Monday, December 20, 2010

sending out the wolves

"We let a wolf into the church," Rexrode mused, "and now we can't get him out."

I wish I could say that this story about a small CofC in VA frightens me because it surprises me. Instead, it frightens me precisely because I don't find it that surprising.

I've never blogged directly about the things in my experience which render this narrative unsurprising. I've alluded to them only once, writing,
...[our] churches generally don't concern themselves with psych profiles or background checks for people who voluntarily go overseas to do mission work--these people raise their funds, typically from several churches, and so at least some of those churches don't necessarily know them personally or well, and yet we give people money at the drop of a hat and send them off--just trusting that we can take them at their word, because they say they're wanting to do this great work for the Lord. Even if we don't really know them from Adam.

Maybe that's awesome. But it's also naive.

And it totally backfires. Sometimes.

Because sometimes the people we fund are not good people. Sometimes they are terrible people, who do very bad things, all paid for out of church budgets by people who feel comfortable assuming that they can just take someone's word for it that all they want to do is serve God.
I see the exact same issue here in this story of the Harrisonburg Church of Christ--and for that reason, I wish I could agree with the reporter that this small church community "is an unlikely setting...for the kind of Southern Gothic tale involving murder and mendacity and money and treachery and, by many accounts, the handiwork of Satan himself." Instead I find it, sadly, a quite predictable setting. The only difference between what I've seen and this story is geography: this time, they invited the wolf in, instead of sending him out into the mission field. 

And so, of course, this means that this time, the wolf got caught. What happens to the wolves we send out into the world outside of our little red brick churches?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

crowdsourcing

The question on overt instances of sexualization of women and girls in church came up in discussion on the soccer field-church post. I've heard some strange things from pulpits over the years--strange, and yes I have no doubt unintentional, things...and you may have too. I'm wondering what examples come to your mind of the sexualization of women and girls in your experience of the c'sofC.

One simple one that occurs to me at the moment--pegged to a specific memory, but something which I must have seen dozens of versions of at this point--is the way in which a missionary and his wife were introduced during a Sunday morning service. He was introduced by name, lauded for his work and his talents and his willingness to sacrifice, etc., and then his new bride was brought up, introduced as "his lovely wife" and then--if I remember correctly--he was publicly congratulated on his fine catch.

It's like the Sunday morning version of that awful commercial I've been nauseated by during the Daily Show the last few weeks--the one where the wedding is "the jungle" and the dude is on the prowl, so skillful that he gets "his prize" to come to him. Pardon me while I go vomit. And no, it's not morning sickness.

Friday, December 10, 2010

toward a zombie cyborg theology

Because cyborgs are cooler.

But also because zombies, as cultural figures, are inherently anthropologically dualistic. Think about it: you take a human person, give'em a zombie bite, and the person dies but their dead body, who is not the person you used to know, becomes reanimated by an external force of some kind and then tries to eat your brains. This is precisely why, of course, we can kill zombies with impunity and without remorse: they are not human anymore. They are not the person they were; that essential self is gone, and the body that looks like the person you used to know is just a dead vehicle being driven by something else. --You just don't get more dualistic than that!

So it's curious to me that the read of The Walking Dead in the blog post from religiondispatches.org, "Toward a Zombie Theology," is that the working anthropology is materialistic:
"But even with Christian overtones the writers of Walking Dead end up coming down in favor of brain-based consciousness. In death, including the death of the brain, Dr. Jenner says, “Everything you ever were, or will be…[is] gone.” 
Note: I haven't been watching this show, so the interpretation of the show may well be right on target...which means that the writers of the show should be wrestling with how to reconcile the inherent dualism of zombies with their attempt at materialism. In any case, my point is that zombies, as a symbolic monstrous posthuman figure in our cultural landscape, are much more at home with garden-variety dualism of body/soul than they are with materialism of any sort, reductive or non-reductive.

Whereas cyborgs, on the other hand, are resolutely materialistic. What makes a cyborg? Some sort of bodily merging of biology and technology--flesh and machine. Now, we think of human persons and machines as categorically different, not least because machines don't have "souls"--which we can just define here very loosely as that essential inner thing which animates a creature. Machines are not animated; humans are--basic categorical difference. So, what the cyborg does, conceptually, is render that categorical difference highly questionable. If a single creature is part human and part machine--then what is the difference between human and machine? And if we can create (and we regularly do, let's note) humans that actually are to some degree "part machine" and they are much better off thus--that is to say, able to flourish as humans because of their part-machine-ness--then, part of being human includes the potential of interfacing and merging with technology and making it a functional part of ourselves. Here, then, the definition of human shifts into one with an emphasis on embodiment, and the surprising ways our bodies are configurable. That's moving away from dualism with a vengeance.

So the question posed in response to zombies is actually much better posed in response to cyborgs:
"So does this leave theology out in the cold? The dominant theological understanding for anthropology in Christianity is still dualistic, a synthesis of the physical body and an immaterial spirit or soul, but in recent years those advocating a monistic view of human nature have arisen, articulating a perspective they call “nonreductive physicalism.” This view, advocated by scholars like Fuller Seminary’s Nancey Murphy, recognizes the significance of the cognitive neurosciences that have cast doubt on philosophical and theological concepts of the soul, but argues for human significance and the divine as opposed to materialist interpretations in the field."
Do we need a concept of the soul in order to faithfully interpret the biblical canon and the Christian tradition? I would argue, rather, we would probably do better to dump it in order to better understand both our own scripture and Christian tradition and the best available (and constantly evolving) scientific witness on the anthropological question.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

a quick note

The blog post "gender, identity and the church" is now up as a podcast via Half the Church. You can find it here.

if the church were a soccer field

I came across an article today about girls playing sports--and the way in which excelling or simply participating in a sport gives girls a way to think about themselves and their bodies in a context free of sexualization. In playing sports and becoming athletes, girls learn to value their bodies for "what they can do" and not just for how they look, or how other people perceive them as sexually desirable.

This rings anecdotally true for me--I played center fullback on my high school soccer team and I loved it, though, admittedly, I was as anxious a performer on the field as I was anywhere else. Even so, on the field, I was a necessary and competent part of a team. When I subbed out, they missed me. I remember a game where we were five goals up in a shut-out and the coach took me out in the second half for a bit; while I was on the sidelines the opposing team scored two goals. I was told to get back in there. Now that's validation. Someday when I have an office I'll hang my senior MVP award on the wall next to my PhD.

The article on girls & sports links to an APA report on girls' sexualization. Toward the end of the report, the authors name several possible agents and avenues for the construction of alternatives to the overwhelming sexualization of girls present in US culture. One of those possible agents, as you might expect, is parents & family. One is sports and extracurricular activities. One is religion. And it should be; this makes sense. Our churches should absolutely be able to and active in providing a context of validation and self-definition for our girls that is free of the cultural context of sexualization.

And I had to ask myself, do our churches do this?

I'm afraid that if I answer honestly, I might have to answer no.

It is a sad thing to reflect that playing soccer may have done more for me as a girl than sitting in church. And I'm not alone; Naomi Walters writes
In retrospect, maybe part of the reason I was so drawn to soccer is because I was good at it and my skills were utilized there. In my youth group, the females were the most consistent members. When it came to “Youth Sunday” we did all of the planning, and yet, were forced to delegate everything we had planned to male execution. It was clear from an early age that I was born to be a leader, and since I couldn’t do that at church, maybe I played soccer instead? It feels good to be a vital part of a team, a leading force, a fully participating member.
Is the practice of silencing women in our churches an overt form of sexualization akin to the onslaught of sexualized media images, Bratz dolls and pinkified princessing our girls endure as a routine and mostly unremarked aspect of girlhood? No. But is it a covert reinforcement of the hypersexualized message that girls' bodies are objects that define and restrict them?

Yeah. I think so.

