Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I Am Easily Amused...

...and this is what got me today. From Hannah Arendt's On Violence: a paragraph or two on the concept of human progress. What it has to do with anything is up to you.
Marx's idea, borrowed from Hegel, that every old society harbors the seeds of its successors in the same way every living organism harbors the seeds of its offspring is indeed not only the most ingenious but also the only possible conceptual guarantee for the sempiternal continuity of progress in history; and since the motion of this progress is supposed to come about through the clashes of antagonistic forces, it is possible to interpret every "regress" as a necessary but temporary setback.

To be sure, a guarantee that in the final analysis rests on little more than a metaphor is not the most solid basis to erect a doctrine upon, but this, unhappily, Marxism shares with a great many other doctrines in philosophy. Its great advantage becomes clear as soon as one compares it with other concepts of history--such as "eternal recurrences," the rise and fall of empires, the haphazard sequence of essentially unconnected events--all of which can equally be documented and justified, but none of which will guarantee a continuum of linear time and continuous progress in history. And the only competitor in the field, the ancient notion of a Golden Age at the beginning, from which everything else is derived, implies the rather unpleasant certainty of continuous decline. Of course, there are a few melancholy side effects in the reassuring idea that we need only march into the future, which we cannot help doing anyhow, in order to find a better world. There is first of all the simple fact that the general future of mankind has nothing to offer to individual life, whose only certain future is death. And if one leaves this out of account and thinks only in generalities, there is the obvious argument against progress that, in the words of Herzen, "Human development is a form of chronological unfairness, since late-comers are able to profit by the labors of their predecessors without paying the same price," or, in the words of Kant, "It will always remain bewildering...that the earlier generations seem to carry on their burdensome business only for the sake of the later...and that only the last should have the good fortune to dwell in the [completed] building."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Laugh Lines and Being Unwifeable

Winter Formal, 1988
Some thoughts about a Huffington Post article that's been bugging me:

"Why You're Not Married" by Traci McMillan

First, did you get a look at my 16-year-old self? Some of you who have known me a long time might remember back that far. For the rest of you, I am the third young woman from the left, in the dark blue dress, with the fabulous hair. I promise myself that I will have curves like that again someday--my friend @cubanitabean has invited me to Zumba--won't that be something? I bring you this photo, because I want you to remember when you read McMillan's article that so many of the people who will read articles like that are girls, young women, vulnerable human beings already beat up by this world.

To sum up McMillan's argument, if you are a woman who is not married (but wishes to be), these are the six reasons you are single (her words, not mine):

1. You're a Bitch.
2. You're Shallow.
3. You're a Slut.
4. You're a Liar.
5. You're Selfish.
6. You're Not Good Enough.

After detailing her destructive loathing of women, McMillan offers some hope--every woman who wants a partner can have one as long as they don't aspire to happiness.
"Because ultimately, marriage is not about getting something -- it's about giving it. Strangely, men understand this more than we do. Probably because for them marriage involves sacrificing their most treasured possession -- a free-agent penis -- and for us, it's the culmination of a princess fantasy so universal, it built Disneyland."
In other words, my princess fantasy castrates free-agent penii. Nice.

About fifty-eleven of my closest friends on Facebook and Twitter posted this tract with some variation of the following comments: "Truth." "OMG, LMAO, LOLOL, FTW, HAHAHA!" or my personal favorite "Hey, what do you all think of this? Wow." I have to confess that this made my unfollow finger itch and twitch a bit, but I held back.

I held back and kept my friends because I remembered that when I was 18 or so I wrote a list with a friend that we called "The Rules of the Game". We printed it in red ink and laminated it. For a while that list was posted on a wall in my apartment for all to see. It was a list of how to play the game between the sexes as best as I and my girlfriend understood it in our first years in college. I thought it was funny and clever. Although I haven't seen it in years (I looked, but it's buried in a box somewhere), I can assure you it was full of sexist, misogynist, heterosexist assumptions. It was probably homophobic. God only knows what I had to say about race or ethnicity. I shudder to think.

I think my point in all this is that our U.S. culture is so steeped in stereotypes and labels and rules of a game that damages us without our knowledge or consent, that our girls grow up to think that if they don't have a man it's because they are a bitch, or slutty, or a liar, or shallow, or selfish, or not good enough. We grow up thinking that if we want a man we have to play nice nice. "You'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar, sweetheart." "Who wants to marry the cow when you can get the milk for free?" "One must suffer to be beautiful."

