Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Too busy now for my own words. Am borrowing from Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for the Living God, from chapter 4, "Liberating God of Life," which we are covering in class for this week:

"Idolatry entails putting alien gods before the true God of the Bible, worshiping something which is not divine. In the Latin American situation these gods are money, the comforts it brings, and the power necessary to make and keep it. Starting with the conquistadores and continuing for five centuries through successive ruling systems up to multinational corporations today, greed has divinized money and its trappings, that is, turned them into an absolute. Core transgressions against the first commandment have set up a belief system so compelling that it might be called moneytheism, in contrast to monotheism.
Like all false gods, money and its trappings require the sacrifice of victims. Whether the poor are offered up indirectly through the economic conditions necessary to produce profit, or directly through the violence necessary to sustain those conditions, their lives are the sacrifice. What is most insidious is the way traditional preaching and theology put a superficial veneer of Christian  belief over the face of these idols...Neutral in the face of injustice, the racist, sexist, classist image of God perverts the actual contours of the living God in the service of moneyed interests" (79-80).

It won't fit on a sign. But it is to the point. I don't know if Jesus would #ows, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Sister Elizabeth there.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

breaking bad

FTR, I am ripping through these episodes like a, well, like an addict or something. (Thank you Netflix, you're such an enabler.)

And I love it. Not least because it makes me miss those gorgeous views of the Sandias I got to enjoy those brief summers I got to live in ABQ.

But two things really irk me.

First. Yes, this is highly personal and has to do with the constant, chronic and let's just own up to it, debilitating sleep deprivation I'm currently experiencing (the number of record screw-ups in the last few weeks! like, leaving my phone on the hood of the car, and misreading my own course schedule re the midterm date). I am so utterly pissed off at the way in which TV pregnancies, births, and babycare are depicted. The Whites are supposed to be living on a teacher's salary, and yet Skyler has a maternity wardrobe that never repeats itself? Come on. I will admit that the whole birth sequence was less annoying than is typical. No ridiculous scenes of women lying prone in hospital beds, screaming, cursing their spouses, and demanding immediate medication. But what's really bugging me at the moment, at episode 29, is that Baby Holly is the world's most autonomous, care-free infant. It's just No Big Thang to load her up and take her along to the bookkeeping office, where of course, she does nothing to interrupt getting work done. (I have yet to make good on my intention to book some office hours at NBTS with Baby Z in tow, and I struggle to do my course prep on a laptop on the living room floor beside her jumper contraption thing. It's pretty difficult to write a coherent lecture in 15-minute blocks of time interrupted more or less regularly by various demands for attention.) And at the hospital vigil? "Where's Holly?"/"I got a sitter." Right. Because it's No Big Thang to first, find a sitter, and second, feel completely comfortable leaving your newborn infant in someone else's hands for an extended and indefinite period of time. WTF. But for TV this is typical. The moment the drama of seeing the hotties morph into hot mamas with their baby bellies stuck onto curiously otherwise unmodified female frames (and then of course, morph smoothly right back to "normal" postpartum bods to be found on American television), and the drama of the unexpected public waterbreaking and screaming cursing medicated hospital-practice-dictated birth sequence is done...well, the baby's just not that interesting, and stories about people who function just above zombie level due to the intense energy drain that is actual care of a real infant just don't cut it. So TV babies are magical--they don't need feeding, certainly not breastfeeding, (oh the logistical horror of negotiating that on a TV show, right?), and they don't require any actual interaction on an ongoing basis. A symbolic bottle waved in the air, a symbolic diaper change--and then they disappear from the viewer's sight. You'd forget that they exist, except for the perfunctory references to them here and there in the dialogue. And all this from a show that, really, does a better than usual job on this stuff. SIGH. It makes me want to tear my hair out, but Baby Z's already regularly doing this for me.

And second, I was so totally struck by Walt's line to Jesse re the airplane crash: "I blame the government." The irony of this willingness to pin something like this on the government just blows me away, in this context where Breaking Bad as a narrative wouldn't even exist if Walt's cancer treatments weren't completely inaccessible for financial reasons. There's plenty of personal moral failure here, but really, on some level...I blame the government.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

First Day of School!

This morning we woke up to an alarm. For a long time Clare herself has been our morning wake-up service. Her techniques have varied from pouncing to simply picking up midsentence with whatever conversation we were having prior to her falling asleep. It sounds lovely but in reality, it's just as brutal as having an electronic thingy yell at you from the bedside table. Worse, actually. You can turn the electronic thingies off.

But not today, and maybe not ever again. This morning was the First Day of School and from now on, for the next thirteen years, everything will be different. Clare's not so aware of this, but I am. She's a Big Girl now, for realz, even if I still can't break the habit of calling her "baby." From now on, we have a schedule, a place to be, and a place we have to be on time. And this place will be what defines her day: shaping her conversation topics, her interests, her friendships, her moods... And who knows what-all this is going to change? It's the First Day. We'll have to wait and see.

But for now, Brent is back to work after his time off, Clare is at school, and it's me & Baby Z hanging out at home, wondering what our days will look like together as we slide into our own new groove of working-from-home and playing-with-baby. Possibly on Wednesdays we might go put in some office hours at NBTS together--but not today. Today is for contemplating the First Days of School and enjoying the sound of the rain. And doing some laundry. :)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

and in case you were wondering, this is the next little project we'll be undertaking:

I'll keep y'all posted on whether or not I have as much success with the acne cream + sunlight solution to the ballpoint penned doll face issue.

a gospel for cyborgs and other unnatural creatures. (that is, everyone.)

If I asked you, what's the most unnatural thing you can think of, what would be your answer?


Artificial intelligence, robots, androids?

Gay sex?

Would the Incarnation even make your list? Because seriously, what could be more unnatural than divinity assuming human flesh?

The gospel is good news because it is unnatural. It defies the "natural" opposition of Creator and created, of God versus humanity. We are not doomed to forever relate to God as God's opposition. The unnatural act of reconciliation has taken place, initiated by a God who doesn't care about pretentious and ignorant human categories of the natural.

