Lydia vs. Harriet Bedell

We started Lent Madness 2014 with 32 saints and now we're down to four. The Faithful Four. Who will win the coveted Golden Halo? Only a few short days and your voting participation will give us the answer. But it's come down to this: Lydia, Harriet Bedell, Charles Wesley, and Phillips Brooks.

Today we begin the first of two Faithful Four match-ups as Lydia takes on Harriet Bedell. In this round we ask our Celebrity Bloggers to briefly answer one question: "Why should Saint XX win the Golden Halo?" Speaking of which, how about a round of applause for our fabulous CB's who toil away in the salt mines of Lent Madness without nearly enough recognition? They are truly the backbone of this operation and are worthy of our gratitude. Please do hound them for autographs when you spot them wearing sunglasses and baseball caps just trying to lead normal lives.

To make it to the Faithful Four, Lydia defeated Moses the Black, John of the Cross, and Basil the Great while Harriet turned back Joseph Schereschewsky, Thomas Gallaudet, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. (click on the names of defeated opponents to view previous match-ups and refresh your memory about these two saintly women).

And, in case you were wondering, we're tantalizingly close to our goal of 10,000 Facebook likes. Over 9,920! Encourage that freshly minted teenager who just became eligible for an account to like us. Compel your grandfather for whom you just did spend the last five hours setting up his new computer and teaching him how to use Facebook to join the Lent Madness party. We can do this!

Finally, here's the Archbishop's Update highlighting today's battle:

Lydia

unnamedSt. Lydia, unlike other saints, stands in the shadows. No legends, no stories of miracles, no healings. She just shows up in Acts, does her thing, disappears again. Yet she has lasted. She is a saint of paradox, standing with feet in two worlds..

Her very name, in Acts, is a contradiction. She’s Lydia Thyatira, which indicates she is from Thyatira, a town known for its dyeworks, but she appears in Philippi of Macedonia. She must have moved her family from the small town to the more-bustling crossroads of Philippi at some point. She’s a transplant, at a time when people didn’t move from their hometowns. She’s from two places at once.

She’s a powerful business woman in her community and head of her own household. That’s rare in her time and place. While we have other examples of female heads-of-households during the Pax Romana, it wasn’t common, and Lydia running her own prosperous dye business would have raised a few eyebrows, and caused a few Roman patriarchs to despair for the soul of the Empire. A strong woman in a strongly patriarchal society, she would not have been the most popular person.

unnamed

Paul and Lydia, Church in Philippi

When we meet her, she is praying with the Jewish community, but she hasn’t converted. And she’s not at the synagogue; she’s at the riverbank, with the other God-fearers. Even when it comes to matters of faith, she’s holding several things in tension.

And yet, when she meets Paul, she’s drawn to the Jesus that he preaches, to the Jesus that he describes. She is immediately baptized, along with her entire household. And her life is changed. From that moment on, the entirety of her wealth, her status and her resources are dedicated to starting and sheltering the Christian mission in Philippi.

It’s impossible to crawl in the mind of another person, so who knows what drew her that day by the river. But perhaps part of the attraction was her unique blend of paradoxes. Perhaps she recognized in Jesus a sort of kindred spirit, who held together in himself the ultimate tension of heaven and earth, God and humanity.

unnamedPerhaps she found in Paul a kindred spirit who recognized her full potential for, in the words of Paul himself, “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, for all are one in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Whatever the case, since then, she has been an inspiration for countless others to find their own voice in ministry. The ministries, the churches dedicated to Lydia testify to her enduring legacy. Even though not much is known about her, and even though the political whims of the later church never allowed for the popular devotion accorded to other saints, Lydia’s unique brand of dedication, perseverance, and faith have inspired many in their faith.

So who better to wear the Golden Halo than Lydia? Let’s give it to the woman who emerged from the shadows to lead the early church, and poured all she had, paradoxes and all, into the Gospel.

-- Megan Castellan

Harriet Bedell

unnamedLast summer the assignment of saints descended from the Supreme Executive Committee. I scanned the list for mine, pausing at Harriet Bedell. I had no idea who she was. These many months later, I am glad for the privilege to learn her story and to share it with you, the citizens of Lent Madness Nation.

(Oh, wait. That’s Red Sox talk best saved for tomorrow’s write-up on Phillips Brooks.)

Bedell’s story is infused with the stuff we associate with saintliness: charity, sacrifice, poverty, tenaciousness, courage, humility. The beauty of her story is also measured by the frailty that seeps through her narrative. In her early thirties, when she first arrived at the Oklahoma mission, she blanched at learning to ride a horse. Rather than embarrassing herself by asking tribal members to teach her, she took a horse out on the range and taught herself to ride in private. We can only imagine the bumps, bruises, and wounded pride she sustained in the process.

