Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ode to my Neti Pot

O Neti Pot
with your gleaming ceramic spout
you cleanse my sinuses of snot
and flush them out.
but for you, I could not breathe.
every morning, ever faithful
and every eve
you relieve my painful
stuffy head.
and so I go to work
or to bed
slightly sniffly, but still
it beats the hell outta being ill.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I ♥ the misfits.

I originally posted this back in December of 2005. I'm still proud of it. I love the gay elf with the revealing name of Hermey (which was later redacted to Herbie, hm, wonder why) and the black, I mean red-nosed, reindeer. And, of course, the Island of Misfit toys, which as Jen Bayne points out, actually sound like a lot more fun than normal toys, I mean, who wouldn't want a cowboy who rides an ostrich?

I'm less satisfied than I was a few years back about the repentance theme at the end; sure, there's some personal repentance, but there's no systemic or structural change in the stratified society of the North Pole. And Hermey dances with a girl elf at the end (a girl elf? where were they, anyway, till the end scene where apparently they exist only to dance and ex-gay-ify Hermey?). Sigh. Well, maybe Hermey is bi. That would be all right. But Santa's still a dope; and the acceptance of Hermey and Rudolph at the end has the feel of a grand exception made in their individual cases on the basis of personal merit that symbolically covers over their misfitness.

And my reflections below don't even comment on the role of the "Bumble," whose very name is short for "abominable," the adjectival form of abomination--that which by definition must be obliterated and exiled from community in the name of purity--the Bumble's rehabilitation comes at the expense of a dramatic transformation of his nature, the removal of his teeth, the symbolic repository of his anger and violence and hatred; he is, in short, tamed. And by whom? The White Man, standing in as the paradigmatic civilized human, who in his own estimation, has colonized and owns the North and is determined to reap riches from it. ("Gold! Siiiiiiiilver!") I mean, wow. Awesome. [I think they must have cut the scene where Santa and Yukon Cornelius duke it out for the property rights to the North Pole...]

without further ado:

theological reflections on "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer"

One of my favorite perennial Christmas classics is that edition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer where Burl Ives narrates as Sam the Talking Snowman and sings. You know, the one where the little figurines move around jerkily but endearingly. (For some interesting info about this classic, click here.)

My favorite character in this thing is Hermey, the Elf who wants to be a dentist. Herbie reveals this sick unnatural ambition in a conversation with the Elf Boss, who lectures him threateningly:

Hermey, miserably: Not happy in my work, I guess.
Head Elf: WHAT??!
Hermey: I just don't like to make toys.
Head Elf: Oh well if that's all...WHAT??!! You don't like to make toys?!
Hermey: No.
Head Elf, to others: Hermey doen't like to make toys!
Others: (repeat it down down the line) and in chorus: Shame on you!
Head Elf: Do you mind telling me what you DO wanna do?
Hermey: Well sir, someday, I'd like to be...a dentist.
Head Elf: A DENTIST? Good grief!
Hermey: We need one up here...I've been studying it, it's fascinating, you've no idea, molars and bicuspids and incisors--
Head Elf: Now, listen, you. You're an elf, and elves make toys. Now get to work!

The ontology undergirding the Head Elf's reprimand of Hermey leaves no room for consideration of an elf who deviates from his "nature" by not liking to make toys. It's simply inconceivable. Hermey's attempt to "fit in" is stymied when, engrossed in the task of providing teeth for some dolls, he misses elf practice and suffers another confrontation with the Head Elf, which concludes with the Head Elf's vicious assertion, "You'll NEVER fit in!" Miserable, Hermey jumps out the window in self-imposed exile, his only option to be true to himself.

Rudolph's situation is parallel. Born with the disgusting congenital deformity of a red glowing nose, his parents are horrified (even his own mother can only weakly offer, "we'll have to overlook it," while his father goes so far as to actually hide it by daubing mud on his son's face.) Later, at the "reindeer games," Rudolph outshines the other reindeer in skill, but when his prosthesis falls off, everyone gasps and his erstwhile playmates mock and shun. The authority figures echo this attitude: the Coach gathers everyone up and leads them away, saying loudly, "From now on, we won't let Rudolph join in any of our reindeer games!"

Santa's role throughout most of the cartoon is to legitimize the prejudices against the misfits already evident in lesser members of the Christmastown community. When Santa visits the newly birthed Rudolph, his unthinking prejudice becomes plain when he comments that Rudoplh had better grow out of it if he ever wants to be on his team of flying reindeer. Santa's behavior at the scene of the reindeer games is even more disturbing; like his pronouncement at Rudolph's birth, he says, "What a pity; he had a nice takeoff, too." For Santa, Rudolph's skill is less important than his nose, an arbitrary physical attribute. A distant and authoritarian figure, Santa is unaware of Hermey's plight (apparently the welfare of elves is beneath his notice) and condemning of Rudolph's gall in considering himself a reindeer of the same worth and dignity as the others.

Rudolph and Hermey get together, and a few lines of their "misfit theme song" are revealing:

"We're a couple of misfits, we're a couple of misfits--
What's the matter with misfits?
That's where we fit in.

We may be different from the rest...
But who decides the test
of what is really best?"

In "Christmastown," those who decide "the test of what is really best" seem to be the tyrannical and thoughtless majority, reinforced by authoritarian sanction by Santa, the pseudo-benevolent despot. Those who question the status quo--those who are already marginalized--are mocked, punished, and driven out of the community.

Over the years it's become apparent to me that this simple children's cartoon contains some real subversive elements: Hermey's misfit-ness is the result of apparent "choice," but the kind of choice where the alternatives are to be true or false to oneself. Rudolph's misfit-ness is the result of birth rather than choice. Change "dentist" to "gay" and "red nose" to "black skin." Now the subversive message is clear: Santa is racist, the Head Elf and the elf community is homophobic, and "Christmastown" is really "Whiteytown."

Given this subtext, the change of heart on the parts of Santa and the Head Elf at the end are more than just the formulaic ending to a well-known Christmas fable. Although it takes a prodigious feat of community service on both Hermey's and Rudolph's parts (each requiring skills peculiar to their misfit-ness) to bring the authorities and the community to repentance, repentance is indeed the note sounded in the conclusion. Everyone, including Santa, apologizes to the misfits. And in the end, difference is valorized rather than exiled.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

things you might consider buying me to prove you love me

Don't miss it: Clare's got a list too.

JTB's Post-Defense-Christmas-However Long it Takes Damn It! Wish List
  1. set of new business cards made by the one and only Virgil O. Stamps LetterPress Laboratory (a.k.a., the indomitable Sarah Coffman) (done, and they ROCK)
  2. that this year's NaNoWriMo will be different...and guilt-free (damn it. I'll have a third helping of guilt, please?)
  3. tennis shoes...now that I will hopefully have time to play some tennis!
  4. a bottle of champagne, thank you very much. (or scotch.)
  5. Here Comes Science! (done, so, if you're Emily, any music that in your opinion I should be acquainted with but am not cool enough to be on my own)
  6. that Cyborg Feminist Mom mug TKP designed for me...very reasonably priced, too (or, alternatively, my superhero cape, please? a great addition to the ridiculous academic regalia...)
  7. speaking of, anyone wanna help with the buying of some ridiculous academic regalia?
  8. Encyclopedia of Science and Religion, edited by J. Wentzel van Huyssteen, et al.
  9. roadtrip to Canada! (already covered! yay!!! and merry Xmas Jen!)
  10. ....well, I'll leave this one blank (Brent, you know what goes here).
  11. France! (maybe not for Xmas. maybe for, say, some lovely leisurely springtime...)
  12. I'm a Mom with a Wish List
  13. I'm a Posthuman with a Wish List

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

AAR, Montreal 2009

Saturday morning, first session: other than the general enjoyableness of hearing Dr. Sarah Coakley be her incisive witty awesome self, and some really genuine intellectual exchange in the best sort of collaborative spirit, I loved that my AAR started with a session that displayed some really interesting gender dynamics...the chair of the sponsoring group for the session had both her young son and her spouse with her, and the little boy's presence was (for me) all positive--not at all disruptive to the proceedings at hand, and I loved it that "real life" was also visibly present in what is so often a surreal cerebral "warp" world in which all that supposedly disappears through the magic of social convention. And then, one of the first questioners to approach the front to use the mic was a gorgeous, very visibly pregnant woman, a fact which could not be missed but, again--like the presence of the little boy--did not at all detract from the intellectual exchanges. Awesome. Unfortunately, those things were counterbalanced by the way in which a later questioner, old and male and very WASPy, ignored the etiquette protocols we had been implicitly constructing, and strode decisively to the mic without looking around to see if anyone else was approaching and without asking for or waiting for recognition from the panel--the body language was clear: he owned the right to take it when he wanted it, and "permission" from anyone, even the authoritative panel, was superfluous. Shudder.