I know what God looks like

Clare: "I know what God looks like."
me: "and what does God look like?"
Clare: "He has brown hair. And a white jacket. With red and yellow stripes."
me: "and what does God look like when God is a girl?"
Clare: "She has blonde hair in a ponytail. And a red dress. With pink flowers on it."

Okay, then.

Friday, August 12, 2011

We worship at the altar of a petty God
a God who sweats the small stuff
and demands that, for righteousness' sake, we sweat the small stuff too.
Not just any old sweat. The right kind of sweat, worked up in the right kind of way.
Most acceptable is the holy sweat lathered up in the frenzy of outraged righteous indignation,
second best, that which drips from the effort of perfecting symbolic sacrifice.
Getting it just right is important. (Ask Cain.)
Getting those who don't get it right is even better.
This God cares: cares about how we love, who we love, what we love--
but not really why. Why is a big question, and this is a petty God we worship;
it's easier than worshiping a God we don't get.

Friday, June 24, 2011

the F word on Christian campuses

I think I've blogged about this before. I like the F word. I wear it on a t-shirt. I say it a lot. Freely. Gratuitously. Egregiously. With feeling. In appropriate and inappropriate contexts. Like this:

Feminist, feminist, feminist, FEMINIST!

So, I'm musing about this again because of a comment at a session I attended at the CSC last week. It was the first response to a question about what we can do on Christian higher ed campuses to support and promote scholarship among aspiring female academics, both students and faculty. And this responder made the case that we need to hear from women who don't identify as feminists if we want to make progress on this.

It was an odd and unexpected sentiment to hear--at least from my perspective--after the full-throated fem roar of the presentation itself, which did not shy away from the abysmal stats regarding female presence in the academy and the even worse data on female presence in Christian higher ed. Simply to state these things is a feminist act--so why is it that the solution is somehow to hide our feminism? How would you even do this? Are we supposed to privately encourage our female students, but not do anything to rock the boat because that would be "counterproductive?" Covert support like that is not exactly real supportive: it simply encourages more women to throw themselves into a hostile environment, without challenging the expressions of hostility. Here ladies, gird up your loins for battle--you're strong and smart, you'll survuve it. And hey, here are my battle-scars--pretty soon you'll have some great ones yourself. Come back in a few years and we'll compare. Good luck!

Okay, I'm being unfair. No doubt this was not the intended message. Though I'm pretty sure that, regardless of intent, this is what shying away from feminism gets us.

More than likely, the intended message was more something along these lines: "find something you want to do, and go be great at it." Ditch the feminist whining and just do your thing. Feminist whining will hold you back, distract you, brand you as troublemaker, make you depressed and angry... So don't bother with being "feminist," just go be what you want.

And "go be what you want" is a great message--one which I try every day to hand to my precocious 5-year-old (baby Z is a little young for indoctrination, though I do my best not to gender-code her onesies. It's the least I can do). But it misses something important. And that is, it's f-word hard to "do what you do" when what you do is something that, wittingly and unwittingly, you keep getting stopped from doing because you're a girl. Whether you're in that male-dominated math-and-science world, or getting an MDiv within a tradition that doesn't ordain women, this is what you face: a culture which has for so long assumed that a girl can't, shouldn't, and really deep down doesn't want to, do these things means that simply trying to "do what you do" makes you a walking-around in-your-face F-word. You can try to mitigate that by not labeling yourself with that offensive word...but I don't see how that helps you navigate reality. Instead, you've taken on the additional burden of resolutely not naming the problem you navigate. And if you can't name it, the boys can't either. And it will persist.

So I use the F word. Lots. And I think you should too. Until we get over that ridiculous Rush-Limbaugh-femi-Nazi caricature we've been indoctrinated with, and realize that feminism is, simply, about supporting women who are trying to "do what they do." We absolutely don't need women who don't identify as feminists. We need men and women who do.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

CSC 2011: Faith, Science, Babies

Before it all sinks down into that inaccessible fog of forgottenness that swamps everything prior to, say, a week or so ago, I'd like to try to say something about the Christian Scholars Conference.

This is a conference I don't skip and always look forward to, and I'd been looking forward to this one for a solid year or more--ever since learning that the theme was "Science, Theology and the Academy." And, since I was lucky enough to be informally included in some of the brainstorming and planning, I got invested in it early. And though I had exhausted myself in 2010 with multiple sessions and vowed not to ever do that again (mainly, because it means that you're always missing out on sessions you really, really want to attend but can't), I couldn't just sit on the sidelines for this one. In fact, I was so excited about it all that I made all sorts of plans, sessions I wanted to convene and papers I wanted to write and present--and it was months before a basic fact of life clicked: a baby due in April = babe-in-arms in June. Yikes! So then I had to revise expectations a bit, and figure out how I was going to make that work.

But, I'm very happy to say, it did seem to work, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Teresa Pecinovsky a.k.a. TKP, who volunteered to be my child-care-support (especially since it turned out that Plan A, a.k.a. "Nana," my mom, Pat Thweatt, could not attend as originally planned!). I'm sure that there were some sessions and networking and whatnot that TKP missed out on, and walking a howling desperately hungry babe around is no fun (Baby Z is quite unaccustomed to being made to wait 10 minutes for meals. She thought the world was ending.) However awesome my baby Z is--and she IS--it was still a sacrifice and one without which I could not have done the introducing/presenting I needed to do.

And, although one effect of having babe-in-arms at the CSC was a definite sense of being only half-there, perpetually late and a little unfocused and in general, just a little less than my professional best--I am super glad that I did it (with help). First, because I simply could not miss this conference. And second, because it just shouldn't be impossible for a woman to be a scholar and a mother, and simply walking around with a baby in a sling at an academic shindig makes that statement better than grousing about it on a blog.

