means to be human. I assert that it may also teach us what it means to be like a God described in scripture as a poet, a weaver, a gardener, an artist, a builder.
Would we be so sure of doctrines like “original sin” and the unworthiness of people if we saw in every face, including our own, the one thing that God both made and created, the likeness and the image of God.

I hope today that we have heard The Creation poem differently. 
I hope that we have removed highlights from endless debates of 24 hour days and young earth/old earth and that we are now focused on what the Bible tells us “God said.”
If so, we may now see in it consistencies with the science we may have also learned.

This very good creation is the Spoken Word of God, it is the Word that is ever and always in all times and in all places available to all people. Whether or not they hold a Bible in their hands or hear the Good News of Jesus. 
This very good creation, this expanding universe, makes “evident God’s invisible attributes, God’s eternal power and divine nature.”

On some level we have all always known this. 
When we take a walk in the woods, or sit on a beach, or plant a garden, or admire a mountain, or as the Psalmist did millennia ago when we contemplate the night sky, 
we know and we feel both very small and very big
and time feels unending
and beauty overwhelms us.
That feeling is awe! For in those moments God has been revealed to us.
God’s Spoken Word in Creation calls us to praise.
Jesus, The Word made Flesh, calls us to communion with God and with one another.

{Sermon is over. I had been remarkably calm but after I returned to my seat, my hands shook very badly.
After communion and intercessory prayer, our church does "a sending out" which is supposed to be a very short note about how to apply the sermon during the coming week. We were over time--not me, I stayed well within the sermon's allotted time--so I did not deliver the sending out but we went straight to our church's mission statement.}

My friends, the study of God’s Word, written or spoken, is a holy endeavor. Serving people created in God’s image is a holy endeavor. Learning how the universe works is also a holy endeavor. And our tools for learning how the universe works are the tools of science. Science can never prove or disprove God but it can make evident God’s invisible attributes and so lead people to faith.

Mission Statement:
As God has loved us
We will meet people on common ground
And journey together to the higher ground
Of life in Christ Jesus, Our Lord.

{I am very grateful that I had this opportunity to speak from the pulpit. I am very grateful to attend an egalitarian church within a historically non-egalitarian tradition. I had much support and encouragement from my friends. And for that I am most grateful.  By substituting the word "God" for all pronouns I avoided the gendered "he" because God's own image is both male and female and a whole lot more.
"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O God. ...to the Glory of God!"}

02 May 2017

"There ain't a body, be it mouse or man, that ain't made better by a little soup."

Today I'm making soup. 
I like to make soup because it's basically just putting a bunch of good stuff into a pot (or a slow cooker) and going away to do whatever one wishes or needs to do.  The bits and pieces will cook, the flavors will meld; soup is like a good community it makes a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. As the pot bubbles happily, the soup will fill the kitchen, the house, the world with an aroma of savory goodness. When day is done and one drags oneself to the home hearth, tired and perhaps depressed, soup will be ready to fill the empty places, to warm the cold, to comfort with a full tummy and maybe, just maybe a little peace or at least some rest. 
John Steinbeck (East of Eden) said, "The lore has not died out of the world, and you will find people who believe that soup will cure any hurt or illness and is no bad thing to have for the funeral either." 

As the school year ends with all sorts of assessments and testing and field trips and rushing desperation, my church will show the teachers at Shearn Elementary (just a few blocks away from our building) a little appreciation. I'm making soup for lunch tomorrow. 
"That is soup that you are smelling... times are terrible. And when times are terrible soup is the answer. Don't it smell like the answer?" Kate Di Camillo (The Tale of Despereaux) who is also the source of the quote that titles this blog. 
My soup is both my "thank you" to all the educators who have spent this year with our children and my prayer for them as they face the final weeks of this year. I like it when I can ground my prayer with action.

The guests around my dinner table now often include vegetarians. I have found soup a helpful solution. On a recent menu was Vegetable Beef Stew, Deconstructed. I made a classic French Onion Soup in the slow cooker with a chuck roast. Before serving I removed the roast, shredded it, and served it on a platter.  In a separate pot I had made a vegetarian veggie soup. My guests served themselves. Some ate veggie soup. Some ate French onion soup. Some like my husband ate mostly meat. Others Reconstucted Vegetable Beef Stew by taking some out of both pots. A salad, a selection of cheeses, and crispy bread. Delish!