The Job Center is dead to me. The message board is an instrument of psychological torture. And it's even worse to call in and ask if there's a message; the answer is no, and please, don't add that you're sorry. That just sucks.

But a couple of really fun incidents: I attended the session on transhumanism that I presented at last year. Stephen Garner was presenting again, and I was looking forward to that because I am now quite familiar with his work, having devoted a whole section of the dissertation to summarizing and critiquing his theological engagement of the posthuman. And I knew enough from just the title of his presentation that the question I would need to ask at the session was [a paraphrase in retrospect], "while I love your phrase 'the hopeful posthuman' and agree wholeheartedly that cyborg hybridity is the hopeful bit, I disagree that the cyborg should be classified as part of transhumanist discourse but constitutes its own very different feminist discourse...can you respond to that?" And he replied [again paraphrasing in retrospect], "yes, that's a good question...that reminds me, wasn't there a panelist last year, a woman named Jennifer Something..." Whereupon I said, "yep, that would be me. Hi!" And everyone chuckled. It's a riot to get referenced to yourself, I have to say.

And--of course!--my business cards, a la' Virgil O. Stamps Letterpress (a.k.a. Sarah Coffman), were a hit with everyone. But I was totally unprepared for this response, as I handed my card to a friend/potential future employing-type networker: "You are the hottest woman I've ever seen." Whereupon I said, nonplussed, "um. Yeah, they're great cards, aren't they!?" (Wish I'd thought to say, "yes, I'm really smart too," cueing from my sis Ally's habit of supplementing all compliments of my niece's admitted beauty with "and you're smart and funny too.") Thank you, Virgil. I have no job offers, but apparently my biz cards have exponentially increased my hotness factor.

And I loved having three days of Jen Bayne all to myself. Awesomeness. And seeing Rick and Anna. :)

And of course, as with any roadtrip, I had to spill coffee on myself at some point. But never before have I spilled a boiling hot full cup of just purchased Dunkin Donuts coffee in its entirety in my lap. All of it. Did I say boiling hot? I had to shuck down to my skivvies in order to stop the agony. Thank God Jen is completely unflappable and also someone comfortable enough with embodiment in both philosophical and pragmatic dimensions that she didn't even freak out when I realized halfway through taking off my short that I'd skipped on wearing a bra that morning...and after all that, I had no coffee to drink. (Talk about insult on top of literal injury!)

That's it, glad to be home. Missed Clare, missed Brent, and found it hard to be absolutely incommunicado for three days, and not thrilled about getting back on the road (in other direction) in a couple days, but definitely looking forward to TN...

"it's your money"...(but not mine)

The anti-tax, small government rhetoric, at least to this patriotic American's socialist-leaning ears, has always revolved around this basic message: it's your money, you earned it, you should decide how to spend it, period.

Unless, of course, it's health care legislation, in which case:

1) if you're an "illegal immigrant," you cannot spend your own (very) hard-earned money to buy health insurance.

2) if you're a woman, you cannot spend your own (very) hard-earned money on a procedure that remains (technically) legal.

But if you're one of those privileged few who really have constituted the referent of the phrase "we the people" since the time that phrase was originally coined, then don't worry, no one will tell you how to spend your hard-earned money.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

on the maleness of God-talk

Apparently, the presumed maleness of God is not something one can casually comment upon in one's Facebook status updates without causing consternation from unexpected quarters. So, naturally, it seems to me that a blog post is the obvious way to follow up. (Yes, that was sarcastic...in a nice way. I'm making fun of myself, y'all, and my inability to keep my mouth shut, leave well enough alone, etc.)

Actually, I'm not going to say much myself in this post. Instead, I am going to quote extensively from Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for the Living God, because 1) she's awesome and 2) she makes a really nice shield.

Johnson offers three basic ground rules for engaging in God-talk, that is to say, doing theology (whether one does theology professionally, or personally, or in my case, both). 1) remember that "the reality of the living God is an ineffable mystery beyond all telling;" 2) therefore, "no expression for God can be taken literally. None;" 3) Therefore, "from this, Thomas Aquinas argues...we see the necessity of giving to God many names" (Johnson 17-22).

Applying these reminders for our God-talk specifically to the issue of God's presumed maleness, we get this: 1) God is beyond our socio-linguistic categories, including that of gender; 2) no pronoun (male, female or neuter) in reference to God can be taken literally; 3) we need ways to reference God that incorporate every possible category since they all equally apply/do not apply.

Johnson herself observes this regarding the univocal, historical, traditional maleness of Christian God-talk:

"the practice of naming God exclusively in the image of powerful men has had at least three pernicious effects. First, because it offers no alternatives, it gets taken literally. Thereby it reduces the living God to an idol. Exclusively male language leads us to forget the incomprehensibility of holy mystery and instead reduces the living God to the fantasy of the infinitely ruling man...Second, in addition to this theological error, the exclusive use of patriarchal language for God also has powerful social effects...In the name of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, men have assumed the duty to command and control, exercising authority on earth as it is in heaven...Third, by giving rise to the unwarranted idea that maleness has more in common with divinity than femaleness, exclusively male images imply that women are somehow less like unto God...a woman may see herself as created in the image of God only by abstracting herself from her concrete bodiliness...Thus is set up a largely uinconscious dynamic that alienates women from their own spiritual power at the same time that it reinforces dependence on male authorities to act as intermediaries for them with God" (Johnson 98-99).

Johnson goes on to discuss the wealth of biblical imagery of Mother God, only one among many female images of God in the biblical text.

But I want to emphasize her main point, which I will paraphrase thus: insisting that God is male reduces God to the image of man. And God is not a man.

Monday, November 02, 2009

the cyborgs in the Garden

...Seeking a way to articulate an answer to this question, I dare to imitate Haraway’s use of provocative figures to shape an answer that flatly contradicts her assertion that the cyborg does not belong in the Garden of Eden: Adam and Eve as cyborg.[1] The Genesis narrative of humanity’s first parents need not be read in the organic, originary, heteronormative, naturalized and universalizing mode that has given us both a problematic original innocence and an even more problematic original sin. As interpreters of this biblical narrative of our cyborg origins, in which Adam is not born of Woman but is manufactured of material elements not unlike those of the flesh of humanity’s monstrous cousin the golem, and in which Eve, too, is manufactured in a strange foreshadowing of our own emergent biotech capabilities, how can we read such a myth as one of Nature, Man, and Woman in perfectly ordered, natural existence? The elements of relationality as definitive for a posthuman ontology are also undeniably present: God marks this creature, the human, as unique in no way other than God’s own choice to relate to it; the human dwells, walks and talks with the nonhuman—God, but also the animals; the human is not left “alone in the world” but created with another human. In the Garden of Eden, all manner of human and nonhuman creatures exist. Embedded within a nexus of strange boundaries of human and nonhuman relationships—human and divine, human and animal, human and human—the cyborg pair in the Garden are what they are because of the construction and contestation of these boundaries. What does it mean to be made a cyborg in the imago dei? Simply to have been made a creature who is simultaneously kin and other: to God, to other humans, and to nonhumans. The boundaries do not disappear in our acknowledgment and negotiation of them—but they become conditions of relationship, and not obstacles preventing it.
            This cyborg reconstruction suggests further that the Fall represents, not a loss of original innocence (which does not exist) nor a loss or deformation of the imago dei (which, as relationship, continues), but a poignant renegotiation of the ontological boundary between the human and the divine. Van Huyssteen suggests that Genesis 3:22 provides a “rather dramatic new dimension to the image or likeness of God,” but a negative dimension, one which stands in tension with God’s intent of divine and human closeness. Yet, further, this new dimension is one which questions the presumed boundary between human and divine: “the ultimate focus on this thin line between the divine and human worlds finally culminates in the breaking down of the necessary boundaries between these two worlds, and results in the symbolic first sinful act that leads to divine punishment.”[2]
Van Huyssteen suggests that nothing in the biblical narrative reconciles the contradiction between the created likeness and the epistemological likeness; yet he himself, in defining the human, makes a postfoundational notion of rationality central. This pair of moves leads us to the question, must we assume that this renegotiation of ontological boundaries is wholly negative? In our cyborg parents’ bid for greater understanding and closeness to the divine, for greater incorporation of the divine into themselves (eating, after all, being a material act), what is there that seems strange, or even necessarily blameworthy? Transgression of categorical boundaries in the living out of material embodied reality is, after all, what cyborgs and (post)humans are all about. Van Huyssteen’s own work on human uniqueness suggests that the very element of our humanness lamented in this text is the means by which we come to know, and relate, to each other and our nonhuman kin, including God. This is not to suggest that this element of our humanness is unproblematic, an entirely “happy fault;” but the cyborg has always been an ambivalent figure, capable of good and evil, and is no less so here...

