Tuesday, April 29, 2008

what I wish he'd said

"Religion must always maintain a position from which to speak truth to power. Reverend Wright is speaking the truth as he sees it and as he sees fit; this is his call as a prophetic leader of a religious community in this country. It's his job. A prophet's words are often harsh, and condemning, sometimes hyperbolic, and always unwelcome. But that's his job. It's not my job. As a Senator and a candidate for the presidency, I am...power. And my job is to listen to those prophets, however unwelcome their words, to that truth that they see fit to deliver to those who hold political power. The mistake is in assuming that either I must echo these unwelcome words or refuse to hear them...the truth is that I, we, must stop and listen. This is a democracy where all voices must be heard."

Now why didn't someone write that down on a post-it and hand it to the man?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

lame live blogging

preliminaries and thank yous...I hate that old joke about "marrying up" and the success of a man due to his wife being a great asset. Boo.

"our problems are bigger than the smallness of our politics"...etc. Is this an apology for the tit-for-tat recently?

It's all about McCain...that's interesting. And consistent with the implicit apology and rhetorical move to refocus the campaign on its original message.

WE. The man loves the first person plural.

(And the chanting. Yes, we can.)

Lobbyists. Interesting, because Clinton made a big deal--mentioned it twice--about being "outspent 3 to 1" in PA...as if posturing as the financial underdog were at all plausible. Seriously.

80% reporting, 55% Clinton, 45% Obama. Sigh.

We can be the party that does where everyone has to agree...or we can be the hybrid cyborg party (a free JTB paraphrase): "we are not as divided as our politics suggest." It's still a good line.

"I'm not a perfect man, I won't be a perfect president." That's a far cry from Clinton's "being president is the hardest job in the world.....I'm ready on Day 1." just a bit arrogant, yes? Particularly in contrast.

mankind? I really wish people would ge with it and start amending to "humankind." It's not that hard.

All in all...no mention of "losing" while Clinton was all "neener neener neener." Gotta love the High Road.

Monday, April 14, 2008

the dots

When I first started teaching the toddler class at CCfB I had no clue what I was doing. Sure, one of the toddlers was my own daughter but it's one thing to handle your kid at home and another to try to handle two or three at a time in a space that's not your own. And try to teach them something about Noah, or Jesus, and produce some kind of passable crafty thingy. Not really within my particular form of spiritual giftedness. (I'm getting better at it; and more importantly, I've discovered I totally enjoy spending that time with our toddlers. They are beautiful little people.)

A couple weeks into it I called my mom, who teaches toddlers at Enumclaw Community Church, and said, you gotta help me out. Along with the predictable things like reminding me there's no such thing as an attention span at that age, and to be flexible and go with the flow, she told me about the dots. She got this from Happiest Toddler on the Block. You give dots--little dots with a marker on their hands--when toddlers do something specifically good. Within 2 weeks of introducing this system in the CCfB toddler class, I had these squirmy toddlers sitting and listening and drawing and sharing and singing and whatever-ing on cue. And when they run out of class back to church they proudly display their dots to show everyone how good they are. I love the dots. And so do they!

It's worked so well at church that recently I started doing this at home with Clare. We've had trouble lately with getting her cooperation in basic necessary actions like changing her diaper and brushing her teeth. Timeouts have worked pretty well with Clare (although the logistics of a safe and effective timeout are a little difficult in an apartment like ours). But they didn't seem to make a difference with her defiance at getting-ready-for-bed routines. Like me as a kid, she seems to figure she can take whatever we can dish out and to consider it a decent tradeoff for maintaining her defiant integrity. But now, she knows that if she cooperates with brushing her teeth, she gets a dot...and if she doesn't she gets a timeout. Once this double whammy was successfully communicated, we've had the easiest toothbrushings in our lives.

What I really like about the dots is that they're symbolic. Like stickers, but even easier and cheaper. So I don't feel like I'm bribing her with food or toys or some kind of unsustainable system of increasing rewards. I also like that the dot is specific--it says, "You did what I asked and I'm proud of you, good job." It separates out praise for behavior from general and constant parental love. I hope that means that Clare will never feel like she has to perform in order to earn love...while at the same time learning to meet our not-unreasonable expectations and standards for behavior. We do after all owe it to everyone to civilize our little monkey child. And we owe it to her not to let all her teeth rot out of her head. And eventually get her out of diapers.

