Saturday, January 28, 2006

why, part 1

This afternoon was the first read-through for the Vagina Monologues. I had a lot of fun. It really is liberating to say "vagina" out loud in front of people, and find that you're not blushing.

One of the things we were supposed to do for today was put together some kind of more-or-less creative statement about why we're involved in the Vagina Monologues. I am on the lesser side of well as the lesser side of punctuality. I'll post my statement here in a few days, when it's done.

In the meantime, there's some really fascinating stuff about Christianity and sexuality to be read in the archives of the Feminarian's blog:

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

imago Dei, imago Christi

Further reflection:

In order to make good on this comment over on the blog discussion that has so warped my attention span:

"Okay, I can’t help but retrace a thought from Travis: we treat this as a solely hermeneutical question, but in fact, it is a theological and anthropological question as well. In other words, it is a question involving our beliefs about who God is and what God is like, and who we are and what men and women are like. In my opinion, this is the REAL discussion, because these beliefs affect in a strong way how we interpret this particular handful of snarky Bible verses",

here is some stuff I've been reviewing for the theological anthropology section on my Systematic Theology comp tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow. And what am I doing? Yes, I'm blogging. Again.

No one picked up on the suggestion that we talk theology/anthropology instead of playing "What Does the Bible Say," round 12,846,729,000,000,000,003. But here is what I meant. What are human beings? Well, we could get all complicated and stuff, but why don't we start with the affirmation, straight from the Bible and Christian tradition, that whatever human beings are, they're the image of God, whatever that is. We can even set aside for right now what that even means. All we need to say, here, is that the imago Dei applies to all human beings that have ever been, regardless of any other characteristic that might distinguish them. Including gender. Even in the CofC, this is not a particularly contentious assertion. Everyone's ready to say, sure, women are made in the image of God just like men are--who would say different? Go read your Bible, for crying out loud.

From here what needs to be talked about is what does this mean in terms of the way we interact with and treat each other, as men and women, in the church and out of it.

From Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, (excerpts taken from pages 69-76):

As women's experience of their own worth is articulated today, ownership of the imago Dei doctrine is occurring at a foundational level...Practically speaking, this leads to the moral imperative of respect for women, to the responsibility not to deface the living image of God but to promote it through transformative praxis...If women are created in the image of God, without qualification, then their human reality offers suitable, even excellent metaphor for speaking about divine mystery, who always remains greater then ever.

Further, Christian women, Johnson says, are imago Christi:

Due to the androcentric nature of the traditioning process, the understanding that women are likewise christomorphic has been more difficult to grasp...But this confession [that Jesus is the Christ] also witnesses to the insight that through the power of the Spirit the beloved community shares in this Christhood, participates in the living and dying and rising of Christ to such an extent that they can even be called the body of Christ. Identified with the redemptive acts of Christ's historical and risen life, women and men together form one body that lives through, into, with, and in Christ.

Johnson points to baptism as the sign of this imago Christi reality, and cites Paul: Galatians 3:27-28, 2 Corinthians 5:17, and 2 Corinthians 6:15a (later she also cites Acts 9:1-5, pointing out that there is an identification by Christ of "men and women" perscuted by Saul and Christ himself); and continues,

If the model for sharing in the image of Christ be one of exact duplication, similar to the making of a xerox copy, and if Christ be reduced to the historical individual Jesus of Nazareth, and if the salient feature about Jesus as the Christ be his male sex, then women are obviously excluded from sharing that image in full. But every one of those suppositions falls short and twists the central testimony of biblical and doctrinal traditions. The guiding model for the imago Christi is not replication of sexual features but participation in the life of Christ, which is founded on communion in the Spirit: those who live the life of Christ are icons of Christ...One in Christ Jesus, women precisely in their female bodily existence and not apart from it are imago Christi.

