Here & Not Yet: Rethinking Advent Days 11 – 15

It’s a proper New England winter outside, snow accumulating along brined pathways, the draft from my window at war with my clanking heater. Jonathan’s out for a walk, the novelty of pink cheeks and frozen noses still in tact. He arrived in New England just in time to experience  it at its worst best.

Day 11: Steadfast. Taken in July, when we first adopted our kittens!

Day 11: Steadfast. Taken in July, when we first adopted our kittens!

I’m not a fan of the end of the semester. Yes, it’s the bulging purple bags under my eyes and the sort of haze everyone is over finals, three papers suddenly seeming more insurmountable than they were three weeks ago. I love Christmas, i love being home – whether home is here or North Carolina – but i just don’t love goodbyes. And yet the end of the semester means i get to leave one family for another, reconnecting with people i said farewell to in September.

Day 12: Hope, given by the MHC North Carolina Alums who send us Carolinians care packages every exam season!

Day 12: Hope, given by the MHC North Carolina Alums who send us Carolinians care packages every exam season!

Advent makes the most sense to me, now. Not when i’m home with cocoa wrapped in Ghanain quilts and binging on Scandal, not when the carols are on while i’m tucking tape into the corner of the last present to be wrapped. No, Advent makes the most sense to me in this horrible tension, this waiting – the here of Mount Holyoke, the not-yet of Durham, the half-packed bags and room in disarray.

Day 13: Justice. Tibetan prayer flags, a gift from my brother Thom.

Day 13: Justice. Tibetan prayer flags, a gift from my brother Thom.

When i come back to Mount Holyoke in the fall, it will be the last semester i do this. The last time my home is stretched across state lines, the last time i feel uprooted twice over. For that, i will be grateful. I’ll have had four years of Advent, four years of here-and-not-yet.

Day 14: Gather. Not sure if Jonathan is doing the Great Thanksgiving or basking in the falling snow.

Day 14: Gather. Not sure if Jonathan is doing the Great Thanksgiving or basking in the falling snow.

But for now, i’m trying to stay focused and lost in the process all at once. Trying not to want too much stability because in six weeks i’ll be doing this whole thing again in reverse order.

Day 15: Rejoice. On I-84, due West.

Day 15: Rejoice. On I-84, due West.

I’m finishing this blog, 24 hours later, from a very-welcome hotel bed over a very-finished plate of Indian take-out. J and i have made it the first 500 miles southbound towards NC. I’m feeling less and less torn now, more focused on the miles and right turns and ensuring we have enough nutella to last through tomorrow. The tension between here-and-not-yet doesn’t feel quite so bad when on the road.

buy our book!

best thing: christmas music.

first advent photos

The Big League.

The run stretched from the fold of my knee to my ankle. I toppled out of the car, engine still purring, legs wobbling at their unaccustomed new altitude.

“Just stay in the car!” i craned my neck back at Jonathan, his fingers still thrumming on the wheel. He’d probably put NPR back on without me there. I’d been too nervous to listen to the latest exposé on Joy Division, or whatever.

The lady behind the Rite Aid counter gave me a perplexed once-over, my shimmery pink swath of a dress and elegantly messy bun a vision of out-of-place.

“Y’all carry tights?” i was practically yelping, in need of an inhaler but afraid to elevate my heart rate any more.

“Back row, near cosmetics.”

Heels clacking and eyes as wide as my eyeliner would let them, i flailed my way to the rear of the store. My salvation: rows on rows of Leggs silky-sheer. Five dollars later, i was doubled over in the dingy back bathroom struggling to pull a mess of nylon over my prickly legs. Hopping from foot to foot, i plucked off the ring my Grandmother had given me for my high school graduation, gingerly placing it on top of the toilet paper dispenser. As beautiful as the blue stone was, the beast was the reason for this four-inch-heels sprint through the drug store.

And there i was: legs in nylon knots, trying not to collapse into a hypoglycymic meltdown Rite Aid toilet stall, twenty minutes before the moment i’d been dreaming of since second-grade carreer day.

It was the night of the Talking Taboo book launch.

