Posted by: HAT | February 27, 2015

Abandonment Issues and Priorities

topos

Not how the church looks on a snow day

Hi, Gang!

Sorry about that. I so admire people who can teach a class and blog at the same time. I’m not one of them, evidently.

I was placed “under care” on Saturday – Presbyspeak for being admitted to the formal process of discerning a call to pastoral ministry.

It takes a long time and a lot of practice to be really good at anything. I have changed majors so many times in my life that I have not put in that kind of time and practice on any of them. That’s one kind of story, one kind of biographical plot. And here I am doing it again – same tune, different verse.

Because that is one of the things it is, maybe not the only one. Hopefully, I suppose, not the only one.

Here’s a factoid for this Friday: in 2013, there were 10,038 PC(USA) congregations; there were 12,461 active PC(USA) ministers. Not all of them serving churches, obviously.

Posted by: HAT | February 17, 2015

“Can I Get a Witness”

Hi, Gang!

The wedding took place – and was a lot of fun, lots of relatives came from out of town, people danced and had a wonderful time, and I suddenly realized a couple of days later that now I would need to check a different box when I answer questionnaires.

Class has started and I am boring and baffling the students, instead of engaging their bright, eager minds the way I do in my fantasy life. Grading is on the agenda. (Sigh.) Everything would be so much more fun without this.

Friday, preached at the Seminary for V-Week, on Matthew 27:55-61. So, here is the text of that sermon, “Can I Get a Witness.”

Posted by: HAT | January 21, 2015

The Personal is Still Political

Book cover, title Woman's Estate, Juliet Mitchell, red with image of woman's face

How I learned that the personal is political

Hi, Gang!

I am one of those old-fangled “2nd wave feminist” types. I came of age in the era of Mary Daly’s The Church and the Second Sex and then Beyond God the Father, and Juliet Mitchell’s Woman’s Estate, and Shulamith Firestone’s Dialectics of Sex. Back in those days, it was a huge deal whether one was a marxist feminist or a radical feminist or a lesbian separatist or merely liberal. Those fault lines were top of mind.

The discourse was too white.

The presuppositions were too middle class.

Whether it was not enough about sex, that I don’t know. It is not obvious to me that the compulsory “sex-positivity” of the “third wave” is not counter-revolutionary in almost all of its effects, if not in its intent. But then, I’m also a prude, so I always have to consider the source.

This makes facing the prospect of teaching Women and Religion, again, challenging. I am always aware of my obsolescence. In some ways, and they really are significant, the social-cultural-political situation for women, some women anyway, has changed. Whenever I see television news footage from the 60s, times I grew up in, I am struck by its homogeneous maleness. Because that’s not how press conferences and political gatherings and the graduating classes of the local Presbyterian seminary look these days. The “women’s experience” that “we” took for granted, the one of being presumed absent from everything in the world that counted, is not my 21st century students’ experience.

“Women’s experience” was never really as homogeneous as we thought it was in the 70s. I don’t complain that its diversity and complexity are what’s top of mind in this second decade of the 21st century. Nor do I complain that the meaning of the term “women,” rooted in discourse and discursive practices, is far less obvious than we pre-post-modern types used to think it was. I like that part.

What’s tough is that the new background of inclusion also masks the seriousness of what hasn’t changed. The two largest and most significant religious bodies in the world (Catholic Christianity and Islam) hold the divine origin of intrinsic gender “complementarity,” at the level of social function, as doctrinal orthodoxy. “Inclusive language” for God is still an uphill battle, one that the proponents are mostly losing as far as I can tell, and even inclusive language for humanity is a stretch for some religious groups. Rape culture is endemic and unquestioned, not least in religious circles. (I got to listen to a totally sincere and well-intentioned Christian praise team at an observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. day singing away about the Holy Spirit “invading” our hearts. I don’t suppose language like that offers any shelter to more human kinds of invasions, like into Middle Eastern countries, or into women’s bodies … do you? I could be over-analyzing. I don’t really think I am, though.) Whatever the discourse or discursive practices are these days that anchor the meaning of “woman” and “women,” it’s not obvious to me that they are predominantly the kind liberating ones we were hoping to compose decades ago.

So one of the challenges is to remember that, despite the old-hatness of a lot of what I know, it’s not all old-hat to my students. For them, a lot of it is new- and never-had-to-think-about-that-before-hat, still, or maybe, again. I always think I’m boring them by going over stuff they’ve already heard a million times. It’s such hard work to remind myself that I’m boring them for other reasons.