I look back at my 18 year old self with a great deal of compassion, because otherwise I will become bitter and paralyzed. That girl (who is still with me) was just a girl like many others. That girl in the picture up there thought she was ugly. That was the girl who thought her hair was "dishwater blonde."  Later I had a love who told me my hair is the color of honey, but in 1988 I hated my hair. I thought I was fat. I thought I was responsible for my own rapes and sexual assaults--and yes there were several. I didn't know how I was going to catch a boy, but in reading through (atrociously bad) poetry I wrote back then, it appears I was very focused on catching one. And I was sure I had to act a certain way, look a certain way, be a certain way.

The tragedy of McMillan's post is only partly her attack on women and girls. What strikes me as truly a waste is that McMillan has been married herself--three times. I believe a person who has been married three times has much to teach us all about life and love, conflict and desire. It would take courage and strength to sort through one's life experiences and offer some meaningful insight into the institution of marriage, societal structures, love and desire, and how women fit into all of this. But that is the story I'd be interested in.

As I was reading for class this last week, I stumbled across a passage in Jessica Benjamin's The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination. In her chapter on "Woman's Desire" Benjamin muses about how women's desire is so tightly bound with men's desire--as in women do not have desire of their own. Benjamin's text seems to make cissexist assumptions about what constitutes womanhood, but certainly both trans and cis women have experienced being objectified by sexual partners (and others).
Woman is to accept the abrogation of her own will, to surrender the autonomy of the body in childbirth and lactation, to live for another. Her own sexual feelings, with their incipient threat of selfishness, passion, and uncontrollability, are a disturbing possibility that even psychoanalysis seldom contemplates.
In any case, once sexuality is cut loose from reproduction, a goal the era of sexual liberation has urged upon our imagination, womanhood can no longer be equated with motherhood. But the alternative image of the femme fatale does not signify an active subjectivity either. the "sexy" woman--an image that intimidates women whether or not they strive to conform to it--is sexy, but as object, not as subject. She expresses not so much her desire as her pleasure in being desired; what she enjoys is her capacity to evoke desire in the other, to attract. Her power does not reside in her own passion, but in her acute desirability...If woman has no desire of her own, she must rely on that of a man, with potentially disastrous consequences for her psychic life. (Benjamin, 89)
Our desires are not our own. What we desire is our partner's desire. Well certainly this is a generalization. But there is something here that resonates with my own experiences and the stories I hear other women tell.

I remember in that first year after my divorce that I decided to redecorate my bedroom. Perhaps this sounds like a simple project, but I didn't even know what colors I liked. For as long as I could remember I had fit my own preferences to my partner's desires. It didn't matter so much to me, I thought. But as I worked on my room it occurred to me that it did matter--a lot. And I wondered what else I didn't know about myself--what else I felt strongly about but was afraid to vocalize. 

It's been a long few years, and I've found my voice. I've questioned almost everything about myself. I've learned to say "This is who I am. If you don't like it, there's the door." I can't quite imagine fitting myself to someone else's desires and preferences again. An old friend of mine used to say, "Katie, you can be right or you can be married." I think that says something about marriage that we ought to think carefully about. If being right means no man or woman will marry me, that's alright by me. I'd rather be single than give up my fierce. And any person worth my time would agree with me.

So forgive this bitchy, slutty, selfish, shallow response to that HuffPo article. My relationship plan is to keep on with my brassy self, full of vinegar. I plan to cultivate my own passions and desires, to know ever more deeply what I long for in life. And if there are people along the way who delight in my scandalous self, then perhaps we might keep company while it suits us both. And in the meantime, I don't plan to spend even an instant thinking about my "naso-labial" folds, which (by the way) is the fancy word McMillan uses for laugh lines. But I bet, if you're worth my time and effort, that you think my laugh lines are absolutely gorgeous.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Galletas de Chocolate

The little guy has been after me to make cookies. "Chocolate, Mom. WITH m&m's." It turns out he wanted chocolate chips in there too, but he's making do with what he's got. It's a good recipe from a random blog, so I'm passing it on to you: "Chewy Chocolate Cookie" by El at Being Fully Present.

