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!