Posted by: HAT | January 18, 2015

2d Sunday in Ordinary Time

Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering the "I Have a Dream" speech at Lincoln Memorial

But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:24

Posted by: HAT | January 16, 2015

Shabbat Shalom 1.17.15

Image of a boy seated in the foreground with kipa and tunic holding a book, with table, including shabbat candles, behind him

“For where shall the likeness of God be found? There is no quality that space has in common with the essence of God. There is not enough freedom on the top of the mountain; there is not enough glory in the silence of the sea. Yet the likeness of God can be found in time, which is eternity in disguise.” Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, 16

Posted by: HAT | January 15, 2015

Narrative Construction

image of a painting of an old woman reading the Bible from 1904

“Formation” as another word for narrative construction

Hi, Gang!

Thinking this morning about how we – people – are created as people by the stories we tell, and that are told about us, and that we participate in telling about our world(s). Yes, I accept that narrative construction theory to a very large degree; it seems to me, thinking for a moment like a former research professional, that it has good explanatory power, and decent predictive power as well. We train ourselves to see the things we label, specifically as the things we label them as, with the various implications of that “as-ness,” for want of a better word. (Apples as spheres – when, when was the last time you saw a spherical apple; children as blessings from God, or little balls of chaos, or desperately desired and deeply loved affirmations of our womanly nature, or whatever; myself as the hero of my own personal narrative or the victim of my dysfunctional family or a good singer or a person with few real accomplishments or or or …)

Change the story, change the person.

I think it matters what stories we tell. What stories we tell to other people, about themselves and about us; what stories we tell about ourselves; what stories we tell about our world.

Not exactly saying that any story whatsoever can make itself true if enough people tell it long enough and eloquently enough. But something fairly close to that.

Posted by: HAT | January 14, 2015

Being Realistic

blindfolded figure atop a sphere holding a lyre

a classic depiction of Hope

Hi, Gang!

Finished reading the Introduction to Jürgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope last night.

It’s clear he’s using “utopian” in its pejorative sense, as something people can’t expect or hope to realize. He wants, I think, to assign all of the positive significance of the concept to “hope,” and “messianic expectation.” And while I like to keep “utopian” more positive than that, I feel I’m on his wavelength when he says things like this:

“Hope alone is to be called ‘realistic’, because it alone takes seriously the possibilities with which all reality is fraught. It does not take things as they happen to stand or to lie, but as progressing, moving things with possibilities of change.” and “Thus hopes and anticipations of the future are not a transfiguring glow superimposed upon a darkened existence, but are realistic ways of perceiving the scope of our real possibilities, and as such they set everything in motion and keep it in a state of change. Hope and the kind of thinking that goes with it consequently cannot submit to the reproach of being utopian, for they do not strive after things that have ‘no place’, but after things that have ‘no place as yet‘ but can acquire one.” [1]

Reciprocally, the attitude of taking “just the facts” is correspondingly unrealistic, and ironically “utopian” in Moltmann’s sense, since it denies the possibilities in the situation(s) in which we find ourselves concretely, assigning them to “no place.” Here, he is thinking in a line with Adorno and Adorno’s rejection of positivism, for the same reason – the insistence that how things are is the only way things can be.

Devastating critique of the essential inadequacy of “eternal present” ideology, which deserves more attention. Rejecting the notion that the “eternal present” is an adequate understanding of eternity, and that the immanence of being is the only place to seek understanding and life, is not the same thing as the kind of refusal to “accept” things that is such a problem in, for instance, 12-Step programs and family relationships. “Expectation makes life good, for in expectation man [sic] can accept his whole present and find joy not only in its joy but also in its sorrow, happiness not only in its happiness but also in its pain.” [2] Rather, as I read it, it’s a rejection of the kind of Heideggerian embrace of the ahistorical immanent now that wants to scour metaphysics out of our minds (and along with it, all being that is not, in actual fact, immobilized and dead).

____________________
[1] Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, trans. James W. Leitch (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1975), 25.
[2] Ibid., 32.

Posted by: HAT | January 13, 2015

Brief Observation on Fear

photo showing mural of man in suit and hat afraid of colors

Seriously, what’s to be afraid of?

Hi, Gang!

Had this thought this morning, a little randomly: everyone, even the most fearless, fears something. Because everyone does some of the things they do to avoid the [feared] consequences of not having done them. Or doesn’t do some of the things they don’t do to avoid the consequences of having done them.

So then the question becomes: who or what is it that a person fears in this way? Who or what am I afraid of, are you afraid of, are we afraid of, are they afraid of? Like, “Making Mom angry”? “Getting a bad grade in high school calculus and then not getting into Yale and then not getting a ‘good’ job and then living as a mediocrity for the rest of my life”? “Death”? “Being under someone else’s control instead of my own”? Being out of control? Or not being in control? Uncertainty? Other people? (a big one for me) The police? (maybe not a crazy one) Global climate change and environmental degradation and ultimate planetary catastrophe with its resultant chaos and dystopic social anomie? (another one of mine)

Because my guess is that who or what one fears, ultimately, makes at least as much difference in one’s life – activity, mental state, etc. – as who or what one loves.