My book, the real book – not the Advanced Reader’s Copy – was tucked next to my vintage leopard-print coat in the car. I’d outlined in pencil the excerpts i would read, rehearsing with a hairbrush-as-microphone like i was still sixteen and auditioning for American Idol. I’d spent the afternoon slathering myself with hollywood mascara, not caring that i’d be overdressed because you only get one first book launch and this was the dress i felt the strongest in. Pink, effeminate, swishy, and tender. Not a congruent image to the ball-busting feminist ricocheting off the Rite Aid toilet stall walls, but just as much me as the foulmouthed bra-burner found on page 170.

I wound a stretch of scratchy toilet paper around my hand, dabbing at the smears in my foundation. Surrounded by flourescent lights and graying tiles, i stared myself square in my mirror-face. You can, you will, you have. I plucked up my Grandmother’s ring and smoothed down the faux-silk of my skirt.

Jonathan had turned NPR back on by the time i wobbled my way into the passenger seat. Graciously, he turned the volume off and gave me his best honey-you-can smile. With one hand on the wheel and one hand wrapped tightly around mine, he drove the final two miles to the Reality Center downtown.

“You got this, babe.” He’d donned a sport coat and khakis for me, never letting me be the only one overdressed again. In his pocket was a pen, one i’d use later to sign my first book.

“Do i have lipstick on my teeth?” i blurted. He shook his head. “And you’ve got my inhaler?” He tucked the red plastic next to the pen. “Okay, okay, let’s just take a second.” I envisioned myself on my yoga mat, drinking in oxygen as muscles popped with tension-release. Whispered a prayer of thanks, a prayer for confidence, a prayer of humility.

“Ready?”

“Ready.”

Half-wobbling, half-strutting, we made our way inside.

With the incredible Erin Lane, co-editor, her husband Rush and my own Jonathan at the event!

With the incredible Erin Lane, co-editor, her husband Rush, and my own Jonathan at the event!

current jam: ‘rise to me’ the decemberists.

best thing: signing mary’s book!!

buy my book!

How Do We Speak Against Shame?

This Friday, i’ll be sitting in my best blazer on a panel with some of the best womyn i know, talking about shame at Homegrown: North Carolina Women’s Preaching Festival 2013.

Talking Taboo is on the launchpad, y’all, on a catapult ride to a Mary Daly-esque outerplanet. (Or maybe that’s just my personal NASA-themed fantasy…) The books have shipped, and orders are coming in at local independent bookstores across the country so you can get your hands wrapped around our 40 essays dismantling taboos and reconstructing faith.

And somehow, as deliriously excited as i am to be in print, i’m also still kind of crapping my pants. My essay is, after all, entitled “Sex, Shame, and Scarred Knees.” It doesn’t take too much imagination to realize it is acutely personal and confrontational in one swath of five pages.

But that’s the whole point, for me, in talking about taboos: going for the gut, the personal jugular. I get so frustrated with academic hoopla that over-objectifies ideas and only wants to talk about problems as if they exist in this neutral universe. Like system problems exist outside of our own experiences.

It’s partly a feminism thing; i can only tell my story, and my story is a gradient of privileged (white, cisgendered, American citizen, middle class…) as is the stories of every thinker from Max Weber to Alice Walker. It’s also partly a theological thing; sitting in a stuffy room all day talking Christology is a necessary part of the learning curve, but it’s only relevant when we can embody what we discuss. Feminist/womanist theological ethics – my particular field – is a brilliant, needed, complicated, and an evolving facet to the study and practice of religion. But i still believe feminist theological ethics (or any conversation, really) matters most when we can implement what we talk about in the academy in to real life.

And real life can be some tough shit.

Tough, personal, painful shit. Like feeling isolated, marginalized, ridiculed for pushing back on heteronormative and sexist sexual ethics. Or thinking my body was too fat and too hairy and too imperfect to be lovable, even by its inhabitant.

It was not easy to write about my shame in any place other than my well-hidden cavern of angst and Kahlil Gibran quotes: my journal. My first twelve drafts or so were so externally-focused it felt more like a gender studies essay than a personal confrontation with taboo.