Maybe you're disposed to think that there's no obvious connection between our practice of silencing women in the church and the sexualization of women and girls in our surrounding culture. After all, the most common defense of our practice is that it's biblical and therefore counter-cultural in the best possible way. And what does being silent in the assembly have to do with sexuality? How does accepting the God-created differences between men and women and their concomitant different roles have anything to do with sexualization of girls and women in the larger culture?

But these practices are not counter-cultural. These doctrines and practices fall right into step with messages from our culture that female bodies define women and girls differently than male bodies define men, and that these female bodies fall under the authority of others--others who get to define when and where and how these bodies should be used, when and where and how these bodies are valuable. This is the same message that women and girls get in the form of sexualization, in which others define when and where and how their female bodies are valuable--that is, desirable. The only difference is the lack of an overt sexual component--but this does not, IMO, make the underlying message any less disconcerting or anxiety-producing. And it certainly does not provide a basis from which the sexualized message of our culture can be subverted.

And this means we need to take a good hard honest look at the knee-jerk defensive claim that we're being "biblical" and "counter-cultural." We need to take a good, hard, honest look at what our doctrine and our practice really does to the women and the girls in the pews of our churches. It's not that we're getting it all wrong--as I've said before. But the gospel message that could--and does--subvert the dominant cultural sexualization of girls and women, the message that God has created and chosen and gifted and loved and called without qualification, is one that isn't consistent with the church's practice of silencing and restricting of women. And we need to take a good hard honest look at this inconsistency.

If the church were a soccer field, little girls could discover just how much they could really do--and we would cheer for them.

Monday, November 08, 2010

SJWD

On the way home from Atlanta last week, we saw lots of amusing and picturesque things. Clare liked the cows. Brent liked the great big water tower painted like a peach that also happens to resemble a human butt, IF you approach from the north (but not, we observed on the return trip, from the South. Coincidence? Maybe.) And I was greatly amused by the water tower labeled "SJWD," which prompted the mental exercise of creating a list of things that would fit the acronym for "Sh** Jesus Would Do." (It's nice to have something to keep you awake and alive on long roadtrips, after all.) Alas, my list is incomplete, but what's a blog for, anyways? Help me out. Add your contributions in the comments pls!

Sh** Jesus Would Do:
  1. bring the liquor
  2. speak the rude truth!
  3. play in the dirt 
  4. knock stuff over 
  5. tell weird stories and then tell people it's their fault if they don't get it

Monday, October 25, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

gender, identity and the church

About a year ago, I was sitting in my therapist's office, answering for her a question I've answered many times before, to interlocutors both hostile and friendly: "why do you stay? why don't you just leave?"

Let me back up a bit. My very first appointment with this therapist, where you go through all the basic obvious stuff like who you are and what's driven you to seek therapy, I felt compelled to begin with, "Okay...well, to understand me and why I'm here, I'm going to have to explain something else first. Have you ever heard of the Churches of Christ?"

So, it shouldn't have been surprising to this doctor--and she was a pretty good therapist, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't, actually--that when I answered her "why don't you leave" question, I started talking about issues of identity. After all, I had begun my answer to "who are you" with explaining that to understand who I am and what my "issues" are, first you have to understand something about my church.

So, I said to her what I've said to many people in various ways: how can I leave something that is my home, a community that has shaped who I am, a people who have helped form me into the person I am today (however much they may not like the result)? How do you "leave" your own self?

It's not that it's impossible to do. I've had a front-row seat to observe what it means and what it takes to "leave." And so I know, not just by my own instincts, that it means redefining who you are.

I came across an observation just this week, from a friend of a friend, that leaving the CofC was harder than coming out of the closet. Think about that for a moment. Yeesh.

My therapist was slightly confused by this strong correlation of personal identity and church. I have a feeling she refrained from suggesting this was slightly cult-like. When I insisted to her that I was not alone or unique in this--that everyone I know in a similar situation to my own expresses this dilemma in the same way, as an issue of identity, I think she was even more confused. It didn't make sense to her that my sense of self would depend on this community that was less than affirming of the entirety of who I am. It seemed masochistic, backward, undifferentiated, and problematic--and if this wasn't simply my personal hangup but a broader problem for other people like me, then something must indeed be systemically wrong.

I parse it differently. Yes, there's something wrong, something systemically wrong, in our communities that are producing identity crises in people. But what's wrong is parasitic on what we're actually doing right.

So what is that we're doing--both rightly and wrongly? What we're talking about is one of the main functions of the church, the process of spiritual and personal formation. In our churches, this starts with "Cradle Roll" and never stops--adult Bible study classes in your average Church of Christ are a huge ministry priority. Now, if you're someone who's seriously interested in the process of catechesis and spiritual formation then there are a million things to talk about, positive and negative, about how churches in our tradition go about this ministry and how it might be better. My point is simply that it happens.

Within this process of spiritual and personal formation, we teach something important and theologically fundamental, again and again. We teach people who they are. This begins in Sunday school with felt boards and internalizing the narrative of God's creation. Who are we? We are creations of God. It continues up through elementary school age classes on topics like baptism and even in youth group studies on topics like how to avoid backrubs from the opposite sex. Who are we? Baptized believers, the elected and saved, children of God, joint-heirs with Christ, ambassadors for Christ.

In a broad but real sense, we get this right. We teach people who they are. We teach that everyone is a creation of God, a child of God, elected and saved, baptized and gifted with the Spirit, joint-heirs with and ambassadors for Christ. We teach that this gift of beloved, sought-after, dearly paid for, identity is intended for every human being on this planet. We get this part right.

So what goes wrong? How could someone brought up learning that their identity is chosen, loved, cherished, elevated, and gifted by God end up in an identity crisis fostered by the same community that taught them these things?

Answer: that someone is female.

Here's how it happens. (This is not theoretical. Nor, I hasten to add, is it merely personally anecdotal. This is a pattern traced out in the multiple narratives here on this blog and at Half the Church.) It happens like this: we believe it. We believe what the church teaches us about who we are. We internalize it. It becomes how we define ourselves and our relationships, not just to the church, but to the world. It shapes how we envision our future, our goals, our entire life. It shapes our desires, our choices, our sense of vocation.

And one day, when we bring the gift of who we are back to the church who taught us who we are, we are told: No. No, that's not the whole story of who you are. Or, yes, but. Yes, these things apply to you because they apply to everyone, but. They apply, but they apply differently. Yes, you are a creation of God and a child of God; yes, you are elected and saved; yes, you are baptized and gifted with the Spirit; yes, you are joint-heirs with and ambassadors for Christ--but, despite all of that, here are the things that you can't do. Because although these things apply, they carry an implicit limiting condition on what they can mean...for a woman.

Identity crisis? You bet. Because it's not simply about roles. It's not simply about a list of do's and don't's. It's about what it means to be a woman in our churches: someone to whom all the adjectives of Christian identity apply--until you take them seriously in all their fullness. Most women in our churches learn the implicit conditional on their Christian identity--soak it up at the same time they soak up everything else, and, most women in our churches, I dare to say, don't recognize the theological limits it implies. Which means that it's just a handful of women who, believing these lessons so utterly and staking their identities on them so thoroughly, find this theological limitation and reject it as impossibly contradictory to all they've been taught in their church their whole lives about who they are.

Ever wonder, along with my therapist and they countless others who've asked me this question, why these women don't simply leave? This is why. They are bringing to the church its own teaching about who they are, and asking it, "weren't you serious about this? didn't you mean it?" Ever wonder why these women typically spend years banging their head against the altar, saying these things over and over, until finally if they leave, they do so with bloodied foreheads and weary spirits? Because they're coming back again and again to the church with its own message of Christian identity, asking the church to simply recognize its own teachings.

It's not a Messiah complex, no matter what my therapist (probably) thought. It's not altruism. It's simply inevitable. Rightly or wrongly, wisely or foolishly, at some level, we're returning to the ecclesial authority of our lives, seeking affirmation of our identity where we were first taught to embrace it as our own: creations of God, children of God, elected and saved, baptized and gifted with the Spirit, joint-heirs with and ambassadors for Christ. Isn't this for me? Or are you going to take it all back?