And, next time I present something at a conference (coming up in November, where I present something on Haraway cyborg & theology in front of Haraway her very own self), if I get nervous, I can now say to myself, "Self, you got up in front of folks with about six episodes of spit-up evident on your shirt and pee on your foot. You can get through this."

My favorite question from the conference (apart from: "how old is she?"): "you're listed as 'Independent Scholar'--what exactly does that mean?" Um...polite euphemism for unemployed, and thank you for asking. Do you know of anyone with a need for some professional God-talk? I'm available. (Got a tip the other day from a friend about hawking my God-talk services--apparently someone is having some success with this! Who knew?)

Re the academicking side of things, I am very pleased to report that the session I organized on "Theology, Science and the Hermenautics of Interdisciplinary Reason," starring my superstar colleague Ken Reynhout, my ACU prof & advisor Fred Aquino, and fellow ACU alum/SMU PhD candidate David Mahfood, was a huge success (IMO). I was not anticipating a huge turnout, but the room, with 50 seats, was about 3/4 full, and the Q&A time had less awkward downtime than any AAR session I've ever been to. Apparently people are way hungrier for epistemological musing than I bargained for! So--while I have a mental list of self-critical "do this better next time" notes, I think the session itself was brilliant and I am very proud to have brought such a marvelous bunch of guys together.

My other session was also brilliant, though only a handful of folks know that firsthand. :( And again, it's Ken who really shined there--I was pretty fatigued by Friday afternoon, plus I had pee on my foot, so I was less than awesome. But despite my less than awesomeness, the topic of our session--the Science for Ministry Institute that Ken & Wentzel direct at PTS--is such a great program and model for interdisciplinary science and religion dialogue that the session rocked anyway. Just wish more folks had found their way to our little room to hear about it!

There were, of course, lots of sessions I wish I could have attended and couldn't--not just those that conflicted with mine, but sitting through a session with a babe means, really, not sitting at all, and hoping that coming in & out multiple times is less annoying to everyone than baby noises. Chris Dowdy's panel session, "After Apology: A Conversation with Royce Money on Apology, Race and Christian Higher Education," was the first session I half-attended (an incredibly important dialogue, and I have the impression that it went extremely well.) There were also several sessions on gender in the CofC, most of which I couldn't go to, but which add an important dimension to the ongoing dialogue about this within our tradition in their contribution of empirical research into attitudes and practices about gendered roles in (and out of) church. One session I did attend addressed specifically the overlap between academia and theology on gender issues: Christian institutions of higher education and the specific challenges faced by female scholars and administrators within them. Academia in general is not, ahem, very "woman friendly"--if you doubt this, cruise on over to the blog What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?--and in a Christian context, this atmosphere is often additionally entrenched with theological justifications. To hear this said out loud, bluntly, to a roomful of interested women and men who then proceeded to ask the constructive question--how do we change this? what practices need to be changed and what new practices invented? what structures need to be torn down and what new ones built? who are the key players in the institutions for doing these things and how do we teach them what needs to be done?--while I sat there, an un(der)employed academic with a baby at my breast, while the topic at hand was the how-to promotion of women scholars--I can't even really put into words what that sort of affirmation felt like.

One regret that won't go away: I missed my chance to meet John Polkinghorne. Baby Z got a little hungry for second breakfast right before the Saturday morning session, and so I was late making my way to the room. Session was already underway when I got there--and I had to catch my plane. That chance won't be coming back, and I'm a little heartsick about it.

However, I did get to meet J.J.M. Roberts, finally! Since we just missed each other at PTS, it took years and a trip to Malibu to make that happen.

But, there's next year in Nashville to look forward to, for lots of reasons. The theme is "reconciliation," I'm honored to now be a part of the science & religion planning committee, and middle TN is Home. See y'all there.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Clare and I often engage in a little verbal competition to see who can create the most hyperbolic I love you's. Tonight's contest spawned a bit of theological reflection for my almost 5-year-old.

Clare: "I love you bigger than...bigger than God!"

me: "but baby, God is love. So when you love, you just make God even bigger."

Clare: "so God is the biggest thing there is?"

me: "sure. God is everything, so nothing is bigger than God."

Clare: "and if you hate someone you make God smaller."

me: "yes, you could think of it like that. and when you love, it makes God bigger, and brings God right where you are, where the love is."

"so he's everywhere? even right here in the bed?"


"I want to call God a girl." [this just as I was about to ask why lately she's been exclusively using the masculine pronoun in her Godtalk.]

"That's totally okay. God is a big girl too. God is everything, so you can call God a he or a she."

"I want to call God 'Universe.'" then, flinging her arms out and embracing the air, "I love you Universe!"

Thursday, April 21, 2011

the New York Times, an open letter, and my two cents

I think just about every ACU alum in my 500+ Facebook friends has picked this up and posted it, or hit the "like" button on someone else's link: "Even on religious campuses, students fight for gay identity" by Erik Eckholm in the NYT.

If you've read the piece, you know that it references Harding University and Abilene Christian University, as well as Baylor University, Belmont University, and North Central University (a Pentecostal university in central MN).

You may also know that in response to the occasion created by the NYT article, my husband wrote an open letter to the administrations of both Harding and ACU, speaking as an alum of both universities and as Rector of Grace Church in Newark. (Brent has followed up with a brief clarification, here.)

I have no wish to write an open letter (not sure that it would matter much to anyone what an unemployed theologian and mom of two who works unpaid from her home office has to say?), but both the article itself, Brent's letter, and the dialogue and personal responses from our ACU mentors and colleagues have prompted a lot of thoughts--exactly the kind of thing this blog serves as my dumping ground for. And so, since Baby Z seems content so far to ignore Google calendar's kind reminder that today is "DUE DATE" (lest we forget?!), I will do some cognitive dumping. (Yes, I expect that this scatty metaphor is entirely appropriate for the level of organization and polish this post will exhibit.)