I used regular baking cocoa instead of dark cocoa, and we added a cup of m&m's. The cookies are great, so thanks, El!

Friday, February 18, 2011

From "Nothing Personal"

A little more James Baldwin tonight since I can't sleep. I came across this paragraph and figured maybe if I posted it up on my blog, by the time I got done formatting it, I'd be tired enough to crash. I'm idly wondering what James Baldwin would think about a night owl trying so desperately to be a morning person, but really I'm not sure how a person exists as a mother in this world and remain a night person--everything is oriented towards daytime production. James Baldwin is a person I wish I had known and loved. Anyway. Here's some words:
But we are unbelievably ignorant concerning what goes on in our country--to say nothing of what goes on in the rest of the world--and appear to have become too timid to question what we are told. Our failure to trust one another deeply enough to be able to talk to one another has become so great that people with these questions in their hearts do not speak them; our opulence is so pervasive that people who are afraid to lose whatever they think they have persuade themselves of the truth of a lie, and help disseminate it; and God help the innocent here, that man or woman who simply wants to love, and be loved. Unless this would-be lover is able to replace his or her backbone with a steel rod, he or she is doomed. This is no place for love. I know that I am now expected to make a bow in the direction of those millions of unremarked, happy  marriages all over America, but I am unable honestly to do so because I find nothing whatever in our moral and social climate--and I am now thinking particularly of the state of our children--to bear witness to their existence. I suspect that when we refer to these happy and so marvelously invisible people, we are simply being nostalgic concerning the happy, simple, God-fearing life which we imagine ourselves once to have lived. In any case, wherever love is found, it unfailingly makes itself felt in the individual, the personal authority of the individual. Judged by this standard, we are a loveless nation. The best that can be said is that some of us are struggling. And what we are struggling against is that death in the heart which leads not only to the shedding of blood, but which reduces human beings to corpses while they live. 
James Baldwin, "Nothing Personal" in The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction 1948-1985 (New York: St. Martin's/Marek, 1985), 387-388.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Regarding Coconuts & Avocados

My twitter friends and I speak often of food. Usually we speak of delightful food, shared with friends, wine preferences, and the occasional skirmishes over who drinks coffee or tea (I'm a shameful sellout to both parties). But every now and then we talk about food loathings. One of my tweeps detests coconut. For me its avocado. In all forms, shapes, sizes, states of ripeness, creativeness of presentation, regardless of what ELSE you put with it our which grandma's recipe you used. I loathe avocado. And even, as I told her, I loathe the smugness of people trying to convert me to liking avocado.

While reading for class from Julia Kristeva's Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, I came across this paragraph on food loathing. THIS is what I mean.
Loathing an item of food, a piece of filth, waste, or dung. The spasms and vomiting that protect me. The repugnance, the retching that thrusts me to the side and turns me away from defilement, sewage, and muck...Food loathing is perhaps the most elementary and most archaic form of abjection. When the eyes see or the lips touch that skin on the surface of milk--harmless, thin as a sheet of cigarette paper, pitiful as a nail paring--I experience a gagging sensation and, still farther down, spasms in the stomach, the belly; and all the organs shrivel up the body, provoke tears and bile, increase heartbeat, cause forehead and hands to expire. Along with sight-clouding dizziness, nausea makes me balk at that milk cream, separates me from the mother and father who proffer it...
She goes on to talk of rotting flesh and wounds with pus. So yeah. Avocados and coconuts.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thar She Blows

by Nikita
A concerned individual threw this my way today as part of a conversation about homosexuality and ordination:
"...You can say you are a Gay Christain, but have you healed anyone?; are the gifts of the spirit present and manifisted (ing). So many words are given why these people cannot become leaders, but the Words of God are plain." [sic]
Ahem. Although there are women who identify as gay, I am not one of them. I identify as queer (lower case). The rest of my response...thank you for your kind words and clear concern for my spiritual welfare. Today I brought the living Word to a thirsty congregation, helped my son with a book report and baked brownies. As for healing, I believe that is a work of the Spirit and refer you to John 3:8, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

Thar she blows. And now I'm going to go eat hot, gooey brownies.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Further Response to the "Deathly Ill Church" Letter

The Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer Oget has posted a wonderful response to the "Deathly Ill Church" letter, which you can find here:

About your invitation... (an exegetical RSVP to the "Deathly Ill" summons)

Also, my friend Ashon sent me a wonderful video of a pastor speaking about leading a small church to do the work we are called to by Christ. You can find it here on my pastor blog for Tiny Church.