Soup is for me a dangerous undertaking with somewhat uncertain results. The first line of one of my never-finished-writing-it novels reads: "She was the kind of woman who couldn't make soup; she always ended up with a stew."  That's me!

My soup of the day is a creamy vegetable spinach artichoke soup with tortellini and mushrooms.
I don't think soups require recipes (probably how I end up with stew, huh?) but here goes:

Melt 5 Tbsp. butter. Add 5 ribs of celery (diced fine) and 2 sweet onions (diced).
Saute for a few minutes (medium heat) and add 8 oz. sliced mushrooms.
Season with granulated garlic and parsley, basil, thyme, black pepper, salt.
Add 5 oz. bag of baby spinach (when I make it again, I'll use 2 bags).
Saute until spinach wilts.
I had about 2 cups of good homemade chicken stock in the freezer and that was already in the slow cooker (5 quart oval) thawing. I added 2 cups of Swanson's chicken broth. (If I hadn't had the stock that needed to be used, I'd just use more broth. If I went with a vegetable broth, the soup would be vegetarian. I lined the cooker to make this clean-up a bit easier.)
Add 16 oz. bag of frozen mixed vegetables.
Add the celery, onion, mushrooms, spinach mixture.
Add 2 cans (14 oz. 5-7 count) artichoke hearts (drained and quartered).
Add 1 1/2 cups of Half-and-Half.
Add 1/4 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese (I grated it, not from that green can.)
Lightly Stir.
Cook on high for 3 hours.
Which will be just in time for me to adjust seasonings and have a bowl for supper.

"If a cook can't make soup between two and seven, she can't make it in a week." Anthony Trollope, (Can You Forgive Her?) My Trollope reading got interrupted a couple of years ago and slipped so far to the bottom of the list that he was gone. I'm hoping to get back to him soon.

Before reheating, I may add a bit more broth or cream if the soup is not soupy enough.
And I expect I'll probably add a bit more Grated Parmesan.
I'll refrigerate over night and reheat tomorrow morning.
When it's good and warm I'll add 10 oz. of four cheese tortellini and cook on high for about 30 minutes. (Tortellini could have gone in with everything else but I like it a bit firmer. I thought the overnight wait would make it mushy. In fact, someone who is not me could have made this soup the morning of the luncheon but I don't do mornings.)

Then I'll turn the setting to warm, unplug the slow cooker, and take it to Shearn for the teachers' soup and salad luncheon.

"If you feel all damp and lonely like a mushroom, find the thick, creamy soup of joyfulness and just dive into it in order to make life tastier." Munia Khan, a poet I've recently discovered. I don't yet know whether I like her but I do like this image.

Another soup related discovery: I like seasoned croutons in soup even better than crackers.

01 February 2017

Bamboo: Symbol of the Upright Scholar

Making a few notes re. my birthday visit a week or so ago to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston with my dear friend since college days. We've been walking through that museum together for almost 50 years. Such a friendship is the best gift!

MFAH Emperors Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei

Cathey noted the dynasty changes and interactions with other world cultures. This was particularly noteworthy in the interactions of Taoist and Buddhist Emperors and the art they collected.
In the 14th Century, world trade gave Chinese potters access to Persian Cobalt and the pottery changed from exquisite white and pale green solids to blue and white that is now almost a cliché of Asian art.
 I noted how each emperor and the single empress appeared to demonstrate artistic taste and literary skill as proof of their qualifications to lead. The arts which the emperors both made (the royal calligraphy was done in a special red ink) and collected in some sense legitimized their reigns.
Each change of dynasty required those artists who were part of the court to decide whether they would remain loyal to the overthrown dynasty and lose their positions or whether they would support the new emperor.
We also wondered if art projects, especially the large pottery collections, might have been employment programs, an economic alliance, a sort of quid pro quo.
Funny how the past reverberates into the present. The day we visited Mr. Trump had proclaimed that he would not fund the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities. I wept.
I  noted a calligraphic quote from Kangxi, Emperor of the Qing dynasty, which may prove good advice for the times in which we are living:
"A kind edict: Heed rashness and persevere."