No one knows better than two alums of both schools, Harding and ACU, how different these two institutions within our Church of Christ tradition truly are. (Y'all, we lived it.) The response that HUQP received, censorship and public condemnation from the chapel pulpit, was as unsurprising as it was disappointing. The point of The State of the Gay, according to HUQP, was to start dialogue about the presence and experiences of gay students at Harding--and while HUQP succeeded in starting a dialogue much bigger than they had originally anticipated, they did so despite Harding University's efforts to end the conversation before it even got started. This is starkly different from ACU's recent track record of actively, respectfully and officially engaging this issue on campus (read, for instance, this 2006 account from Robin Reed of SoulForce, entitled "Grateful for Abilene.")

Further, even at Harding, as the authors of The State of the Gay attest, there are individuals within both the student body and the faculty who are welcoming not just of dialogue but of actual gay people, even in all their gayness. I certainly know this to be true at ACU. But the NYT article, focused as it is on institutional policy and working with a broad and generic category of "religious campuses" that stretches to include everything from the largest and best-known Baptist university in the country to a small Bible college in MN, does not drill down to this level of (highly relevant) detail. Official spokespersons' statements of official policy are the end of that story; and this, as the HUQP's voices remind us, is just the beginning of the real story, and the reason for having a conversation.

For all that, I have to say that spokesperson reiterations of official institutional policy are significant. For one thing, they're what make it into print in the New York Times, and they're the articulation of the stance of the institution in the public square. Things may be much more complicated--they always are--on the ground of these "religious campuses" (and praise God for that!). But the official policy is not complicated. It is simple and straightforward, and it tells gay students that they are welcome...but their gayness is not:
“We want to engage these complex issues, and to give help and guidance to students who are struggling with same-sex attraction,” said Jean-Noel Thompson, [ACU]’s vice president for student life. “But we are not going to embrace any advocacy for gay identity.”
Many people, of course, find themselves stuck between an understanding of the Christian imperative to love and welcome all people, as Jesus did, and their understanding that the Bible clearly condemns same-sex relationships as sin. The uneasy, and unstable, result, is a compromise in the form of the mantra "hate the sin, love the sinner," a phrase which neatly sums up the reasoning behind the statement of official policy above, which walks the same fine line. You are welcome here, but your gayness is not.

This makes sense to a lot of people. And as far as I can tell, all those people are straight.

This is the problem: "hate the sin, love the sinner," and its official policy counterpart of insisting on reparative therapy and the characterization of all gayness as "struggle with same-sex attraction" only works as long as you refuse to listen to what actual gay people around you will tell you about being gay.

Are there people with ex-gay narratives? Yes. Are these people flourishing, at peace, spiritually blessed and transformed as ex-gay? I'll take their word for it. By the same token, if these narratives matter as testimonies and witness to the possibility of transformation, I must by my own reasoning take the word of the many, many more gay Christians I know for whom the demand to be ex-gay was soul-crushing and literally life-threatening, and for whom coming out was a salvific act. We can't pick and choose among the narratives our gay Christian brothers and sisters give us; they are as complicated a set of life stories and faith journeys as any other. We don't get to privilege the ones that tell us what we already believe to be true, while shutting out the ones that contradict our presuppositions. We have to face the necessity of reconstructing, over and over again, what we think the Bible teaches us and what God demands of us in our attempts to lead holy lives. Because that is what the Christian life is.

Is this sort of dialogue and attentive listening and faithful Christian living in community happening at ACU? Yes. But is it reflected in the official policy as articulated to the New York Times? No. 

And this is, as I see it, the point of the open letter. We know the kind of community and ethic that exists at ACU, and we know that the full realities of ACU's actions and attitudes towards its gay students is not reflected in a one-size-fits-all official policy of reparative therapy for the "struggle with same-sex attraction." And that is both encouraging and problematic, in that it indicates a disconnect between on-the-ground practice and policy. The point of the letter, as I see it, is to publicly urge the university to fix this disconnect. The point of the letter is that this is not a vain hope.

This may indeed get lost in the media's bottomless ability for amplifying conflict and ignoring the possibilities of reconciliation which are the heart of the Christian gospel. But we know better. The work of reconciliation is already evident, if not complete, and in this work everyone must discern and play their part. This is difficult, and sometimes we get it wrong--and yet, even so, my faith is unshaken that this, indeed, is not a vain hope.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Calling a Time-Out: on Gender, Evolution, and Neon, or "Pink Polished Primate Piggies"

A 5,000 year old burial site with male remains buried in a typical female manner suggests, to researcher Kamila Remisova Vesinova, that this burial site contained a man who was gay/transsexual. This was no Jimmy Castor Bunch troglodyte virilely grunting to himself in the mirror "gottafindawoman, gottafindawoman, gottafindawoman, gottafindawoman." What could possibly explain ancient evidence of such gender deviant behavior?

Well obviously, Mr/s. Troglodyte's misguided mama stumbled upon a small time capsule sent back in time by the diabolical mad scientist that the pink-polished J. Crew ad boy is clearly destined to become, thanks to the warped notions of his own mother, in a desperate effort to undermine the social fabric and family values of America and thereby validate his deviant gender-bending neon-pink polish preferences, before America even comes into existence.


Like Melissa Wardy of, my first reaction to Toemageddon was to roll my eyes at Faux-News and continue thinking about relevant things (like finishing my book before these Braxton-Hicks thingies turn into The Real Thing.) But--as Melissa points out--the story in this non-story, the Thing That Should Be Talked About, is:
...the gender constraint and gender policing going on in this hullabaloo. From the moment go nearly two years ago, Pigtail Pals has put a direct challenge to the marketing and products that I know to be objectifiying, limiting, stereotyping and sexualizing our girls. What we must know as parents and people who care about children – we must afford this same right to our sons.
So this troglodyte-turned-cyborg mama is calling a TIME-OUT. Fox Friends, you need to go sit in a quiet place, get calm, and think about the stupid things you've said that were wrong, and mean, and when you've figured out what it is you did that was wrong, you need to apologize. Nicely, like you really mean it. First, to Jenna and her adorable kid with the awesome toenails, and then to the rest of America for making us take the time out of our busy adult lives to address this ridiculous gender-bending behavior, and by that I mean, yours.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

why don't they just leave (once again, sigh)

It must really suck to have this aimed at you from both sides of the Great Divide: those firmly within the CofC, and those who have left and don't understand why everyone else just won't grow a pair and do the same.