But i knew, i knew i was not the only person in the world who had struggled with the church’s perfectionistic teachings on human sexuality. And it was the thought of writing to younger me that made me be bold. If one – just one – pre-teen girl could crack open my story and heave a sigh of “it’s-not-just-me,” than my exposure would be worth it.

So on Friday, i’ll be talking about just that: how do we speak out against the shame that has silenced us?* I’m the first to say i’m no expert. Hell, my therapist would gladly tell you (were she not bound by HIPAA) i’m in a daily uphill slog against self-shaming. There’s no five-step plan that frees us for life from shame. It’s a systemic thing, shaming womyn for our sexuality (and you know, a million other things people of every gender are shamed for).

But the thing about systems is this: we’re all participants in the system, which means we all have the potential to disrupt the system’s power over us in our own narratives.

buy the book here!

best thing: flights home in less than 24 hours.

current jam: ‘eavesdrop’ the civil wars.

resources on shame, courage, and radical self-love: dr. brené brown’s TED talk & website,  audre lorde’s article “uses of the erotic,” wehappytrans* website.

*not a rhetorical question! how do you speak against shame? what barriers prevent you from speaking against shame?

The Relief of “I-Thought-It-Was-Just-Me”

There have been a slew of reasons why this blog – WanderingWrites – has remained vacant until now. But certainly one of the most life-giving reasons for my hiatus has been this group of energetic, electrifying, and eager young woman. It’s been a delight and a privilege working this summer at the Resource Center for Women & Ministry in the South and working behind-the-scenes with the (almost ready to publish!) Talking Taboo anthology. Here’s more about Courageous Conversations, reposted from the Talking Taboo website!

pre-order my book, talking taboo, here!

talking taboo

post by contributor elizabeth mcmanus

When Erin Lane, co-editor extraordinaire, asked me to submit an essay for the Talking Taboo collection, my first reaction was to leap-dance around my room to Whitney Houston.

My second reaction was spine-curling panic.

Panic, for two reasons. One: i had to choose a single taboo to write about, when the options before me filled a book three times over. And two: whatever i wrote about was going to go public. Something everyone from my favorite professor to my future in-laws could peruse.

I felt like i was about to do a strip tease for everyone i knew, and for everyone i didn’t. Rationally, i realized that the possibility of everyone i knew reading my essay was slim, but rationality isn’t my strong suit when Whitney Houston is at a decibal-shattering volume.

So i met with Erin. Armed with a plate full of Daisy Cakes…

View original post 572 more words

Raison d’Être.

In all the whirl of getting here, moving in, trying to remember to breathe, making friends, and figuring out how to cook dinner for myself without setting the flat alight, i hadn’t really paused to think about the ultimate purpose of my time here.

Studying Abroad.

I feel, now, that the Abroad part is normalizing. The map only made its way out of my pocket once today, and that wasn’t even really a necessity. More of a security blanket thing.

The Study part, however, just kicked into full gear. Classes began today and, as ever an enthusiastic student i might be, it’s kind of come out of nowhere. Mount Holyoke has so spoiled me in giving us the whole month of January off in addition to Christmas, so to be back in classes so soon is rather jolting. As is, you know, moving to a new country. I’m terribly excited to get going on my classes – they all seem engaging and involved – but i’m still not quite ready to put a hold on wander-the-streets-for-hours-without-plans-vacation-mode.

That is, i wasn’t ready. Until i explored the interior of New College, where all my Divinity and Biblical Studies courses take place.

IMG_1033 IMG_1036

As you can well see, it’s a stunning place. I confess i was nervous to bid farewell to my professors at MHC to whom i am quite close, but my lectures today were engaging and lively and i felt myself settling back into that comfortable Hermione niche. The books-were-my-first-love, perfectly-indented-notes feeling that comes when i’m scribbling down as many double-underlined ideas as possible. In some ways, being in the classroom is a relief. I may not know how to do Ceilidh dancing (yet) but i damn well know how to take exceptional notes with my preferred weapon of choice: a Pilot Precision V5 Black Ink Pen.

Easily what put me back in Hermione mode, though, had nothing to do with class.

And it had everything to do with my first-ever trip to the place where Hermione was written into existence by Her Royal Queen of the Majestic Universe, Jo Rowling. The Elephant House Café, after all my anguished and longing and unmitigated desires to visit, made its way onto my itinerary today.

