Sunday, June 24, 2007

a note from The Wife

hi hon,

don't forget 1) eggs and 2) milk and the dry cleaning.

maybe pick up some italian for dinner tonight?

and a bottle of wine while you're at it (hint)

Oh, and BTW,

love you, kiss kiss
The Wife

post- post

So, the Christian Scholars Conference was great fun. My paper, though not brilliant in my estimation, was well-received nonetheless and I got loads of encouragement from people I knew and from people I had just met. And once that was done, the pressure was off and I could really relax and enjoy just hanging out and reconnecting with ACU people and Harding folks and others I haven't seen in years. I probably played hooky more than I should have but it was just so much fun to talk to people in honest to God real adult language. I did attend a session on pacifism, and a very interesting session on Proverbs, which drew me because of the Wisdom sermon from a few weeks back. One of the presentations there put that whole sermon in a different perspective for me, which was fascinating. (I might blog this out later but not here since this post is just a mishmash post-conference post.)

Just me. Twenty-five pounds lighter than normal because Clare wasn't situated on my hip. Liberation! I certainly did have my moments of maternal melancholy (should never have let myself visit rude baby's blog, big mistake), but overall, it was wonderful to rediscover a me that was my own again.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thursday morning I leave for the Christian Scholars Conference at Rochester College in Rochester Hills, MI. Friday morning I am presenting a paper quite arrogantly titled, "How to Talk About Religion and Science...Rationally," for the session "Re-imagining Faith and Reason." I'm worried about the paper; I chose the topic because I thought, well, this is something so foundational to my course of study that it will be no effort to put it together--but what I'm finding is that I no longer have any perspective on the theology and science methodology/epistemology stuff, because I have spent so much time with it, and so much time presuming it, that I no longer know what's obvious and what isn't.

But of course the real worry is that this is my first trip alone since Clare was born, and I'll be gone for three whole days. It's not that I'm worried about her being taken care of--Brent's mom is coming to help us out in that department, which is a godsend. But I'm not exactly sure how I'll do. I'm fairly certain that I have completely lost all former skills of how to be by myself. By myself? I haven't been by myself for a year! I can hardly even visualize it at this point.

So my anxiety is expressing itself rather indirectly through teen-like angst about my ridiculously bad hair (I'm at that fragile point where growing it out, again, feels like the dumbest idea I ever had) and equally ridiculous complexion, which is all the worse because pregnancy played havoc with my pigmentation and "freckly" is politely euphemistic at this point. Plus, of course, I had a baby--and haven't exercised in a year. (Doing three sessions of my postnatal yoga video hardly counts.) I'm in all my old clothes, have been for months and months, but sadly, the body that fits into them is at least 10 pounds over what it used to be, and really bulgy in places it wasn't before. None of this has bugged me until this week, when I suddenly realized with horror, oh crap, I have to get up in front of people and be impressively academic, and for a whole year all I've been is slobbily maternal at best (and unshowered and unshaven and still in pajama bottoms while cooking dinner at worst).

It's easier to worry about shallow crap than analyze exactly why it is I dread being separated.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

one year ago today

We got tired of waiting.

And Clare was born.

There should be some voice other than the passive for this.

In celebration, here is Clare's birth story as I wrote it a few weeks after her birth:

On Wednesday morning we woke up early (though we decided to aim for the 7:00 end of the 6:00-7:00 timeframe Brynne recommended for checking in). Maria had arrived Tuesday night late, and we all went to fortify ourselves with a good breakfast at the Princetonian Diner, a.k.a. Clare’s diner, where Brent and I would eat after almost every prenatal appointment. I had whole wheat pancakes and since I didn’t want to order coffee, even decaf, I decided on grapefruit juice, completely forgetting that Maria had once advised against citrus juice before labor. That issue came back up later.