Saturday, October 09, 2010

humility

Maddeningly, it's the virtue someone like me is presumed not to have--a "lady preacher" and PhD, I couldn't possibly be anything but an arrogant power-seeking female. Maddening, because, ironically, if I have learned anything at all in my pursuit of knowledge of God and God's cosmos, it's that humility is the prerequisite for learning anything at all. Seeking knowledge means admitting you don't know stuff, and that some of the stuff you thought you knew--that you were sure of, sure enough to correct other people on, defend as self-evident, stake your life on--was wrong.

When anyone brought up in the CofC comes to the theological conclusion that the silencing and categorical subordination of women is unbiblical and morally wrong, it is because of humility. Without it, you just don't change your mind about something you were previously sure of.

I would love to see some reciprocal humility from those defending the practice of women's silence and categorical subordination. But what I see, instead, is the opposite--a refusal to acknowledge, even as a remote possibility, that we as a church have historically gotten this wrong. I see a preference for believing evil of others over considering the possibility of repentance.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Monday, October 04, 2010

I've always hated the way every housecleaning product on the market is sold by smiling women who wipe, mop, sanitize, launder, spray, freshen up and scrub down everything in their shiny happy homes so that their children don't eat germs from raw chicken off the countertops and noone has to suffer from garbage can stink.

But I really really hate these Electrolux commercials with Kelly Ripa.



Saturday, October 02, 2010

happier things

So, because lately this blog has been such a downer...

Baby #2 is due sometime mid-to-late April. Official due date at the moment, April 21. (Naturally, this falls right in the middle of Holy Week. Not the best timing for a priest, but I keep reminding Brent, Clare was 15 days post-date, so I'm decently sure baby #2, officially designated "Tinkerbell" by guess-who while in utero, will stay put till after Easter...but, of course, no guarantees.)

That puts me about 10-11 weeks along at this point, our first appointment at Avalon Midwifery went nicely, although since Tinkerbell is still snugged under my pelvic bone we couldn't hear the heartbeat. Mostly what we heard was my stomach growling...

I find myself hoping Tink's another girl, but of course it'll be awhile before we know. As a fem-cyborg-mama I am a judicious technophile--not all technological doo-dads associated with pregnancy/birth are actually beneficial--but the 20-week-ultrasound is IMO the awesomest!

Friday, October 01, 2010

men we can trust. women, on the other hand...

This past week, I feel like I did some honest engagement with people of all sorts of theological opinions on the topic of women's silence in our churches. It was a lot of work, it took up quite a bit of time, it took a lot of focus, and it took a lot of strategic reading to avoid getting stuck on the horribly insulting things that do get said in pretty much every discussion I've ever seen/heard on this topic. While commenting, I read past the insults, the suspicions of character, the easy ad hominem stuff. But it's not that it isn't there--go back through and count up how many different ways that the moral character of women who want to serve God gets assassinated. It's a constant theme.

One of the things I've been pondering for the last several years is the way in which CofCs take for granted the upright, upstanding character of the people in our churches and in our tradition more broadly. Some of this has to do with our theological anthropology, and some of it has to do with our ecclesiology and the pragmatics of a strict "congregational autonomy" set up. We don't typically require a lot of fuss or background checks for Sunday school teachers or youth group volunteers, for example. And churches generally don't concern themselves with psych profiles or background checks for people who voluntarily go overseas to do mission work--these people raise their funds, typically from several churches, and so at least some of those churches don't necessarily know them personally or well, and yet we give people money at the drop of a hat and send them off--just trusting that we can take them at their word, because they say they're wanting to do this great work for the Lord. Even if we don't really know them from Adam.

Maybe that's awesome. But it's also naive.

And it totally backfires. Sometimes.

Because sometimes the people we fund are not good people. Sometimes they are terrible people, who do very bad things, all paid for out of church budgets by people who feel comfortable assuming that they can just take someone's word for it that all they want to do is serve God.

But if it's women making that claim, right in their own church community...forget about it. Obviously, there is something heretofore unknown that's wrong with their moral character. They have an agenda. It's about power. It's about money. It's about arrogance. Whatever it is, it's not what they claim--we can't take their word for it that they just want to serve God the best way that they can.

Do you see the disconnect? Men, we can trust. Women, on the other hand...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

open question

Does affirming a "principle of male spiritual headship" logically imply that men are inherently better equipped to be spiritual leaders?

Yes or no, give me a thumbnail sketch of the reasoning. Am curious about the consensus/dissensus on this point.

a short random personal observation

So today, as I sit down to finalize prep for a class at Calvary on Sunday on religion & science perspectives on the creation narrative, I realize once again the complete absurdity of my personal situation. Here I am, about to prep for an adult forum as a completely normal and routine part of my workday, because I was invited to teach a class on a subject I've spent years now acquiring a certain level of expertise on--after spending days in the rabbit-hole of arguing for the possibility, the ability and privilege of my doing such things. Sometimes--most of the time--it's really healthy for me to inhabit this whole other world where this debate doesn't exist. But today, stepping from one to the other is jarring.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

on scripture

Imagine with me, for a moment:

You're in church, on a Sunday morning, a little rumpled but not late--a sincere Bible major about to graduate from one of our "brotherhood's" institutions of higher ed, and you're listening closely to the sermon, which is on the parable of the talents. You've heard this story since the womb, practically, maybe (who knows) even a couple times in utero--after all, it preaches pretty well. But this Sunday, you hear it differently. This Sunday, like you are all the time these days, you're wondering just what exactly you're going to do with your life, constantly barraged by the question from well-meaning friends and relatives "so what are you going to do when you graduate?" You're not ready to answer that question, despite four years of college nearly completed and a steady, unwavering conviction that majoring in Bible has been the right thing to do. You don't feel ready for a pulpit--not by a long shot. You're not even sure you're up for youth ministry. You certainly don't feel equipped for mission work in some faraway place. So this Sunday, you hear that parable differently. Rather than shake your head in pity for the fool who didn't have the sense God gave a (capitalistic-minded) goat and at least invest in a bank and draw interest, for the first time, you're afraid that might be you. This time, you hear in that story a challenge: what are you going to do with your talent? And you sit there, listening to the familiar text, the familiar sermon theme, and you think--no. No, that's not me. I'm not going to bury my talent. And I'm not going halfway, either. I'm going all the way, because that's what God asks of me.

Now, imagine that that's you, and you're a girl.

Or is that bit just for the boys?

Friday, September 24, 2010

hope sinks

Don't get me wrong. Underneath all this grumping I have a boundless optimism that indeed human beings have the capacity to desire good, to change, to shift, to repent, to act. I do, I really do. Otherwise I'd be outta here.

But damn it, I hate these online discussion like pure pizen. They, more than anything else, send me as close to the Pit of Despair as I ever get. I can sit through a service with its all-male revue and not sweat it. I can hear casual benevolent sexism, and sigh and move on. I can hear these stories, note that in the last decade nothing has changed, grumble, and then roll up my sleeves in determination that this must change. But these online things...I should skip them.

It's not even just that they are inevitable stalemates and dead ends, with the same hermeneutical arguments deployed futilely from both sides and (best case) the same polite incomprehension in the end. Or, even, worst case, ending in things like accusing women of "spiritual abortion" because somehow advocating the giftedness of women to do all sorts of things necessarily implies not teaching other women like the Bible says. (??)

The real problem is, the faith I had in the ability of narrative to crack open the possibility of real dialogue, conversations that won't just repeat ad nauseam as they swirl around the drain, is waning. I really thought this was the key, the sort of magic key, that might make our endless discussions productive. I haven't entirely lost this hope, but it's starting to be hard work to keep it afloat. Its initial buoyancy has been shot full of holes.