IMG_1031

Needless to say, it was magic enough to kick my butt into gear. I only had time enough to buy a postcard, so i’ve not yet explored the Moaning Myrtle bathroom (where notes are written to JK all over the walls) or sat in her usual seat. But rest assured, i will soon enough!

current jam: ‘i will wait’ mumford & sons.

best thing: chicken with pesto & scm.

a loving encouragement: if you like the pictures, they are updated on the daily on instagram. perhaps in overdosing amounts. but, you know, castles.

 

Write Like Everything is at Stake: A Response to ‘The Pen is Mightier’ by Sarah Sentilles

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be truthful, gentle, and fearless.”

It’s no secret i have a great intellectual love affair with the writings of the Mahatma. Plastered on the cover of my notebooks are curlicued, hand-scripted quotes from his prolific works, laboriously detailed with ink and marker when preparing my school supplies for the semester. My study and subsequent commitment to a life led in nonviolent practice began with a sophomore English class study of Mahatma Gandhi’s life.

I don’t pretend the man was flawless, but i treasure his words. I treasure these words most when i am writing. Often i stare at the flickering cursor on a half-filled screen, repeating a mantra to myself: be truthful. be gentle. be fearless. Be unbridled by the possibility of failure. Be unafraid of honesty. Be loving. Be kind. Be fearless.

But sometimes, i’m not truthful enough with myself. I fret over participles, furrow my brow over clumsy phrasing – worrying my work will never be satisfactory enough. My stomach churns and i turn instead to making cups of tea or re-organizing the bookshelf. Tangible tasks that enable me to see an end. Clean, unperturbed by the messy process of discernment and requiring little courage. Sometimes the task of writing even a small term paper seems daunting, because i fear my own inadequacy will rob my ideas of their merit.

And yet, writing is an addiction. Writing for me is more than an academic requirement; it is a passion manifested in leather-bound journals tucked in all years of my life, photos infused with words scattered to the four winds of the internet. The torturous stomach clenching and tea-making is a ritual i thrust myself through in unending cycles of crumpled paper and tossed-out ideas, for no simpler reason than writing is what my life depends on. The way to make sense of a half-filled cup emptied by my Earl Grey consumption. The way to cope with the millions of burning words from the authors on my bookshelves. It’s a religion, it’s a way of coping with and being religious. It’s my sacrifice and my offering.

Though i do not know the path my life from hence will take, i am certain writing is central to the journey.

But the fact remains: women writers face an inordinate amount of sexism, bigotry, and misogyny in the publishing world. And women who write within religious spheres face a double-scrutiny of secular and sacred sexism. I recently stumbled across a brilliant piece by Sarah Sentilles on the Harvard Divinity School Bulletin entitled “The Pen is Mightier: Sexist Responses to Women Writing About Religion” (thanks to a tweet by my friend Erin Lane). I highly encourage you all to read the entire piece. In it, Dr. Sentilles articulates her frustration with sexist reviews of her most recent work, Breaking Up With God: A Love Story. She uses this personal example to engage in a critical conversation with the scope of sexism women writers have faced and continue to cope with:

“Unfortunately, this distrust of women’s words and the assumption that women do not know what they are talking about, no matter what their credentials or expertise or experience, are widespread in the literary establishment (though they are often coded as ‘reasoned critiques’). “

This distrust of the validity of women’s words isn’t news to me; i’ve been working to live into my feminist consciousness actively since that same sophomore English class in high school. I work for both the on-campus Speaking, Arguing, and Writing Center as well as for Women’s Voices Worldwide, a nonprofit that empowers women to use their voices most effectively within all spheres of communication, with particular attention to the double-standards women in public speaking face. My focus within my religion major is on gender and sexuality. My copy of Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father is a highlighter and post-it note war zone.

But more than all of these put together, i have to defend my arguments and theological ideas daily by virtue of my gender. I claim saying “mankind” excludes me based on my sex, and somehow i’m whining or “overthinking it.”If i speak with too much authority, i’m pushy or aggressive. If i’m meek or apologetic in my tone, my opinion is overlooked.

