Monday, February 27, 2006

Transfiguration Sermon

Hello all. Brent here. I just wanted to let you know that Jennifer has a new sermon about the transfiguration online at This was preached yesterday at a Church of Christ in the Northeast.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

making space

These days I'm making space. Inside and out. For the kid, you know.

The project started with Readerware, and Brent cataloguing and labeling with Library of Congress numbers all the books currently in our possession. This began months ago. We own about a thousand books. So, now they're all, or at least all of them except for the ones most recently acquired (these are stacked up in Brent's "reading chair," waiting) properly labeled. The second step: choosing which ones we can box up and store. The third step: boxing, sealing, labeling the boxes and carrying them down to our storage cage in the basement. Thanks to my periodic but quite determined nagging, we got all this accomplished a week or so ago.

We have a lot more space now. A full 10 boxes of books are now down in the basement. We've moved a now-empty bookcase out of the bedroom and found it a new spot in the living room. Pretty soon, we'll move the furniture around a bit in the bedroom, and Baby ______ will have her own little nook in the corner with a changing table and a couple of cross-stitches from MOM to mark her space.

A couple days ago I decided to tackle clearing out the top shelf of my side of the bedroom closet. I've been storing all my pictures and memorabilia up there--mainly because the basement floods regularly and I didn't want my pictures ruined. But now we need the space.

So I began excavating. Things were semi-organized. I have a couple of scrapbooks, which I had every intention of filling with the best and most amusing pictures, labeled and dated, etc. One of them is completely empty (the leatherbound scrapbook with the fleur de lis, bought in Florence), and the other is partially full, but I haven't touched it in years. My pictures are still in stacks inside the envelopes of whatever drugstore developed them: Wal-Mart, Walgreens, the little Chinese envelopes. Some of them were just loose, and had little scraps of paper folded around them with topical labels: J & A, Ally's wedding, etc. And there were ziplocks full of old papers. Letters, mostly, which I found myself unable to throw away when going through the last of my things at the house in TN.

It became an archaeological project: digging through the layers of my past, organizing them, deciding which parts were golden and which were worthless. I didn't throw much away. Even the recorded history of the bleak times--the journal in the John Boy Walton-style Indian Chief tablet from Wal-Mart from the last year at Harding--was valuable, in its own way. I imagined someday that Baby _______ will find this box of dusty relics, and imagined her wide-eyed discovery that her mom is a person with hidden depths and angsts and who used to write bad poetry, and once thought she would never get married, and once thought she'd convinced herself she was okay with that. I imagined her astonishment at seeing so many pictures of mom on various dates through the years. Who would have thought that so many different guys would have found her interesting? I imagined her laughing at my hair and my funny clothes and at pictures of Aunt Ally and Auntie Em as children. I imagined her not even recognizing the grandparents--is this Nana really? Wow, when did Pop have hair?

It was cleansing, this taking stock of oneself, from a sort of distance. There's a lot in there I still wish hadn't happened and that I still remember feeling, even. But I own it. It's a recorded progress of me through time: the deadends and the bleak stretches of featureless highway, and the mountain peaks and far vistas of foreign lands, too. It's all of that. Maybe when Baby ______ discovers it I'll regret her knowing that I used to curse in my journal, that I dated, or whatever...but it will mean that in some measure she gets to know me, in retrospect, in a way that I can take for granted that I will get to know her, as a human being in motion through time, from the very beginning.

Monday, February 20, 2006


The Cast

My favorite line (in "If your vagina could talk, what would it say?"): "remember me?" (thanks for the inspiration, MOM)

My favorite monologue overall: "I was there in the room."

Brent's favorite monologue(s): "My Angry Vagina," "Because he liked to look at it," "The Vagina Workshop."

Most gutwrenching line: In "For the Comfort Women," under "what we couldn't do": "keep my baby."

We raised $700 Friday night; I think we matched it or better Saturday although I don't know the figures.