The fundamental capacity to be bearers of the image of God and Christ is a gift not restricted by sex....Such views [of restriction] are distortions of God's good creation in women. They do not derive from the egalitarian doctrines of the imago Dei or imago Christi central to Christian life, but from androcentric attitudes striving to protect patriarchal privilege. As such they are simply wrong, expressions of the sin of sexism. Women know from experience that such views are also existentially ridiculous, as well as logically incoherent when set within the larger context of Christian belief. As women name themselves in power, responsibility, freedom, and mutual relatedness, and affirm themselves as embodied, self-transcending persons broken by sin and yet renewed by amazing grace, new ownership of the gift of the female self as imago Dei, imago Christi is transacted. Simultaneously, it becomes obvious that the imago is flexible and returns to its giver, so that women who are genuinely God's image in turn become suitable metaphors for the divine.

If women truly are the image of God, the image of Christ, then women, too, fall under the same privilege and responsibility to be that image.

This requires witness. It, in fact, demands it. How can we affirm all of this, and yet still think that the Church of Christ status quo of female silence is in any way consistent with this affirmation?

Monday, January 23, 2006


Well, I have spent all day doing things other than preparing for my upcoming comprehensive exam in Systematic Theology on Wednesday. So, why start now. Instead I want to muse a little bit on yesterday's lectionary texts and Joe's thoughts on "call," and how that relates to what's been preoccupying me all day and preventeth me (how dareth it) from getting on with my real tasks of the day.

What is a call? In the texts for yesterday (Jonah and Mark), what constitutes a call in both cases is really clear. God speaks to Jonah, and Jesus speaks to the disciples. There's no ambiguity in any of that. The question in the text is the response to what is a clear call. But I don't get a Jonah-like experience of God speaking to me, nor do I experience the presence of Jesus in any analogous way to the disciples' call from their fishing boats. This pretty much is true for everyone I know, because I don't know people who claim to speak to God personally, or at least, if they do, they don't admit it. The closest I get to that is Friday nights watching The Book of Daniel. So what do we mean by "call" today, when we say we feel called, or have received a call to do such and such?

Brent and I have talked a lot about this as he has begun the long long process of ordination, and also as he ponders his potential dissertation topic. For a call to be a call, it must be, in some sense, external to the self. It has to come from outside. This is a little weird, because we're used to understanding things like job decisions and personal relationship decisions as solely the result of digging into oneself, figuring out what really is going on in there, and making the decision accordingly. Like, do I really want to pursue a career in ________, and do I have the stuff it takes to succeed in it? Do I really love this person and want to spend my life in his company, and do I have the guts to take that risky jump?

But call is different, because it's not only about figuring out oneself. It's not only about coming to a clearer understanding of your own wants, needs, goals and abilities. It's not that these things are irrelevant. But they are secondary. Taking stock of yourself is part of responding to a call, not the process of experiencing it or initiating it.

Maybe I sound all mystical here, which is funny, 'cause reading all those women mystics a few months back confirmed for me that if I err in my walk, it's toward the overly rational and overly-intellectualized forms of faith (rather a "masculine" issue for me to be having). I don't know how to explain the origin or initiation of a call and frankly, I'd rather not try to analyze it theologically in those terms. I want to posit, instead, that the issue of how God acts in the world (while fascinating and intricate and worth pursuing) is secondary in this discussion; when we have a call, we experience it as external and respond to it as such. Some people therefore characterize it as an actual experience. This is why I think this seems natural to them to do so.

The thing is, I have experienced something that I would designate as a "call." I haven't heard any voices or gotten any visions, but I'm just as sure of it as if I had. I haven't had any single experience which I could pin down and say, this is my experience of being called. But that doesn't matter. I still experience it as something which is outside myself, something which, therefore, is beyond my control and beyond my purview to question, negotiate, ignore or deny. It is something which demands response.

One of the things we were asked to ponder as a church was, can we envision ourselves as those fishermen, dropping everything and walking away in answer to a call? It's hard, but I know some people who've done something like it. I've never asked my dad or my brother-in-law to share how that feels, but I'd love to discuss it sometime. Maybe y'all should leave a comment.