Despite my sometimes crippling self-doubt or imposter syndrome, i refuse to be too afraid to not say anything at all. I will not apologize for speaking my mind. This doesn’t make me perfect, or always right, or better than anyone else. It means i refuse to buy into the idea that i should sit tight and hope for the world to change all on its own. But, as one of my favorite feminist authors Audre Lorde, once wrote in her essay “Uses of the Erotic,” women so empowered are dangerous. The threats against us magnify when we refuse to comply with sexist standards.

Writing and speaking out when we are told we aren’t good enough to is the exact reason we should keep talking. Dr. Sentilles articulates that:

“Those who have written from the margins—feminist and womanist and liberation theologians, black critical theorists, postcolonial theorists—have always recognized the need to write as if their lives depend on it, because their lives often do. Words are world-creating and world-destroying; they can be used to liberate and to enslave.”

To write can be a way to dismantle the master’s house with tools the master never wanted us to have. As quoted by Dr. Sentilles, Mary Daly wrote “[t]he liberation of language is rooted in the liberation of ourselves.” We begin our deconstruction of internalized misogyny in utilizing our voices.

But what about the days when i never get past the tea-making? When the writing sits, untampered and untouched and unpublished, because i feel like it’s senseless or pointless or wrong? I don’t claim everything i write to be publish-able or even good. We all have to slug through the suck sometimes to make a breakthrough.

I’m not convinced, though, that my personal self-doubt is a symptom exclusively of a universal writing process. This very essay is not up for any kind of major publication par to Dr. Sentilles’ works, and yet her articulation about the faceless, sexist trolling of the internet and anger at unjust critiques resonated deeply with me. The writing process may be a freeing space,

“[b]ut what happens when your words are published? What happens when they are released into a sexist world, into a patriarchal culture in which reviewers and anonymous trolls have the power to frame how your writing is received? Writing this essay has been a powerfully liberating experience for me, but it is also terrifying. I was supported as a feminist when I was a student at Harvard Divinity School, but I was also disciplined for being a feminist, and I worry that I will be disciplined for writing this essay. I expect to be called whiny and strident and annoying and grating and hysterical and uninformed. I expect to be told I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

I so identify with everything she says here, from the trolls of the internet (i’ve been told i’m “too hot to be this smart” and i’ve been likened to a Nazi more times than i can count for saying patriarchy exists – because, apparently, calling out sexism as wrong is equivalent to mass genocide) to the simultaneous terror and liberation of writing. It’s almost meta, writing this, because as i do i wonder if the comments section will be filled with chastisement for talking about religion or gender.

In another portion of the article, Dr. Sentilles discusses how death threats have become normalized for women content creators on the internet. This past summer, one of my favorite vloggers, Laci Green, went offline for a few weeks because the police were investigating anonymous death threats that were sent to her accompanied by pictures of her apartment building. Laci, fortunately, is now back with a swing and fearlessly continuing to make her sex positive videos on YouTube. But the fact remains: she should never have been threatened like this in the first place.

Seeing what happened to Laci fills me with dread and hope. Dread that it happened. Hope that she persisted in putting content online despite the threats.

And ultimately, i have to chose to live in that space of hope. If i see only the bullying and violence women face, i miss the whole point of Dr. Sarah Sentilles’ article and Laci’s refusal to give up her online career. Right after Dr. Sentilles articulates her fear that she will be told she doesn’t know what she is talking about, she enumerates:

But I’m also hopeful that this essay will encourage people to engage in a conversation about what to do next, about how to respond concretely to sexism in the literary world—and to the sexism in our syllabi and on our reading lists for general exams, in the language of our liturgies and in the leadership structures of our communities and churches and synagogues and mosques. Because, really, when it comes right down to it, there isn’t much to argue with here. I am simply sharing data, stating facts. Facts that aren’t new. Facts that have been stated and restated for decades, for centuries.

I especially love the facet of conversation in responding to the sexism women writers (and content creators) face. In fact, it was this very prompting for a conversation that made me sit down and write this. I’m be-lieving i have something, as a young feminist and aspiring theologian, to contribute to this conversation. I’m choosing to not buy into imposter syndrome today.

