Wednesday, January 30, 2008

cynicism sucks. I'm on board.

(Mom, this post is for you. Hope you're still "considering.")

I'm listening to the SC victory speech on youtube right now. And if I hadn't been for Obama before, I would be now.

Personally, I've been cynical for so long that I've found it difficult to shake. There's security in it; if you're cynical about all political process and all political candidates and all political rhetoric, then you're never going to be disappointed, you're never going to feel betrayed. You never expected anything better. And I experience Obama as a temptation. A temptation toward resuscitated hope and optimism and a trust in personal agency. And despite my like for him as a candidate, there's been a part of me that's resisted getting totally on board. I've been cynical too long. I don't want to contemplate what it may mean to trade it in for what still feels like a naive idealism, the kind that inevitably gets crushed by the implacable momentum of indifferent reality.

What's so powerful about this speech, to me, is that--whatever else is in there--Obama recognizes this.
"We're up against forces that feed the habits that prevent us from being who we
want to be as a nation...a politics that tells us we have to think, act and even
vote within the confines of the categories that supposedly define us... But
we're not just up against the ingrained and destructive habits of
Washington. We're also up against our own doubts, our own fears, our own
cynicism. The change we seek has always required great struggle and great
sacrifice. And so this is a battle in our own hearts and our own minds
about what kind of country we want, and how hard we're willing to work for it."
The message to me, and to those like me, is to take the risk. Of climbing out of the security of cynicism and daring the vulnerability of hoping, and working toward the America we wish we lived in. Of making our citizenship something we can legitimately take some pride in, instead of adopting fake Australian accents when overseas.

And the chorus: "yes, we can." On the theological anthropology behind this speech, maybe another post.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


I've decided there's no sense in pretending I'm any good for academic working today, after getting to bed at about 3:30 a.m. and not getting to sleep until well after that. After getting Clare off to the Children's Garden (warmly bundled, lunch in hand, and bitterly protesting the injustice of it all, for about 30 seconds until I was out of sight when she could buckle down to really enjoying herself) I came back home, popped in a BG and went right back to sleep.

So, HOPE was a great thing to do and I enjoyed myself quite a lot--not something you anticipate about walking around in the cold for hours, attempting to interview people who don't want to be interviewed. Our CCfB team got a bit split up, so I had the privilege of teaming up with a couple who, as it turns out, are not only inspirational themselves in all sorts of ways, but friends-of-friends. So it was a joy to spend a few hours getting to know them while doing something concretely helpful together.

Despite Brent's penchant for anxiety, and the police escort which trailed us (for the first half of the night, anyhow), nothing at all unsettling happened the whole night. Until I got on the train to come home.

As you might imagine, the trains were mostly empty at 2:50 a.m. My car had a couple people sleeping on one end. And a bunch of guys who immediately became very loud when I stepped into the car and sat down, in the middle between them and the sleepers. Despite myself I felt uneasy. I didn't want to, but I did. And they got louder and louder and more flamboyant--cursing, telling lurid stories about girlfriends. And I just sat and tried to control my body language so that a glance at me wouldn't proclaim "scared white lady wants OUT!"

Nothing happened.

One by one they exited the train at various stops, until the last guy came and sat down directly opposite me, right before getting off at 14th St. And then he stood up, walked to the doors right next to me, looked at me and said, "You are beautiful. Just can't get off this train without sayin'." Uh, thanks. Have a good night.

Unsettled. Convicted. Ashamed. Confused.

Monday, January 28, 2008


In about an hour, I'm going to dress as warmly as I can and head out the door to PS 261, where I'll meet up with folks from church (and others) for HOPE Count 2008. You can read more about it through the link, but basically, every year NYC does as accurate a count as possible of the homeless in an effort to improve services.

This isn't the first year CCfB has participated in the HOPE count, but last year, as a still-new mom and NJ resident, getting to Brooklyn at 10:30 p.m. and working through the night was not really an option. So this is my first time to do this.