What does all this have to do with my last post and my preoccupation with the women's silence discussion? Simply this. I don't feel called to do hermeneutical battle. It's not my work. I do feel called to witness to the called-ness of women to ministry. But doing hermeneutical battle is not a part of that witness. Rather, while the boys duke it out over whether I'm allowed to do this or that in this or that context according to this or that Bible verse, I will be taking any invitation offered to speak in any context where those words will be heard, on any topic whatsoever. Because my call doesn't include justifying to other people that it's real, or that I am equipped and authorized to respond to it. My call is to get on with it. My call is to study, to learn, to share what I've learned, to read the Bible and share what I think about it to people who are interested in hearing it, and to equip people to read and think more deeply in the same way that I myself have been equipped by the long, long line of very patient teachers who have given me this great gift. A call comes with its own authority. It mandates a response.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Oh, the seduction of blogging. Or more accurately, commenting on someone else's blog and getting dragged into the stretched-out, virtual debate that isn't. But it happens. It happens a lot. It happens more and more as deadlines loom closer.

The bad thing, it gets me all twisty inside, and there's very little satisfaction. Even a well-written comment very rarely has any kind of genuine effect on the conversation, and there's never any point at which you get either the illicit satisfaction of watching a zinger hit home, or a thoughtful argument work its rational magic. All the exciting stuff is behind the scenes and there's no satisfaction in it.

But there is, alas, angst. Somehow, while I can work myself up into leaving a comment, it still leaves me with that sick feeling that all personal confrontation does. It's that same old problem, the one I identified when I first started blogging, the one that this blog is supposed to remedy by giving me space to voice some truth a little rudely every so often. I am just too damn Southern, I guess, and maybe it'll take years and possibly professional therapy to get to a place where I can express dissent without harboring feelings of anxiety and guilt on account of it.

Anyway, due to a serious lack of judgment or perhaps even misguided sense of calling (ha, that's for you, Joe) I left an unedited first-draft comment on a blog that is currently rehashing the classic pros and cons of women's silence in the church. In response to some comments that blithely assume that 1) the right conclusion is glaringly obvious, 2) obedience without understanding is par for the course with the Christian God, and 3) people who dissent whould shut up anyway on the basis of the "weaker brother" argument, I left this response:

"Okay, maybe I should wait until I feel less stepped on to write this comment. But I find it sadly, sadly amusing that men find it so easy to accept that proposition that women should be silent, even if it “doesn’t make sense to us,” and even be willing to extend that prohibition further than we normally do in the event that a word study of the Greek “ecclesia” prove it a necessity. In making this point, I don’t want to be heard as saying anything other than, try looking at this issue from the point of view of those whose silence is being debated—while being taken for granted. It’s a lot easier for those who don’t fall under the restriction to accept it. Even if your reading of the Bible and your conscience demand that you accept the proposition that women must be silent, this is something to be accepted with the sort of sorrow that acknowledges that—for whatever unfathomable reason—one group of human beings is not given the privilege and responsibility of speaking the word of God, and another group of human beings has lost the chance to hear that word spoken. No matter how strongly you feel this to be a non-negotiable issue, it is a matter of loss and a cause for sorrow. We all lose when women are silent."

This is my second comment in the discussion, and I'm a little chagrined to report that my first comment disappeared without so much as a ripple in response. Unless the commenters are possessed of unusual nomenclature, I'm the only woman who has even joined the discussion. Not to be touchy, but you'd think that, given the topic, a woman's comments would merit some response.

So, let's face it, I'm just pissed. That's it. It's amazing how much a virtual slight can hurt. It's amazing how damaging it is just to have a stupid comment ignored instead of acknowledged. And that, quite simply, is the problem in a nutshell. Why even debate the hermeneutical rightness or wrongness of the silence of women in Churches of Christ? Y'all don't hear us even when we speak. Silence doesn't get much more total than that. It's not a debate. It's a closed case.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

what are your questions?