This is why (excerpted from my downer of a comment on preachermike's post):
the real disconnect is that one side of this discussion perceives the relevance of women’s experiences as part of the dialogue, and one side views all human experience as something basically sinful and untrustworthy, to be submitted to the corrective lens of (received interpretations of) scripture. In short, gals, it doesn’t matter that you experience an internal crisis of life-shattering proportions because you are caught in the middle of hearing God’s call and hearing the church you want to serve deny that this is possible or genuine or righteous. It’s not relevant, because what you need to do is “get your mind right” (in the immortal words of the Captain of Road Prison 36 in Cool Hand Luke). Somehow, it’s become a badge of righteousness to deny one’s own experience, and by extension, the lived experiences of these women.
To be "rude" about it, I'm stuck with an image of incredibly sincere, faithful, loving people opening their Bibles, staring fixedly at the text, and sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting "lalalalalalala" to drown out the sound of these women's voices. Because we can't allow ourselves to hear, to understand, to care, to examine what these women are saying. That itself would be to dangerously flirt with unfaithfulness to the Word, a sign that we were wavering in our conviction that the only thing that matters here is our received interpretation of scripture.

The women thing is not about women. It's not. But it should be.

haaaaaaaaappy anniversary, cy-boys and cyber-girls!

If you're into this sort of thing, you won't want to miss the celebratory 50 posts about cyborgs in honor of the cyborg's 50th anniversary (since its etymological debut in 1960, in the Clynes and Kline article on space exploration in the now defunct Astronautics journal).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Half the Church

Go to http://halfthechurch.wordpress.com and listen/download the podcast! I haven't been able to listen past the introduction of the four women featured in the podcast--had to go pick up Clare--but just hearing the names (Naomi Walters among them) and knowing the people involved in putting this together, I know this has got to be good.

From the site:

The site was launched in September 2010 as a companion to two presentations at Abilene Christian University’s Summit.  The two presentations were titled “Half the Church” and were a part of a track on Women in Ministry in Churches of Christ.  The title of the class was both a (not so) subtle play on the New York Times Best Seller Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn and a line from an interview with a female student in ACU’s Graduate School of Theology.  She said, “It’s not good for the church to be silencing more than half its members.”

The two presentations were the product of two research projects:
“Half the Church: Calling and Vocation for Women in the Churches of Christ”
“Half the Church: Women in Gender-Inclusive Churches”
The purpose of this site is to archive the audio podcast titled “She Is Called” presented in the first session and to extend the research of the second session that seeks to identify Churches of Christ “that have found gender inclusivity important enough to talk about openly and act upon positively.”

Thursday, September 09, 2010

sweat girls

Last week, I woke up from an unplanned exhaustion coma-nap on the couch, particularly grumpy as it didn't alleviate the exhaustion really, to find Clare staring wide-eyed at a Bratz dolls commercial. "What is she watching?!" I hissed at my poor spouse. "Those are SLUT DOLLS! Don't you have any judgment whatsoever?!"

Okay, so among the things wrong with this scenario is being mean to Brent, who, after all, let me sleep. And I have never wanted to be a parent who refuses to let her kids watch TV or go to the movies or whatever because it's eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil; I've always wanted to be a parent who encourages a sort of fearless exploration of the world. And, as Brent pointed out later that night, labelling female figures with epithets like "slut" is pretty judgmental and anti-feminist. Sigh.

But, she's four. And she doesn't discriminate in her susceptibility to commercials. I've blogged before at the hilarity of her wanting a Turbo-snake for Christmas--and just yesterday in Shoprite she berated me up and down the laundry aisle for not buying any OxiClean because it gets clothes the cleanest and brightest. Skechers Twinkletoes, Zhu-zhu Pets, slut dolls, housecleaning products, you advertise, my child wants to Buy.It.Right.Now. I mean, shit.

So, of course, Clare immediately proclaimed: "Mommy I want one! ...What's a sweat doll?"

Double sigh.

I told her that what I meant was that I did not like those dolls, she would not be getting one ever, and that Mommy had said a mean thing that she shouldn't have and she was sorry for calling them a mean word.

But the sweat girls have been haunting us ever since. They are now an ontological category in Clare's developing worldview and they will not budge.

A few days after that it became apparent that Clare had put together that one of the offending characteristics of sweat-girls is lots of makeup. But this was confusing to her, because as little makeup as I occasionally use, Clare has seen me putting it on and has the inevitable corresponding envy/curiosity about it. And worse, my little logician concluded that makeup = sweat girl, Mommy + makeup = Mommy is a sweat girl. And she used it against me as her verbal logic super-weapon to argue me into conceding that she could have one of those godawful dolls.

This is enough to make me sincerely want to dump every bit of lip gloss and zit concealer in the trash, along with the TV and every pair of high heels I own. And moving to a cave and home-schooling and in all other ways super control-freak indoctrinating my daughter in the way that she should go. This is not the mom I want to be. But I have got to deal with the sweat girls.

happy golden princess
Like phdinparenting, I have a daughter who cannot resist anything pink, sparkly, and conventionally girly, and I've already struggled with that. And of course, I'm still engaged in (slightly stalled and currently stowed out of sight) The Great Barbie Project of 2010, which touches on these same problematic gender constructs. And I've sewed my girl a gold lame and tulle princess dress with my own two hands, for crying out loud. And so my basic parental strategy is already set, I reminded myself: subversion, not opposition. Constant, quiet, insistent, hopeful subversion. I can't keep her away from pink and fluff and sparkle. And I shouldn't have to--pink sparkle fluff is fine, as long as what she is doing is enjoying herself, her body, and her imagination in healthy ways. I do think that's possible. It just means my task as a parent is creating the space for that possibility, when the rest of the world doesn't.

But the sweat girls? Are they redeemable? Barbies--frankly--are barely on the edge of redeemability, and possibly out of my reach, given my limited skills and available tools. The Bratz dolls seem less pliable to me--more frozen in their hyper-sexualized, exaggerated features and more locked into rigid fashion-obsessed roleplay.

So in response to my 4-YO's sweat-girl logic-bomb, I sat her in my lap and we had a seriously intense chat about what it means to be "pretty." I told her that there are good ways of being pretty and bad ways of being pretty. I told her that using makeup to be pretty can be good, or bad. I told her that I wanted her to know that she is pretty everyday, just exactly how she is, and that I want her to feel good about how she looks and what she wears, but that anytime being pretty means making an ouchie on your body (like wearing ouchie shoes), that's a bad kind of pretty. Or anytime choosing something because of what someone else likes instead of what she likes, that's a bad kind of pretty. Or anytime wearing something "pretty" means she can't do something she likes to do (climb trees, or run fast), that's a bad kind of pretty.

I'm not exactly sure how much of it got through. But she did stop talking about sweat girls. Praise God.

Friday, September 03, 2010

fun with data visualization!

The best resource for getting acquainted with the complicated terrain of transhumanism and its permutations, and the various oppositions to transhumanism or the idea of human enhancement technologies generally, is Dr. James Hughes' "Overview of Biopolitics" chart, a version of which is in his book Citizen Cyborg and a version of which is published on the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) website. It's so useful, in fact, that I wrote to get permission to include it as an illustration in my dissertation text, which he was gracious enough to grant.

I have some quibbles with certain categories, but any sort of typology will generate those sorts of questions--that's part of why typologies are useful, as they force you to think "why would I do this differently, here?" And for the last couple days, I've been experimenting with an increasingly adapted form of Dr. Hughes' original typology, through a very fun little website called Many Eyes, a data visualization site. Ya uploads yer data, and out comes a purty picture. Very very nice for someone like me who often feels visually challenged, but wants to incorporate visuals into her pedagogy as often as possible (as a text-based and auditory learner, I can respect that not everyone learns best just by reading and listening and scribing).

So here's an in-progress look at what I've been putting together: the JTB Matrix Chart version of the Hughes/IEET Overview of Biopolitics:

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Overview of Biopolitics Matrix Chart (adapted)
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If you go to the manyeyes site, you can interact with this chart--there are five variables represented by the color blocks (views on citizenship/personhood is shown here, but in the full chart you can click between views on personhood, humanism, accessibility, technological risk, and environment).