[1] Donna J. Haraway, "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century," in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), 151.
[2] J. Wentzel van Huyssteen, Alone in the World? Human Uniqueness in Science and Theology, The Gifford Lectures (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 123.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

communion meditation from Sunday

Clare’s been asking me questions about what it means to be dead lately. I suppose we shouldn’t have been telling her that she shouldn’t run in the street or the parking lot because the cars can squash her dead like a bug. I mean yes, we should tell her not to run in the street, but it seems to me like she’s got the second bit about being squashed dead like a bug without having properly absorbed the “don’t run in the street” bit.

What is being dead, she asks me in the car while we’re driving to the grocery store. Um. Well, the best I could do was tell it’s when you’re body is “broken” and doesn’t work anymore for some reason. Then she wanted to know can you fix it. Yeah, sometimes, and that’s what doctors do. This gave her the impression that it’s part of doctors’ jobs to raise people from the dead by fixing dead bodies. Oops. So, okay, being dead is when your body is broken and can’t be fixed. But what happens when you’re dead, is Clare’s follow-up question. And yikes. So I wrack my brain for something comprehensible in Clare’s world, that I also wouldn’t feel completely hypocritical about saying. And the best I can come up with is, “it’s okay to be dead, because God takes care of the dead people.”

And in all the thinking I’ve done about that conversation and this topic since, that’s still the best I can come up with. Heaven, I don’t know. Hell, I don’t know. But my "I don’t know" is not cynical or despairing. It’s hopeful. Because I don’t know, but I can say, in the midst of my unknowing, that God takes care of the dead people. It’s not that we don’t die, or that death isn’t sad, or even scary. Just that, no matter how sad and scary, we trust that God takes care of us in death just as God takes care of us in life.

This is the story of the resurrection, that moment of Jesus’ life that he asked that we remember in these acts of eating and drinking. To remember his body: not just his teaching, his miracles, his sparkly personality, but his body. To remember his blood: that ancient and powerful symbol of life itself, that animates the body. We read and study and marvel at the ways in which God is with Jesus, or is Jesus, in his life, and at the moment of Jesus’ death, in the midst of Jesus’ own unknowing about what would happen. Even when, as some of the gospel accounts tell us, he feels utterly abandoned, crying out, "why have you forsaken me," other accounts tell us that he ends with the sigh, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  The resurrection itself, three days later, is the narrative’s conclusion that this trust that God takes care of dead people is not misplaced. And Paul tells us, if God took care of Jesus in this way, we may trust this is God’s intent for the rest of us too. This is a hope that is defined not by what we know, for we don’t know anything about how this is going to work. It’s a hope defined by who we know: a God who created for no reason other than love of creation, a God who redeems for no reason other than love of creation. This God will not sit by and watch creation perish, for no reason other than the same love with which God created and sustains and redeems creation. This is the message of Jesus’ life, and death, and resurrection: that we live because God loves us, and this is true now, and eternally. Amen.

why don't you just leave

Over at Preacher Mike's, once again, this "rhetorical question" is posed by a commenter.

I'm not going to add this post to the "Women in CofC" series officially, because it's a rant. It's my blog, and I started it specifically so that I could rant on it. Most of the time, I don't. But today, I do. If you like rants, read on. If they bug you, skip it.

I can't even begin to tally up how many times I've fielded this question. From professors. From students. From colleagues. From my therapist. From my best friend. In blog comments. In absentia, even, on discussion forums by people who don't even know me. Why don't you just leave.

It's something I've blogged about before. Why don't I just leave? After all, my husband did. And he's a better person and better Christian for it. Unburdened from the constant stress and frustration of seeing a better future for the church from within a church that doesn't want it, he can now preach and teach with an honesty and integrity that was not even welcomed, let alone understood, before. I see it--I'm sure everyone else who knows him does, too. For Brent, leaving was not optional. It was necessary, and too long delayed by his overdeveloped sense of responsibility.

Why don't you just leave. Well, thanks for the suggestion. Believe me, it's occurred to me. And you make it very tempting. Your invitation to leave is nicely bookended by the proclamation on every sign for the Episcopal Church I've seen: "the Episcopal Church welcomes you." You invite me to get out. This other church--this denomination--invites me in. To stay. Hmmm.

Why don't I just leave.

Why don't we all just leave, we dissidents who just stick around to moan and piss and bitch about the things that we don't like about church? We're a drag. And we're like the little boy who cried wolf, we're constantly droning on about something, aren't we, so we just get tuned out. We're ineffective advocates for the change we purport to desire, we whiners. Our yucky whiny voices turn people off, turn them away from the point we think we're making, not toward it.

Sure. That's who we are, we gender justice dissidents. We pillars of the church who give our time and our money, who lead in the ways we can--whether that's leading communion or teaching kids or making casseroles, who patiently accept the baby steps when they happen, who find their community of support online because they can't find it at their church, who wait for the teachable moments and struggle to endure the long stretches in between, who pray for discernment for that moment when "the well-timed complaint" may be heard and who then speak, not in a whiny yucky voice, but with prophetic conviction, and fear and trembling.

Oh wait, am I whining again? Damn.

Remember, it's October: sarcasm month and clergy appreciation month.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

how it went

So, I thought I'd do a little blogging on the defense.

One of the best realizations of the day came before we even left the house for Princeton. Some of you knew that I'd decided to knit myself these crazy wonderful lace stockings to wear, and unfortunately, I didn't get them done. I was disappointed about it, since it was a sort of symbolic woman-power thing I'd wanted to do for myself. But then, as I was getting dressed, I realized that I was literally draping myself in clothes and jewelry from all these other wonderful, smart women in my life: Brent's mother Malda supplied both my beautiful woolen suit and the gorgeous vintage shoes, my mom gave me the turquoise earrings for my last birthday, my sister Ally the little leather braided bracelet I wear everyday. It was like a hybrid of getting dressed for a wedding (with something old, something borrowed, something blue) and girding up my loins for battle. And even better, I realized that all along, subconsciously, I'd planned this outfit just for this reason. (This may come across as way more overtly 'feminine' that you're used to hearing from JTB, but one thing the posthuman underscores is--body matters, self-fashioning matters, and it can be empowering, or not.)

Brent's posted some stuff on Facebook (where also a whole helluva lot of people have said congrats and other nice things, which I very much appreciate, so THANK YOU VERY MUCH, people!!!) but from my point of view, the lovely complimentary things Brent recorded in his self-appointed capacity as scribe were things that I heard but didn't quite take in, because I didn't want to be distracted from the kind of focus you need to maintain your verbal quick-wittedness in order to answer real questions. So it's especially nice to have his selectively-edited-for-maximum-complimentariness version of things to go back to in retrospect. Kind of like airbrushing a memory, or something.

The truth is, I totally enjoyed myself. First of all, you spend three years working on some idea, trying to follow all the leads and smooth out all the kinks, and write it down in an organized and compelling way, and during that whole time, if someone asks you what you're working on, you get a 2 minute or 10 minute or at best 30 minute conversation about it before you notice the glazed eyes and automaton responses that tell you once again you've turned into That Chick with the Dissertation Monomania. The defense is the reverse of that--a whole swath of time devoted to really digging into this thing, with people who are actually really interested in it, and have even read it. What is not awesome about that? And, on top of that, the critical questions I got--particularly on the Christology chapter--were really, really helpful. Some things I had thought about while writing it, and some things I just hadn't, but can see a whole new dimension to that chapter that can/should get thought through and written (at some point). Exciting!

And at the end of it all, to have three people you truly respect as scholars and teachers tell you that they think not only have you done a good job, but that what you've been spending your time on is important, and to formalize that with the lovely Latin phrase summa cum laude, and then, hang out and have a beer with you afterwards...well, I could have written a script for the ideal JTB dissertation defense, and it would have gone just so.

I am very happy.

Friday, October 16, 2009


what's in a (roller derby) name

Lately my sister and I have been having some fun with brainstorming roller derby names. It's made a stressful week--of paradoxical 1) having nothing to do, re dissertation other than avoid overthinking the defense on Monday and 2) having too much to do, as every night this week someone is off doing something, plus a packed weekend--much easier to handle. Sort of like doodling alternative anagrams for "WWJD" in first year Greek (also a fun distraction, still, if you're stuck somewhere in desperate need of mental diversion).