Nothing is wasted in God’s economy. Bedell’s experiences in Oklahoma paved the way for her years in Alaska just as those years prepared her for her unnamedlong ministry among the Seminole in Florida. “Miss Harriet Bedell, of long experience in Indian work...for three years past has lived in...one of the most isolated spots in interior Alaska,” wrote Hudson Stuck, Archdeacon of the Yukon, in 1920. “Such a post requires a missionary entirely absorbed and happy in the work, and such a one is Miss Bedell.”

Her devotion to God and to the people she served may have been grounded in faith but its expression was always practical. The naturalist Thomas Barbour called her, “a hard-nosed realist.” And no account of Harriet Bedell would be complete without a listing of her no-nonsense “Rules of Life.”

  1. God is first.
  2. Don’t worry. Put all in the hands of God. Don’t think or talk about troubles.
  3. Don’t hurry.
  4. Don’t eat too much between meals.
  5. Don’t do two things at the same time.
  6. All life involves sacrifice.

unnamedThat sacrifice serves as a remarkable example. Bedell, who died in 1969, never saw a movie or owned a radio. She lived a life solely focused on her call from God. Marya Repko’s biography, Angel of the Everglades, records a letter from Bedell to Bishop John D. Wing of the Diocese of South Florida. She wrote, “Our days are very full and it is so impossible to work at letters. The care of the sick is an important part of our work. They send for us or bring their sick ones to the mission...In the glades visits we often find medicine-men caring for the sick. At first they were not friendly but going as we do with Indians they saw we wanted to help.”

Repko writes, “When an influenza epidemic broke out in 1937...she took the sufferers into her own home where she fed them soup and aspirin. Her efforts were appreciated by the Medicine Man who called her ‘sister.’ She was also known as “in-co-shopie,” the woman of God.”

Photos courtesy of Florida State Archives

-- Heidi Shott

Vote!

Lydia vs. Harriet Bedell

  • Harriet Bedell (54%, 2,550 Votes)
  • Lydia (46%, 2,177 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,726

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119 comments on “Lydia vs. Harriet Bedell”

  1. I love both of these saints however I must speak up on behalf of Harriet Bedell. She had a far-reaching ministry at a time when women were not well recognized for their work. In her life and ministry she learned to ride a horse in Oklahoma, mush a dog sled in Alaska, and then drive a car and navigate with a canoe in Florida. She was adopted into all of these communities, often the first "white" to claim that honor. All of this while sharing Christ with the indigenous peoples in an accessible manner. Go Harriet!

  2. Now's the time to show us how really BIG and influential LM is — I went looking to buy a copy of Angel of the Everglades, only to find out that it's Angel of the Swamp. The title not withstanding, the cheapest used copy available from Amazon is a little less than $23. while a new one weighs in at over $500.00. Yikes! So how's about a reprint of this great Saint's story LM or FM?

      1. LM/CB are totally AWESOME! But then we knew that before. Thank you for that link Heide — order for two is on it's way.

  3. Today I'm voting for Harriet Bedell for her refusal to waste her time on broadcast media. Lydia didn't have to face that cultural pressure.

  4. Well, at the risk of having my head handed to me... Harriet's rules for life do not strike me as much different from other note-worthy (or should I say halo worthy) missionaries or philosophers... except the snacking part. Lydia had to face far more difficult cultural pressure in her time and gave up far more than I suspect Harriet ever had in the first place. It isn't hard to give up something you never had, but to sacrifice your entire life's existence to follow her Lord deserves much more than the golden halo. Besides, to work with those snails she had to have a patience far surpassing Job himself! Go Lydia!!!

    1. My musical dedicate to both of these saintly women. This is my favorite song of lately, and when it first occurred to me, I thought this is the anthem of the modern Lydia (of the purple finger tips), but I think the lyrics speak to Harriet's approach to earthly life, too. Both of these women used figurative machetes to cut through the red tape of their worlds in service to God's children.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5KmB8Laemg

      1. Amen, sister! (Poor snails. I looked it up, and it turns out that snails do have a nervous system and can therefore feel pain)

      2. Sorry, Linda! I'm just seeing your comment now!
        I meant that, as the institutional church developed, and gained traction under Constantine, it moved away from allowing women's public leadership. So the church emphasized saints that idealized the values it wanted to encourage, and Lydia got moved more to the shadows. As a saint, she's notable by her lack of legends.

        1. Thanks, Megan. I'm really enjoying learning more about the saints. So it sounds like there was a disinformation campaign against Lydia!

      3. No, turning those profits/talents to the use of the church did. Like Matthew the tax collector, Saul the pharisee, etc. All we know is that Paul thought her worthy to mention. Curious, did he mention other women by name?

