Thursday, October 02, 2014


I don't have many words of my own lately to share. And, lately, I've been finding that I often use words as shields against the silence that might reveal all the things I've been avoiding. So it seems that this season of life is a season of listening. Which makes for a very silent blog.

So here are some words of another that I have returned to lately, to listen and meditate on.

From Paul Tillich (full text here):

Do we know what it means to be struck by grace? It does not mean that we suddenly believe that God exists, or that Jesus is the Saviour, or that the Bible contains the truth. To believe that something is, is almost contrary to the meaning of grace. Furthermore, grace does not mean simply that we are making progress in our moral self-control, in our fight against special faults, and in our relationships to men and to society. Moral progress may be a fruit of grace; but it is not grace itself, and it can even prevent us from receiving grace. For there is too often a graceless acceptance of Christian doctrines and a graceless battle against the structures of evil in our personalities. Such a graceless relation to God may lead us by necessity either to arrogance or to despair. It would be better to refuse God and the Christ and the Bible than to accept them without grace. For if we accept without grace, we do so in the state of separation, and can only succeed in deepening the separation. We cannot transform our lives, unless we allow them to be transformed by that stroke of grace. It happens; or it does not happen. And certainly it does not happen if we try to force it upon ourselves, just as it shall not happen so long as we think, in our self-complacency, that we have no need of it. Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: "You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!" If that happens to us, we experience grace After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance.
In the light of this grace we perceive the power of grace in our relation to others and to ourselves. We experience the grace of being able to look frankly into the eyes of another, the miraculous grace of reunion of life with life. We experience the grace of understanding each other's words. We understand not merely the literal meaning of the words, but also that which lies behind them, even when they are harsh or angry. For even then there is a longing to break through the walls of separation. We experience the grace of being able to accept the life of another, even if it be hostile and harmful to us, for, through grace, we know that it belongs to the same Ground to which we belong, and by which we have been accepted. We experience the grace which is able to overcome the tragic separation of the sexes, of the generations, of the nations, of the races, and even the utter strangeness between man and nature. Sometimes grace appears in all these separations to reunite us with those to whom we belong. For life belongs to life.
And in the light of this grace we perceive the power of grace in our relation to ourselves. We experience moments in which we accept ourselves, because we feel that we have been accepted by that which is greater than we. If only more such moments were given to us! For it is such moments that make us love our life, that make us accept ourselves, not in our goodness and self- complacency, but in our certainty of the eternal meaning of our life. We cannot force ourselves to accept ourselves. We cannot compel anyone to accept himself. But sometimes it happens that we receive the power to say "yes" to ourselves, that peace enters into us and makes us whole, that self-hate and self-contempt disappear, and that our self is reunited with itself. Then we can say that grace has come upon us.

Friday, May 30, 2014


I was walking down the sidewalk,with a (male) friend just ahead of me when I felt it--a hand on my breast and a quick squeeze. I stopped walking. No one else did. So I shook my head in disbelief, and hurried to catch up. What else was there to do?


I was on  bus with a large group of friends, coming back from a soccer match in Florence. A man across the aisle was staring. As he lined up to exit at his stop he reached out and caressed my cheek: "che bella," he said, and got off the bus.


I was on the C train on the way home; it was late; I'd been volunteering for the NYC Hope Count that night. It was me, a sleeping homeless person, and a group of black guys being rowdy on the other end of the car. As the train neared the stop one came over and said, "You are truly beautiful." He didn't touch me. I don't know whether it was sweet, or creepy.


I was on a train, headed back to the villa. I was alone, and it was late--I was just going to make it back before curfew. An older man and two boys passed by in the corridor, looking in, and then came back and sat down in my compartment. They were chatty--wanted to know if I spoke Italian and where I was from. Pretty soon the conversation turned a bit coarse--they were laughing and using words I didn't know, but the hand gestures were pretty unmistakeable. I stood up to get a book from my pack so I could plausibly ignore them; when I sat down one of the younger ones had his hand in my seat and grabbed my ass. There was a lot of laughter at my reaction, and then some faux chivalry as the younger guys switched seats at the older man's insistence so I could be "safe." It was a long ride to Santa Maria Novella, and I had my pack on at the first sign of drawing into the station, ready to run. But the old man blocked the door. He grabbed me and pulled me in for an embrace and nuzzled my neck. And then, finally, let me go.

I was terrified and grateful that nothing else had happened. Much more could have.