Dr. Sentilles’ whole essay engages in the history of women writers, from Mary Ann Evans (a.k.a George Eliot) to today. Women have been coping with these double-standards in speaking and writing for as long as people have had voices, and the time has come for this conversation to radically grapple with the subtleties of such prejudice. For women who write about religion in particular, this has to occur in places wherein our faiths hinge: sacred spaces. Sacred places of worship, sacred places of conversation.

For, the fact remains: the work of feminism is not done. And, frankly, i don’t think there will be a time in my life when i look around and say “this is it, we’ve reached equilibrium.” But that is all the more reason to continue to try. To continue to write letters to the editors of magazines where reviewers use sexist language or the authorial staff is predominantly cisgendered men. To continue to engage in uncomfortable dialogue. And this means incorporating male-identified allies. It means educating ourselves and others in this transformative process. It means being in sisterhood with one another, in engaging critically with women writers and supporting one another as creative be-ings in a complicated world.

I think, for me, it means taking to heart the words scrawled on my Intro to Islam binder: “Be truthful, gentle, and fearless.”

Be truthful: expose the sexism, especially where it hurts. Be gentle: love yourself, even on the days when the critics are going for the jugular or the words just won’t come. Be fearless: write like everything is at stake, fierce in conviction.

best thing: work & the internship.

current jam: ‘shake it out’ florence + the machine

The Hancock Shaker Village (or, They Still Have Field Trips in College?)

As part of my work as a course mentor for a first-year seminar this semester and as part of the work required in being an unapologetic religion nerd, i went to the Hancock Shaker Village on Sunday. With one of my favorite professors. And the students of the class i’m mentoring for. And my roommate.

It was a day of downpouring rain and unadulterated field trip bliss.

Nestled in the fall-color-blossoming Berkshires, the City of Peace greeted us somewhat bleary-eyed around 10 in the morning. The day had promised us rain and a damp cold; the promise was fulfilled. Yet nothing could dampen our sense of adventure (to employ the cliché) so, lime green entrance stickers brazen and umbrellas at the ready, we began our sojourn around the village.

The Shakers, though still around today, flourished most in the 18th century under the leadership of Mother Ann Lee, or the Holy Mother Wisdom. She was perceived to be the second coming of Jesus Christ, and the message she and her pacifist followers proliferated was one of racial and gender equality, as well as communal living and celibacy. The community functioned on these foundational principles of communal living, hard work, and through valuing a female half of the divine. Known perhaps the best for their music, the Shakers gained their name from their distinctive style of dance – dance that was integral to their weekly worship.

After navigating our way through the white tents housing craft fair solicitors, we made it somewhat sopping into the Brick Dwelling which served as a dormitory for the Sisters and Brothers of Hancock (among other things!). In the basement were all the kitchen necessities for canning and cooking and general house-managing, and as we worked our way up the floors we came to see how this community functioned in their vision of utopia.

The bedroom on the bottom left above was trimmed with a vibrant yellow hue, true to the colors used in the Shaker’s heyday. I loved the color and the desire to live in a vibrant space – to me, these touches humanized the Shaker’s vision for a perfect world in a really accessible way.

While trekking about in the historic buildings, we had to wear these hilarious (and undoubtedly useful) blue booties to protect the floors. It gave us all the appearance of having smurf-feet.

After exploring the Brick Dwelling, we braved the downpour once again and trudged our way, through the slug and mud, to the round barn with the promise of baby animals. The barn itself was fascinating (even to me of the suburban/urban bent) with its trapdoors and more hygienic system for cow-milking.

(that’s the famous round barn on the left!)

 

Easily the best part, however, was the Discovery Room. Though perhaps designed to entertain children younger than we (like, way, way younger) a cluster of us squealed in delight at the display of dress-up clothes running along the rear wall. Within minutes, the independent ladies of Mount Holyoke were two-year-olds in the playroom and a life-size toy cow. Unapologetic nerds, remember.

(the roommate and i, in our usual garb)

we’re twenty years old. that’s a thing we are.

After the donning and un-donning of bonnets and aprons, we once again endured the rain and made our way to the meetinghouse. I don’t have any photos of the inside, because we were all too occupied learning Shaker dances and songs (unapologetic nerds!) and trying to keep all that is carnal at bay.