Go visit Gay Restorationist today. Think about it awhile, and then post your questions. I found I had quite a lot.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Bread, as some of you readers know, can be a very deep and philosophical subject for reflection. I like to make bread. Not many people do anymore, and when I bring homemade bread to a function, it inevitably arouses admiration and lots of fuss. I enjoy that, because I like attention and I like to hear people tell me how good my bread is and wow, etc., etc. I don't mind admitting that I really like to get some gratuitous admiration every now and then just for doing something I like anyway.

I discovered in China, in my first year of teaching there (1998), that I also really like to make Communion bread. That first year I was dreadfully clueless in nearly every respect, and very quickly I found myself in the position of having volunteered my apartment as a meeting place. It seemed a simple thing to be able to contribute (and, quite honestly, the only way in which I could contribute, save for a good steady alto in the ol' standby hymns we inevitably tortured ourselves with every Sunday). But it did involve a fair amount of work: cleaning, rearranging furniture to allow maximum space and seating, and the provision of the bread and grape juice for Communion.

That first Sunday I think my bread was probably a disaster. I don't remember it, so I'm pretty sure it was bad. But gradually over the weeks my experiments improved, until one Sunday I was sure I'd hit the jackpot: crisp, but not crumbly; resilient but not tough; and, the crowning achievement, downright tasty. I always taste-tested before church, and this Sunday I was jubilant. My Communion bread was good.

And--please believe me--it wasn't the thirst for admiration that made me so happy. After weeks and weeks of really substandard fare, I had begun to draw the theological conclusion that the Body of Christ ought to taste good. There was, it seemed to me, something wrong if one couldn't abide the taste or texture of the Body in one's mouth, if you had to force yourself to pick it up and swallow it. I viewed my quest for good Communion bread as a service to the church. And, finally, I felt good, because I was able to serve adequately in this small way.

I wasn't the only one who noticed that the Communion bread that Sunday was especially fine. After church, a visitor from "across the river" [geographical note: Wuhan is a city of three main districts, split down the middle by the Yangtze River; I lived in Wuchang, and the visitor worshipped with another church across the Yangtze in Hanyang] came up to me and said, "that was the best Communion bread I've ever had." Foolish, clueless me! Beaming happily, I said, "Thanks!" The visitor continued, "If I may ask, how did you make it?" Believing this to be a further compliment, I happily shared my secret: "Oh, a little flour, a pinch of salt, and some "Mother's Choice," cut in with a fork, and water until the dough holds together, like you'd make pastry. But this morning I also added a pinch of sugar to the flour."

The visitor's reaction was somewhat less complimentary, now having sniffed out the problem he'd suspected all along. "Sugar? You put sugar in the bread?" Somewhat confused by the shift in tone, I said, "Yes, just a little. A pinch."

Seeing that I was in trouble, a friend came to the rescue and began engaging the visitor, eventually positing that a pinch of sugar in the dough was in no way equivalent to, say, having cheese and herbs alongside one's unleavened bread.

The next week we heard reports of rumors that the church across the river believed we ate cheese and herbs for Communion.

I was distracted from following this conversation further by being pulled into my living room. I was sat down on my couch and soundly rebuked for my theological waywardness by three members of the church. It was simply inappropriate to put sugar in the Communion bread. I was treated to a rather lengthy and unnecessary recap of the Passover story and the symbolic connection to the Last Supper, culminating in a paternalistic warning: don't do it again. Feeling rather put upon and harassed at this point, I demanded to know why. My Communion bread was good; everyone had said so. What did it matter how I made it, as long as it was unleavened? I didn't put yeast in it, for heaven's sake, or baking soda or powder. Sugar isn't leavening. After these protests, my interlocutors scrambled for a logical rejoinder: there wasn't time for the Hebrew people during the Exodus to add sugar to their bread, either. When I pointed out in reply that my sugar bowl sits right next to my salt on the counter, and that a pinch of one takes about the same time as a pinch of the other, therefore it seemed equally problematic to add salt, I was reassured that salt was okay. Just not sugar.