Take heart. We're not dead yet.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Being Enough

Today's sermon is posted on the tiny church blog:

"Being Enough"

And delightfully, after several months of malfunction, our church website is back up: New Covenant Presbyterian Church 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

On a Lighter Note Perhaps

You can't say this blogpost didn't go places. The last two days have seen a minor uptick in visitors to this blog. People from 44 states have stopped by--a total of about 1300 visits from the U.S. alone. Stubbornly, the good people of North and South Dakota, Wyoming, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Hawaii have stayed away. But wow.

Hittin' the Ground Running: Saturday's Version

So the last 3 tweets from @JinPCUSA have catapulted this non-morning person out of bed:
Tall steeple letter exposes embarrassingly fragile psychology of victimization. #pcusa

The great divide is not between Christians/Muslims, conservatives/liberals, or believers/atheists, but between...

...but between the mature & impetuous, the expansive & narcissistic, the humane & the tribal. 
Pretty sure he and I disagree on some things, but his words remind me I got things to get done that needed to be done yesterday, and that denominational politics won't do a thing to get me ready for my tiny church's discernment group meeting tomorrow. Or write my sermon. Or read these books. So then.

Saturday's inspiration for you is two videos. One, an interview of the Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer Oget, speaking on using our power wisely. The other a video on the power of vulnerability, a talk given by Dr. Brené Brown. These two videos, taken seriously, might change everything.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Response to the "Deathly Ill Church" Letter

A few days ago I heard some buzz on Twitter and Facebook about a letter from some pastors in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA). People said it had showed up in my inbox, so I didn't pay any attention to the buzz--if the letter was meant for me, I would have received it, surely. And then a facebook friend posted the letter with the question, "what do you think of this?"

Here is a link to the complete letter, as published in the Presbyterian Outlook: "Pastors call for denomination to be “radically transformed”  I encourage you to go read the letter. I'm not going to excerpt it, I am simply responding, because apparently it was written to the whole denomination. But go to the link and read it.

My first response was rather strong.  All 45 signers on this letter are men. This doesn't mean that the letter has no merit, but it does mean that my first words were, "Please see yourselves out, boys."

The letter began with the greeting, "Brothers and Sisters in Christ." By itself that seems fairly innocuous, but I have been to my share of presbytery meetings over the last 15 years in 3 different presbyteries. When somebody begins a statement "Brothers and Sisters in Christ" or "My Esteemed Colleagues" or "Beloved Brethren" or any number of other endearments, the next words are bound to be something controversial--an insult disguised as concern, judgment clothed in love, an attempt to sugarcoat hard words. I've learned not to trust that greeting. I try hard not to use it.

The letter details the decline of our denomination (which is true of most mainline Christian denominations) over the last 40 years. And then it says this: "Homosexual ordination has been the flashpoint of controversy for the last 35 years. Yet, that issue — with endless, contentious “yes” and “no” votes — masks deeper, more important divisions within the PC(USA)." 

It is easy to get caught up in this statement--I just backspaced over two paragraphs of my thoughts on this. But I believe the reference to homosexuality is a distraction--similar to the distraction of collecting only male signatures. It is a distraction intended to rile up those of us on the liberal edges of the denomination, thus further alienating the center and making the point for these pastors. The reference to meeting with the leadership of Covenant Network is also a distraction--this letter is not at all in keeping with the vision and mission of Covenant Network (and they have not yet responded).

Presbyterian polity smooths out the difference between large churches and small churches in our denomination. Every pastor has one vote. Every congregation gets one vote. Additional elder votes are granted to larger churches. Occasionally we add additional elder commissioners to balance between elders and ministers of the word and sacrament. This grants to small churches political power disproportionate to their size. It's how we do it in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and I imagine it is very frustrating for those who lead large churches. The writers of that letter are not just entirely men, they are also pastors of very large churches, commanding impressive budgets. A few statistics about the churches whose pastors signed this letter:

The smallest congregation has 190 members and an annual budget of $375,000. The next smallest has 591 members with an annual budget of $1,071,980. Of the 43 churches represented (not counting Presbyterians for Renewal), the average membership is 2309 members with an average annual budget of $3,765, 269. (All my statistics came from the pcusa's online membership stats published for the year 2009. These numbers are self-reported by the churches themselves.)