I'm not sure what Em's going to finally decide on, and besides, that is for her to reveal.

But of course it makes for an excellent collaborative blog invite. Post your roller derby name or suggestions and let the wild rumpus start!

I've also been thinking about the many people I know who, for one reason or another, have changed their names as adults, and wondering why I've never made that move myself, despite years of wishing I were not just another of the ubiquitous 1970's Jennifers. I had so many opportunities to do this as a young adult: moving to a new high school, starting college, getting married. Of course, it's a bit difficult to change the name people actually call you all the time. But I know people who have done it. And my middle name, which, though orthographically deviant, I share with my grandmother, is similar enough to "Jennifer" that people could still call me Jen and there wouldn't be too much difficulty with that. So I am seriously pondering it--once again. Brent thinks this is a bit silly. But I am beginning to realize that this is a lot more common than you'd think, and a lot more serious than frivolous. Name-changing when you get married we take for granted in our culture (most of us) and maybe forget that, in the end, it signals something akin to the "ontological change" we talk about in the context of ordination. In marriage, you're not just signing on to live with someone and share the household bills--you're making a decision about who you are, and who you intend to be in the future: an ontological decision about personal identity. It seems appropriate to signal that with a name change. It does not seem appropriate that only women signal that in this way, but that's another discussion. When I got married, I realized that I wanted to signal this ontological change with a symbolic name change--but also, to my surprise, found that I wanted to hold on to who I already was and didn't want to lose my name. At this point in my life I think I just want to recognize the de facto reality that I've never felt quite comfortable as a Jennifer and have always treasured being a Jeanine.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Stephen Colbert picked up the Conservapedia Bible re-write story. Brilliant. But even better is this, from Conservapedia's entry, "Stephen Colbert":

"After learning about Conservapedia's initiative to remove "liberal bias" from the Bible, Stephen Colbert urged his followers to insert him into the planned conservative rewrite as a Biblical figure. This was followed by mass vandalism by Colbert fans."

Google lists this among results for keywords "conservapedia Colbert": "Oct 12, 2009 ... Stephen Colbert is God, He is the original creator who created the world in six days. He is the God of all beings in this universe."

I'm consistently intrigued by these gimmicks. Re-writing the truthiness of conserviwikiality is such a beautiful statement on epistemology...and here the fusion of hermeneutics and epistemology could not be more ironically or clearly stated.

sci4min public lecture: Ted Peters, "The Lab & The Pew"

Dr. Ted Peters, Professor of Systematic Theology at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, will deliver the Science for Ministry Institute's inaugural semi-annual lecture. His talk, "The Lab and the Pew: the Place of Science in Pastoral Ministry," will be held Wednesday, November 4, at 7:30 pm in Stuart 6, and is free and open to the public.

Ted Peters is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and a prolific author on topics in systematic theology, religion and science, the evolution controversy, and bioethics. The Science for Ministry Institute is sponsored by the Erdman Center for Continuing Education and funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. It is a unique program that brings together pastor-scientist pairs from churches and other ministry contexts for educational experiences designed to promote productive theological engagement with the sciences at the local level.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

You might think that, in the scheme of things, the real hurdles of completing a dissertation and defending it would be the research or the writing or the committee or the defense itself. I sort of thought that myself.

Of course, it probably is relevant that I'm generally logistically challenged. But this does beat all.

So, for PTS, once a defense date is set, you are required to submit 2 copies of your defense copy to the PhD Studies Office at least two weeks before your defense date. I think this is so that they can distribute copies to the committee to ensure that everyone has the same version, and keep one on file in case anyone who wants to attend the defense can read it beforehand (which is a nice thought, but...seriously, does anyone do this?).

But since I found out Wednesday night that my defense is set for October 19 (!), I already missed that two week window, which meant that I needed to get my defense copies printed and turned in ASAP.

Which is why I found myself in the campus mailroom at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night, after the annual Theology Department reception to meet and greet the entering theology PhD's. With an unexpected problem.

Because those reusable interoffice memo envelopes with the marvelous stringy closures don't accommodate 375 pages of dissertation.

Left with only my willing ness to improvise and the sparse resources in front of me, I jury-rigged a solution by splitting the envelopes down the sides, closing them at the top. This left the sides completely open, of course, but at this point God decided to have pity and provided two and only two rubberbands atop the small container of paperclips beside the envelopes. It wasn't pretty, but the end result was at least minimally serviceable.

And then I discovered that, just like its interoffice envelopes, the mailroom's mail slot for on-campus mail to faculty and staff didn't accommodate 375 pages of dissertation either. This was a problem not so easily rectified. If I'd had a sledgehammer handy, I might have fixed this problem for the mail staff by a generous enlarging of their mail slots, but God's providence ran out on me at this point--no sledgehammers casually lingering in the corners anywhere.

So in the end I left my 375 pages x 2 in a stack on the floor under the faculty mail slot, with a plaintive note that read something like:

We are two defense copies of a dissertation needing to make it over to the PhD Studies Office. Unfortunately, our oversized verbosity means that we don't fit through this mailslot, obviously designed for more slender missives. :(
You might also notice that we don't quite fit our envelopes either.
Please help.
JTB's dissertation defense copies

Thursday, October 08, 2009

by Leroy Garrett

Soldier On! W/ Leroy Garrett
Occasional Essay 290 (10-3-09)
A New Gender-Inclusive Church of Christ


It actually bills itself as a new church planting that is a “multi-racial, multi-cultural and gender-inclusive Church of Christ.” The new church is, surprisingly, in Abilene, Texas, which, as the home of Abilene Christian University and thirty-four Churches of Christ, along with numerous para-church organizations, could claim to be the epi-center for Churches of Christ, at least in Texas. One would think that a “new start” -- a chance to get it right -- would be in a less Churches of Christ-saturated location.

But maybe not. The new church could serve as avant garde for the other Churches of Christ in Abilene, some of which might have the heart to go the whole nine yards -- multi-racial, multi-cultural, and gender-inclusive. They might want to be shown how to pull off such a monumental change. As of now it is likely the case that on any given Sunday one would not find a woman in the pulpit of any of the thirty-four churches. Nor are they all that multi- racial or multi-cultural. It is just possible, therefore, that such a church, particularly a gender-inclusive one -- if this means women in the pulpit -- could receive a cool reception, even in Abilene, something like the proverbial skunk at a garden party.

But we extend a hearty welcome to the Mercy Street Church of Christ in Abilene. That’s what they call it, but that is misleading, for there is no Mercy Street in Abilene. It must be a “mission” name, pointing to the kind of church it intends to be -- “lot of love and vitality, depth and emotion, grace and humanity,” as they describe themselves, and that spells mercy.

The new church presently meets in the home of Stan and Lorrie Baldwin, who are its founders and leaders. Old enough to be grandparents, Stan and Lorrie have for decades soldiered on in being a blessing to the world and church alike. While Lorrie has been in medical ministry, Stan, who did his college work at Oklahoma University and holds graduate degrees from ACU and Yale, has been in the Air Force and has served several Churches of Christ as minister. Now apparently retired, they are starting a new kind of Church of Christ, one with a special passion -- “gender justice” they call it.

I am impressed. They are not mad at anyone. It is not a walk-out church, nor a schism or a faction from some other congregation, the way so many churches start. They are not out to proselyte but to be a witness for renewal. I like the way they describe their services: “men and women participate equally,” and the way they welcome speakers -- “preachers who happen to be women.” That must be a “first” in Churches of Christ history!

Bully for Mercy Street in Abilene! They are reformers, and reformation is the ongoing work of the church catholic -- Ecclesia Semper Reformanda, the church always reforming. And it is a founding principle of our own Stone-Campbell heritage. It is appropriate for any congregation or any part of the church at large to take as its mission a particular dimension of reformation. Some may work for greater evangelistic zeal, others for deeper spirituality, others for more concern for human suffering, and still others for Christian unity. There is a place for movements within the church, and a movement for equality of women is most appropriate.

Mercy Street in Abilene can lovingly and non-judgmentally bring home to us the profundity of our sin of male-domination in Churches of Christ. Yes, injustice to our sisters in Christ, denying them equality in exercising their God-given talents. It begins early on. Little boys can pass out cards in church but not little girls. A teenage boy can read Scripture or serve Communion but not teenage girls. Have you ever considered how that might affect our girls growing up among us?