I'll be tinkering with this more in the weeks to come, and possibly constructing a separate biopolitics and religion typology (one of my quibbles with the Hughes/IEET typology is that all religious views are "religious right" type Christian literalism/conservatism, so that I don't quite fit the typology...but then again, I like floating between categories, existentially speaking...).

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Glenn Beck: about as good a preacher as you'd expect

HuffPo characterizes Beck's rally at the Lincon Memorial as "more like a revival."

Yeah, I get it. There's a lot of artless God-talk in it (so far, I'm only 5 minutes in, and he doesn't seem to be slowing down any. Oh wait, a prayer break. Excellent. There's nothing more inspiring than hearing the name of Jesus invoked in tones of wroth. I can almost feel the spittle, and I'm not even there, and this thing was over hours ago.)

Beck begins with, "America today begins to turn back to God." What is this, performative speech? He says it and it is so? (Like, say, "let there be light?") Or perhaps, let's be generous, it's a declarative, a simple description of what he sees happening. Alrighty then, what's the evidence of such a felicitous occurence?

Beck: "For too long this country has wandered in darkness...[here Beck's sentence seems to wander about in darkness a bit too, thank God for ellipses]...this country has spent far too long worried about scars, and thinking about the scars and concentrating on the scars. Today, we are going to concentrate on the good things in America, the things that we have accomplished, and the things that we can do tomorrow."


Um, okay. Well, first of all let's play along and pretend that direct speech about America and American history and American people and America's future is not, ahem, political, because Beck assures us that this rally is not political. Whatever. But I'll play along, and treat this as a purely theological sentiment.


This theology SUCKS. (Sorry, Mom. It sucks so hard that not only do I have to say it, I have to capitalize it.) This is cheap grace in an American uniform, Glenn. Or how about another phrase, from an article I just read recently, about the reason why American young people are leaving churches in droves: "moralistic therapeutic deism," a "mutant form of Christianity" that "portrays God as a 'divine therapist' whose chief goal is to boost people's self-esteem." We've spent too long thinking about our "scars" and now it's time to stop all that half-hearted repenting and just think about the good stuff, so we can feel good about being Americans?! Turning back to God=being proud of our American selves. WTF? Glenn, I'd've rather heard a Jimmy-Allen-style hellfire-and-brimstone bit. I'm serious.

Worse, here's a quote from an attendee, from the HuffPo article: "This country was created by God, our creator. The problem is, the country is becoming Godless," said Greg Rinehart. "[Beck] said that a lot of people have lost Christ. The country is on the verge of becoming chaotic."

Religious message? Certainly. But apolitical? Hardly. In an atmosphere of hostility toward people of other faiths, by which I mean Muslims, which seems only to be increasing, how is this religious sentiment NOT an incendiary, divisive, politically laden sentiment? People without Christ are making this country chaotic. They must be stopped. Hey, let's go torch the mosque site. That'll show 'em Jesus is the Way. Then we can forget the scars and go on being proud of our badass American selves.

despicable me

So, I'm on the train coming home from CCfB brunching and this family of four settles in 3 seats down from me. The older kid, a girl, between 2 and 3 is my guess, reminded me of Clare--all garrulous and girly, she was. And at first, for say, a good three minutes or so, I really enjoyed getting a sense of the family dynamic. A sorta crunchy mom, with a bag full of farmer's market produce and 7 mo. old babe, a quiet dad, a curious toddler. The first thought I had was, wow, that mom interacts with her daughter like I do with Clare--on a good day. Encouraging curiosity, conversing with her, lots of teachable moments, lots of silly wordplay, even, yes, silly impromptu song-singing.

Then I thought, okay, that mom is like me--if I were really extroverted, loud, and on speed.

Then I thought, okay, this lady is annoying.

But the thing is, she really was like me. I mean, eerily like. As in, even our favorite colors are apparently the same. And her pet peeves about punctuation misuse. And her penchant for using outsized vocabulary with her toddler ("I'm a pedant," she says. Pedant?!)

So I spent the rest of the train ride home pondering how I could recognize both this woman's similarity to me and her annoyingness. Do I annoy myself? Do I secretly think that I'm an annoying person? Is there a kernel of self-hate buried deep within my psyche?

This didn't seem quite right. Sure, I'm as screwed up as any GRITS but I do love myself pretty sincerely.

So finally it hit me: what annoyed me about this woman is the same thing that annoys me about any group of obnoxious teens on the subway--that pseudo-unself-conscious performance of the idealized self for the benefit of the audience within earshot. I'm not part of her family. I'm not supposed to be the target audience for the performance of super-smart-crunchy-mommyness. But me and everyone else around me were co-opted into it, just like you are when giggly gaggles of teenagers are oh-so-nonchalantly proving to everyone who can hear how cool they are. Blurg.

Anyway, that's my best guess. And I suppose the take-away for me is to make sure I don't over-perform my own pedantic-ecofriendly-breastfeeding-feminist-super-PhD-mommy self in public places for people who would really like to be able to sleep on their train.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

iftar

(In case you don't already know, iftar is the evening meal during Ramadan when Muslims break fast.)

I don't have a lot to say about our evening, in part because I've scarcely had any time to sit and think--about anything at all--over the last few days. St. Stephen's doesn't begin for Clare till the 31st, and until then, she's got Mommy's 100% attention and energy, until it runs out (typically, at about 10:00 a.m., sigh). But I am determined to share something about it, since it is a rather nifty idea on the part of the IDC to organize these "cultural exchange" type opportunities for people.

It was a bit awkward (how could it be otherwise) to just go to someone's house when you've never met them before and share a dinner, especially such an important (and lavish!) one as this, but awkwardness is a small price to pay. And it's kind of a crazy thing to do, sign yourselves up to entertain total strangers in your home, so I reckon if you're going to do it, then you're ready to welcome whatever crazy lot shows up on your doorstep. And we were probably an intimidating crew: me with my visible tattoos and bare arms, my husband with his priest collar, our wild-eyed 4-year-old in tow. And we were, absolutely, welcomed without reserve.

Our hosts took their teaching role very seriously, offered a lot of information and answered all sorts of questions. Wikipedia can now teach me nothing about iftar I didn't learn firsthand. :)

It occurred to me while talking about the Quran, and the translations of it for personal use and study versus the use of liturgical Arabic for prayer, that there must be some really sophisticated and interesting discussions on hermeneutics in Islam, and in interfaith or comparative religion discussions drawing in an Islamic perspective on the notion of interpretation. Something to look into. I said something about it before I could stop myself--the sort of theology-nerdy thing I do. :)

I didn't, however, talk much religion or theology (whether Christian or Muslim) with the women. Mostly, we talked about kids (our hosts had a daughter slightly younger than Clare), teaching (one of the women was a high school science teacher in Turkey), travel (wish I remembered more about my long-ago trip to Turkey), and whatnot. It didn't feel any more awkward, to me, than trying to get to know people outside my teensy nerdworld of theological acedemia generally does. Brent wondered--asked me on the way home--if the general silence of the women (not total) during the general conversation at the dinner table and during dessert bugged me. To be truthful (should I tag this #badfeminist?) it didn't, particularly, because 1) I wasn't given signals that I shouldn't contribute, and 2) I more or less assumed that the women's unease with conversing in English had more to do with it than anything else. I could be wrong, of course. But these men were proud of their wives, spoke of their accomplishments and (former) careers in Turkey with respect, and showed a lot of regret that relocating meant starting over and a lot of social isolation for them.