Yeah, I'm nervous. I don't worry about safety (this is a well-organized sort of thing). My nervousness is more the sort that I get when I have to interact with people in less than well-defined social situations. This nervousness pretty much plagues my existence generally, but it gets acute when I encounter people whose lives engender a feeling of guilt and helplessness in me.

But that's no reason not to do something, really the opposite--a reason to do it. Fear of the other, the stranger, the alien...this is only countered by coming face to face.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

more on universalism

This past Thursday I got to lead the follow-up discussion on universalism on Thursday night--the follow-up on universalism & the Bible. I wish I'd done a better job, since I always get rambly and too talkative when it comes to hermeneutics. It's not really my bag, and while you'd think that would make me talk less rather than more--well, it makes me nervous, and Nervous JTB talks a lot more than Normal JTB. So, it wasn't as good as I'd hoped, on my end anyway; but some good things got said (by everyone else).

Anyhow, since the topic was really more the biblical witness and whether/how universalism comes out of that, the direction my thoughts have been going lately wasn't quite right for the discussion. I'm satisfied with acknowledging the fact of biblical plurivocality and the burden of conscious, responsible interpretive judgment that places on anyone who dares pick up the Bible and read it. As I confessed on Thursday (and have on this blog before), there are times when the early childhood spiritual formation kicks in (right around the gut area) and I think, Oh God, am I going to hell for this? But even as I work out my hermeneutic in fear and trembling I know there's no other way to do it; if you're not reading the Bible and doing your damnedest to understand it, in fear and trembling, then whatever you've got in your hands is not God's matter what the leatherbound cover says.

One question I took with me from Joe's first sermon on the topic was, what constitutes the difference, categorically, between inclusivism and universalism? Because it seems to me that, if you're willing to consider that people outside the few (elect?) who explicitly believe in Jesus Christ can be saved through Jesus anyway, how would that not run inevitably to universalism? So in pondering these theological categories what I realized was this. Exclusivists exclude on the basis of belief in right doctrine. If you don't believe, you aren't saved. (And of course, as we all know, there's the inevitable reductio ad absurdum inherent in this way of thinking, leading to the kind of sectarianism that refuses to recognize Christ might save anyone who doesn't do X, Y, Z exactly the way we do.) But if inclusivists reject explicit belief as the criterion, on what basis would people not be saved? Looking at inclusivism I realized that inclusivists, too, require that people merit salvation somehow--not by having the right belief, but by measuring up in some other way, usually cashed out in terms of moral behavior or moral character. Those who are saved by Christ, despite their non-belief, are the good pagans, the ones who somehow figured out how to live out the Christian life despite the handicap of not being Christian.

Now, sure, this is an improvement on a steadfast refusal to recognize that non-Christian people can ever be moral or good (a position I have heard sincerely advocated in the past). But still, what we have is a doctrinal position which requires people to merit salvation.

And we know that's wrong, right? I mean, our stubbornly plurivocal uncooperative biblical text does seem pretty clear that--no matter what else you hold regarding salvation--that human beings do not do anything which merits it and obligates God to save them. So why is it that options 1 and 2 are built around implicit convictions that it all hangs on what we believe or do?

Coming to it this way, it seems obvious to me that as long as we accept that the proposition that human beings do not merit salvation is biblical (note that I have not made a textual argument for this, see I told you, this is not my bag. You biblical scholars out there, feel free to construct it or challenge it), then both exclusivism and inclusivism (which I think we should call "soft exclusivism") are revealed as "unbiblical," because they implicitly teach that human beings merit salvation (or don't).


Anyhow, there are couple of good recent reflections on universalism by some others to send you to: Casey's Communion reflection here, and Feminarian's latest post here. (And of course, if you're looking to really buckle down, Dr. Beck's series of posts here.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Tuesday night, my sister called. Wednesday when I checked my email, my mom had emailed. Wednesday night, I sat with two dear friends and talked about it, trying to discern what was so sad--amidst more immediate and personal sorrows--about the death of a person that we never knew. I'm still not sure, but the fact is, we're all sad.