The Vulva Choir

pre-show review

Friday, February 17, 2006

in media res

Some of the reservations a professor of mine expressed about the Vagina Monologues during the panel discussion Wednesday evening seem warranted. There is, for example, a fairly consistent identification of women with vaginas, so that the message almost seems to be that woman=vagina. This, clearly, is an ambivalent sentiment: one that is used to oppress and reduce and harm, as well as being a path of affirmation for women who have studiously ignored this part of who they are. This didn't get discussed fully during the panel--mainly because I had so many questions to write on notecards and turn in to the panelists that I simply didn't get to this one. My feeling about it at the moment is, while I don't want to make the move woman=vagina, I think the play represents a necessary dialectical moment in the redemption of the body part for women. Before I can realize myself as a whole being (vagina and more), first there must a valuing of that part of me that's been previously ignored, squelched, not thought about or looked at, off limits to the conscious self. Once that happens, then it is possible to move beyond identifying oneself with the vagina and understand that there is much more to a person than any singular body part.

Other thoughts: among the cast there has been the constant question, how is the seminary at large responding to the production of "The Vagina Monologues" on campus? I myself have heard no negative sentiment, but then again, I'm relatively isolated from the social world in which most PTS students live and move and have their social being. (This isn't just me being socially inept; it's a PhD student problem generally, I think.) Since this is the second time for the play to be performed at PTS (first was 2004), I kindof assumed that criticism might be more muted, or that unenlightened people would have accepted it with the attitude of "well you can't make me go see it and my $5 is buying me lunch, not going to Womanspace." But apparently this is just a product of my isolation and misplaced optimism. I haven't seen anything written contra "The Vagina Monologues" here, but Brent shared this with me from the NY Times this morning: At Religious Universities, Disputes Over Faith and Academic Freedom.

The article focuses on University of Notre Dame's recent statement that "that staging the events on campus implies an endorsement of values that conflict with Roman Catholicism." What I find entirely incomprehensible is that, though the objection is based on the assumption that allowing these performances implies endorsement of values unacceptable to the powers that be, "The Vagina Monologues" was allowed to be performed--just not allowed to raise money to be donated to the cause of prevention of violence against women: "'The Vagina Monologues' was performed in a classroom, not a theater, by a group that was not allowed to sell tickets to raise money for women's groups as it once had." So apparently the monologue "The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy" can be performed--as long as no good comes of it. Forgive me if my ire leads me astray here, but it seems to me that now, instead of endorsing the production of a play which stands for the prevention of violence against women, Notre Dame has now endorsed the performance of apparently entirely gratuitous orgasm scenes with no greater purpose than sheer entertainment value. Does this seem weird to anyone else???

Last night's performance here, though, was wonderfully affirming. People laughed when it was funny--which it is, loud and often. And people gasped when it was shocking, and sobered when it was sad. Despite whatever lingering puritanical sentiment there may be around here, there are enough people who understand the real point of the Monologues. It's not endorsement of a libertine sexual ethic, it's not in-your-face feminist bullying, it's not simply there for the glorious shock value of it all. It's about women trying to reclaim a part of themselves that has for too long been something that means only hurt and vulnerability and the ever present possibility of terror. (Yes, terror. I used the GW word, and I meant it. In a way that I suspect he doesn't and can't when he uses it.)

I don't understand what there is about that that any Christian institution couldn't endorse. To refuse to do so is simply misogyny dressed up in puritanical clothing.

I'm glad PTS can be the counterexample to Notre Dame. Tonight should be even better.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

mug shots

Brent and I bought some new coffee mugs this week. Since you can't see all of the message on the mug at right, here is what it says: "The Diocese of New Jersey: resisting simplistic theology since 1785."

We have a nice mug collection. It occurred to me in surveying it that mugs really say quite a lot about a person, or a household. They're as expressive as T-shirts, or perhaps even more so, since you feel less inhibited about something written on a mug than something emblazoned on your chest with your face above it, walking around all day.

There are the mugs that match our everyday china: lovely curvy ones whose shape retains heat and keeps your coffee warm longer. They're pretty. We use them when we invite people to dinner. Then there's the pair of Hull pattern mugs picked up at a flea market because it reminded me of grandparents, which I always use for hot chocolate, because they're so nice and warm and brown. Then the set of three plain white diner-type mugs that actually are inherited from grandparents, Brent's grandfather, to be exact. Then there are the random single mugs: a free one picked up at the TBA with a picture of Miller Chapel on it; a black one declaring "stolen from the City Cafe, Murfreesboro, TN" although my dad bought it for me for $2; the one Brent picked up for me a while back just for fun with Rosie the Riveter on it. I used to have a John Deere mug, but I think I must have left it in the Grad Commons at ACU...