Posted by: HAT | January 12, 2015

Feelin’ the Love?

painting of a woman with a blond child on her lap combing the child's hair

… like when Mom tries not to pull your hair …

Hi, Gang!

Our congregation was a little sideways of the liturgical calendar and our own customs this week, as I didn’t serve communion last Sunday (since I’m not authorized to do that) and I didn’t preach the Epiphany texts (because I loved Jeremiah more), so in worship it was Epiphany and in the multi-gen Sunday school class after worship it was Baptism of Jesus. [For the uninitiated, Epiphany is the holiday associated with the 3 Kings or the 3 Magi, text Matthew 2:1-12, and Baptism of Jesus is, well, Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, when either Jesus or John or everyone sees the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and hears a voice from heaven that says “You are my beloved in whom I am well pleased.”]

The emphasis in Sunday school was on the feeling of being “beloved.” We were supposed to write down our “achievements/accomplishments/successes” on a large sheet of paper, and talk about how people celebrate those, and talk about how/when we are celebrated just because we “are” – presumably birthdays count here, and we talked about things like “hey, let’s go get ice cream” and whether that is more parents celebrating children’s existence or parents just wanting to eat ice cream, and giving hugs and high-fives, and things like that. And at one point the question we were supposed to think about was “how does it or would it feel to know you are God’s ‘beloved?’”

I don’t know, but I am guessing that a more pertinent question would be “have you ever gotten the sense that you really are God’s ‘beloved’?” That is, not in the abstract way that 8-year-olds know the right answers to the questions in the children’s message, but in the way that, e.g., you notice you are not just learning how to ride a bike, you’re doing it.

Because I live with some people who I know love me, and who I’m pretty sure know I love them, and we know this because we tell each other so pretty frequently, and we also do things like pick up each others’ socks and sort each others’ mail and try to remember what they would want to get from the store even when we forget to tell them we’re going to stop there on the way home from work, that sort of thing. And even so, most days, I do not feel as good as it would be reasonable to feel knowing that these people love me, because on most days I am really thinking more about stuff on my to do list and how I wish I had gotten a little more sleep than I am thinking about how nice it is that I live with these people who love me. It’s not that the love isn’t there to feel, it’s that a lot of stuff gets in the way of noticing that I’m feeling it.

And that’s with people I can see, and hug.

If you take my point.

Posted by: HAT | January 11, 2015

Baptism of Jesus

The Baptism of Our Lord icon at Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent

The Baptism of Our Lord icon at Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent

Hi, Gang!

The Uniform Series International Bible Lesson for Christian Teaching lesson for this morning is John 17:6-21, in which Jesus says “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (v. 11) and “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” (v. 20-21)

The commentaries for the day for Sunday school teachers are all about Christian unity. Like, should we have denominations, and should the denominations split over things like marriage equality or is this against the explicit command of Jesus Christ. (This was one of the commentaries I know someone in the class will have read.)

It seems to me we (at least, the folks in my class; ok, I) have no clue what the speech in these verses means. I am one of those people who is supposed to know things, and mainly what I know is that I am completely baffled, as I am most of the time when I read the Gospel of John beyond the little snippets that get into the Revised Common Lectionary. This text is mysterious and obscure, and I wish more people would just admit it.

Assuming for the moment that Jesus actually said this or something like it, I really doubt that what “we” mean by “unity” is what Jesus was talking about here, and it’s not clear to me we have the adequate language to get a whole lot closer. I don’t think he is talking about agreement on doctrinal issues; I don’t think he is talking about organizational boundaries and policies; I don’t think he is talking about living arrangements or labels or church attendance or worship practices. Maybe he is talking about something like “the harmonious agreement of parts or elements into one united whole” or “the arrangement of parts into a homogeneous whole exhibiting oneness of purpose, thought, spirit, and style; the subordination of all parts to the general effect” that is aesthetic unity; or maybe he is talking about something like “singleness or constancy of purpose, action, etc.” that is dynamic, functional unity.

But honestly, I suspect that he is talking about something that is more mystical than that, less congenial to our everyday rational mode of thinking, and is more like whatever the reality is that from time to time produces the sense that, in one’s or the group’s thought, feeling and action a kind of acting-out of a larger self or narrative is taking place. (OK, so maybe I lied when I said we don’t have adequate language to get closer … since this enterprise of getting closer is almost the whole point of language … but I still don’t think this is really that close …)

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