While Mercy Street may be the “first” among us to start with the express purpose of welcoming preachers “who happen to be women,” it by no means stands alone in its concern for this problem. For some years now we have had numerous congregations to broaden their ministry for women. While they are not yet in the pulpit, they serve on the ministerial staff in various ways.

Occasionally some brave sister ventures into the pulpit at the invitation of some avant garde congregation, such as when the Bering Drive Church of Christ in Houston invited Charme Robarts, who is on the ministerial staff at Skillman Church of Christ in Dallas, to be guest preacher. In introducing Charme to the congregation on that occasion, Brent Isbell, minister at Bering Drive, said that she had not been invited to their pulpit to make some point, "but simply because we want to be the kind of community where all faithful voices are welcomed and honored." And he noted that it was biblically warranted in that Joel 3 had promised that one day “your daughters shall prophesy,” a promise fulfilled in Acts 2 on the birthday of the church.

One would think that this significant passage, cited in both Testaments, should, along with other passages that point to female ministry in the apostolic church, should receive as much attention as the passage that serves as the prooftext for those who oppose a public ministry for women, “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for it is not permitted for them to speak” (1 Corinthians 14:34).

I have often pointed out that in the case of such conflicting passages, we have to distinguish between what is culturally circumstantial and temporal, and what is universally applicable and permanent. And what could be more abiding than the apostle’s insistence in Galatians 3:28 that “in Christ” there is to be no gender test just as there is to be no racial test -- “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither male nor female.”

While this was a “first” -- a woman preacher in the pulpit -- for both Charme and the Bering Drive congregation, we can believe that it will one day be common among us, accepted as right and proper. We are, after all, a people in transition, becoming more like Christ, more biblically responsible, more Spirit-filled and grace-oriented, less sectarian and less discriminatory. Our future as Churches of Christ is as bright as the promises of God.

why change the funk?

Was listening to this on the way to school as part of our Halloween playlist. Says Clare: "mama what is this kind of music?" Says I: "it's funk, baby." Then, thinking maybe it might be counterproductive for Clare to internalize, say, the line about "come to me, let me bite your neck" (I mean, I can see a real daycare kerfuffle here), I skipped to the next song. Says Clare: "Mama why you change the funk?"

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

please pray for me

Really. I think God will enjoy it.

Feel free to select your own unique liberal and adopt them for prayer, perhaps even nominating one or more liberals for listing on our website by emailing us at liberty@LC.org.

question only question?

Is "what does the Bible say?" the only question we must ask?

unique(ness and) opportunity

If you've got any interest in the issue of human uniqueness or interdisciplinary theology and science stuff, check this out this video of my advisor's 2008 lecture. It's about an hour but well worth the time. And--just a note in passing--if you're intrigued, the Science for Ministry program at PTS offers an elective course on this topic, which (I believe) will be led by Dr. van Huyssteen.

"J. Wentzel van Huyssteen speaks on the recent findings in paleontology and anthropology in terms of human symbolic thought and creative imagination, addressing the question of what we have to learn about human uniqueness if we add the evolution of religion and sexuality and morality to the discussion."

coming soon

A few weeks ago I sent my mom a few questions of my own about her experiences of gender and church. As soon as she gets off her butt and answers them, I'll be posting a JTB MOM interview. I'm excited about this, not just because I have the privilege of adding to the Women in Churches of Christ series, but purely because this ongoing conversation has afforded the opportunity for me to ask some specific questions about my mom's life that I'm really curious about. Not just how did being a woman in the CofC affect her experiences of ministry through the years (longtime VBS and Sunday school planner/director/teacher, adult women's Bible study leader, "preacher's wife," official and first female Children's Education Coordinator), but how those experiences affected parenting me and my sisters--did Mom and Dad consciously, or maybe unconsciously, try to counter the damaging messages of limitation we picked up from church? In retrospect, I see quite clearly that there are significant ways in which I was sheltered from the worst simply by the operating assumptions of our own home: that our voices were valuable, that there was no space or time in which they were not welcome, that God was always listening, that I could play soccer as good as any boy (and better than some), that I could choose to pursue any course of study or career I had interest in. And that last has held true even in the face of the odd choices I've made along the way which have landed me at this point: an almost credentialled theologian in a church that doesn't ordain women, or welcome their voices. Unlike many young women on similar paths, my family has never questioned, criticized, undermined or refused to understand why I have chosen to study theology and pursue this vocation, which, in the end, is best described as full-time thinking about God, in service of the church. This makes, not me, but my mother and my father, truly exceptional.

So: coming soon, JTB's MOM answers some questions on being a woman, a teacher, a mom, a thinker, a speaker, a leader, and a sometimes overly outspoken critic (Ma, you know it's true), in the CofC.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Top Ten Wish List Now that I'm Actually Finishing this Degree

  1. set of new business cards made by the one and only Virgil O. Stamps LetterPress Laboratory (a.k.a., the indomitable Sarah Coffman)
  2. that this year's NaNoWriMo will be different...and guilt-free
  3. tennis shoes...now that I will hopefully have time to play some tennis!
  4. a bottle of champagne, thank you very much
  5. Here Comes Science!
  6. that Cyborg Feminist Mom mug TKP designed for me...very reasonably priced, too (or, alternatively, my superhero cape, please? a great addition to the ridiculous academic regalia...)
  7. speaking of, anyone wanna help with buying some ridiculous academic regalia?
  8. Encyclopedia of Science and Religion, edited by J. Wentzel van Huyssteen, et al.
  9. roadtrip to Canada! (already covered! yay!!!)
  10. ....well, I'll leave this one blank (but Brent, you know what goes here).
  11. France!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

UberMouse Meets His Nemesis

Brent and I woke up last night to incredibly loud crashing noises. First thought: break-in by someone unaware that there's not that much to steal? Second thought: crazed wild animal? Possum, maybe? Surely a chipmunk couldn't possibly make that much noise.

Second thought was half-right. Crazed animal, yes. But not wild. Well, only temporarily wild, I guess.

Tiamat caught her first mouse. Unfortunately, after bloodying it and leaving a grisly trail through the dining room and kitchen, she chased it under the radiator in the hall. This was an unsatisfactorily anticlimactic ending for our feline Mighty Hunter, so she swiped at it, and got her paws good and stuck on the glue trap Brent had set out months ago in our failed attempts to defeat the UberMouse.

That's when she started tearing around the place in a frenzy, knocking shit over and making a general ruckus.

4:09 a.m., to be precise.

She trusts me enough that when she saw me, she paused in her flight to let me size up the situation. Then she took off again, to take refuge under our bed.

With the glue trap.

And the mouse stuck on it.

When I tried to coax her out she panicked again, and this time, managed to knock the glue trap in squeezing out between the bedframe and the wall. So that was helpful. It's always good to catch a lucky break now and then.

So I took the glue trap with the mouse on it down to the kitchen, which is when I discovered that our kitchen floor looked like a Tom and Jerry murder scene, by stepping in the evidence with bare feet. Lucky break, over.

Then I looked at the trap, and saw the mouse was still breathing.

Argh. Not that it freaked me out. But now, on top of everything else, I can't help but recast the whole flight of terror from the mouse's point of view. How awful. I mean, you escape the terrifying cat (who, by the way, has no teeth, so what she would do with a mouse when she catches one?) and run right into a glue trap and are mysteriously immobilized. Then, you get pulled out of your hiding place by the monster chasing you, but your end isn't quick and clean. Instead, you get a Romp of Terror up and down stairs and under tables and beds. Finally, some looming shadow comes and puts you out of your misery (details unbeknownst to me, thankfully).

No more glue traps, that's for damn sure.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Hermione Granger-ize

J. K.'s inspiration for Hermione's last name? There is that scene with Harry and Hermione in the library when Madam Pince chases them out for having desecrated a book by writing in it...

 Wordsmith.orgThe Magic of Words 

This week's theme
Words about censorship and destruction of books

This week's words
nihil obstat

Add your two cents' ...
to this week's theme and words. Or, if you wish, use paise, pence, yen, pesos, piasters, etc. Log on at our bulletin board
Wordsmith Talk
with Anu Garg


verb tr.:
1. To mutilate a book by clipping pictures out of it.
2. To illustrate a book by adding pictures cut from other books.

After James Granger (1723-1776), an English clergyman whose Biographical History of England had blank leaves for illustrations, to be filled with pictures, clippings, etc. by the reader.

"Bagtoothian looked up from his reading, An Illustrated History of Sparta, which he proceeded to grangerize."
Roger Rosenblatt; Beet: A Novel; HarperCollins; 2008.