Those of us who, like Paul Tillich describes, are "aliens" within our own churches (his summation of the existential predicament of theologians) are pretty used to hearing this occasionally from CofC people who are tired of putting up with us and our tiresome oddity and annoying vocality. Certainly I've heard it enough, as this blog's archive testifies. If you decide to dwell within the CofC as alien anyhow, you learn how to screen this out--or at least, armor yourself against the hurtfulness of it. I imagine that the HU students & alumni who comprise the HU Queer Press anticipated this kind of reaction from the pious faithful. In fact--the overall message of The State of the Gay seems to be a response to this question, an answer to that reactionary attitude: Why don't we just leave? Because we're part of you--and we always have been. And because we're invested in making this community that we're all a part of a better one, for everybody.

In case there were any doubt about this, the latest statement from HUQP ought to clear it up. Demanding that hate mail to the HU administration cease, HUQP writes:
We are frustrated that others would pervert our message of compassion and open dialogue by speaking with hate and violence. We wish to create a better campus for all, queer and straight. This cannot be achieved by alienating or attacking those with whom we disagree. Anyone who uses or advocates violence, in word or in action, has completely misunderstood our zine's message.
And they end the statement with this:
"The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of unity, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work"

- Archbishop Oscar Romero
It is the same message I tried to express after a couple years of wrestling with the emotional aftermath of a truly awful experience in a CofC, in which I felt personally targeted and deliberately ambushed--despite having said and done nothing to express any of my heretical theological views within that church community. You can read the full blog post here. But here's an excerpt:

I've wondered if I really should just give up, and go away. I can't count how many people over these intervening years have asked why I don't--students, friends, family, colleagues. My answer used to be that this church is my home; how do you leave your home? But that Sunday I wondered for the first time if maybe my home might leave me, instead. Later, in defiance, my answer was, why should I? This is my home, too. Then I wondered if it was true that my presence was divisive and harmful to the church, an act of self-gratification and arrogance. I began to be afraid that I really was the kind of person described in your sermon.

For a long time, that was my fear: that my sincere wish to remain a part of the body of Christ into which I was baptized and raised in the faith would be divisive and contentious no matter what I did or didn't do, because of what I do (or don't) believe on this (or that, or that other thing).

But now, I know what I will do next time I'm in the neighborhood. I will be walking through those church doors. I will take a seat in a pew and I will sing, and pray, and listen, and contemplate scripture. I will praise God with you. Because I am certain now that it is not divisive for me to remain. It is a conscious act of unity.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

the turnaround

So, I have to be "dangerously maternal" for a bit and relate this marvelous conversation with Clare from a few days ago.

Clare's request for her new room was that it have rainbows on the walls. She asked for this months ago, so I called my interior-designer sis and got her advice, which was: wall decals. I found these online at a ridiculous discount--spent about $15 total for 2 packages of rainbows, clouds & stars. And so, last week, at the top of the unpacking priority list and second only to "find the damn dinner plates already" was, get the rainbows up in Clare's room.

I also consulted her about where she wanted the rainbows and how she wanted them to look. She was very specific: she wanted 2 full rainbows on opposite walls. And I said okay.

And then I didn't do it like she said.

Instead, the wall opposite the one pictured above has 2 half-arches, one beginning in the corner and coming down, and the other coming out of the window. It looks great.

But it's not what she wanted. And she let me know. Like I knew she would.

She was super excited about coming home after school to see her rainbow room. And she walked in and saw the first wall: rapture. Then she turned and saw the second. And turned to me, mad face on, and said, "I don't like it." Pause. "It's not what I said." Flopped down in the chair, very prissy-pissed-off-princess. Longer pause. Then: "It's not all about you."

Oh, I knew it was coming. I was tired, I had put off other things to get this done, my arms ached, my back ached, I had spent all day putting together this beautiful room just for her...but she was right. I had asked what she wanted; she had told me exactly what she wanted. and I hadn't done it like she said.

So I said to her, "You're right. It's not all about me. What is it all about?" She looked at me and said. "Me. I get to give the instructions." Then, "You didn't do it like I said." And I said, "You're right. I didn't do it like you said. I did it this other way. Can I tell you why?" She looked at me darkly, but didn't object, so I went on. "I tried it your way, and the wall with the window is smaller than the other wall. It just didn't look the same and I thought it would be prettier this other way. I know it's not what you said, but I wanted to make your room the prettiest it could be. So I did it this way instead." There was silence. And then, after about a minute:

"Okay, mom. I see you had a good reason." Then: "I think I could like it." Then: "Those can be the baby rainbows hugging the window, and this is the mama rainbow smiling at them from over here."

I mean, damn. "You had a good reason"?! She's not even 5, and it took her about 5 minutes to process personal disappointment and outrage, listen and understand another point of view, and come up with some forgiveness and acceptance. I know so-called adults who can't seem to do that.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

link: covering up is a feminist issue

Annie @ PhDinParenting has produced a video version of her blog post, "covering up is a feminist issue." In some ways, it reminds me of the Vagina Monologues bit entitled "My short skirt"--applied to breastfeeding. And in some sense, that's right: it seems that part of the motivation for the video includes recent comments about women avoiding rape by not dressing like sluts. But it's the more direct public square commentary, often from other women, about how "inappropriate" it is to "NIP" (that's nurse-in-public, for the uninitiated) or to do so without hiding yourself and baby under some kind of massive tent-like cover, that's the real issue. What the video does is connect these, as well as throw in a visual cue that there are other cultural and religious standards at play as well (early in the video, you see a burka), and draw the conclusion that the more general problem is that standards of dress are imposed externally on women, in all sorts of contexts and for all sorts of reasons. Breastfeeding in public is just one of those.