I can't even tell you how good it felt when we finally saw it click in Clare's brain that she had a choice: cooperate and get a dot, or tantrum and get a timeout. It was incredible, after weeks of toothbrushing standoffs, to see her suddenly sit still and open her mouth and let us brush her teeth and be so calm and pleased with herself afterward. I felt like such an incredibly successfully parent. You just don't get to feel that all that often. Most of the time you're just muddling through, getting it done, more or less, figuring that if you're not doing well you could at least be doing worse and after all at this point they're not gonna remember your horrible mistakes anyway, thank God. But this one moment, I felt like I'd been awarded the most elusive prize for good parenting ever: The Toddler's Award for Effective Parental Communication.

I think I deserve a dot.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

AIDS Walk 2008

It's springtime!

Maybe that means allergies. Or enjoying the pretty flowers. Or cleaning out closets.

But it definitely means walking.

For the second year in a row, CCfB has had teams in the MS Walk and the AIDS Walk. Today was the MS Walk and several people were absent from PS 261 today as they were walking across the Brooklyn Bridge to raise money for the National MS Society.

Next month is the AIDS Walk. Clare and I did this last year--got on a train in Princeton Junction, met up with the CCfB team and walked through the Central Park alongside tons and tons of other people. Our fundraising goal in 2007 was $50 and it was met in ONE donation and that made us very happy...so I thought this year we would double it, send out an email, and hope for the best. You can check the sidebar to see how we're doing...and yep, that's right--we're nearly double our $100 goal for this year. Wowee! (That doesn't mean we wouldn't accept more, of course.) We're already working on our thank you notes. :)

This is one of the great things about CCfB...it's not just that we do these things, but that we do them because someone among us has a passion for this particular way of helping make the world a better place. This is why we walk to help raise money for organizations dedicated to alleviating the suffering caused by particular diseases, and it's why this past year we bought a cow and counted the homeless, and why we help support a small church in Mexico and Camp Shiloh. It's why we switched from disposable coffee cups to washing our own mugs after service and to fair trade coffee. It's why Joe can blog about his dreams of starting a tutoring program, and it's why I've no doubt that dream will come true too.

In a month or so I'll be posting pics of me & Clare and CCfB at the 2008 AIDS Walk New York. This time, you'll see Clare on her feet in her teeny little tennis shoes instead of bundled to my hip in my beautiful homemade Maya wrap sling. I expect I'll be a lot less exhausted afterward this time around.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

currently thinking about

Vocation.

Language of "calling" is somewhat foreign to me, although I have learned to use the word in a way that fits well enough within my other theological commitments. But it is not language I grew up with. "Call" seems to imply a sense of God's intimate and detailed providential involvement, not just in the world, but in one's own individual daily life and decision making processes. But this language has also been somewhat formalized, so that potential pastors and ministers in many traditions talk not just about "call" in a theological sense but a practical one as well--one finds a call to this place or that place, this church or that church, this ministry or that. In this more formalized sense, when all the negotiations and handshakings and prelims are over and one is invited to accept a position somewhere, it is called a "call:" I've accepted a call to such-and-such Church in Wherevertown, USA.

But we don't do that in the CofC, really. So in trying to think theologically about vocation and calling in our ecclesial context, there are a lot of things to be sorted out. How does vocation relate to formal ordination, and how does the lack of formal ordination in CofC practice affect how we do or don't use language of vocation? How does a doctrinal commitment to priesthood of all believers affect our sense of ministry and the status of preachers, teachers, elders, deacons, and others specially "called" to serve the church in specifically designated ways that intersect with our strong sense of everyone's status as a minister? Do we or don't we give our preachers a special kind of authority and status? Is this or isn't it consistent with our doctrine? What exactly is spiritual leadership and spiritual authority, and how is this related to vocation and formal or informal ordination?

And how, in the midst of all of this, do we talk about the vocation of women within our churches?

This year's Women in Ministry Conference is set for May 12-14, at the Manhattan Church of Christ. The topic is vocation; and the list of speakers for this year is exciting--women who have been working through all of the above, not just by sitting in a chair in front of a computer and blogging about these theological questions, but by living them and working them out in the most intimate way possible. They embody their answers to these questions, and they'll be sharing the fruits of their experiences with us.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

culling the crowd

Some of you may have noticed that this blog, unlike many others, does not require a word verification or a blogger name/password in order to comment. That's mostly because I blog about things most people aren't interested in discussing--personal news, occasional theology and posthumanism just doesn't get much traffic. That's fine, because that's how I like it.