When I was a sophomore at Floydada High School, the world history teacher was Mr. O. W. Lewis who loved Chinese history. I was surprised and grateful at how much I remembered. I wish he could have walked through this exhibition with me.
I am grateful for so many teachers, past and present.
My very most favorite things were small painted cards that were made as gifts for friends: "Bamboo, symbol of the upright scholar." So the little public domain illustration at the top of this post is for all the "upright scholars" in my life.
I've always subscribed to the "don't draw what you can trace, don't trace what you can photocopy, and don't photocopy what you can cut and paste" theory of illustration. I fear I have little artistic talent like Kubla Khan who "expressed his artistic inclinations through appreciation."

Another great favorite was the gourd (also Kangxi, I think) which had been encased in a patterned wooden or ceramic mold so that as it grew the mold transferred the pattern to the gourd.  A difficult art combining both human artistry and the work of nature. Here is a link to a piece that is very similar if not the same one in the exhibit: http://treasure.chinesecio.com/en/article/2009-08/25/content_13735.htm

Let's heed poet Mary Oliver's quote and "think again of dangerous and noble things." Let's all strive to be "upright scholars" and "be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing."
Remember, emperors live and die, dynasties rise and fall, but art and literature and things of "beauty are a joy forever." Let's save as much of it as we can.

23 January 2017

Victorian Flower Gems: My Feminist Brooch

My love of costume jewelry is well known to my friends. I am blessed to have several pieces that belonged to my grandmothers and at least one that belonged to a great grandmother. When I shop an antique store, a pawn shop, or an estate sale, I always browse the jewelry for something interesting or pretty. My collecting rule is simply that I must be able to afford it and I must like it. If I see something of intrinsic value that is under priced, I buy it. Once I told a pair of weeping sisters at their mother’s estate sale to reconsider selling a couple of sterling silver earrings bearing a well-known designer mark for $2.00 because I heard them talking about how their parents had honeymooned in Mexico and I knew those earrings to be of that vintage and that they were really worth at least several hundred dollars. Knowing that, they decided to keep them. I felt good about that. (I might have been less generous if I had liked the earrings better.)
I often grab up odds and ends, even broken jewelry that is cheap with good stones or interesting beads because I do a bit of beading and some jewelry repair. Many a friend has asked me to replace a missing stone in a treasured family heirloom or to go through the contents of her mother’s or grandmother’s treasure boxes to help decide what to keep, what to have appraised, what to sell, and what to discard. Some have brought me baggies of old jewelry because “no one wants these but I thought of you.” Such a haphazard collection is better described as an accumulation because few of my pieces have been cataloged or documented.

If I had more money, it is possible I’d collect the real thing but perhaps not. One of the things I love about this old jewelry is that it was the pride and joy of ordinary women who pinned it on their best dresses or coat lapels and wore it to town, to work, to parties, to weddings, to social and civic events, and to church. These sparkly items made those middle class or poor women feel pretty, rich, and valued. They contributed to their identities. These brooches and pins are the ones displayed in old photographs. Those pieces that are passed down through families become a connection to history that is both personal and cultural. Such women’s history is not always recorded elsewhere. There is something in me that says these things that have been so treasured are not (or should not be) rubbish.

Many of the pieces reflect the aesthetics of their time and may be considered works of art. I have several pieces that I never wear but display on my dresser top or enjoy as beautiful art that I can hold in the palm of my hand.

A couple of decades ago for my birthday, my sister-in-law gave me a vintage brooch. She had bought it at an estate sale from a mutual friend (who is a bit older than I) who thought it might have once belonged to her grandmother or one of her aunts. She had no memories associated with it and needed a bit of cash and to unclutter her house. My sister-in-law was very pleased at my delight upon unwrapping it, saying, “It looked like something you might like even if it is missing several stones. I thought about trying to clean it up a bit but decided you would prefer to do it yourself.”