So from there we went to the University Medical Center and checked in. I was now 15 days postdate, and the plan was that we would break my water and see what happened. For two weeks I had been 3-4 cm dilated, and had been having irregular, very light contractions after stripping my membranes on my last few visits to the midwives. So we were pretty confident that this was all it would take to push me into real labor.

And so it was! Brynne did the amniotomy at 8:30 and by 10:00ish I was in labor. Maria and I took a couple turns around the hallways, chatting while the contractions got stronger.

After that, I stayed in the room (room 436) for the rest of the time and labor really got underway. At some point I threw up that wretched grapefruit juice (which left me with really nasty breath and that bothered me every so often later, but Maria did this great aromatherapy thing with the pillow that really helped). For a while, and from this point I have no time reference other than that, I sat on the birthing ball while the contractions got stronger. I really felt like leaning forward and resting my head on my forearms—that seemed to make it, not less painful, but easier to negotiate. But the monitor kept slipping down off my belly—like all my maternity pants had been doing for the last 2 weeks—and the nurse had to keep patiently readjusting it. I’m sure that was annoying to the nurses, and it certainly was a little bothersome for me, especially when I would have a contraction in the middle of being fiddled with. So on Maria’s suggestion instead of leaning forward, Brent sat behind me for support and I leaned back into him. It was very hypnotic at this point for me—I just kept trying to relax, more and more, breathing really deeply and just diving inward and experiencing what my body was now doing. It was in its own way very very peaceful. Eventually Brent got a little fatigued, and Mom took his place and I leaned back into her. It was wonderful for me and later Maria told me that Mom said to her all she could think of was holding me and nursing me as a baby.

Eventually my back began to ache steadily, even between contractions, so I moved to the shower. The Jacuzzi might’ve been nice, but I didn’t want to wait or to have an exam before getting into it, and the shower was right there. So I moved to the bathroom once the shower got going. I remember hearing Maria comment, “look how well she’s walking!” and wondering in a sort of detached way how other women would be walking. I got on all fours in the shower, with my back to the water, and Brent and Maria and Mom took turns with the shower nozzle, moving the stream of water up and down on my back. That felt really good. I stayed in the shower a long time. While I had been mostly silent while leaning back into Mom and Brent on the birth ball, I made a lot of noise in the shower. I would moan as each contraction built up and released and gradually just got louder and louder. I didn’t expect to feel so uninhibited about making noise. I didn’t anticipate being a screamer—I’m just not—but I didn’t think I would be making all that much noise at all. And at first I didn’t, but making noise was something to concentrate on that gave a bit of release as things kept building and building in intensity. There came a point where I thought, this has got to be about as bad as it gets, because I wasn’t sure I could take any more intensity in what I was feeling. I think at that point I asked where I was—luckily no one took that as a sign of dementia but understood that I was asking where I was in the process. I was in transition.

During the whole time there was a chorus of voices near me, encouraging me and helping me negotiate the increasing pain of the contractions. I could hear everyone very clearly and the voices were a connection to the present moment, keeping me from just floating away into inner space but not interfering with my concentration, either. I never replied to anything anyone said, but it became very important to hear praise and encouragement as things went on. The voices never stopped even though I never acknowledged hearing them.