And frankly, as I said to Brent, I have a hard time faulting another religion for its symbolic manifestations of patriarchy (modest dress, hijab, possibly, silence) when I grew up in a tradition no less patriarchal, only our signals of it are so culturally acceptable to us that they are invisible. We'll call it a problem when we see it in a hijab, but we'll gloss right over it when it comes to women speaking with a mic from a pulpit. What's the difference? Who gets to throw the stone, here? I'm certainly not going to generically condemn a whole religion as hopeless and evilly sexist...because I'd have to condemn my own right along with it, just to be consistent.

[aside: I'm bracketing violence against women here. but again, I suspect it's easier to see and condemn violent acts against women when they confront you in unfamiliar forms. and, of course, Christianity is not blameless in this respect either--the stats on battered woman seeking shelter and advice from pastors, for example, are dismal, and the advice they often get justifies why.]

Anyhow. That's not much of a description of the evening as a cultural experience, I mean, I haven't bothered with talking about the food (delicious, unbelievably delicious) and whatever. But the whole point, as far as I can see, is less all of that than just the act of "breaking bread together in peace" (Abilene Interfaith Council's motto, and I've never heard a better).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

the pattern

Barbie Maternity Dress

needle size: 2
yarn: sport or baby sport weight
gauge: about 7-8 sts/inch

CO 36 sts, divide across 3 dpns, join and knit in rd.
Begin with stockinette st for a rolled hem, or if you prefer, a few rows on 3 X 3 rib for a ribbed hem.
Knit in stockinette till 2", or desired length of skirt (measured from inseam, not ridiculous teensy waist).

Designate needles 1, 2 & 3, with needle 1 as the front.

Begin increases for baby bump as follows:

needle 1: k3, m1 (right slanting*), k6, m1 (left slanting*), k3; needles 2 & 3, k to end.
k 1 row
needle 1: k3, m1*, k8, m1**, k3; needles 2 & 3, k to end
k 1 row
needle 1: k3, m1*, k10, m1**, k3; needles 2 & 3, k to end
needle 1: k3, m1*, k12, m1**, k3; needles 2 & 3, k to end
needle 1: k3, m1*, k14, m1**, k3; needles 2 & 3, k to end
(if you're going for Octomom proportions, you can keep going, but this is enough for a decent size baby bump, for a six-month-ish-along Barbie)
k 3 rows

Begin decrease rows:

needle 1: k3, ssk, k to 5 rem sts, k2tog, k3; needles 2 & 3, k to end
repeat until 12 sts remain on needle 1.

knit in rd a few rows until you are ready to divide for armholes (I didn't count rows here, so give your Barbie a fitting or two to determine this.

needle 1 (front): 18 sts; needle 2 (back): 9 sts; needle 3 (back): 9 sts. If needles 2 & 3 are in your way, place those sts on a holder temporarily.

needle 1: knit 10 rows stockinette
row 11: k4, BO 10, k4
rows 12-14 (knit each strap separately): stockinette st, then place sts on holder for 3-needle BO later.

needles 2 & 3: knit 14 rows stockinette, then 3-needle BO with the front strap sts. leave a long tail after BO to use as a string tie closure. Or if you're fussy, sew on a snap. I can't be bothered with that myself.

Finally, pick up some sts on the inside of the dress where the bottom of the baby bump begins, and knit a square flap. Anchor the top and side of the flap on the inside, stuff with some extra yarn or whatever you've got on hand, then stitch closed.

Congratulations, you've knocked up Barbie!

m1* : right slanting increase. Insert left needle into horizontal strand btw sts from back to front. Knit this through the front loop to twist the st and avoid a hole.
m1**: left slanting increase. Insert left needle into horizontal strand btw sts from front to back. Knit through the back loop. (from Vogue Knitting Quick Reference)

Monday, August 16, 2010

by Rachel Wylie

I had my first child, a daughter, in September of 2003. Shortly thereafter, my dear friend had her first, a son. One evening, I was babysitting her son, and he was asleep in my daughter's swing. I sat there that night, watching him swing back and forth, sleeping in that blissed out way babies do, and I started ruminating on what his future might be like.  Knowing he would be raised in a strong Christian home, I remember thinking about all the wonderful, powerful things he might do as a man-- it was thrilling to think of all the great things he could accomplish for the Kingdom of God. In the same second that thought formed itself in my mind, I was struck cold by a second, sobering thought. In the 6 months I had been mothering my daughter, I had imagined a lot of things for her, but I had never considered that she might do “great work” for God. I allowed the distress of this realization to bother me for about five minutes, before I shoved it out of my consciousness by soothing myself with platitudes about all the “great work” women can do for the Kingdom – teach sunday school, bake casseroles, vist nursing homes, and clean the church building. 

The uneasy feeling I first faced that evening of Maya's infancy surfaced now and again over the next five years, but I always rationalized it away – I know all the words about “separate but equal” when it comes to men and women in the Church of Christ. 

And then, in August of 2009, a few things happened.  I read through rude truth, I read a couple of Mike Cope’s blog posts on the subject, and then I read the statement Jimmy Carter released when he separated from the Southern Baptist church, and instead of hearing all of the proper responses in my head (too heavily influenced by evil feminism, doesn't take the bible seriously, etc), I began to hear the hum of truth. It was nearly like a switch.

Here is what I wrote  to Jennifer a year ago this month:

It occurred to me that I had better make dang sure that I believed what I have grown up believing about women in the church…traditional gender roles in the church is not an issue I spent much time considering.  My spiritual gifts are such that I have never felt constrained (mostly relieved) that I would never be expected to teach or pray or lead singing in an assembly.

But I have these 2 daughters, and they are beautiful and created in the image of God…and if that God did not intend for them to remain silent in church, if he has not determined that it is a bad idea for them to publicly share from their knowledge and wisdom about him…if this is not his design…then teaching them that He did, and it is…well it breaks my heart.

And so, for the first time in 28 years, I gave myself permission to consider that I might have it wrong.  

And I did.  I had it wrong.  And even though I never consciously felt damaged or belittled by this tradition that I was raised in, I cannot describe the relief and the gratitude and freedom that has washed over me.  It absolutely brings me to tears to think that I will not have to think of a way to explain to my children, whom I love more than life, why, even though they are all created in the image of God, who also loves them more than life, God only wants to hear one of their voices in Church.

As I grapple with this and unpack it a little bit more I expect to find the implications of growing up with the set of assumptions that I did has been damaging and stunting in more ways than I have considered.  It is very strange to realize that one of the basic things I have always understood about myself and my place in the body of Christ was just plain wrong. 

I was right.  As I unravel all of my previous understanding of “Women in the Church” I am continually stunned to find how far reaching the effects have been.  I have been moved to tears more times than once this past year, realizing for the first time that I am not less valuable (to the world, or to God) because I am a woman.  

I cried just last week, when I really really let it sink in that not only is God not male (or female)--which I have always believed, in theory-- but God is not even *more* male than he is female.  I cried reading Women in the Church: Reclaiming the Ideal when Carol Osburn explains Marrs’s proposal that “the actual “order of creation" (man first, woman last) intends not a move from superiority to inferiority, but through inclusio (man/woman) a move from incompleteness to completeness.” 

I know all of the appropriate arguments used to oppress women in our Tradition. I know the scriptures, the “proper” interpretation, I know all of the “flawed” arguments of the “other side.”  For the longest time, I was so afraid of being wrong, of being ungrateful for the role I had been given, of endangering my eternal soul, to even honestly examine scripture and consider the “other side.”  Nearly 7 months after my email to Jennifer, it occurred to me that the things I had been taught about myself and women in general in Churches of Christ are are not compatible with the character of God revealed throughout scripture.  It was this realization that has finally allowed me to step away from the “party line” about women in the church, timidly at first, and with more boldness as time goes on and some of the twisted places in my faith sort themselves out in the light of my new understanding. 