  5. I've voted for Harriet all the way through and against Lydia in favor of John of the Cross. But when these two are up against each other today, I feel more drawn to Lydia. Kudos to Megan whose write-up was superb. And thanks to comments by Jessica DS for reminding me that it's valid to vote for which saint is speaking to me today (not who I've supported in past rounds!).

  6. Harriet ' s rules speak to my heart. It is such a great but hard message to live out. I vote for her.

  7. I voted for Lydia but I am writing down Harriet ' s rules for further thought and action.

  8. I"m still feeling a backlash to the more modern saints that we know more about, so I went with Lydia. As Megan said, the fact that she is even mentioned shows how important she was. Great writeups by both Heidi and Megan though!

  9. Very difficult today. I was nearly named Lydia after a great Aunt. I love the feminism in her story in a time where the world was male dominated. However, I am also from Florida with strong Oklahoma roots too. What won me over to vote for Harriet Bedell was her instructions for life. I think that is going to become my new mantra.

    1. Theory 1) people will be happy with either candidate, and are abstaining. 2) people will be unhappy with either candidate moving forward, and are abstaining 3) like me, they may have wanted to let it rest for a while before making a decision 4) people are in total lock-down preparing for Holy Week 5) someone paid people off to abstain, and they didn't include me (harrumph).

    2. Not completely true. I voted for Lydia in the end though I greatly admire Harriet.

  10. Today, Lydia feels to me be the more "modern" of the two.
    Weird.
    The Spirit moves in mysterious ways.

  11. This was the toughest vote yet, but Harriet won out for me. She was proof that one person really can make a significant difference in the lives of others.

  12. Both great women so I won't be disappointed who wins, but I my vote is for Harriet. I can't imagine what she must have faced in places she lived. Amazing work and an inspiration in living your faith.

  13. I've never been terribly fond of Paul, and with his love of the sound of his own voice, why did I need to be? But still, the more study and learning I've done, the more I have come to believe that Paul has been getting at least a partially undeserved rep — particularly re: woman. Mistranslations (by men!) and misunderstanding of the social structure have earned him some slung mud that he probably wasn't around to duck when it was slung. I can cut him a break or two

  14. I love the hymn "The Chuch's One Foundation" and reading the eloquent write-ups emphasized the ways in which both saintly women devoted their living souls to humanity. But it was the hymn line "...by water and the word" that brought my heart to Lydia.
    As others have noted, her devotion was foundational.

  15. Electronic gremlins today. It would not let me vote until I clicked to make a comment.
    Both worthy women but we have more information to hang our hats on or votes for Sister Harriet.

  16. As a Daughter of the King, trying to follow our Rule of Life, I was particularly interested in Harriet's. She had me when she said, "Don't eat TOO MUCH between meals." I can do that.

  17. A toughie, but I went with Harriet Bedell for the same reasons I voted for her before. Lydia used her wealth to help others and that is very commendable, but for me Harriet more represents for me the way Jesus lived.

  18. Dear Lydia. What a wonderful person! Independent. Successful, specialty business owner. Also, she worshipped the One, True God with people who were not her kin. One day, she heard Paul preach. In a flash, like at Creation, Lydia saw the Truth: The risen Jesus is the Son of God. What an exciting event her immediate understanding was! Lydia accepted and supported with her whole heart the Jesus Way. It was a shinning moment for Paul, too. Paul, who was, as we all know, only the messenger.

    Poor Paul. Poor, poor Paul. Always getting a bum rap. He would have had a better time if someone had introduced him to commas, semi-colons, and, yes, periods to end his lengthy, dependent clause filled, sentences. Had Paul been anti-woman, it's doubtful Lydia would have listened to him for very long.

    Strong Lydia received Paul's message with great JOY! She acted on this Joy.

    Brave Harriet acted on this Joy. Ministering to other cultures, without trying to change them, Harriet brought the love of Christ to the people. The "Energizer Bunny" has nothing on Harriet. My vote is for the lesser known and unsung Harriet Bedell, who continued the message of Paul and of Lydia..

  19. I really wanted to continue to support Lydia who is one of my favorite Biblical figures, but the joyful toil of Ms. Bedell whom I could have met until the year I graduated from undergrad school (wow!) is simply too impressive a record not to recognize this time.
    What a kick this Lent Madness has been. It's almost the only of my Lenten Disciplines I've stuck with this year. What a great idea for leaning the Holy Women & Holy Men. Those folks from LF&F are pretty familiar to me, but there is quite an expansion in the new book, & certainly our Church today needs Heroes in the faith. Glad I stuck it out!

  20. I'm sad tonight that the gracious Lydia us going down in defeat. I had her going all the way to the Golden Halo!

    1. Me, too. And from Megan's answer to my question above, it sounds like the early church had an active disinformation campaign against Lydia, which is why we don't know more about her celebrations as a saint.