Finally, I was out of transition. I don’t know how that was decided or who noticed, but there was a definite point where I became more aware of the present and felt like I could get out of the shower. I had a bit of a rest between this point and beginning to push. I actually felt no real urge to push right away at all, and even when I did start the pushing, it was more that I felt like I should start because that’s just what was supposed to happen next. I also wasn’t quite sure how to go about it and I didn’t feel like I was getting any helpful cues from my own body, so I told Brynne I felt like I needed some direction. I pushed awhile in the bed, sort of sitting upright, and tried some different things, different places to brace my feet, and different things to hold on to with my hands as I pushed. After awhile I tried the birthing stool, which I really liked, and I think I remember Brynne saying later that she thought I had made some good progress in that position. I remember it feeling pretty comfortable and powerful to sit on it and push down. At some point I moved back to the bed, I think because everyone thought I was about ready to be done soon. After moving back to the bed things like the baby warming unit were wheeled in—signs that people were anticipating the end. But I still felt like even though I had been pushing for a while, that I wasn’t really making any progress. I couldn’t feel any progression, unlike with the contractions earlier where there was a definite sense of increase and intensity and moving forward. Pushing was more like stasis—it just felt the same every time I did it, and I just had to trust that something was happening even if I couldn’t tell. It felt like I pushed for a very long time. Eventually, Brynne set up the mirror and I was able to see some of what was happening and a tiny glimpse of a head. For a long time it seemed like I would push and the head just stayed right where it was. I could hear Mom (and others, but Mom especially) get excited when I pushed because they could see the head getting bigger. But by the time I was done pushing and could look in the mirror, it would be right back where it was before the push. This was discouraging, even though I could still look into the mirror and see that there really was a head and the baby really was slowly but surely coming down. This lasted a long time. At one point I felt really tired, and felt the need to say to someone, “I am really tired.” I didn’t feel like saying, “this hurts a lot,” or “I feel some stinging,” or anything like that, because I knew that was just part of what happens and there was no sense complaining about it. But I was really tired, and it worried me to feel fatigued because I already felt like I wasn’t making much progress. But I knew, too, that there was nothing to do but break on through to the other side no matter how tired I felt, because it wasn’t like I could just pause and take a break and resume when I decided I felt more like it. So I kept pushing anyway. And eventually there was more of a head visible, and then I could touch it. That was pretty cool, and encouraging. But again, I seemed kindof stuck there, and so it was a little less encouraging than I thought it would be.

I made a lot of noise! But it wasn’t screaming, it was just that the force with which I would have to expel air from my lungs was so great when I pushed that it had to come out as this enormous grunting sound. This was way different than the moaning I did through transition, which was way more hypnotic and focusing. This new sound was simply the audible evidence of hard, hard work. Like a weightlifter grunting through lifting some enormous weight or something.

And then, suddenly, it was time to push again and I began, just like all the other pushes, but this time, I heard Brynne say, this is it!, and, “Brent, you’d better get down here if you want to catch this baby,” and although my eyes were again squeezed shut I could feel the difference in what was happening, so I didn’t need to see anything. It took me by surprise—I thought, my God (and this was prayerful), this is it, she’s really coming out!—and I felt this enormous burst and release of pressure, and then felt my baby sort of slide right out—and then she was just there, right there on my chest, really really there. I felt like crying (I want to cry now as a matter of fact) but I was too busy being dumbfounded and fascinated and stunned to bother. I just wanted to look at her forever.

I didn’t pay attention to anything else after that.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

A Time to Embrace: a quick & dirty review

In keeping with the non-demanding nature of this blog, I am not intending this to be an academic-level sort of review. I'm sure that there will be plenty of those in the proper venues and if you want them you can go find them. No one made me read this book, and no one's making me review it either, and this is my blog, and all that means is, I can do this in whatever way I want.

I read this book because 1) Dr. Johnson is on my dissertation committee, and 2) it's about gays and the church. Although the book seems to be mainly directed toward a "mainline" denominational audience, and perhaps even more specifically, Presbyterians, I found that Dr. Johnson met his goal in making it useful for other possible church audiences as well. What I really mean by that is that I think CofCer's should read this book, and sadly, since our religious reading seems limited to Max Lucado and pop Christian stuff from God knows where, most CofCer's will never know this book even exists. Which of course would be the real reason I'm talking about it here. Hopefully the small handful of readers that I like to believe is out there (a fond dream aided and abetted by the free services of will be intrigued enough to click here and get a copy.

And so, on to the reviewing.