One of the more subtle points in the video happens right up front, in the pairing of conflicting cultural messages to Western women--"cover up"/"strip down." While the video doesn't spell this out, this highlights the way in which women's breasts, in our culture, have become public objects in sexual contexts--but stick a baby on there, and suddenly it's gross. So we're left with a situation where cleavage is fine, but God forbid you let a curve show if you're a mom with a hungry babe.

Personally, one of the many gains I experienced as a woman finally loving and appreciating my body through experiencing pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood was learning to see my body as functional and vital--and part of that happened through redefining my breasts, not as sort of pointless objects on the front of my chest that other people seem to enjoy for some unfathomable reason, but as a necessary, important and life-giving functional part of my amazing body. This meant thinking of them as special and awesome--while at the same time, thinking of them as something akin to my elbow--just there for a reason, because I needed them to do their milk-making thing. Not just hang there and look, I guess, pretty.

I loved nursing Clare, at home, in church, on trains, wherever. She hated being under a cover and so I didn't use one--and nursing tops make them, IMO, unnecessary. Clare's big ol' beautiful baby head completely blocked whatever wasn't covered by the nursing top. And I'm looking forward to nursing Baby Z...and reinforcing with Clare that breasts are awesome milk-making things and she's right to look forward to the day when hers get great big--so she can feed her babies.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Today I got my first open-mouthed, total shock reaction from someone when I said I was moving to Newark.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

in defense of Planned Parenthood, because every child should be a choice

"It's not a choice, it's a child."

Every roadtrip I've taken in that last decade and a half, I've seen that bumper sticker on the Covenant Transport trucks while I pass on the left. And over that decade and a half I've gone from a single college kid, far from marriage and motherhood, nodding in knee-jerk agreement, to a mom of two who grimaces in philosophical pain at the simple-minded misdirection of this ubiquitous bumper sticker slogan. (But hey, at least all the words are spelled correctly, and there's no Hitler mustache--which is more than you can expect from most slogan-toting peeps these days.)

I would like to see some bumper stickers that say, "Every child should be a choice." That's the goal, right? That every child conceived is a child whose conception is desired, whose growth in the womb is deliberately nurtured by both mother and community, whose birth is welcomed with the kind of joy that only comes after a ridiculous long period of anticipation? Isn't that what we want? Isn't it a measure of the brokenness of the world that this isn't, in fact, how it often happens?

So why is it that we separate these things, as if they were an either/or? Why don't we, instead, acknowledge the basic biological reality that a child is in fact a choice? And then get busy with making sure that people can in fact choose their children?

I don't mean the "you chose to have sex, so you chose the consequence" line, either. I mean, bringing a child into the world is not just a single choice, much less is it simply the statistically-more-or-less-likely sperm-meets-egg consequence of a single sex act. Bringing a child into the world is a series of choices: a series of choices which begin as soon as you realize that you're not just coming down with the flu because the flu doesn't make your boobs sore, and go to the store to get yourself a package of pee sticks. I don't just mean abortion here--although that is the starkest and most obvious form that this existential choosing can take. Choosing to nurture a life in your womb is a series of choices, one that has a definite starting point but no foreseeable ending point. It starts with prenatal vitamins and yoga and cloth diapers and escalates into something so large and complicated it encompasses the entirety of your life. It's on you: the health and well-being of a completely helpless human being. It's on you: the health and well-being of an increasingly independent little person. Everything from the food they eat to the answers they get to the impossible questions they ask, it's on you. Choosing to nurture life does not have an end. It just keeps going.

We forget--or do we just willfully ignore the obvious?--that women who face down that stark, inevitable, existential choice, do I nurture this life?, aren't answering a question about pregnancy. Pregnancy is the easy part. They're facing down the question about the cascading, unending, exponentially multiplying, choice of nurturing that life, for the rest of their lives.

If you're a fortunate and blessed woman, like I am, then your choice has already been made prior to the pee sticks, because you know that you want this to happen and when it does, your answer is ready: yes. Maybe you've already stocked the cupboard with prenatals and bought a copy of What to Expect (though, for my money, Smart Woman's Guide to Better Birth is a better purchase), you're so ready to say yes to this tiny life. Because you've already chosen this child.

In a different life, I might not be one of the fortunate, blessed ones whose children are predetermined choices. Brent and I were married six years before Clare. (Those, we refer to as "BC.") Not to get too personal about it, but believe me, there was plenty of opportunity for sperm-meets-egg in those years. (FTR, we're doing fine now too, no worries.) For those years--really, for the first full decade of our married lives--we were students, living off of loans and scholarships and part-time jobs of all sorts (between us, we've waited tables, sold orthopedic shoes, sold books, babysat, substituted in public schools and bank-tellered)--that is to say, we were permanently officially broke. And busy. And not interested in or able to even seriously ponder parenthood, except to watch the parents we knew with incomprehension and wide eyes at the amount of sheer energy and time that went into it, and think--no. Not yet. We cannot possibly do that.

So thank God for Planned Parenthood. I re-upped my pills through them the whole time we lived in Abilene, and stocked up there for the year we were overseas in Changsha. And since it turns out that I'm 'Fertile Myrtle' and Brent's 'Virile Cyril' (both times we've gotten pregnant within two months of tossing contraceptives), it's a helluva good thing we weren't left on our own. (Can't say that I see six years of married abstinence in the name of pursuit of theological scholarship as a real option. The world of academia still seems to largely operate on the assumption that scholars are celibate medieval monks--but in the real world, we've all got bodies and sexual drives attached to these putatively floating heads.)

Clare knows that she is chosen; it is another way of saying that she is and has always been loved. Baby Z will know that she is chosen, too. They'll know this because we'll tell them, and because we'll keep choosing them for the rest of their lives, in all those uncountable ways that you choose to nurture and love a kid every single day.