And while there are those who will exploit the human temptation to voyeurism and hysteria, and make the profession of sorrow from all of us so remotely connected (or totally unconnected) burdensome and suspect to those who personally grieve...the fact remains that we are all truly sad. It's a strange thing to grieve for people you don't know, not least because the best way to express it is in keeping a respectful distance.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

technology's Janus face

Turning off Dora today after getting Clare to the Children's Garden, caught a bit of C-Span's retrospective/re-enaction on abortion debate. The National Right to Life Committee Congregational Liaison and NOW President were going at it. And apparently on the agenda for the Right to life Committee is to push for legislation requiring women to view an ultrasound before granting access to an abortion: the Ultrasound Informed Consent Act.

I've blogged about this proposal before. What strikes me today, however, is how useful technology is rhetorically. Technology is often demonized--in fact, I heard it demonized (abortions are murder, they have the technology to dismember the baby in the womb, you can see it happen on the Internet) right before Technology became the Moral Savior of Misguided Women Seeking Abortions...through the ultrasound.

I've read some stuff here and there about how the introduction of the ultrasound changed how women experience pregnancy and the reality of their baby. Women didn't use to rely on this technology to make their baby seem real to them. It used to be the result of the cues of their body: the subtle changes, the obvious changes, and of course, quickening. But now technology mediates this experience for us, not just in an additional way, but (it seems) in an increasingly definitive much so that right to life advocates are banking on the moral impact of an image on a screen. Morality Check, brought to you by technology.

Or, as the NOW pres pointed out, requiring a woman to view an ultrasound hikes the price of the procedure to double or more...making abortions out of reach for those who are most desperate.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Now, I know that I created a whole separate blog for Clare just so that rude truth wouldn't get totally overrun with cute baby stuff.

But I can't help post this on here too. So sue me.

Friday, January 18, 2008


CCfB's in the middle of a sermon series on universalism. As Joe explains it, he got caught slipping a subversive little paragraph into one of his Advent sermons and the result, a three week sermon series to explain himself. We're also taking a break from our Luke study on Thursday nights for follow-up discussion on the topic.

Last night, discussion was rich and intelligent and the best kind of theology--collaborative, sincere, and systematic. We started with this question of soteriology, and from there, noted connections to theology/Christology, atonement, hermeneutics, pluralism.

After some open discussion where we all tossed out what we'd been thinking on since Sunday's sermon, Joe pointed us toward this post from Experimental Theology.

I often try to keep my mouth shut in these discussion because the things I notice, as a trained theologian, are idiosyncratic and therefore distracting and generally unhelpful in moving the discussion in a generative direction. So here's the grab-bag of thoughts I didn't express in our discussion, because more important stuff was being said.

Talbott's "logical problem of soteriology" (my label), as Beck summarizes it, is exactly parallel to the basic logical problem of evil; it's simply the soteriological-specific form of it. Thus:
1. God's redemptive love extends to all human sinners equally in the sense that he sincerely wills or desires the redemption of each one of them=God is good.
2. Because no one can finally defeat God's redemptive love or resist it forever, God will triumph in the end and successfully accomplish the redemption of everyone whose redemption he sincerely wills or desires=God is all-powerful.
3. Some human sinners will never be redeemed but will instead be separated from God forever=evil exists.

Talbott's analysis (again, acc. to Beck) claims that any two of the three can be logically consistent but not all three together; again, classic form of the logical problem of evil dilemma. Talbott's universalist resolution rejects (3); he is denying that (this specific soteriological) evil exists. What this says regarding Talbott's theological tendencies regarding the problem of evil, I've no idea. Probably nothing. But I find the parallel intriguing. But I'm theologically uneasy with denying that evil exists as a solution to the problem of evil--does this mean I should also feel uneasy with Talbott's universalism?