First, it's a sort of dauntingly thorough task that Johnson sets himself. Not only does he want to speak broadly enough in a religious sense for his analysis to be useful cross-denominationally, but the subtitle is, "Same-Gender Relationships in Religion, Law, and Politics," clueing us in that not only is he tackling the theological and ecclesial issues, but the broader societal issues of gay marriage vs. civil unions, etc., as well. He can do this because in another life, apparently, he used to be a lawyer. Thus the book consists of two parts: Part One, Religion, and Part Two, Law and Politics. While I found Part Two extremely informative and clarifying in a number of important ways, I will be concentrating on Part One in what follows.

Johnson is admirably straightforward about his own convictions, stating on page 3 of the introduction, "I argue that same-gender unions should be consecrated within our religious communities, validated within our legal systems, and welcomed within the framework of our democratic polity." (Those of you who disagree, I dare you to stop reading now. It won't make you more pure or righteous. It just makes you closed-minded.) Of course, anyone daring to write about an issue which is currently threatening not only the ecclesial unity of various denominations (Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterians, you name it) but also (as Johnson argues) the democratic fabric of our nation, should go ahead and say up front where they stand. But what makes this particularly admirable from Johnson is that he accomplishes successfully the goal he sets for himself: "Even though the stance I take here is one of advocacy for gay couples, I try to positively engage people from across the spectrum."

In fact, one of the most important contributions of the book, IMO, is that he provides a seven-fold typology of current theological stances regarding same-gender relationships, offering not only a practical way of breaking down the harmful either-or, pro- or anti-, rhetoric of the heated (non)discussion now current, but a fair description of each stance, written in a way in which proponents of each category will easily recognize themselves. This kind of respect for the integrity of each stance is invaluable in a contentious debate where demonization and caricature are the rule of the day. Personally, I was able not only to say, "hey, that's me," but "hey, there's Brent," and "hey, there's my dad," and "hey, there's Mom." (And need I add that we were all different categories? Indeed.)
Johnson's seven theological stances are as follows (my paraphrase, based on the descriptions found on pages 40 and 108):
  1. prohibition: same-gender attraction is a perversion; repentance of gay identity and behavior necessary; solution=return to heterosexuality
  2. toleration: same-gender orientatation is a tragic burden; repentance of gay behavior, "hate the sin, love the sinner"; solution=acceptance of the necessity of life-long celibacy
  3. accommodation: same-gender attraction is tragic burden but like all fallen states open to traces of God's grace; gay and lesbian relationships may be "disobedient in form" but "obedient in substance" if monogamous; solution=encourage gay monogamy as lesser of evils & believe nothing is beyond God's redemptive reach
  4. legitimation: same-gender attraction is no worse than any other sinful condition; gays/lesbians' status in the church therefore no different from any other person; solution=equal treatment, including possibility of ordination
  5. celebration: same-gender attraction is an essential quality of gay personhood; gays/lesbians should recognize the goodness of their sexuality; solution=repent of internalization of societal homophobia
  6. liberation: same-gender attraction, like human sexuality in general, is socially constructed; the binary categories male or female are oppressive in multiple ways; solution=acknowledge the complexity of human sexuality
  7. consecration: human sexuality, including same-gender attraction, is ambiguous; sin is not located in orientation or single behaviors, but in the overall ordering of one's relationships; solution=consecrate human sexuality through the context of marriage

In reading the book I resonated most strongly with Johnson's description of the liberationist stance, although I am in agreement with his conclusions on the desirability of the church's consecration of gay relationships. But what I found even more helpful than having a handy label for myself is that I could trace the evolution of my theological thinking on this topic through the categories listed.

Johnson approaches the task of Part One from a theological framework of "the three-part story [of God's relationship to the world] of creation, reconciliation, and redemption" (41). This three-part story provides the analytic framework for examining each of the seven theological viewpoints identified. What is most helpful about this strategy is that it brings to light the differences in theological emphasis between the seven viewpoints: some emphasize creation as the theological locus, others reconciliation or redemption. These differences generally remain implicit or go completely unrecognized during the heat of theological battle, but they are fundamentally significant in that they constitute the reason why 1) everyone is talking past each other, and 2) people can disagree vehemently without either party being necessarily "unfaithful."