Every kid should know this. It should be the basic expectation with which kids grow up and experience their world. Every child should know that they were chosen--know it in a way that makes asking the question impossible. It should be the tacit foundation for life, that unspoken assurance that you are chosen, wanted, desired, loved.

Supporting Planned Parenthood ought to be a no-brainer. Instead we've let things get to a point where the health of women and children are potentially at risk because no one can think past the word "abortion." This is not about abortions. This is about doing the concrete, practical things that will get us closer to a world where every child born will be a child who is wanted: about enabling women and men, no matter who they are, to make childbearing and childrearing something they can choose to undertake gladly and readily. Every child should be a choice.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


There are so many more things I'd rather be blogging about than Sarah Palin. Like, what does it mean that a computer named Watson just beat a couple of human Jeopardy champs, and is this really a harbinger of the "shape of things to come"--good or bad, and all that. And I've refrained from blogging at all about anything of late simply because I am too busy: with the move less than two weeks away, I desperately need to get a reworked draft of chapter 4 complete prior to sealing up the last box of my already mostly-packed-up office.

But Sarah Palin. I'll feud over this tidbit from HuffPo till I get it out of my system, so--commence the bloggy exorcism.

First: I was right. I was so, totally, right ON. Back in 2008, I called it. My ire with SP began with her calculated, manipulative use of that great big lie, the SuperMom. She worked it back then, and she's still working it. All she's done is move on from lipsticked bulldogs to mama grizzlies as her go-to SuperMom animal mascot. But now she's come right out and said it:
The former Alaska governor suggested there's "no one" more qualified to handle the demands of the presidency than "a woman, a mom," according to Politico.
Don't get me wrong. Being the primary caregiver of a child really is, absolutely, the most time-consuming, emotionally wracking, philosophically challenging and physically exhausting thing I've ever attempted. And I wouldn't hesitate to agree with the somewhat cliched insistence that it's the most important thing I'll ever do--hell, look at the sidebar, I'm doing it again in +/- 63 days!. Being responsible for the holistic formation of another human being? Does it get any scarier or more important than that? But what does any of this have to do with, say, grasping global geopolitical realities? The only potential crossover I see, frankly, between momming and presidenting is diplomatic negotiation with hostile, unwilling and not necessarily fully rational partners.

So, fine. I'm still pissed about the SuperMom act, which I am still convinced is a damaging cultural image for women in our culture, and to have her flat-out say that being a mom qualifies you to be President makes me want to grow Mama Grizzly claws, put on some lipstick, and do something violent.

And then. When you and I both thought it wasn't possible to feel any more contempt for this egomaniacal caricature of a politician, she goes and does this:
...mocked Michelle Obama to make her point. The first lady is encouraging mothers to breast feed their infants as part of her campaign to reduce childhood obesity - an effort that has drawn scorn from some conservatives. "No wonder Michelle Obama is telling everybody you better breast feed your babies," Palin said. "I'm looking and say, 'Yeah, you better because the price of milk is so high right now.'"
You know, if you're going to construct your pres campaign platform around the SuperMom image, the least you could f-ing do is actually support real moms.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Call me cynical, but here’s my suspicion: Adjectives in front of theology are deceptive. Yes, they’re needed; no, I’m not against them, but still, they’re deceptive. Here’s how.
By distinguishing some theology with a modifier — feminist, black, Latin American, eco-, post-colonial, or indigenous, we are playing into the idea that these theologies are special, different — boutique theologies if you will. Meanwhile, unmodified theology — theology without adjectives — thus retains its privileged position as normative. Unmodified theology is accepted as Christian theology, or orthodox theology, or important, normal, basic, real, historic theology.
But what if we tried to subvert this deception? What if we started calling standard, unmodified theology chauvinist theology, or white theology, or consumerist, or colonial, or Greco-Roman theology? The covert assumption behind the modifier post-colonial thus becomes overt, although it is generally more obliquely and politely stated than this:  Standard, normative, historic, so-called orthodox Christian theology has been a theology of empire, a theology of colonialism, a theology that powerful people used as a tool to achieve and defend land theft, exploitation, domination, superiority, and privilege.
If that doesn’t sound disturbing, I’m not writing well or you’re not reading well.
Noting that "If standard Christian theology has indeed been colonial, then we would expect it to have certain characteristics," McLaren lists the following:
  1. It would explain — historically or theologically — why the colonizers deserve to be in power — sustained in the position of hegemony.
  2. It would similarly explain why the colonized deserve to be dominated — maintained in the subaltern or subservient position.
  3. It would provide ethical justification for the phases and functions of colonization — from exploration to settlements to land acquisition to minority marginalization to segregation to hegemony-maintenance, even to ethnic cleansing.
  4. It would bolster the sense of entitlement and motivation among the colonizers.
  5. It would embed the sense of submission and docility among the colonized.
  6. It would facilitate alliances with political and economic systems that were supportive of or inherent to colonialism.
  7. It would camouflage or cosmetically enhance its ugly aspects and preempt attempts to expose them.
As a little thought experiment, replace "colonizers" with "men" and "colonized" with "women," and ask yourself, does this describe typical Church of Christ doctrine and practice? I think you know what I think you'll find...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

the HUPS blog

I'm not real invested in this, as I've made my peace with the fact that being an alum from Harding University is now something like a curious and unrepresentative factoid of an earlier life--and having a semester of adjunct work for the HU English department on my CV is even more unreal. (Unfortunately...but I almost feel like I'd have to go undercover to attend a Homecoming at this point. And my ornery streak makes it more likely that I'd wear my "this is what a feminist looks like" T-shirt while carrying a gay pride flag, and beg Brent to wear his collar.) But anyway: it seems that HU is on the cusp of a search for a new university president.