The tiny church I serve has 25 members. Our annual budget is $50,000. That is one-tenth of the annual deficit of the large PCUSA church next door in 2009. I work on a 1/3 time salary with no benefits. We worship, we visit the sick, we eat together, we care for our building. We do not have a color copier--or even a copier contract. I picked up our current black & white from Staples on sale for $179. It sporadically allows me to print 2-sided.

I say this to acknowledge that this letter indeed was not meant for me. The people I serve do not wish to attend a church with 2309 members. We'd be real happy with 50, and we're working on a process to get ourselves there.

I'm not everybody's cup of tea as a pastor--honestly, how many people go church shopping and think "Gee, I'd love it if the pastor was a divorced, queer woman?" But I am a pastor who serves a community. And more broadly I am connected with people who would not step foot in a church, but who sense in my own oddness that I might understand their life.

Would I love to serve a tall steeple church? Well sure. There's great work there, a healthy salary and housing assistance. There's medical insurance, for Pete's sake. I'd love a color copier and a Sunday school bigger than 3. I'd love the energy that comes from a room full of hundreds of people all buzzing for Christ. But that's not where I've been called.

My response to my "Brothers and Sisters in Christ," who wish to be well rid of me in this denomination, is that you are free to go--I'm not holding you back. But I do not have words for my sorrow at your clear contempt for who I am and my ministry.

Since we have not yet passed the nFOG, may I draw your attention to G-4.0000, Chapter IV of our Book of Order, "The Church and Its Unity"? I know I'm not the first to point to this chapter, so why belabor the point? And I know we could go back and forth citing the Book of Order and the Confessions and Scripture, and I know that we would remain entrenched in our positions, regardless of how many times we called each other Brother or Sister in Christ's name.

What I am wondering is this: why are you holding the rest of the church responsible for the declines in your own memberships? Because when I looked at the membership gains and losses for the same period of 2009, the 43 churches attached to this letter declined by an average of 52 members that year, or 2%. Some gained, others lost, but you too are seeing the decline. I do not blame you for the losses in my own tiny church. It is not the responsibility of the tall steeple, more conservative church in the next township, that my own church is not growing. We have real concerns within our own fellowship and township we are attending to. But I don't blame you. I celebrate that a person who does not find God at my tiny church can go next door and perhaps encounter Her there. I have even shared table with the pastors from next door, although I'll admit it was a bit uneasy.

It's not that I begrudge you leaving. It's not that I think I'm righteously entitled to stay. It is the contempt and disrespect with which you choose to fire your warning shot. Let me offer an example from Twitter*:

A few weeks ago one of my Twitter followers tweeted an announcement: "I have drastically cut back on my followers and people I follow. If you can see this tweet, consider yourself lucky." Sure enough, I checked, and I was one of the people he had unfollowed. I then watched a dozen people tweet their relief to this guy, "Wow, thanks for keeping me in the in crowd". "Whew! Glad I made the cut!" Etc.  I unfollowed him, although we've had several good conversations over the last two years. But what I remember is that he felt the need to broadcast his disrespect for me--it wasn't enough to quietly let go and unfollow.

It was just a Twitter connection. This is just a church denomination. Most of you I have never met, you don't pay my rent, I don't bring you soup when you're sick. But I wonder at your need to make others feel small. And I think that might be the start of a good and healthy conversation, my Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

*And mea culpa. For in writing of this Twitter example, I have made another feel small. Remembering to pick at the log in my own eye is so dang hard.

A final update for those of you following this little drama: my Tweep and I made up and shook hands. A happy ending after all.  And dang if he wasn't incredibly gracious about it too.

Other responses to the letter:

"Future of the Church" by Cynthia Bolbach, Landon Whitsitt and Gradye Parsons

"Presbyterian Big Shots" by John Shuck 

A response from Presbyterian Voices for Justice

"From the Voice of a Young (and proud) Presbyterian" by Krista @ Rooted in Faith 

"For Such a Time as These" by Sean Chow 

GA Junkie's Analysis by Stephen Salyards