My travel mugs are especially precious to me although some of them are so old and well-used now that the ink has worn completely off in spots, so that you can no longer immediately tell that they're all Coffee People mugs supplied by my favorite Harding roommate, from Portland, Oregon. I also have this confounded inability to hold on to them, so that what should be a collection of at least 7 is down to three, and two lids between them. Mostly I've lost them by leaving them in various classrooms over the years, or on the roofs of cars.

My mom and dad's mug collection is probably unsurpassed in all the world for breadth and deapth and overall randomness as well as quirky personal expression. Of course, it helps to know that when my dad used to work for Webb's, he brought home free mugs nearly by the truckload from annual coffee conventions during my childhood.

These new mugs register the latest installment of the evolution of our life together here, as Brent moves into the ordination process and embraces life as an Episcopalian. Maybe in a few months we'll acquire yet another mug registering the major upheaval of "Baby _____'s" arrival.

So I'm curious: what do you drink your coffee out of in the morning? What does your mug say and what does it say about you? Some of you people, I've seen your mugs, I know how weird you are. I dare you to share with all the supposedly normal people who might be reading this.


Happy V-Day, everyone.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

why, part 3

Once there was a boy, a boy I thought I liked very much. My roommate set us up. He wanted to go live in another country where they speak another language and preach. I thought I might want to do this too. I thought I might want to do it with him.

But the problem was, in this boy's world, girls were beautiful virgins in white dresses with long dark hair, or they were whores. And because I wanted to be honest, I told him all about me.

It took him three days and being yelled at by someone else to speak to me again. When he did, he said that he would try to understand.

But he never did understand.

Eventually, he dumped me. It was hard. I thought I liked him a lot. I thought I even loved him, even though, to be honest (which I can be now to a degree I was unable to then), we had an awful relationship. I knew why he was dumping me. I wanted to make him say it. I tried for hours to make him say it. He never did.

I was messed up for a long time after this. I was vulnerable enough to wonder if he might be right about me. It took me a long time to undo that damage, and it didn't get undone by me alone. A long time after I met a boy who saw me differently, and who, wonder of wonders, saw something even I didn't see in me, something fascinating, something compelling, something worth holding on to from then on. Something which couldn't be reduced to the status of a body part. And we got married.

And here we are.

Friday, February 10, 2006

some half-assed empirical research

It's hard, you know, this baby-naming business. Long before we were even actually pregnant, back when we were just thinking about it, Brent and I bought the new version of Beyond Jennifer and Jason (now with the updated title, Beyond Jennifer and Jason, Madison and Montana). Having grown up with a name that at least one other person in every classroom I have ever been in has also possessed--and I mean this quite literally, I have never been the only Jennifer in any school setting; even now, I am one of a pair!--I am determined to find a name for this kid that she can consider to be all hers, so that if she should happen to run into someone of the same name it's kind of exciting and unusual instead of routine and very, very annoying...and sometimes just plain depressing. It's hard to feel so unique and yet have the same name as every other female child born in 1976.

(Sorry, MOM. I know you tried. You just tapped into the Zeitgeist and it didn't let you go, or something.)

So Brent and I have looked on the US Census Bureau website at name statistics and trends over like the last 20 years. And that was somewhat reassuring. The name we like for the kid has made it only so far as the top 100 names. But lately we've been hearing it a lot on TV: random characters on prime-time TV series like CSI have this name, or minor characters in a movie, or main characters in really bad movies. But it's there. And it's worrisome.

So I decided to put my Harding alum magazine to use this morning while I sipped my tea--a poor substitute for coffee, alas, but hell, I'm drinking decaf these days anyway so what does it even matter--and looked through the birth announcements solely for the purposes of discovering what I should definitely NOT be naming this baby.

First, the prize for the only really different-sounding and yet not totally freakish name out of the whole bunch goes to "Stella Allison." I'm proud to say, too, that this was the only couple I actually knew out of the list of those who've recently procreated. Yay!

Other names I kinda liked were "Sarah Nell" and "Nora Mae" although I'm a little less keen on the second. (Liked Nora, not so much the Mae with-an-e.)