She was right. I gently cleaned the brooch with a soft brush and some canned air. I decided not to risk unsetting the stones with a more vigorous or liquid based cleaning. I judged there to have been at least two previous attempts at repair. When one of those ordinary women has tried to repair a family piece, I see it as an indicator of the value attached to the piece by its owner. My advice is that unless you can pay a professional to do a repair, unless they or you have access to matching stones, don’t do anything. Consider the missing stone part of the history and charm of the piece, pin it on your shoulder or lapel and wear it with pride and joy as our foremothers did.

I wish I had taken a “before” picture.
An original “ruby” had been reset but poorly and there is visible glue residue that obscures the sparkle. A second “ruby” had also been replaced with a slightly smaller but well matched red glass stone and again I note glue residue. One of the “emeralds” had also been reset or replaced; that stone is a lighter color and perhaps just a bit smaller so it could be a near miss replacement. Since glue residue is again visible, it could be that the glue has damaged the foil backing of the green glass stone which would dull the color. Fearing I might damage those stones I left most of the glue residue in place.  I left all those stones in place since I thought they enhanced rather than detracted from the brooch and were a part of its history that I wished to honor.
There is one large pearl and its setting entirely missing which leaves a small gap in the lower left center of the brooch.
A poorly executed replacement had been attempted for the missing smaller pearl. I removed a simulated pearl glass bead that was too large for the setting with the hole in that bead distractingly visible. I may one day attempt a repair if/when I find a well-matched replacement pearl.
There were several odd beads stuck onto the ends of some of the prongs along the bottom of the pin. Wrong materials, wrong color, wrong style, and clearly not elements that were original to the brooch. I removed and discarded them. I suppose there might have been something on those prongs but I cannot imagine what, and this large brooch with multiple stones and settings is certainly enough. At that point I had a small, sculptural piece to lay on an antique handkerchief on the dresser in my flowers and lace over-the-top-Victorian bathroom in my previous house. I loved it there and had no intention to wear it.
Then one day a few years later, I saw a near identical piece with genuine gem stones in either a museum’s exhibition catalog (a reliable source) or a vendor’s catalog (a not so reliable source.)
For this blog post, I cannot find the citation and it’s possible it was among the notes I lost in a computer crash that I could not recover. (Yes, I know. I thought I was backed up. Early auto back-up technology failed me. Alas!)
If memory serves, the original was a 19th Century brooch with emeralds, rubies, pearls, diamonds, amethysts, and smaller pearls in an 18-carat gold setting. The description named the original owner saying it had been custom made for her to proclaim her support for both Women’s Suffrage and Christian Temperance. My memory of the description of this original museum quality piece is that it dated to about 1850. The presence of three large diamonds could be indicative of a date after 1867 when South African diamonds were discovered and diamonds became more available.

A few other dates may be helpful in considering the dating of my brooch and the original upon which it is based.
The British Association for the Promotion of Temperance was established in 1835 and in 1884 the National Temperance Federation was founded.
The Earl of Carlyle introduced a bill for female suffrage in 1851, and Jacob Bright introduced a bill for woman suffrage in the House of Commons in 1870. In 1897 local British societies that were advocating women’s suffrage merged into the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. In 1903 the more militant Suffragettes emerged.
The “language of flowers” expressed in fine jewelry was at its most popular in Victorian Britain between 1837 (or a bit earlier) and about 1850 and remained popular with the rising middle class and in America to 1880 or so.  
Late Victorian author Evelyn Whitaker (I archive books and ephemeral materials pertaining to her life and work) made extensive use of the language of flowers in her books, particularly in her novel Laddie. In 1876 Laddie was the prize story for the Christmas number of The Monthly Packet of Evening Readings for Members of the English Church. Its first book edition, published anonymously, was in 1879 by Walter Smith, London.

At first glance, my brooch appears to be a late 19th or early 20th Century (circa 1897) reproduction of the circa 1851 museum quality piece that once belonged to a wealthy woman who supported both Women’s Suffrage and Christian Temperance.
The brooch has a stamped brass filigree base with multiple adjustable settings connected to a second brass setting atop it that contains multiple settings for various floral elements and settings for stones and beads. The brooch is very 3 dimensional and mimics a floral gathering. The workmanship is excellent.
The aesthetic is pure 19th Century but the locking C-clasp which appears to be original is a strong argument that my brooch may be a WWII era American Victorian Revival reproduction. The gem stones with the possible exception of the pearls are all imitation.
In any case, the meanings behind the stones and setting make this brooch a strong feminist statement and I wear it with pride and joy on appropriate occasions.