Of more interest to the CofC reader, perhaps, will be that Johnson does engage the biblical text thoroughly and knowledgeably, and even provides a separate index for scripture references (326-330). Of course, most CofC readers will disagree with Johnson's biblical hermeneutic, making this an exercise in listening to the voice of the Other for the CofC audience--all the more reason to read it, say I.

Finally, Johnson offers a theological definition of marriage as a "means of grace" which provides the proper context for three basic human needs: companionship, commitment, and community (110). Despite the fact that they all begin with C, these are not arbitrary choices fueled by a predestined conclusion; rather, Johnson spends a great deal of time in the biblical text (Genesis, Leviticus, Song of Songs, parts of Pauline corpus, to name a few), demonstrating how these aspects of human life are acknowledged and provided for by God. Finding that marriage is ultimately about transformation, Johnson concludes that marriage is not "an order of creation," but an "order of redemption" (153); and thus the search for a suitable companion is one defined by this ultimate purpose of redemptive transformation. This means that the suitable companion for a gay person is a gay partner: one who can fulfill the redemptive aspect of relationship within the committed context of marriage. Such a relationship requires and deserves the recognition of the community, and this forms the basis of Johnson's advocacy of the consecrationist position. He is then able to say, in all seriousness, that the consecrationist position he advocates is quite as theologically conservative as is the prohibitionist position, in that it upholds the Christian view of marriage without compromise.

What little criticism I have to offer is this: in his conclusion, Johnson notes, "The main argument made against gay couples is that their love violates certain biblical prohibitions...By and large, these biblical prohibitions were directed at protecting male gender identity in a world in which male superiority over women was sacrosanct; thus they are ill-suited to guide moral or political action in the present day" (225). Do I disagree with this? Not at all--I think he's right on. But what this statement misses, which I find glaringly obvious, is that most Christians who read the biblical prohibitions in Leviticus as universally binding also read the prohibitions in 1 Tim 2:12 as universally binding...and thus Johnson's easy assumption that all will agree that "male superiority over women" is a principle "ill-suited to guide moral action" is not warranted in all contexts--and specifically, not something which can be so blithely assumed in a Church of Christ context.

Why should you bother reading it? Especially if you know that you disagree with the conclusions Johnson tells you at the outset that he's reached? Because even if you disagree, you will recognize your own stance in this book, treated respectfully and engaged with honestly. In return, you will have the chance to learn about what other people might possibly think about gays and why they think the way they do. At the end, if nothing you've read has changed your mind, you will at least have some better understanding of why your neighbor, your daughter, your gay cousin, your non-CofC friend or that lone liberal (or conservative) elder who disagrees with you. And that can only be a gain, for everyone.

Friday, June 08, 2007

posthuman's no joke

Brent and I are catching the re-run of last night's Daily Show...since 11:00pm is just way, way, way out of reach for us at this point, with a brutal CPE/Clare schedule dictating our summer hours...

So I'm just now learning that last night Jon Stewart made a posthuman joke.

See? It's really real, people, and it's coming. Someday we will all have gills. Jon said so.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

postscript to What to Expect

Yesterday Clare was vile and cranky, a little feverish, and very interested in poking at her ears. Adding it all up: "ear infection!" Took her to the doctor--ears are fine. So is everything else. And the mystery krank has disappeared overnight: today she is again a jolly baby pleased with the universe.

So, what's with the ears? In retrospect, I think I should have interpreted it as the latest of a series of intensive investigations in Clare's new fascination with Holes I Can Stick My Fingers In. It started with my bellybutton, then she found my nose, then she found her nose, and now she's found her ears. Of course, any incidental holes in the environment are fair game.