But here's the breakdown: out of 27 names, there were,

2 Avery's
2 Rose's
3 Anne's and one Anniston
2 Emma's
3 Grace's
4 Caroline's (one spelled with a 'K')
4 Elizabeth's
2 Sarah's
2 Lee's and 1 Lily
and the usual run of made-up or unisexish names: Ashton, Ashlyn, Ayden, Campbell, Murphy, Mackinley

Abby, Alexis, Katelyn, Kaylie, Lindsay, Emily, Laura and Jane also made an appearance but were not (surpisingly, for some of these) duplicated. Oh, and there was one "Aria Tuscany," so I suppose those alums definitely went to HUF at some point.

So, and this is a relief, our name didn't appear on the list. But now that I'm all paranoid about it I'm keeping this to myself, so family types: quit referring to the kid as "Baby _______" at least on the blogs, okay? There's probably some other desperate Jennifers out there looking for the perfect as-yet-unrediscovered moniker for their precious unique little girl bundle of joy (Joy! That's it! Go for "Joy"!) and I'm not giving this one away.

And one last unrelated and somewhat strident point: are these the names good Harding alumni are giving to the next generation of women we expect to remain silent in our churches? Somehow "Murphy" in particular strikes me as a name with the potential to encourage the expression of personal opinion and thoughts...why might that be?... Perhaps Dr. Burks should work on providing procreating alums with a list of acceptably feminine names that don't challenge the status quo, ahem, I mean, the "core beliefs" of our churches.

Update: Thanks to mph's tip I found a whole 'nother page of birth announcements, upping the "Ann family" total to 4 Annes, 1 Anniston, 2 Hannahs and 1 Savannah; there are 4 Graces, 1 Joy & 1 Faith (apparently this generation is Hopeless); 3 Ashlyns; and the peerless Vail Blue. Added to unisex names: Emmerson, Sidney, & Madison, Briley and Riley.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

why, part 2

So, I was thinking about landmark incidents/iconic happenings in my life regarding the evolution of my view of my own sexuality.

There was Barbie.

There was high school.

There was college--basically, a huge step backward, all things considered.

There was this time in Italy.

--when I was at HUF, when we got an unexpected day off from classes. Most people spent the day in Florence, but I was determined to get out, go somewhere, anywhere, as long as I could be on my own. Living with 40 people in a villa can get a little crowded, and I felt the need for some space. I borrowed a Rick Steves Backdoor from someone and picked a destination. The day went just as I planned. I was deliberately alone and enjoyed it. Until it was time to go home: the plan went decidedly off the rails. Making it to the train by sheer luck and the kindness of one very nice mustachioed Italian man, I settled down in an empty compartment. Empty, that is, until one old, mostly toothless, grizzled guy with two younger men came in and sat down. Despite there only being 4 of us in a 6-seat compartment, it was suddenly very crowded. Rather than space themselves out, they sat as near me as possible--I ended up crammed against the window, rubbing shoulders with one of the younger guys, who was definitely closer than he needed to be, while the leering old man sat across from me. And my serene day of silent solitude was interrupted by the garrulity of the old guy: having introduced himself and his two "nephews," he proceeded to engage me in conversation that quickly went beyond my Italian conversing ability and comprehension--until I finally (oh so innocent!) grasped the import of the crude hand gestures. Deciding I was done with this conversation, I decided to get my journal from my backpack and look occupied. As I sat back down in my seat, I sat down right on top Nephew #1's hand. And had to pummel him in the shoulder to get him to move it--he just sat with it right there under my butt like he meant it to stay. And they laughed and laughed. I started to leave, but being by the window and furthest from the door left me at a disadvantage. It was immediately blocked. The old man made the nephews switch places, promising that nothing more would happen. Nephew #2 is a nice boy, he said. Not at all reassured, but unable to see any way to force my exit--it was one against three--I grudgingly sat down and hoped for the best. Conversation ceased. I found myself struggling to even maintain a pretense of writing in my journal; somehow, the ceaseless flow of words that has characterized my lifelong experience of myself had dried up, been dammed up by the filthiness of the situation, the absurdity of the situation, the realization that despite how utterly ridiculous I found it all, nevertheless I was physically at these three mens' mercy. Pulling into Florence, I got ready to go long before the train actually stopped: backpack ready, muscles tensed to GO as soon as possible. But it didn't matter: the old guy made sure he was between me and the door. Grabbing me in a huge bear hug, he nuzzled my neck in a grotesque goodbye kiss before I was allowed out.