Now a close reading of the brooch:

A double infinity bow at the top indicates two things “tied together forever” a symbol of unity.
The ivy leaves scattered throughout the brooch’s setting symbolize fidelity, eternal faithfulness, and friendship.
The presence of a diamond, symbol of purity and eternity, is intended to bring the wearer strength.

3 Emeralds  Emeralds are the gemstone for Venus signifying womanhood as a giver of life.             In Christian symbology it is the color of the evergreen, eternally green and growing                         Eternal life.  Emeralds are believed to enable clear thinking about past, present, future.                   Suffragette green represented hope and spring, the season of new life.
The emeralds are in a 3-petal floral setting which I don’t recognize. The three petals could reinforce the idea of past, present, future.  If it is a stylized pansy, it would signify remembrance.
Given its location in the setting and its proximity to two of the rubies , this emerald element might say “Remember all life flows through women/mothers.”

3 Rubies    "Who can find a worthy woman, a woman of valor. Her value is greater than rubies.”  The image from  Proverbs 31 is a salute to wisdom, particularly feminine wisdom.  A ruby may also represent courage.
Each ruby is set in six-petal rosette, associated with Aphrodite and represents sexual energy, and femininity. Six is a perfect number. It is sometimes called the “Seed of Life” and represents Creation. 

Beside one of the ruby rosettes is a diamond to signify purity and strength.
Beside the second ruby rosette is a large pearl, “the pearl of great price” from the parables of Jesus. Pearls are sometimes viewed as symbols of purity and feminine wisdom.
The third ruby is flanked by a diamond and a large pearl which is missing in my brooch.

3 Amethysts     The purple amethyst is the symbol of royalty and political power.
The ancients thought it was formed from Dionysus’ drunken tears, a meaning that may be reinforced by the tear drop shape. Victorians often used seed pearls to symbolize tears but these seem a bit too big.
For the suffragette, purple is not only the color of royalty but of freedom and dignity. 
Amethysts also symbolize chastity, sobriety, and self-control.

5 pearls around each amethyst  Victorians often used seed pearls to symbolize tears but these seem a bit too big. I think they are again“the pearl of great price”  representing the thing of such value that it is worth pursuing at all costs.
For the suffragette, white is the color of purity in both private and public lives and pearls are often used in suffragette jewelry.
For the temperance advocate, the goal would be sobriety.
Five is a significant number in biblical numerology and indicates the grace of God.
"The goals of both Women's Suffrage and Christian Temperance are worth pursuing at all costs and are achievable by the grace of God."

Emeralds, Pearls, and Amethysts may represent the green (Give), white (Women), and violet (Votes) of the suffragette banners.
Rubies, Amethysts, Pearls, and Emeralds may also mean “for the sake of your dear mother/wife pledge yourself to sobriety and the pearl of great price, everlasting life.”

On Friday 20 January 2017, Inauguration Day I dressed in all black as a sign of mourning and I wore this brooch. I wore it again on Saturday. I couldn’t march but I did go to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston which one of my friends had suggested as an alternative activity to affirm support for the National Endowment for the Arts.

The other jewelry is this picture:
Birthstone amethyst earrings that belonged to my paternal grandmother, Oma Calahan Cummings.
The gold cross belonged to my mother, Dorthy Wieland Cummings, who bought it at a “junk shop” and wore it throughout her teen years as a profession of faith.
I beaded my necklace of natural garnets (my birth stone) and antique Czechoslovakian ruby glass beads. My mother loved it at first sight and also had a January birthday so I loaned it to her for a decade or so.
The pink stone and pearl pin ornamenting the hanger is one of my first pieces of jewelry. I've had the Victorian reproduction piece since about the seventh grade. The dress is the one I wore for my sister’s wedding as her matron of honor.

Do you know something about my brooch that I don’t?

Have you perhaps seen the original in a museum?
                                                                                                                                                                    Do you have a special piece of jewelry?

Name your favorite feminist/suffragette. Mine is whoever wore the original of my brooch.