Other random thoughts: regardless of whether one is Arminian or Calvinist, exclusivist views of salvation produce uneasiness and fear because of inevitable human epistemological uncertainty. We desire certainty; but we are perpetually uncertain if we have really completely chosen God (Arminian), or if God has chosen us (Calvinist). So we fear...because we can't be sure that we're not one of those unfortunate damned.

Evangelistic fervor. We think this is the result of an exclusivist's enthusiasm to reduce the number of lost souls in the world. But in thinking of my own experience in the church and on the "mission field," I think it's the other way around. I love this quote from RAH: "Never seek to persuade for the pleasure of having another share your views" (Moon is a Harsh Mistress). I think that describes exactly what most evangelistic fervor is about: seeking to persuade for the joy of having someone else agree with us. And our doctrine follows our inward motivation--we give ourselves a doctrinal reason for doing what we want to do, go out and make people like ourselves. Because we like people who are like us. We want to make more of them. It certainly explains why house churches in China were little homemade replicas of CofCs in middle TN.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


After being bad parents and missing Clare's 15 month appointment, we finally scheduled her 18 month appt with a doc here in the city. This was just a routine, well-baby visit. But of course a first visit to a new doc means a lot of paperwork and a lot of questions.

Unfortunately, after getting Clare undressed down to her diaper, I realized that she was stinky. Bad stinky. Sick stinky even. And, bad mom that I am, I had left the house with an underprepared diaper bag: one diaper and only 2 wipes. I've watched my sister Ally make a single wipe last a whole diaper change by ingeniously folding it like an origami piece of practical poop art, but not me. Those two wipes barely even made a dent. All the while I'm trying to change this nasty diaper, clean an uncooperative Clare with no supplies, I'm answering questions about this and that. I was totally flustered, felt like an absolute incompetent, and then got an earful from the doc about my inadequate cleaning job ("there's poop in her vagina!" "yes, I see that," I said, "like I mentioned before, I'm out of wipes. Any ideas?"--which finally resulted in a little help. Wet cottonballs work great.)

Routine questions. I'm bad at them, and I was flustered. I did manage to get my own age right, but ethnicity? "Um...generic Anglo-mongrel?" That didn't communicate well. She wrote down "british." And Brent's? "white, I guess," I said. Wrong! "White is race, I asked about ethnicity," said the doc, staring at me like I'd grown another head. "Oh," I said, chastened. "Okay. Texan."

But nothing beats this exchange:

doc: "And Clare is your only child?"
me: "yes."
doc: "And she is her father's only child?"
me: "yes."
doc: "are you sure?"
me: "uh, yes."
doc: "father's occupation?"
me: (taking a semantic shortcut) "he's a priest."
doc: "Catholic?"
me: "um--no--Episcopalian."

Monday, January 14, 2008

thinking about food

I spend a lot of time and brainpower thinking about food. It generally takes over an hour to plan a menu and a grocery list for the week, and it's not something I can do easily while Clare is awake and clamoring for my attention, so it's an after-bedtime task. It's logistical. It takes sustained concentration. Why? Because we have to eat cheap. But I am also determined that we shall eat well. These two things don't easily go together, the way our culture does food. And so I spend hours putting menus together so that ingredients dovetail and there's no waste. If I buy an out of the ordinary cheese (for budget purposes, read: anything other than cheddar) then I must use ALL of it somehow, which means more than menu item using it. If I buy meat, I stretch it to cover at least two meals, and try my best to use a cheap cut or find something on sale. (But almost never ever ground beef...I mean, there's only so much you can do with it, and I think early in childhood I was chronically overdosed on ground beef casseroles. That's no slur on my mom--it takes a cook of extraordinary dedication and brilliance to make ground beef into something truly edible and nutritious on a weekly basis. Unlike her, I'm just not up to it.) I try very hard to buy produce in season (difficult in the winter, especially when your spouse is not overly fond of winter squashes). And if something goes bad in the fridge, I feel it like some kind of moral failure.