The most miserable pettifogging in the world is that of a man in the court of his own conscience. -Henry Ward Beecher, preacher and writer (1813-1887)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

a thank you

I would have liked to write an ode, but high literary style is beyond my meager skills. Limericks just come more naturally.

There is a librarian named Kate
Who I think is truly great
I was down on my luck
and needed five bucks
and she smiled and said, "five? or eight?"

in a future time, children will work together...to build a giant cyborg...

But only if they're really techno-savvy.

from "Mr. H":
"My Superstars are ready to take learning to a whole new level by interacting with technology they have never seen or used before. 
I teach fourth grade in a high poverty inner-city school. A typical day in the life of my fourth graders consists of learning about reading, writing, math, social studies and science. Because the attendance at my school doubled this year due to a nearby school closing down, resources of any kind to teach these subjects are few and far between. 
My students are working hard to overcome the plethora of obstacles that stand in their way of achieving success. These Superstars refuse to let anything get in their way such as not having enough supplies, textbooks and other common teaching tools. 
A LCD projector would go a long way in enhancing our learning experiences. My students love crowding around my laptop computer to look at images that correspond to lessons and they have especially loved getting to work on PowerPoint presentations and iMovies they have created. A LCD projector would allow my students the opportunity to show off their work to their classmates, the school staff and parents. 
Because of your generosity, my students will reach the BIG ACADEMIC GOALS I have set for them this year. Because of your generosity, my students will interact with technology in a way they never have before. Because of your generosity, my students will be a success inside and outside the classroom. Thank you for becoming an honorary member of my Superstars!"
I can only assume that "BIG ACADEMIC GOALS" includes the construction of a giant cyborg. You and I may be too old to help build that future giant cyborg and walk in the robot parade, but we can help these kids do it.

Click here to go to the donation page. And remember that in a future time, these 4th graders will work together...to build, if not a giant cyborg for realz, at least a better world for themselves and their kids. Who might, of course, finally build that giant cyborg. And world peace.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

by J. Brent Bates: Bathsheba's Voice

The story of David and Bathsheba is another episode in the soap opera that is the Old Testament with its drama, deception, passion, and plotting. This is one of those stories where David does just plain wrong and nothing goes right. He abuses his power, sleeps with another man’s wife, lies, and worse, conspires to murder, and then acts like nothing happened, that is until he’s caught. Sounds like the perfect plot for a soap opera to me. Of course, it’s easy to condemn the shenanigans of the actors in the Old Testament soap opera. But it’s always a good idea to try to read sympathetically—after all, these are people’s lives we’re reading about, and not just a script for a television show. So let’s consider David’s perspective, how it might have felt to be David in this story, minding our own business on the rooftop, and then finding ourselves so overwhelmed by emotion that we do something wrong and foolish, and then panic, lie, and get caught in the snowballing consequences of our mistake. I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we can relate to David and understand what it’s like to get trapped in something where every move we make only makes things worse.
But wait; I think an even more important consideration is how the oppressed victim of the story must have felt. How does this story look from, say, Uriah’s perspective? God condemns David specifically for abusing his power to oppress the poor and powerless Uriah, by taking his wife and then killing him (2 Sam. 12:9). Can you imagine how Uriah must have felt? In actuality, one of the great tragedies of this story is that Uriah is completely clueless. Here he is a loyal soldier off doing his duty for his nation and for his king, and the king himself is betraying him. Unbeknownst to him, while he is off fighting David’s battles, his own wife is sleeping with the king. And Uriah isn’t even allowed the dignity to find out this is happening before David sends him off to the front lines to be killed by the Ammonites. Tragedy and disgrace.
But not so fast. In this story, the oppressed is not so much Uriah as it is Bathsheba, this woman who is often not even called by her own name, but merely “the wife of Uriah.” She is defined by who she is married to; her worth is derivative. Bathsheba is rarely given a voice to speak, but listen we must. Bathsheba has often been vilified as if it were somehow her fault for tempting David. In fact, it is not David who was minding his own business on the roof top, but Bathsheba! And the text does not indicate that she went willingly, because it says “David sent messengers to get her.” Besides, who can say “no” to the king? On top of all this that she suffers, the consequence of David’s sin, we learn later, is that her child dies. Now, how is that fair?
One of the things that this story does is highlight the reality of the oppression of women throughout human history, especially with the complicity of religion and power. Sacred texts have often been used to uphold inequalities, oppression, and even abuse. I was interested to read this week of former president Jimmy Carter who explained that he had officially disaffiliated from the Southern Baptist Convention because of its treatment of women, especially because this was one of the several reasons I left my former tradition. And perhaps we have made many strides forward in our society; we had our first female candidate for president. And much progress has been made in the Episcopal Church, as women are at every level of ministry of our church, including the office of Presiding Bishop. And yet there are still many inequalities. I know this primarily because I have been listening to the stories of women, from friends and family, from you, from the news. I know this, because taking into account as strongly as I feel about the issue and as much as I try to uphold equality, when I take the time to reflect on my own life, I can still see traces of inequality. Consider the inequality of household labor. Very often within two-income households, a woman is the one who by default does the majority of laundry, cooking, cleaning, and childcare. Consider the persistent disregard for the specific needs of women in the workforce. While much progress has been made over the past few decades, and while there are certainly exceptions, there are still overall inequalities in pay and a glass ceiling in corporate America. Even more seriously, as pointed to in our text this morning, there is the reality of domestic abuse, both physical and emotional. This doesn’t just happen in small towns and far away countries; it happens across every socio-economic group. Our General Convention passed this year a resolution to raise awareness and speak out against the widespread practice of domestic violence. They say: “According to Department of Justice statistics, in the last five years, more women in the US have been killed by the men they live with, or used to live with, than American soldiers have been killed by war. The loss of these precious lives, and the grief suffered by their families, is a national tragedy. Thousands more women are battered, abused, and humiliated…. Yet, where is the outrage against the cycle of violence? Who will speak for these victims?”
The final perspective on this story of David and Bathsheba is God’s perspective. It may be tempting to locate God’s perspective as a 3rd-person-omniscient, condemning narrator—judging David, perhaps judging Bathsheba. There is, after all, so much to judge. But our God is a God of compassion, not detached judgment; God does not remain distant but enters our life stories, no matter how messy and unappealing and sinful. So where is God’s perspective in this story? Where does God enter this narrative? Where is God’s compassionate presence? God’s voice is in the missing voice of this story … and that’s not just Uriah’s missing voice. God’s voice in this story is Bathsheba’s missing voice, the voice that would protest the abuse of power, the disregard of other persons, the victimization of the vulnerable. The voice that would say these things, if it were given a place in the text, but which is displaced, only to show up later and secondarily in the male voice of Nathan the prophet, calling David to account.
While scripture undoubtedly has layers of patriarchy in its pages, its true message, the true voice of God is one of justice and equality. The scriptures include women of great ability, from Deborah the mighty Judge of Israel to Dorcas the disciple of Jesus known for her aid to the poor. Women were among Jesus’ closest followers, who buried Jesus while the men fled for their lives, and first to proclaim the resurrection of the gospel after his rising. St. Paul, who is rightly criticized for upholding first-century norms of gender inequality, nonetheless, clearly preaches an ideal of equality. Paul says: “There is no longer male and female; for all … are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). At its heart, the gospel of Christ is a message of equality, respect, and love for every human being. Our God is a God who constantly seeks to breathe life into our broken experiences. Our God is a God who affirms us as we are, old and young, black and white, rich and poor, disabled and able, gay and straight, female and male. Our God is a God who has special concern for the underprivileged, who feeds a mass of 5,000 people who have nothing to eat. Our God is a God who moves us beyond the debilitating cycles of oppression and victimization, overcoming evil with good and empowering people by the Holy Spirit. May we seek to overcome the inequalities in our lives and within the structures of our society. May we see our lives from the perspective of God. Amen.


Politifact.org: "barely true."

text of Obama's speech, available for comment

 This is a great opportunity to use the Insight app you can see at the bottom of the page below. Highlight text you want to evaluate or comment on, and go for it.

Text of President Barack Obama's address to Congress on health care reform Wednesday, as prepared for delivery and provided by the White House.
Madam Speaker, Vice President Biden, members of Congress, and the American people:
When I spoke here last winter, this nation was facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We were losing an average of 700,000 jobs per month. Credit was frozen. And our financial system was on the verge of collapse.

As any American who is still looking for work or a way to pay their bills will tell you, we are by no means out of the woods. A full and vibrant recovery is many months away. And I will not let up until those Americans who seek jobs can find them; until those businesses that seek capital and credit can thrive; until all responsible homeowners can stay in their homes. That is our ultimate goal. But thanks to the bold and decisive action we have taken since January, I can stand here with confidence and say that we have pulled this economy back from the brink.