I got back to to villa an hour after curfew. No one had missed me, and I didn't say a word about my train ride.


I dated a good Christian boy who allowed himself far more liberties with me than he'd ever done with anyone else before; this was my fault, because "my mind was impure" due to experiences from relationships in my past.


I sat in a room at Princeton Theological Seminary, listening to a panel discussion on sexism, harassment and abuse. The question was posed to the room at large: "how many women in this room have experienced some form of sexual harrassment?" Every woman in the room raised her hand.


I had just defended my dissertation, and bursting with pride, had ordered a new set of fabulous, unique business cards from an artist friend in Brooklyn for AAR. Handing one to an acquaintance in the hopes of networking for a job, I received this comment: "You are the sexiest woman I've ever seen." Nonplussed, I responded, "Um...yeah, they're really great cards, aren't they."

I was defending a critical, theological argument on a theology blog. I was accused of misunderstanding the point, of not having a modicum of common sense, of being "vaginal retentive," of being a buzzkill. Despite holding a PhD in Theology from a respected institution, I was treated like a child having a temper tantrum because she couldn't possibly understand what the grown-ups were talking about.
#YesAllWomen: Why it's so hard for men to see misogyny

Please understand. I'm not seeking sympathy, apologies, or pity. These things happened, and life went on. But this is what it means: this is life, for #YesAllWomen. This is "normal." This is typical. This is part of what it means to be a female body in the street, on the bus, on the train, in the classroom, at a conference, on the internet.

And part of what it means to be a female body in the church? Is it really all that different?

Sunday, May 11, 2014


Mothers give us life and our first scar. My children stretched it out and made it more beautiful.

Happy Mother's Day, everyone. May it be beautiful.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Saturday, April 26, 2014

the next round

Gearing up for the next round, y'all. But more and more, the question for me, and all the other folks in similar situations, is: how long do you hold out hope of landing that thing known as a "real job," that thing with salary and benefits? That pays enough that you can actually afford to do it, and afford the corollary expenses that come along with doing it, like childcare and takeout and help with the house? With an office you don't have to share with three others who probably wouldn't appreciate staring at those pics of your kids you set up on the desk, so they get put away at the end of your scant office hours? With colleagues? With time to research and write and publish?

I'll be honest. I've thought about alternatives. There are a couple problems with that. One is, my only other marketable skill sets are waitressing and having babies. The other is, I really, really love both my subject, the art of teaching, and the act of writing. I love the classroom--undergrad, grad, philosophy, theology--all of it. And I'd like to write another book.

And let's be honest, too, that putting 7 years into a degree, and then walking away from all that it means to you, is just a difficult thing to do, in terms of your sense of self.

So. Here I am, y'all. Exhibit JTB of the adjunct problem in academia.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Waiting: an out-of-season Advent homily (reflections on World Convention)

And I stood, waiting while the circle completed itself and everyone, in turn and by name, received the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. And in the waiting was a blessing equal to the blessing received in the gift.

In that attentive stillness, it struck me that I was quite simply at peace. I was not in a hurry. I was not thinking about what came next. I was not thinking of what I should do or not do, or what I should be doing while I waited or if people were looking at me while I waited or what they were thinking while they waited. I was quiet inside, an unusual thing for me, and that quiet seemed to have reached in from the outside, where we waited on each other.

In this quiet chapel was a group of people from all over the world, who had spent two days talking, thinking, praying, dreaming and planning together. They had been strangers to me, but in this moment of sharing and waiting in the ritual which brings Christians of all traditions together, I realized that I belonged here in this room.

Born and raised Church of Christ from Cradle Roll to college, there have been many times that I have felt alien in my church. Sometimes it has felt like a wound, but I have learned how to live with it. Don't put pressure on the spot; move carefully; be wise, be cautious, be diplomatic, be circumspect; make sure you take the hits that come somewhere else so they don't hurt too bad, and turn the other cheek. It's become normal, this mode of faithfulness to my church.

But in this room, I belonged. In this room, my wounds were cherished as much as my gifts. In this room I was welcome. In this room, I was waited on.

The Churches of Christ have always been a part of something larger than themselves--all churches are--even if we have worked hard to ignore it, at times. In this room full of people from all over the world, from all the branches of the Restoration movement, celebrating our unity and common history and anticipating a future together, I felt for the first time in a long time that I was glad, deeply glad, to have grown up in this particular expression of Christianity, this peculiar, rational, contentious, deeply faithful bunch of God's people.