Now, I ask you...could there possibly be anything more "masculine"???

Monday, June 04, 2007

Hi everyone,

There is a new post on rude sermons, the first since February. I'll be preaching again in July, and perhaps a bit more often after we move to the city in mid-August.

A note on the sermon: the Hebrew Bible lectionary text for Sunday was Proverbs 8, Wisdom's speech. Those of you familiar with her work will recognize the debt this sermon owes to Elizabeth Johnson's text, She Who Is (alluded to in the sermon title). I was nervous about this sermon in a way I haven't been since my first couple of sermons a few years ago at West Islip Church of Christ. Partly because I propose in it that Trinitarian language, while descriptive and important and vital, occupies no special status as more true than any other image or metaphor used for God by human beings. And partly because I was afraid that is was too theological-ish and therefore not really very edifying. But, it was what I got--and I can only ever preach whatever I got.

I did have some very encouraging responses from people afterward, which was quite a relief. But I would appreciate comments on the sermon (on rude sermons rather than here), critical, constructive, and if you want to say nice things you can say them too. But I am still a novice preacher, who's only had one preaching, ahem, "religious speaking for women" class, and I know there's a lot to learn.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

what to expect...

...from What To Expect.

Long long ago on a blog far far away I mentioned that I would be interested in keeping tabs on my daughter as she grew to see if all the anecdotal evidence I was getting from other parents on innate gender differences was true. Everyone I talked to, it seemed, was so convinced that this was so, and had so many charming stories about Billy and Susie to back up their convictions, that my own skepticism began to seem arbitrary and ill-informed: yet another wrong opinion about childrearing held by someone who had not (yet) raised any children.

This question still interests me, and as Clare approaches that enormous milestone, her first birthday, I am still wondering if I'm observing any innate feminine behavior, or not.

So as I was catching up on my What to Expect reading for month 12, one of the FAQ's addressed is "Gender Differences." The question is phrased, "We're trying very hard not to raise our children in a sexist way. But we find that no matter how we try, we can't induce our 11-month-old son to be nurturing with dolls--he prefers to throw them against a wall." What to Expect answers with a neurobiology-based innateness hypothesis, and follows up with detailing some of the behavioral differences observed between girl and boy babies. The authors hasten to add, of course, that this only applies to groups as a generalization and that any individual girl or boy may exhibit behavioral tendencies of the opposite gender. But then they go on to describe how boys become more physically active, and are better at math.

It was at this point that I began to be disturbed.

And then I turned the page, and read footnote 5: "Boys who display feminine traits early in childhood, like to play with dolls, and avoid rough sports are more likely to become homosexual in later life if their parents (particularly fathers) try to force them to 'be a man'...these boys become estranged from their fathers and, it is speculated, may ever hunger for male love and companionship in adulthood..."

Well, that just explains that, doesn't it.

Then I read that by letting Clare watch TV before she was 10 months old meant that she was going to become, obese, stupid, and immoral, and it's all my fault.

So I think I'm done with What to Expect now.

I still haven't noticed any particularly feminine behaviors from Clare this first year. When she plays with her doll, she tries to bite her face off. Not exactly nurturing. She does exhibit a clear and enduring fascination with buckles: car seat, high chair, stroller--she is trying earnestly to figure out how they work. Masculine?

Friday, June 01, 2007

exciting finds!

I knew there had to be more PTS bloggers out there...and I was right! And what's even more exciting than adding a bunch of cool new blogs to my links is the fact that I actually know so many of these very cool people. I even have a blogging neighbor! Who knew!

Anyhow, if you like reading theology-type blogs by seminary-type people, check out the new stuff in my PTS bloggers section. I can't say that I'm in agreement with all that I've read on these blogs--in fact I can definitely say that I'm not--but as GKB tirelessly demonstrates for us, disagreement in the blogosphere is one of the most stimulating (distractive, addictive) things around.