But other blogs and groups are organized around the purpose of generating discussion and/or debate. GKB's was a veritable hotbed of controversy back in the day before he got kindler and gentler. It can be an enjoyable or exasperating distraction, and it can sometimes lead to a helpful clarification or expansion of a topic, a sort of virtual seminar, if it goes well. But it doesn't always go well and probably mostly doesn't; many people have noted that the anonymity and disembodiedness of virtual encounter in the blogosphere tends to encourage loosened standards with regard to the epistemic virtues of intellectual rigor, honesty, humility, and courtesy.

Which brings me to my question. How do you determine when enough is enough? What standards are fair when deciding to block comments or bar participation? And how do you balance this with maintaining a spirit of openness to dissent--an absolutely necessary component to any collaborative human effort at seeking truth together? When does moderation become censorship? When does dissent become blasphemy? When does consensus become tyranny?

And what might our alien friends think of all this misbehavior?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

mommy's precious little political pundit

Well, Clare didn't make the cut, but CNN ran a story on the incredible number of Obama baby videos on youtube nowadays...apparently enough to constitute their own "genre." And the number of hits on Clare's video have spiked--now almost 1500 views and a few more comments as well, some of which seem really engaged in figuring out if the baby videos are just mimicking sounds or these babies actually mean something. This is apparently turning into a real discussion.

Now, of course MY baby is a total verbal genius but I think it's hilarious that people would take seriously the "issue" of what these babies mean. CNN got a speech development expert to point out that "ba" and "ma" are the two most commonly babbled sounds a baby makes (in almost any language, I would add) and therefore "Obama" is just a baby-friendly name that's fun and easy to repeat. Ummm...DUH. (That's also a baby-friendly syllable fun and easy to repeat. Let's say it again: DUH.) And anyhow, if someone were to disagree with that obvious point...would we really therefore be contending that these babies and toddlers are somehow expressing some kind of considered political opinion? Clearly if there is any pre-opinion being expressed it's a matter of picking up cues from the folks. The little monkeys are pretty good at that, after all.

So what's the point, if it's not that these babies are geniuses, or that they're really endorsing a candidate?

It's just damn cute, for one thing.

And it says to the world, not "hey world I'm a genius toddler and I'm voting for Obama" but "hey people, I have a proud mommy and daddy who think I'm cute and who support Obama for President." Now that means something.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

the cyborg candidate

Disclaimers:
  1. This is not a post about the governor of California.

  2. I'm no conspiracy theorist. Calling Obama the cyborg candidate doesn't mean I think he's remote controlled through a chip in his brain by extremists. (Although I expect that rumor's already circulating somewhere; last week I received a forward that Obama is the Anti-Christ. Which, as Scott Freeman points out, doesn't really tell you whether the Left Behind-ists will vote for or against him...)

So, now that the crazy options are out of the way you may be wondering just what the heck I do mean. Well, while I sincerely try to avoid discussing my dissertation topic when in polite company, I do occasionally vent my enthusiasm for the posthuman here on the blog.

But this cyborg stuff isn't all academic. In the beginning, the cyborg was political, not academic. And while this aspect of the cyborg may indeed have gotten "lost" along the way, it's not been lost on me; and the bottom line, evident in Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto, (or you may prefer the comic version), is that the cyborg is about dropping essentialisms and identity politics so we can get together and finally get some things done.

Now, does that sound familiar, anyone?

Before I go any further, let me unpack a bit. What is a cyborg? A cyborg is a creature that breaks down the ontological boundary between organism and machine: part organic, part mechanical. The word was coined in 1960 by a couple of scientists dreaming up ways to explore space; it seemed like a lot of trouble to engineer a mobile life-sustaining environment to meet all of the needs of the earth-bound human body...so they thought, why not engineer the body to dispense with those needs, or meet them some other way? Of course we haven't quite achieved this yet, although the cutting edge technology in things like prostheses and silicon chips that allow quadriplegics to manipulate computer cursors is pretty damn amazing. But that's not really the point. The point is, the cyborg represents a form of life that refuses to fit neatly into our conceptual categories: person/thing, alive/inanimate, human/machine, etc. The cyborg has a foot in both worlds, and to ignore that fact means pretending it doesn't exist, refusing to see it as it is.