So I cried a little bit, and that was okay.

And then it struck me: we were not simply waiting on each other, but God, too is waiting on us. We make space and time to sense it in the celebration of Communion, but it is constant. God is waiting on us--though most often we think we are waiting on God. We say to each other, "those that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint," and it is true; but God, too, waiting and watching and hoping and anticipating as we learn to embrace each other in the unity of the Spirit.

I am so grateful in this moment for the work that the World Convention (Christian-Churches of Christ-Disciples of Christ) has done in the many years since its founding, the work that we are preparing to do in the future, and the gift of belonging that I received so unexpectedly in that Communion with my sisters and brothers from around the world.

Unity is a mysterious gift, rooted in the very life of God: created in the same image, saved by same Savior, gifted with the same Spirit, we are indeed one, in ways that surpass recognition, assent, doctrinal agreement or even volition…and for this I give thanks and praise. Amen.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

a letter from my daughter from three days ago

transcript (faithful to spelling and grammar):

Dear Not Mom anymore
I dispise you
go away NEVER come back
you will make me estatic if you do that. Becose
you want to make me happy
goodbye and good ridence forever

I know it's a bit twisted but all I really feel in looking at this letter is a sense of bursting maternal pride at how well my 7YO expresses herself. #goClare

Sunday, March 09, 2014

"NPR Listener"

I'm blessed with a commute that takes me, three times a week, out of the WNYC station range just as I enter the WHYY station range, and in the mornings they basically play the exact same schedule so I can switch from one to the other without missing a single syllable of my morning NPR. It's awesome.

Except for the weeks when they run back-to-back fundraisers. That double whammy gets really tiresome. WHYY goes first and then, just as they end, WNYC cranks up. That can make for a long commute.

This last time, I found myself getting annoyed at more than just the repetitive appeals and aggravating interruptions to programs for their plaintive pitches. Usually I even find it somewhat mesmerizing, the smooth blather and wordsmithy that goes into the whole thing by these professional talkers... But this time, over and over, I heard something that really bugged me: a crude appeal to intellectual elitism that made NPR listeners, and a fortiori the elite of the elite who donate or become members, the "us" opposed to the "them," the ignorant hoi polloi who listen to (sniff) commercial radio. Every morning for about two weeks I heard some version of this on and off for an hour and a half. "We know that you, our listeners are intelligent and want to be informed" or "just think how many times you've been at a party and started a conversation with 'I heard on NPR' and immediately became the smart person in the room" or "take those few cents a day you spend at the vending machine and feed your brain instead" or "in personals 'NPR listener' has become code for smart and cares about the world" and on and on. The longer I listened the more appalling it became.

And then one morning I found myself shouting back at my radio, "NO! I mean, shouldn't public radio be for everyone???"

Finally WHYY (which, may I add, is a great station and I generally <3 actual="" and="" blunt="" campaign="" ceased="" content="" focus="" it="" its="" message="" none="" of="" on="" p="" producing="" programs="" s="" smart="" squarely="" straightforward="" stuff="" stupid="" support.="" tactic:="" takes="" that="" the="" them="" theme="" there="" this="" time="" turn.="" us="" v.="" was="" wnyc="">
I've been a (very minor) contributor for WNYC for a few years now. I'm proud of it, and all the more because they didn't slide into that insidious message of intellectual/social elitism.

This was a few weeks ago now so I'm not exactly timely in blogging about it, but it's been simmering on the mental backburner ever since. We spend so much time lamenting the fractured, ideologically driven state of mainstream media in this country--and the way that it both reflects and furthers the epistemological divide in the public. And one of the things I heard from both stations is how public radio, because it is non-commercial and primarily listener-funded, stands apart from the rest of mainstream news media in this ideologically and commerically driven epistemological division. Except that, if you're simply recreating another split, how can you pat yourself on the back for standing apart?

So next time, let's remember: public radio is for everyone. Even, and maybe especially, for the folks don't listen to it. Yet. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

turning Clare into Daisy

There are many, many reasons to love Philip's Academy Charter School (formerly St. Philip's Academy). This month's reason--in fact, every February's reason since Clare started kindergarten there--is the way that black history month is taught and celebrated.