My second year in China, I requested the recipe of a friend and fellow English teacher because her Communion bread was unfailingly the best I had ever had. It is the recipe I use today and it is written in my keepsake recipe book, the one I received from a dear friend at Harding at the wedding shower she threw me, under the tab labelled "China."

GB's Communion Bread
Changsha, China

1/2 cup flour
pinch salt
1/8 cup olive oil
water to make dough hold together

Drizzle the olive oil into the flour/salt and mix with fork. Add only enough water to make dough hold together in one ball. Divide into as many loaves as you like. Roll out very thin on floured surface. Prick top with fork to prevent bubbles. Bake at 400 degrees for about 5 minutes or until brown. Sprinkle with salt immediately after baking.

For those of you who are curious, when I make GB's recipe, I add a pinch of sugar. Not to be defiant, and not because her recipe isn't stellar as is. Adding the sugar now is more a symbolic act than culinary. I do it because it reminds me of one of the first theological convictions I ever held, one that was marginalized and challenged even as I came to hold it: the Body of Christ ought to taste good.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

"Your mother should know"

For those in need of orientation, she's upside down with her feet invisibly tucked away, so she resembles a mermaid doing a headstand.

Yes, she! I am happy to announce the results of the Great Gender Gamble of '05: MOM wins, Emily loses. Hence my tribute--and "Baby Clare" is tapdancing away (upside down, presumably, so clearly the girl has some talent) to the Beatles as I write, I suppose also to show her appreciation through interpretive dance. Way to go, Ma! Despite my lingering reservations regarding the scientific validity of the 'no heartburn=girl baby' hypothesis, MOM called it, and therefore has the remaining 20 weeks to gloat.

Apparently, it's not simply the absence of male equipment that indicates it's a girl, but it's possible to see the beginnings of female genitalia as well. Amazing.

Our ultrasound technician very helpfully talked through all the different measurements she made of all the many and various baby parts she measured--a very long process, but (of course) endlessly fascinating (for us). She measured everything from the length of the femur (clearly visible, by the way, in the picture above--it's the little white line near the top) to head circumference, girth and length and weight, and then weird measurements like "the nucal fold" on the back of the neck (one of about a dozen indicators for Down's syndrome). Every time she measured something she would give a little satisfied head nod or grunt, unconsciously I think, but very reassuringly nonetheless.

We saw her suck her thumb in there. I don't have any words for that. I wish we had captured it in the pictures we got to take home, but she's a little uncooperative. Hmph.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Wednesday morning, 9:30 a.m.

Wednesday morning we have our 20-week ultrasound. A lot of people treat this as simply the gender ultrasound, which it is, but it's also the one they do to just generally look over the kid's anatomy and make sure everything is basically there and in place. For those of you who follow Joe's blog, this was the one where they first learned that Ira had CDH. So, while all I really talk about is yes, we do want to know, and yes, we will tell everyone, I also have in the back of my mind the knowledge that this routine check up doesn't always go routinely. It's not really something I want to talk about, and really, I don't have much more to say about it here than just the simple fact that it's on my mind. I don't pray about it, or even go so far as to hope that everything scans "normal." It's not like that. Whatever is there, is there; it's a matter of knowledge--Wednesday we'll know more than we do now about what already is the case. It's more like the feeling you would have about anyone you know and love--you just want things to be as good as possible for them, you don't want them to hurt or be sick or have trouble. You just want things to be perfect, because you love them. It's weird to talk about loving something I've never seen and (up to a few weeks ago) really had scant evidence was even there (sore boobs and amenorrhea are pretty indirect after all). But, there it is. It is love, even if the person loved has yet to make an appearance or even yet to become a person (a matter of some debate, especially since defining "person" turns out to be pretty damn slippery). I mean, how else would you describe giving up coffee?