Writers in postcolonial theology muse on cultural/social/racial hybridity in a parallel way: neither one category or the other, they forge identity out of between-ness, the both/and, the neither/nor. And this brings us to Obama, who is hybrid in a way similar to these postcolonial theorists: the son of a white mother and a black father.

The disappointing thing to me about the Rev. Wright stuff is not really in what the man said, or even how what he said was twisted around and used against, not him, but someone else...as if, should Joe Hays ever do/say something crazy prophetic, it would somehow reflect on me personally. (Joe, I know you're crazy prophetic all the time. Keep on.) No, what's disappointing to me is that this in effect reintroduces, with a vengeance, into the campaign discourse the very thing Obama has been seeking to transcend: identity politics. If he stands with Rev. Wright, then he's too black and scary for comfortable white folks, too revolutionary, too angry to be trusted...If he disowns Rev. Wright, then he's too white and scared for righteously angry black folks who understand the truth in the Reverend's prophetic utterances. It's all about trying to make Obama declare himself: are you white, or are you black? Are you or aren't you running as a black candidate, to become the first black President?

The fact that Obama's response to this provocation was a speech on race in America indicates to me that he gets it. It's not really enough to claim a hybrid pedigree personally, although I think it's evident that growing up with a sense of not knowing to which category you belong--and constantly being recategorized as the Other by everyone you come across--shapes your experience in a way that makes the limitations of those categories painfully obvious. Obama's not simply the cyborg candidate because he's the offspring of a black-white hybrid family. He's the cyborg candidate because, like Haraway, he realizes that it's not desirable or even possible to dream of uniting people on the basis of common identity anymore. That's not what we want. That's not the goal. It doesn't work. Haraway's point about the cyborg is that there's nothing basic, essential, on which we can unite. Haraway realized this in 1985, reflecting on the fragmentation of the feminist movement in the U.S. Even white women in America, who briefly came together and united on the basis of a fabricated common identity as Woman, found out the hard way that oops, we're actually a bunch of women who are all different...and that was before we learned the even harder lesson that we shouldn't have left out the black women, the Latina women, the Chinese- and Japanese- and Korean-American women (not Asian-American! Asia's a continent not an ethnicity!), all the women in other global contexts who have something to tell us about their own experiences and needs and hopes.

Obama articulates the same realization when he urges us to unite in order to work towards common goals despite differences in color, creed, and experience. What's so impressive about his candidacy is that he has somehow managed to do this--every CNN retrospective breakdown of every primary, you see votes busted up: the white vote, the black vote, the Hispanic vote, the women vote, the white male vote. And despite the fact that these categories are so taken for granted in America today that we receive this kind of categorical analysis as normal and coherent, what we see is that Obama's candidacy makes these taken-for-granted lines, drawn and redrawn in every political analysis, obsolete. Perhaps a better word than "unity," which seems to indicate a seamless whole, is Haraway's "coalition," a word Obama also employs; coalition doesn't imply melting into one another and merging into a whole that obliterates the differences between us that are real and important--those differences that make us, for better or worse, who we are. Instead it's through those differences, the recognition and communication and comprehension of them, that we come together; that is coalition. Haraway talks about it as chosen affinity, a matter of conscious alignment with one another; sometimes she talks about it as kinship--but not the kinship of blood relation, more like the kinship of adoption. A chosen affinity, a coalition of difference...but not, for that reason, any less real or potent.

In fact, for that very reason, all the more so. This is what I, very hopefully, see in Obama's candidacy. An option for coming together that skips the necessity of me being like you.

Now, if we could just learn this lesson theologically and ecclesially, maybe Jesus could come back already. Because Obama's right on something else, too: the most segregated hour in this nation happens on Sunday mornings. But if Jesus' speaking to adulterous women and traitorous tax collectors and dirty Samaritans hasn't somehow hammered the lesson that "me being like you" is not a prereq for unity, then the reiteration of that message from a political candidate, even a cyborg candidate, may fall on deaf ears; those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

3BT

  1. Even in the middle of a catastrophic day where nothing is going right for her, Clare still loves Albert. Amity's description: "they're sitting at her table looking at each other and smiling, like they're a couple at a cafe." Ah, toddler love.
  2. Ira Hays is home (and, I'm sure, making a lot of noise)!
  3. I can always make another pot of coffee.