Last year--I may have blogged about this but I'm not sure--Clare's hero was Rosa Parks, and it was a bit of a struggle to think though how we were going to costume her as her hero. In the end I think we did great--we found a t-shirt with Rosa Parks's picture on it, with a quote, and over that we layered an old-fashioned knitted cardigan, put her hair up in a bun and gave her a pair of Brent's old glasses with the lenses popped out. She was cute as a button, was a recognizable Rosa, and felt awesome about her costume (which is the most important thing).

Every year, without fail, I learn something new that Clare comes home talking about. (Before Clare, for example, I had no idea who Madam C. J. Walker was.) This year, I'm learning about Daisy Bates, Clare's choice for African-American hero. Bates was President of the AR chapter of the NAACP, co-owner (with her husband, L.C.) and writer for Arkansas State Press, and is most famous for her role in organizing the Little Rock Nine.

This year, the 2nd graders are putting on a "living wax museum" and so Clare has been very concerned about the veracity of her Daisy Bates costume. As you can see in the picture below, she was a beautiful, glamorous woman--in addition to being, apparently, a complicated, strong and feisty woman who spoke her mind and stood her ground.
"She was not soft-spoken; she was not humble; she didn't ask, she told; it just blew people's minds. Who is this woman, sounding like this? Who does she think she is?" (from Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock)
Honestly, I can't think of a better hero for Clare, my own complicated, strong and feisty woman-to-be.

So once again we face the challenge of turning my fair-skinned flaxen-haired Clare into her chosen African-American hero. And this year she asked straight out if we could make her skin browner. My explanation of why this was not a good idea made enough sense to her that she dropped it, but it meant that the rest of the costume became even more important to her to get right.

Well, my crafty skill set is limited. But my budget is even more so, so I've spent days and days trying to figure out how to give my girl some Daisy Bates 1950's style. Daisy often dressed in professional, business-y attire, so my teal wool suit (though of course large on Clare) fits the bell well enough. Clare's school uniform shirt with the pan collar fits a sort of 1950's type look. But what we really needed was a hat, and a way to give Clare the suggestion of that cute Daisy Bates short curly hairdo.

So: an old summer sun hat lost most of its brim, and some netting from a dress-up skirt got repurposed along with a length of pink satin ribbon that's been floating around the house for awhile, a few sequins and a satin ribbon rose and then--I found some novelty eyelash yarn in my stash. So, while it may not be exactly the cute Daisy 'do, it will (I hope) at least give a suggestion of some sweet little curls underneath Clare's hat. Add a string of pretty beads--Daisy has a necklace on in every picture, almost--and, done!

I can't wait for Clare to come home and see her hat. :)


Sunday, January 12, 2014

So a week or so ago this post on gendered dimorphism in Disney characters popped up in my newsfeed: "Help! My eyeball is bigger than my wrist!" (

Then a couple days ago I was cleaning the playroom, sorting and organizing (and, yes, clandestinely tossing certain items) and in the process came across mostly dismembered Barbie and other doll heads, torsos and legs. And here's what I found:

This was a truly enormous head. For comparison, here's a Barbie head side-by-side:

So when I had matched up everything else I was left with this and my first thought was, well, this can't possibly be right!

But I tried it anyway. And I thought, whoa. This isn't "help my eyeball is bigger than my wrist," this is "help my eyes are bigger than my boobs and my whole torso could fit inside my hairdo."

Again, a comparison side-by-side with a good ol'fashioned wholesome Barbie: her head is bigger than Barbie's but her whole teeny body is about the length of Barbie's torso.

Bottom line: our culture gives us such increasingly unrealistic representations of women's bodies that at this point Barbie looks relatively normal! 

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

following up

So, I changed my Facebook gender to "male." Since then, here are some representative ads that keep popping up in my newsfeed:

Just to remind you, this is the ad that prompted me to this radical act:

Now that I'm a "man," Facebook and its advertisers can assume I have interests in 1) traveling, 2) playing violent video games, 3) staying warm, 4) living in a house, 5) playing poker. As a woman though, my interests were: lose weight and be sexy.

I am so glad that now that I'm a (hu)man, I can be interested in (hu)man things, and not just woman things.

Oh, and, now that I'm a (hu)man, Facebook and advertisers assume that I also probably have an interest in exploiting women! Oh, funtimes, Facebook, funtimes! Thanks for making this holiday season so special in such a mainstream, accepted, sexist and misogynist way. I'll be hitting on some single ladeez (despite my married status) right after I order some luxurious Princeton University knitwear crafted especially for alumni, despite the fact that I'm not a University alum, because I went to Princeton Seminary.