My family finds ourselves in a strange place these days.  I cannot raise my girls in a church environment that implicitly surrounds them with the lie that they are “less than” and that the list of spiritual gifts that God got to pick from when he assigned theirs is shorter than it would be if they were boys.  But where to go?  Churches of Christ, from birth until now is all that I know. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

okay, it was me. I knocked up Barbie.

profile view
full frontal

view of back closure & goring
So, this is definitely a very rough first try--but I have to say, for a non-crafty chick who's never made up a knitting pattern as she goes before, I'm pretty pleased with myself. I hope to decipher my notes and turn them into some kind of reproducible pattern without all the blunders and false starts that are evident in this one...Definitely, the whole thing could be a little more snug, I'm not in love with the ribbing on the bottom (a feature I borrowed from a sweater dress pattern I saw somewhere that wasn't free, alas), the increases in the middle of the belly are redundant and yucky looking...but hey, at least she really does look sorta pregnant.

And Clare seems to like it.

Pattern to be posted shortly, I promise.

Friday, August 13, 2010

the maternal is not an element of the Barbie collective

Last night, after researching free knitting patterns for the off-brand "Barbies" I got for 75 cents at the Thrift Store (I got three of them: one with green hair, one with pink hair, and one blondie whom I'm going to shear and suit up a la' Rachel Maddow), I was drifting off to sleep, still thinking about all the wonderful morphological transformations I was going to make to these dolls in my subversive initiative to to render Clare's Barbie fascination innocuous (a la' Kim Toffoletti), and it struck me: the one thing I had not seen, anywhere, was a Barbie MOM. And for damn sure, no preggo Barbies. Sure: there's "Skipper," but she's like, a younger sister or niece or cousin or something, and like a pre-teen anyhow. Barbie's not her mom, she's more like the cool single aunt type.

Barbie's married friend, pregnant Midge
So this morning I sat down and googled "Barbie mother" and whaddaya know...there's more out there than you would have thought. There's the Barbie Happy Family collection--which'll cost you about $250 for the whole happy family. However, you can buy Barbie's pregnant friend Midge Hadley separately, for only $80. She's got a magnetic detachable belly with a teensy little baby inside. At this point, rumor has it, this is her second.

Now, don't get excited, like all of a sudden Barbie's problematic body image issues are benefiting from some long-overdue therapy. When preggers Midge first hit the market, there was an uproar. Rather than rejoicing that skinny bitch Barbie had finally allowed some real female bodily reality into her ranks, we were frightened. Frightened! OMG, what will this teach our children? How could they possibly look up to their Barbie as a role model if she's pregnant!? Oh, the horror!

Barbie and youngest sister Kelly
So, nowadays, having learned that actual motherhood is totally off-limits if you're going to retain your plastic yet rigid fantasy girlish figure, we're back to Barbie and Kelly. There is just no damn way that Barbie's gonna be a mom.

Which is weird, right? Because Barbie is the projection of quintessential American womanhood--and no matter what color they paint her universal face, no matter what professional outfits she may put on and off, she is still the impossibly long-limbed and big-breasted fantasy girl of the American Dream. And it seems to me that an important piece of this cultural message of essential American womanhood is the get-married-settle-down-and-take-care-of-your-family piece. That's why our country doesn't have "working women," it has "working moms." No matter professional outfit you may put on, at the end of the day, you're supposed to take it back off and come home and take care of your family.

The only explanation I can come up with for why Barbie can display maternal tendencies but not maternal bodily realities is simply that, in the end, a Barbie without the perfect Barbie figure is no Barbie at all. It's a Barbie face on top of some monstrously distended body, and we can't have that.

So, definitely adding a preggers Barbie to my subversive plan, along with: zombie Barbie, crossdressing Ken, prosthetic cheetah sprinting legs Barbie, and of course, cyborg Barbie.

More suggestions welcome...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

things I have learned this week

  1. you can't assume the people on the sidewalks talking to themselves are crazy anymore.
  2. there is such a thing as too much whipped cream in an espresso con panna.
  3. you can find free knitting patterns for Barbies on the internet (don't worry, I have a subversive master plan at work here. and when I get my hands on a Ken, s/he's getting a makeover for sure).
  4. the new name of the Childlike Empress in NeverEnding Story? "Moon Child."
  5. Einstein was a mad genius at baby-killing rationalizations.
and you?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

irony

 
I will never understand why people running for public office choose to do so by badmouthing the guvmint. If it's so dang horrible, wouldn't it be more consistent to, say, picket buildings and protest, start eliminating political offices, or, say, work toward making all government work unpaid and pro bono, you know--actually dismantle the institution that is so dang horrible--since by joining, all you're doing is putting your own self on the dole and making the problem one person bigger? But apparently, the only person we can trust not to "vote themselves entitlements from the largesse of the government" is someone seeking public office...

Sharron Angle: "We’re right to that point in the graph where it says, “government dependency.” And we know that once we have a majority that are dependent upon the government, we will lose our freedom; it says we go into bondage. That’s the next stage. Our Founders warned against this. They said don’t… that your liberty is only as secure as the people are. Because once they, um, get the ability to vote themselves entitlements from the largesse of the government, liberty is done; freedom is over with. We were warned. We are there. We’re right on the cusp of it, and you’ve identified those numbers. That’s the war that we’re in. You know, when I talk about a war and a battle and soldiers we have to take up our…our cry for freedom. And we can do it right now at the battle box… I mean at the ballot box. I’m not sure what continues on after 2010. I know people are very frightened about what’s going on in this country. And these programs that you mentioned -- that Obama has going with Reid and Pelosi pushing them forward -- are all entitlement programs built to make government our God. And that’s really what’s happening in this country is a violation of the First Commandment. We have become a country entrenched in idolatry, and that idolatry is the dependency upon our government. We’re supposed to depend upon God for our protection and our provision and for our daily bread, not for our government. And you’ve just identified the real crux of the problem. I’ve also been endorsed by a PAC out of Washington D.C. and the name of that PAC is Government is not God. And I thought that that was so appropriate because that is really what’s happening in our society and we need to take our country back." (source: Las Vegas Sun)
Oh! Irony, no no no, we don't get that here...

Saturday, July 31, 2010

vampires, cyborgs, Christians

So, Anne Rice quits, because people suck? What did she expect, anyway?

That was my first gut-check response to the statement she made this week on Facebook, subsequently picked up by Huffington Post: 'I Quit Being a Christian.'  Why? Well, like I said, people suck--and apparently Christian people are the suckiest: "It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else. ...I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of …Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen."

Okay, granted: Christian people really are the suckiest, if only because they suck just as bad as everyone else and claim to be doing God's will or loving Jesus the whole time they suck. And I hate just as much as anyone the fact that goofy Ted Haggards and odious Fred Phelpses and you-name-hims are the media face of Christianity. In fact, I hate it so much I refuse to accept it. Which is exactly NOT what giving up and publicly quitting being a Christian does. I get that she wants to indict these sucky Christians for their suckiness. But in the meantime, she grants that this is what Christianity really is, and must be, and all right-minded people must quit it because it will only ever be a religion of haters and that's what Jesus would do.

Actually I think Jesus stuck around and got crucified for it, but hey, that's a theological quibble for another day, right.

On my own Facebook page I groused, "why sell out and let the haters define Christianity? all she's doing is legitimizing the perception that this is in fact what Xny has to be. Lame."

Maybe that was a bit harsh. Susan Campbell's reaction is better: "Come sit by me, Sis. Anne. One can be a Christian and cling to none of those antis, I believe." (Amen and amen and amen!) Usually, I'm much more level-headed; I stick it out in my little corner of Christendom, but I have said (so often now it's practically become a mantra) that we need some people to go and some people to stay, and everyone should do what they do loudly. Well, you can't beat an Anne Rice Facebook statement picked up by HuffPo as a megaphone, so it seems like I am actually pissed off at someone conforming to my own advice. Which puts me in a bind. Mea culpa. So why is it that I still feel like what she is doing is misguided in some fundamental way? Why am I still pissed about it?