The folks at HUPS have put together a list of first-, second- and third-tier candidates. On that list of about 10 candidates, there is one female name. Here is what the HUPS bloggers have to say about her (putative) candidacy:
Let's face it: Cheri Yecke has no chance to become Harding's next president. Is it because she's too conservative? Absolutely not. One can't be too conservative for the Harding presidency. It it because she's too liberal? Of course not. She's Sarah Palin with a Church of Christ pedigree. Is it because she's incapable? No, she ran the state school systems of Florida and Minnesota. It's because of one reason and one reason alone: she's a she.
No one on the Harding campus today has a bigger rolodex than Cheri Yecke. Her political connections are impeccable, especially for the political connections the university would deem key. She has a PhD from the University of Virginia. She's smart, tough, and PR-savvy in a way that is currently lacking in the HU administration. Her fundraising abilities would be superb. In any other university, selecting Yecke as the university's next president would be a no-brainer. But Harding is no ordinary university. For the most part, it still must feel like its president can go into churches of Christ and preach, an outmoded view of CoC higher ed that needs to be put to bed. The job of a university president is to manage and fundraise. Period. Do you really think there's anyone better on the HU campus to do this than Cheri Yecke? We at HPS think not. But until the Churches of Christ get a little less misogynistic, she's hit her glass ceiling at HU.
It's not that this is (at all) surprising--in fact, I'm a little curious as to why there's even a female name on the list at all, since the HUPS analysis is (IMO) unarguable. But the real question this raises for me is a legal/theological one. I'm aware that religious institutions of higher education may legally discriminate on the basis of religion (though not, of course, on other bases, such as ethnicity or race.) So what would the inclusion or exclusion of a female candidate in the upcoming presidential search indicate? It seems that if gender is ruled to be outside the bounds of legal discrimination on the basis of religion, there should be more than one token female candidate--and they should have a real shot. So female candidates might have a genuine basis for legal grievance if things go down like the HUPS folks predict. But, if female candidates do not appear on the list--then the only way for that to be legal would be to make it official that gender discrimination is part of the religious practice of the Churches of Christ. This, it seems to me, would then imply strongly that (contrary to the noises people make about the "women's role issue" being a matter of secondary importance, a matter of opinion, not something we should invite contention or schism over, etc., etc., ad nauseam), this is a kind of admission that silencing women is at the heart of CofC practice.

I'm curious to see which way this will go.

Monday, January 10, 2011

only girls have eyelashes

Clare's been telling me this for months now: only girls have eyelashes.

She's right, you know. The most reliable way to determine the intended gender of any character in a little kid's media world is their eyelashes. If they're a girl, they have long sweepy eyelashes to bat at the camera. If they're a boy, they don't. Generally that's not the only gender signal, of course. Girls also generally have to have bows in their hair and all sorts of accessories. Good grief, Minnie Mouse still prances around in 1950's style high heeled shoes. But you could delete all that, honestly, and you'd still know the girls from the boys without any trouble because, as my perceptive 4-year-old has accurately pointed out, only girls have eyelashes.

So a few weeks ago, I proved to her that boys actually do have eyelashes "for realz" (that is to say, empirically). I made Brent take off his glasses so Clare could see that not only does he have eyelashes, they are way awesomer than mine. She accepted this but maintained: on TV, only girls have eyelashes.

I haven't thought much more about it, other than to grumble to myself about yet another manifestation of the ubiquitous "female-gender-as-marked" thing that my daughter is observant enough to note without understanding it. Then yesterday I came across this: Toys Receiving Makeovers. Apparently in the 80's version of these toys (including Care Bears, My Little Pony, Rainbow Brite and Strawberry Shortcake), girl characters didn't have to have Tammy-Faye mascara in order to be recognizable as girls. The worst thing about the side-by-side pics is that the toys in question were already nauseatingly girly to begin with--how much more gendered can you get than Care Bears and My Little Pony?!

So, when Clare draws girls (and her human representations are evolving quite rapidly these days! No more amoeba-spider-people!) they get two--yes, precisely two (?)--carefully drawn eyelashes. Otherwise of course you would never know that they are girls.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

from BBC News: Female Torah scribe observes and battles tradition

I heard this on the way from St. Stephens Preschool this morning. Read the written story here, but take the time to play the embedded video, too.

Several things struck me while listening to the interview: Aviehlah's description of her work, how she came to her vocation, and how she views her unique status as the first female scribe in a few hundred years. She engages in her work as a sacred vocation--a vocation whose first glimmering came to her at the age of 3, with her first sight of the Hebrew script, which of course she did not understand fully but which she felt, instinctively, was important in some way.

But it's her description of her determination to live "sincerely and 100% within tradition" that struck me most forcefully. People regard her in a variety of ways: some people reject her, some people are fine with her, and some people seem to assume that she does what she does as a way of "sticking it to the man." This is not how she describes her vocation or her intent in pursuing it. Instead, she emphasizes how many years she spent learning from men--teachers and fellow scribes, all of whom are male--and how many years she has spent earnestly delving into tradition, seeking an answer to the question of whether it is permissible for a woman to do this work. This is, she says, as if stating the absurdly obvious, is obedience, not rebellion.*

Truthfully, it is absurdly obvious. And maybe (dare I hope?) the absurdly obvious is more easily seen in an example of a woman's devotion to a sacred calling in a tradition outside of our own CofC tradition.

Now, we don't have an authoritative body of leaders to sign off on something (or not). And we don't have an accumulated body of textual commentary describing authoritative traditions (at least, not in the same sense). What we do have, we "speak where the Bible speaks" people, is the biblical text. So for women in the c'sofC, our version of Aviehlah's obedient and diligent years-long search of tradition for permission to practice her vocation is going back to the Bible: back to those verses and the authoritative interpretations we've received, in an effort to understand, an effort to discern how we are called and what our scriptures truly say about that. This is, to state the absurdly obvious, obedience--not rebellion.

*note: some of these details are pulled from my memory of the audio interview aired on the BBC, not all of which appears in the video or the written text.