I want to thank the members of this body for your efforts and your support in these last several months, and especially those who have taken the difficult votes that have put us on a path to recovery. I also want to thank the American people for their patience and resolve during this trying time for our nation.

But we did not come here just to clean up crises. We came to build a future. So tonight, I return to speak to all of you about an issue that is central to that future — and that is the issue of health care.

I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last. It has now been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for health care reform. And ever since, nearly every president and Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, has attempted to meet this challenge in some way. A bill for comprehensive health reform was first introduced by John Dingell Sr. in 1943. Sixty-five years later, his son continues to introduce that same bill at the beginning of each session.

Our collective failure to meet this challenge — year after year, decade after decade — has led us to a breaking point. Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured, who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy. These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans. Some can't get insurance on the job. Others are self-employed, and can't afford it, since buying insurance on your own costs you three times as much as the coverage you get from your employer. Many other Americans who are willing and able to pay are still denied insurance due to previous illnesses or conditions that insurance companies decide are too risky or expensive to cover.

We are the only advanced democracy on Earth — the only wealthy nation — that allows such hardships for millions of its people. There are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage. In just a two year period, one in every three Americans goes without health care coverage at some point. And every day, 14,000 Americans lose their coverage. In other words, it can happen to anyone.

But the problem that plagues the health care system is not just a problem of the uninsured. Those who do have insurance have never had less security and stability than they do today. More and more Americans worry that if you move, lose your job, or change your job, you'll lose your health insurance too. More and more Americans pay their premiums, only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick, or won't pay the full cost of care. It happens every day.

One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer found that he hadn't reported gallstones that he didn't even know about. They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it. Another woman from Texas was about to get a double mastectomy when her insurance company canceled her policy because she forgot to declare a case of acne. By the time she had her insurance reinstated, her breast cancer more than doubled in size. That is heartbreaking, it is wrong, and no one should be treated that way in the United States of America.

Then there's the problem of rising costs. We spend one-and-a-half times more per person on health care than any other country, but we aren't any healthier for it. This is one of the reasons that insurance premiums have gone up three times faster than wages. It's why so many employers — especially small businesses — are forcing their employees to pay more for insurance, or are dropping their coverage entirely. It's why so many aspiring entrepreneurs cannot afford to open a business in the first place, and why American businesses that compete internationally — like our automakers — are at a huge disadvantage. And it's why those of us with health insurance are also paying a hidden and growing tax for those without it — about $1000 per year that pays for somebody else's emergency room and charitable care.

Finally, our health care system is placing an unsustainable burden on taxpayers. When health care costs grow at the rate they have, it puts greater pressure on programs like Medicare and Medicaid. If we do nothing to slow these skyrocketing costs, we will eventually be spending more on Medicare and Medicaid than every other government program combined. Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close.

These are the facts. Nobody disputes them. We know we must reform this system. The question is how.
There are those on the left who believe that the only way to fix the system is through a single-payer system like Canada's, where we would severely restrict the private insurance market and have the government provide coverage for everyone. On the right, there are those who argue that we should end the employer-based system and leave individuals to buy health insurance on their own.

I have to say that there are arguments to be made for both approaches. But either one would represent a radical shift that would disrupt the health care most people currently have. Since health care represents one-sixth of our economy, I believe it makes more sense to build on what works and fix what doesn't, rather than try to build an entirely new system from scratch. And that is precisely what those of you in Congress have tried to do over the past several months.

During that time, we have seen Washington at its best and its worst.

We have seen many in this chamber work tirelessly for the better part of this year to offer thoughtful ideas about how to achieve reform. Of the five committees asked to develop bills, four have completed their work, and the Senate Finance Committee announced today that it will move forward next week. That has never happened before.

Our overall efforts have been supported by an unprecedented coalition of doctors and nurses; hospitals, seniors' groups and even drug companies — many of whom opposed reform in the past. And there is agreement in this chamber on about 80 percent of what needs to be done, putting us closer to the goal of reform than we have ever been.

But what we have also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government. Instead of honest debate, we have seen scare tactics. Some have dug into unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise. Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and countercharges, confusion has reigned.
Well the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care.

The plan I'm announcing tonight would meet three basic goals:
It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance to those who don't. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government. It's a plan that asks everyone to take responsibility for meeting this challenge — not just government and insurance companies, but employers and individuals. And it's a plan that incorporates ideas from Senators and Congressmen; from Democrats and Republicans — and yes, from some of my opponents in both the primary and general election.

Here are the details that every American needs to know about this plan:
First, if you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, Medicare, Medicaid, or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have. Let me repeat this: nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.

What this plan will do is to make the insurance you have work better for you. Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick. And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies — because there's no reason we shouldn't be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse. That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives.

That's what Americans who have health insurance can expect from this plan — more security and stability.
Now, if you're one of the tens of millions of Americans who don't currently have health insurance, the second part of this plan will finally offer you quality, affordable choices. If you lose your job or change your job, you will be able to get coverage. If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you will be able to get coverage. We will do this by creating a new insurance exchange — a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices. Insurance companies will have an incentive to participate in this exchange because it lets them compete for millions of new customers. As one big group, these customers will have greater leverage to bargain with the insurance companies for better prices and quality coverage. This is how large companies and government employees get affordable insurance. It's how everyone in this Congress gets affordable insurance. And it's time to give every American the same opportunity that we've given ourselves.

For those individuals and small businesses who still cannot afford the lower-priced insurance available in the exchange, we will provide tax credits, the size of which will be based on your need. And all insurance companies that want access to this new marketplace will have to abide by the consumer protections I already mentioned. This exchange will take effect in four years, which will give us time to do it right. In the meantime, for those Americans who can't get insurance today because they have pre-existing medical conditions, we will immediately offer low-cost coverage that will protect you against financial ruin if you become seriously ill. This was a good idea when Senator John McCain proposed it in the campaign, it's a good idea now, and we should embrace it.

Now, even if we provide these affordable options, there may be those — particularly the young and healthy — who still want to take the risk and go without coverage. There may still be companies that refuse to do right by their workers. The problem is, such irresponsible behavior costs all the rest of us money. If there are affordable options and people still don't sign up for health insurance, it means we pay for those people's expensive emergency room visits. If some businesses don't provide workers health care, it forces the rest of us to pick up the tab when their workers get sick, and gives those businesses an unfair advantage over their competitors. And unless everybody does their part, many of the insurance reforms we seek — especially requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions — just can't be achieved.

That's why under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance — just as most states require you to carry auto insurance. Likewise, businesses will be required to either offer their workers health care, or chip in to help cover the cost of their workers. There will be a hardship waiver for those individuals who still cannot afford coverage, and 95 percent of all small businesses, because of their size and narrow profit margin, would be exempt from these requirements. But we cannot have large businesses and individuals who can afford coverage game the system by avoiding responsibility to themselves or their employees. Improving our health care system only works if everybody does their part.

While there remain some significant details to be ironed out, I believe a broad consensus exists for the aspects of the plan I just outlined: consumer protections for those with insurance, an exchange that allows individuals and small businesses to purchase affordable coverage, and a requirement that people who can afford insurance get insurance.

And I have no doubt that these reforms would greatly benefit Americans from all walks of life, as well as the economy as a whole. Still, given all the misinformation that's been spread over the past few months, I realize that many Americans have grown nervous about reform. So tonight I'd like to address some of the key controversies that are still out there.

Some of people's concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost. The best example is the claim, made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but prominent politicians, that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens. Such a charge would be laughable if it weren't so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple.
There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false — the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

And one more misunderstanding I want to clear up — under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.

My health care proposal has also been attacked by some who oppose reform as a "government takeover" of the entire health care system. As proof, critics point to a provision in our plan that allows the uninsured and small businesses to choose a publicly sponsored insurance option, administered by the government just like Medicaid or Medicare.

So let me set the record straight. My guiding principle is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there is choice and competition. Unfortunately, in 34 states, 75 percent of the insurance market is controlled by five or fewer companies. In Alabama, almost 90 percent is controlled by just one company. Without competition, the price of insurance goes up and the quality goes down. And it makes it easier for insurance companies to treat their customers badly — by cherry-picking the healthiest individuals and trying to drop the sickest; by overcharging small businesses who have no leverage; and by jacking up rates.