What makes Susan's reaction better and different from mine is that, I got pissed off at the idea of quitting--because I have chosen to not quit, despite the fact that I too feel very much an outsider in my own Christian tradition. I've decided not to quit because I am an outsider. It's the outsiders--the vampires and the cyborgs if you will--within the church that have the prophetic potential for changing the antis into pros. It's not so much that I'm angry that Anne Rice wants to publicly indict Christians for the unforgiveable anti-stances that have been so publicly and politically taken up by a very vocal some. I agree. It's that her chosen response to it indicts my chosen response to it as wrong: useless, hopeless, and worse, complicit rather than prophetic. As she sees it, her conscience cannot allow association with the horrors she sees perpetrated by those claiming Christianity. But me--I'm just not that interested in preserving the purity of my conscience. I'd rather spend my time trying to preserve other things.

Susan seems to agree with me that it's hasty generalization to conclude that all of Christianity is defined by the haters, but instead of getting pissed off and calling Anne "lame," she says "come sit by me." That's ever so much better.

[So, pssst, Sis. Anne, have you heard of The Episcopal Church? It officially welcomes you. Also, should you ever find yourself in Brooklyn, why not check out this awesome pro-gay, pro-feminist, pro-birth control (well, except for that one couple that doesn't seem to bother, and yeah, you know who I'm talkin bout, but hey, you make great babies), pro-Democrat, pro-secular-humanist, pro-science, pro-life church, CCfB...]

But in the meantime, use your megaphone while you exit--because we need this witness too. But I hope you decide to stick around. And, sorry for calling you "lame."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Soundcheck on cyborgs & music

summer: a busy of monotony

So, it's summer. And I like summer: I like hot weather, I like being outside, I like the idea of "vacation," I like hanging out with Clare (mostly) (and this mostly reciprocated). But arrrrrrrgh.

Because "vacation" is theoretical, it's been hellishly hot here just like it has everywhere else, and it seems like I've been on my own more the past two months than any stretch of time so far in a decade of marriage. It's a big deal just to extricate myself from Clare's proximity long enough to go pee, and generally, she scouts me out while I'm still mid-stream.

In an hour and a half, I will have some much-needed time to do some pressing and important work--my Science for Ministry elective course, "The Human Person in a Technological Age," starts Monday. I am counting the minutes. This blog post is happening only because I am delaying the inevitable trip to the playground while my iPhone rewrites itself from scratch (no idea why this is necessary but it is taking forever).

In other news, I remain a theologian-at-large and heretic-for-hire, so if there's anyone you know in need of faithfully irreverent God-talk...well, I could use some word-of-mouth buzz. It would be so nice, and not just for practicalities like paying student loans, to do work I actually get paid for.

Time for the playground!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

informal review of Susan Campbell's Dating Jesus

[from Christian Scholars Conference 2010]

            Reviewing a book such as this, when your experience reading it has been as emotionally intimate as this has been, is a bit terrifying—knowing that whatever I say about it, I am saying much more about myself, in many ways, than I am about this text. But to say this is in some ways offering the highest tribute possible to Susan Campbell’s memoir of growing up in the [small] c’s-of-C: her journey precedes mine chronologically, is distanced from mine geographically, and differs in personal particulars, but nonetheless describes what it means to come of age as a girl in our denomination in words so honest that not only does my narrative echo hers at certain points, but the contributed bits of the many guest bloggers’ narratives at “rude truth” do, as well.

            This is not actually a very happy thing to observe. One would have hoped, after all, that the church which Campbell describes as “frontier revivalism frozen in amber” (38) might have unstuck itself from its fossilized convictions about gender in the years that separate my coming of age from hers. But, as she rightly observes, anachronism can become a veritable badge of righteousness, and on this issue, there is still no quicker and more effective rebuttal to the attempt to voice women’s experiences as relevant than “we cannot let culture dictate the practice of the church.”

            Campbell’s voice is strong, and compelling, and like many of us who have found that strong female voices are unwelcome—not just in our official assemblies, but in our formal leadership structures, and anywhere at all if they’re asking pesky questions—she has found an alternative venue for expression for this somewhat troublesome gift of God. It may be that, as Katie Hays observed to me somewhat wryly in conversation last year at this conference, no one misses these female voices when the women who possess them leave our churches—because they never got to use them in the first place. Perhaps years have passed without anyone wondering what happened to the voice of that pre-teen girl in Sunday school who asked, why a woman can’t be a preacher. She grew up and became a reporter for the Hartford Courant, and I suppose anyone who thought about it might have concluded, “and she lived happily ever after.” Luckily for us, the same courage that propelled Campbell to verbally spar—and hold her own!—with her Sunday school teacher has produced a memoir which once again brings her voice back into our midst, even if it has to happen cloaked in the “authority of the text,” the same evasive maneuvers performed historically by so many medieval women mystics. Now, we know what we’re missing; even better, we might even figure out why.

            That is, we might, if we read, and read with ears ready to hear a narrative that is both heartbreakingly funny and gut-wrenchingly sad, with some moments of prophetic pissed-off-ness in between. Not everyone is, still. Like the comment I received from a first-year seminary student’s first encounter with James Cone, “I feel like he’s yelling at me through the pages,” there are moments of, say, “snark”—not least of which is Campbell’s habit of footnoting scriptural references for the c’s-of-C practices she describes, and it’s not an aspect of the memoir designed to court a reluctant audience.

            In my opinion, to consider this a weakness of the book is to entirely miss the point. It is not the memoir’s only strength, but it is one of its strengths, and without the “snark” it would not be the honest narrative that it is. As one blog commenter observes, “it made me feel like I was sitting at the table with her”—and what better observation could there be of the profound, dare I say, sacramental even, intimacy made possible by the disarming honesty of an author, reciprocated in the receptive honesty of a reader?

            Moreover, it misses the point—never articulated directly by Campbell, and perhaps I am over-interpreting—that snark is a coping strategy. Robert A. Heinlein—another quite snarky author, come to think of it—wrote that the difference between human beings and our primate cousins is that we have a sense of humor; we laugh, and we laugh because it hurts. It is when we can no longer snark, no longer laugh, no longer grin and bear it, that we find we must walk away.

            It seems that Campbell reached that point, a point which I still hope will never manifest itself for me, and yet, as so many of us find, walking away does not exactly translate into leaving behind. There is a reason why my Episcopal priest husband still corrects himself in the instinctive use of the first-person-plural when speaking of the Churches of Christ. There is a reason why there is a thriving online community of ex-Cof-Cers. There is a reason why a successful Pulitzer-prize winning reporter and author finds herself revisiting the narrative of her coming of age and the way in which her life is mysteriously and inextricably bound up with the church of her youth.

            And, fantastically, the reasons are not all bad. You have to willfully ignore Campbell’s words, selectively read only the sarcasm, to miss that the description “revivalism frozen in amber” is immediately followed with, “If that sounds grim, it isn’t. If it sounds soulless, it isn’t that, either. The traditions plant in the believer—even someone who walks away from the church—a deep and soulful need” (38).

            Unfortunately, the reasons aren’t all good either, and the double bind which Campbell sketches from early childhood on, the message that 1) you must do everything you can to make yourself ready and 2) a woman can’t [fill the blank], becomes a message she describes as an adult as “hardwired” (149). “I was hardwired to understand that I don’t belong in the pulpit”—a dreadful perversion in modern metaphor of Jeremiah’s experience of the fire shut up in his bones. “As big a feminist as I am,” she writes, “I have on some level embraced the limitations set before me. And I fear bucking them. And that makes me both sad and angry” (149). Yeah. Me too. And how many, many others.

            Unlike Campbell, my first experience speaking in a pulpit did not leave me sobbing in front of the congregation before I even got started. But, in the first unprecedented moment in which my body (thankfully) moved on autopilot from the front pew to mount the steps up to that honest-to-God pulpit in West Islip Church of Christ, I felt lightheaded, and my surroundings, misty and surreal. It is not an easy thing to do, rewiring your circuitry. But what else can you do, when you wake up in the middle of the night and realize that, after all, all those years ago, you’d been dating the wrong Jesus?