So I love me a good cheap recipe full of inexpensive ingredients that can be transformed into something yummy and good for you. And because I know how hard it is to eat cheap and well, I am going to share a couple from our menu this past week.

Brent's pick: Andouille Red Beans and Rice. This is a super-quick recipe, also a bonus. You can skimp on the sausage, freeze what's leftover and use it for another recipe or for this one when you make it again.

My pick: Lentil Soup with Chard. Lentils are dirt cheap. And this is an amazing soup. Very earthy and flavorful, and the squeeze of lemon at the end really brightens it up. Even if you don't like lentil soups, I would still say give it a try. You might be surprised.

And if you like people who recommend good recipes, go here.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

a feminist grouch

A while back, Casey posted a link to a lament for the old Sesame Street, complete with hallucinations of imaginary friends, grouches and utter disregard for the nutritional needs of children. And real cows.

I have a different complaint.

Clare received Elmo in Grouchland for Christmas (gee thanks, Nana and Pop). We're watching it daily nowadays. Someday soon I hope the newness and fascination will wear off, but until then, I expect to hear Vanessa Williams chipper little ditty as the Queen of Trash, and see Mandy Pitimkin's crazy eyebrows, in my dreams.

That's par for the course, however, and hey, honestly, it could be worse. Those songs really are catchy. And at least Mandy tosses us poor parents an inside joke once ot twice.

No, my complaint is entirely different in nature and has to do with an aspect I suspect is another indication of the difference between the Old and the New Sesame Streets. Back in the Bad Old Days, the classic fuzzy monsters were simple. Eyes, big bulgy nose, fur in some fun random color. Add some eyebrows for Oscar to make him grouchy, and that's it. Nothing else needed. Simple. But nowadays, monsters are all fancied up. Complicated, fussy monsters instead of simple fuzzy ones.

Take Elmo and Zoe, for example. I know Elmo's an icon for the New Sesame, but his existence predates Elmo's world by many years and his evolution as a monster has been an incremental process. Zoe pops onto the scene in 1992, specifically designed as a counterpart to Elmo.

And this gets to the heart of my complaint. Elmo is a simple classic monster--eyes, big bulgy nose, red fur. Zoe, on the other hand, has a spangly hairdo, barrettes, a necklace and apparently permanently wears a tutu due to her girlish fascination with ballet. Before I was fully initiated into the wonders of Elmo's World, I thought of Elmo as androgynous: a sort of monster-Kinder for whom gender was a not-yet-significant aspect of identity. But with Zoe as a counterpart, Elmo can no longer be androgynous. Zoe is clearly marked as a female: the fussy hair, jewelry, tutu. And so in the New Sesame Street, the unmarked standard is male, and female is signified with all the markers you'd expect of frilly girly girls: hair, bows, ribbons, barrettes, necklaces, whatever.

Maybe that's not any better than just having all your monsters be male, which is certainly the case in the Bad Old Days. But the New isn't any better. Now we have girl monsters, but to be a girl means having to be specially marked as different from the norm. I don't want Clare to learn that.

But the truth is, I get suckered in too: I love Legally Blonde and Miss Congeniality. And their portrayal of the strong, ideal woman is one who's smart, successful, assertive...and wears high heels. And, as RRR tells us in Sexism and God-Talk, a woman's liberation can be measured in inverse proportion to the height of her heels.

The ideal before us: smart...and yet still sexy. I don't want Clare to have to deal with this, the angst of how to be smart and still be a girl. How to juggle talent and intelligence and yes, ambition, and concern for hair and makeup and how to make herself attractive for everybody. I don't want her to feel she has to compensate for being smart by making herself as beautifully feminine as possible. I just want her to be.

But not even the fuzzy monsters on Sesame Street seem to be able to achieve that. And if it can't happen in that imaginary, sunny place...