Insurance executives don't do this because they are bad people. They do it because it's profitable. As one former insurance executive testified before Congress, insurance companies are not only encouraged to find reasons to drop the seriously ill; they are rewarded for it. All of this is in service of meeting what this former executive called "Wall Street's relentless profit expectations."

Now, I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business. They provide a legitimate service, and employ a lot of our friends and neighbors. I just want to hold them accountable. The insurance reforms that I've already mentioned would do just that. But an additional step we can take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not-for-profit public option available in the insurance exchange. Let me be clear — it would only be an option for those who don't have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance. In fact, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, we believe that less than 5 percent of Americans would sign up.

Despite all this, the insurance companies and their allies don't like this idea. They argue that these private companies can't fairly compete with the government. And they'd be right if taxpayers were subsidizing this public insurance option. But they won't be. I have insisted that like any private insurance company, the public insurance option would have to be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums it collects. But by avoiding some of the overhead that gets eaten up at private companies by profits, excessive administrative costs and executive salaries, it could provide a good deal for consumers. It would also keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable and treat their customers better, the same way public colleges and universities provide additional choice and competition to students without in any way inhibiting a vibrant system of private colleges and universities.

It's worth noting that a strong majority of Americans still favor a public insurance option of the sort I've proposed tonight. But its impact shouldn't be exaggerated — by the left, the right, or the media. It is only one part of my plan, and should not be used as a handy excuse for the usual Washington ideological battles. To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it. The public option is only a means to that end — and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal. And to my Republican friends, I say that rather than making wild claims about a government takeover of health care, we should work together to address any legitimate concerns you may have.

For example, some have suggested that that the public option go into effect only in those markets where insurance companies are not providing affordable policies. Others propose a co-op or another nonprofit entity to administer the plan. These are all constructive ideas worth exploring. But I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice. And I will make sure that no government bureaucrat or insurance company bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need.

Finally, let me discuss an issue that is a great concern to me, to members of this chamber, and to the public — and that is how we pay for this plan.

Here's what you need to know. First, I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits — either now or in the future. Period. And to prove that I'm serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don't materialize. Part of the reason I faced a trillion dollar deficit when I walked in the door of the White House is because too many initiatives over the last decade were not paid for — from the Iraq War to tax breaks for the wealthy. I will not make that same mistake with health care.

Second, we've estimated that most of this plan can be paid for by finding savings within the existing health care system — a system that is currently full of waste and abuse. Right now, too much of the hard-earned savings and tax dollars we spend on health care doesn't make us healthier. That's not my judgment — it's the judgment of medical professionals across this country. And this is also true when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid.

In fact, I want to speak directly to America's seniors for a moment, because Medicare is another issue that's been subjected to demagoguery and distortion during the course of this debate.

More than four decades ago, this nation stood up for the principle that after a lifetime of hard work, our seniors should not be left to struggle with a pile of medical bills in their later years. That is how Medicare was born. And it remains a sacred trust that must be passed down from one generation to the next. That is why not a dollar of the Medicare trust fund will be used to pay for this plan.

The only thing this plan would eliminate is the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud, as well as unwarranted subsidies in Medicare that go to insurance companies — subsidies that do everything to pad their profits and nothing to improve your care. And we will also create an independent commission of doctors and medical experts charged with identifying more waste in the years ahead.

These steps will ensure that you — America's seniors — get the benefits you've been promised. They will ensure that Medicare is there for future generations. And we can use some of the savings to fill the gap in coverage that forces too many seniors to pay thousands of dollars a year out of their own pocket for prescription drugs. That's what this plan will do for you. So don't pay attention to those scary stories about how your benefits will be cut — especially since some of the same folks who are spreading these tall tales have fought against Medicare in the past, and just this year supported a budget that would have essentially turned Medicare into a privatized voucher program. That will never happen on my watch. I will protect Medicare.

Now, because Medicare is such a big part of the health care system, making the program more efficient can help usher in changes in the way we deliver health care that can reduce costs for everybody. We have long known that some places, like the Intermountain Healthcare in Utah or the Geisinger Health System in rural Pennsylvania, offer high-quality care at costs below average. The commission can help encourage the adoption of these common sense best practices by doctors and medical professionals throughout the system — everything from reducing hospital infection rates to encouraging better coordination between teams of doctors.

Reducing the waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan. Much of the rest would be paid for with revenues from the very same drug and insurance companies that stand to benefit from tens of millions of new customers. This reform will charge insurance companies a fee for their most expensive policies, which will encourage them to provide greater value for the money — an idea which has the support of Democratic and Republican experts. And according to these same experts, this modest change could help hold down the cost of health care for all of us in the long-run.

Finally, many in this chamber — particularly on the Republican side of the aisle — have long insisted that reforming our medical malpractice laws can help bring down the cost of health care. I don't believe malpractice reform is a silver bullet, but I have talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs. So I am proposing that we move forward on a range of ideas about how to put patient safety first and let doctors focus on practicing medicine. I know that the Bush Administration considered authorizing demonstration projects in individual states to test these issues. It's a good idea, and I am directing my Secretary of Health and Human Services to move forward on this initiative today.

Add it all up, and the plan I'm proposing will cost around $900 billion over ten years — less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans that Congress passed at the beginning of the previous administration. Most of these costs will be paid for with money already being spent — but spent badly — in the existing health care system. The plan will not add to our deficit. The middle-class will realize greater security, not higher taxes. And if we are able to slow the growth of health care costs by just one-tenth of one percent each year, it will actually reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the long term.

This is the plan I'm proposing. It's a plan that incorporates ideas from many of the people in this room tonight — Democrats and Republicans. And I will continue to seek common ground in the weeks ahead. If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open.
But know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it. I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what's in the plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.

Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true.

That is why we cannot fail. Because there are too many Americans counting on us to succeed — the ones who suffer silently, and the ones who shared their stories with us at town hall meetings, in e-mails, and in letters.

I received one of those letters a few days ago. It was from our beloved friend and colleague, Ted Kennedy. He had written it back in May, shortly after he was told that his illness was terminal. He asked that it be delivered upon his death.

In it, he spoke about what a happy time his last months were, thanks to the love and support of family and friends, his wife, Vicki, and his children, who are here tonight . And he expressed confidence that this would be the year that health care reform — "that great unfinished business of our society," he called it — would finally pass. He repeated the truth that health care is decisive for our future prosperity, but he also reminded me that "it concerns more than material things." "What we face," he wrote, "is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country."
I've thought about that phrase quite a bit in recent days — the character of our country. One of the unique and wonderful things about America has always been our self-reliance, our rugged individualism, our fierce defense of freedom and our healthy skepticism of government. And figuring out the appropriate size and role of government has always been a source of rigorous and sometimes angry debate.

For some of Ted Kennedy's critics, his brand of liberalism represented an affront to American liberty. In their mind, his passion for universal health care was nothing more than a passion for big government.
But those of us who knew Teddy and worked with him here — people of both parties — know that what drove him was something more. His friend, Orrin Hatch, knows that. They worked together to provide children with health insurance. His friend John McCain knows that. They worked together on a Patient's Bill of Rights. His friend Chuck Grassley knows that. They worked together to provide health care to children with disabilities.

On issues like these, Ted Kennedy's passion was born not of some rigid ideology, but of his own experience. It was the experience of having two children stricken with cancer. He never forgot the sheer terror and helplessness that any parent feels when a child is badly sick; and he was able to imagine what it must be like for those without insurance; what it would be like to have to say to a wife or a child or an aging parent — there is something that could make you better, but I just can't afford it.

That large-heartedness — that concern and regard for the plight of others — is not a partisan feeling. It is not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character. Our ability to stand in other people's shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together; that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand. A belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.

This has always been the history of our progress. In 1933, when over half of our seniors could not support themselves and millions had seen their savings wiped away, there were those who argued that Social Security would lead to socialism. But the men and women of Congress stood fast, and we are all the better for it. In 1965, when some argued that Medicare represented a government takeover of health care, members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, did not back down. They joined together so that all of us could enter our golden years with some basic peace of mind.

You see, our predecessors understood that government could not, and should not, solve every problem. They understood that there are instances when the gains in security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom. But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, and the vulnerable can be exploited. And they knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom; and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter — that at that point we don't merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves.

What was true then remains true today. I understand how difficult this health care debate has been. I know that many in this country are deeply skeptical that government is looking out for them. I understand that the politically safe move would be to kick the can further down the road — to defer reform one more year, or one more election, or one more term.

But that's not what the moment calls for. That's not what we came here to do. We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. I still believe we can act even when it's hard. I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress. I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history's test.

Because that is who we are. That is our calling. That is our character. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.