And that's what happened.

It happened because I was a woman, and because I was alone. Because there was no one to stop them, and nothing that I could do about it. It could have been worse. I knew that at the time, and I know it now. But it doesn't make what did happen any better, the fact that it could have been worse.

I didn't tell anyone when I got home past curfew that night back at the villa. No one knew I was late, so no explanations were necessary. I'm not sure many people had noticed I was gone at all. There was no one to tell.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


This was a great anxiety reliever. Thanks, Krister!

Four Jobs I’ve Had
1) first job: soccer referee
2) waitress
3) switchboard operator
4) "foreign expert"

Four Movies I Could Watch Over and Over
1) Cool Hand Luke
2) Dancer in the Dark
3) Legally Blonde
4) Star Wars (the old ones)

Four Books I Could Read Over and Over
1) The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein
2) Harry Potter. We'll count that as one book, shall we.
3) Confessions, Augustine.
4) Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Four Places I've Lived
1) Griffin, GA
2) Murfreesboro, TN
3) Albuquerque, NM
4) Wuhan, Hubei Province, PR China

Four TV Shows I Watch
1) Gilmore Girls
2) 7th Heaven reruns on ABC Family Channel (provides a daily opportunity for censorable expressions of disgust)
3) CSI's
4) The Daily Show and the "word" segment of The Colbert Report (the other night there was reference to Robert Johnson and an off-the-cuff allusion to Little Feat!!!)

Four Places I've Been On Vacation
1) Taipei, Taiwan
2) Mexico Beach, FL
3) that beach in NC where we had the family reunion
4) Abilene, TX (long story)

Four Websites I Visit Daily
1) brooklyn and beyond
2) The Revealer
3) Feminary
4) the CofC seminarians' blogs
and of course my mom's and sisters' blogs

Four Favorite Foods
1) Herrera's Bean Soup
2) Mom's chicken n' dumplins
3) Thweatt rolls
4) Mimi's Thanksgiving dressing

Four Places I'd Like to Be Right Now
1) about two hours from now with the comprehensive exam's oral defense done with
2) China
3) Italy
4) lazing in a hammock in Honduras

Four Bloggers I'm Tagging
1) MOM
2) grooved pavement/emily&elliott
3) demasiada
4) TKP

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

why, part 1.5


This was the first picture of a vagina I ever saw in a book: a line drawing of a "beaver" in Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

When I told my mother, she said, "Good grief." When I told my sister, she said, "Cool."

I don't guess I really ever told my dad.

So what do I want to tell you?

Maybe it's because I'm pregnant, and my vagina, for the first time, is going to be center stage pretty soon anyway. So why not.

Maybe it's because, despite the purchase of David Schnarch's Passionate Marriage and a whole host of other marriage-related books prior to my wedding, I never did do what they told me to and sit in front of a full-length mirror naked and try to see what it looked like. Maybe it's because now I'm curious and try to get my husband to describe it.

Maybe it's because, when I learned my baby is a girl, the technician told us, "See those little lines right there? Those are her labia," and I was so, so happy that my little girl was not identified as a little girl simply because of the absence of a penis.

Maybe these things are relevant. Maybe they're simply ways to say, I know my vagina is a part of me in a way that has defined who I am, and what I've done, and what I've wanted to do, my whole life, in a way that I have never explicitly acknowledged. Until now.

But it's more that that, more than just the fact that I want to be honest with myself about this part of me. It's also that as I discover this about myself as something to cherish and celebrate, other women still experience their vaginas as a source of vulnerability and oppression and anxiety. And that, too, is what the Vagina Monologues is about.

This is the most recent picture of a vagina I've seen in a book: from Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias (Book One, Vision Three), the Rupertsberg manuscript.

These two pictures bookend this statement. They bookend my experience with vaginas. First they were dirty and illicit and something that only men talked about--and not in ways that a nice girl like me should know about, anyway. But ever so slowly, the vagina has become a metaphor for the divine, of creation, of love, of faithfulness: the universe.