 

All in all, the rain only made the day more of a memorable endeavor and certainly kept us intrigued by all that the interior of the buildings could offer. The Shakers are particularly fascinating to me in part because they are the focus of my professor, but also because of their radical notions of gender equality so early on in American Religious History. They also were (and remain) one of the longest-running utopian communities in the states – and i would argue a key facet to their longevity was this inclusion and validation of women’s voices. Their relevance, bonnets and all, is inescapable when discussing gender and religious identity in America over time.

And besides, who doesn’t love a good field trip?

current jam: ‘babel’ mumford & sons. all. the. time.

best thing: 1 day, 1 hours, 25 minutes. breathe, rinse, repeat.

Why “Feminist” Theologies?

My coursework this semester has thus far been (a) curl-in-a-ball-of-anxiety overwhelmingly large in its stack of readings and paper-writings and (b) simultaneously the most exhilarating ride i’ve yet had academically at school. Considering how madly in love i am with Mount Holyoke – and that a certain religion class second semester my first year is what prompted many of my early blog posts – this is of weighted significance to me. There is never a way to do all of the reading expected of me (and never has been) unless i were to sacrifice all mealtimes and sleep, but discerning what is of the utmost priority has been excruciatingly difficult. I just really, really love it all. I truly feel the coursework i am doing now will directly apply to my thesis next year and, transitively, to the work i aspire to accomplish in the acquisition of a Ph.D. So this struggle to read it all out of unbridled love is a marvelous gift of a dilemma.

But something is still nagging at me.

Easily one of my favorite classes is a seminar entitled “Feminist Theologies,” taught by one of my most most most favorite professors to have ever graced academia. (For liturginerd friends, we just finished Texts of Terror by Phyllis Trible and are well on our way into Audre Lorde!). Presently, i am making my way through one of my favorite theological texts: Beyond God the Father by Mary Daly. To say i think Daly is one of the most critical, important, brilliant, and linguistically creative theologians of the twentieth century is a mild understatement. Though i have plenty of contentions with her work (as, i think, she would approve of considering the whole idea of a feminist space is one of lively discourse) i think her presence in the women’s movement and in the Church is fundamentally revolutionary.

And nothing speaks to me more of her relevance, even today, than this selection from “Chapter One: After the Death of God the Father,” first penned in 1973:

“The unfolding of God, then, is an event in which women participate as we participate in our own revolution. The process involves the creation of a new space, in which women are free to become who we are [ … ] The new space is always located ‘on the boundary.’ Its center is on the boundary of patriarchal institutions, such as churches, universities, national and international politics, families. Its center is the lives of women, whose experience of becoming changes the very meaning of center for us by putting it on the boundary of all that has been considered central. In many universities and seminaries, for example, the phenomenon of women’s studies is becoming widespread, and for many women involved this is the very heart of thought and action [ …] By contrast, many male administrators and faculty view ‘women’s studies’ as peripheral, even trivial …” (Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father, Beacon Press, Boston, 41). 

To me, this begs a question that is tugging at my heart: why does Mary Daly have to be qualified as a “feminist” theologian? Certainly more close to my heart, why is that i always feel i have to qualify that i want to study feminist theology in graduate school? I know that qualification is one i am in control of professing, but it feels necessary that i denote my interest is in the study of egalitarianism and struggles for subverting oppression within the canon of theology. And, at least for now, i think the best label is “feminist” theology.

But i can’t help but feel this is, in some way, buying into this marginalization Daly is critiquing. Sure, she’s writing about the academy within a framework of religious patriarchal oppression, but social structures exist because we all play a part within them.

And i truly feel that Mary Daly is a landmark theologian for her critiques of patriarchy, misogyny, and the marginalization of women in the Christian faith. These criticisms are no less revolutionary than Luther with his 95 theses articulating his frustrations with malpractices in the Catholic church of the sixteenth century. The parallel that both Daly and Luther were practicing Catholics is not one that i think ought to be lost on us, either.

And yet, Mary Daly is studied in a context of gender and religion, rather than the scope of all theological history because, apparently, her words only matter if you’re into that sort of thing. The fact of the matter is, though, that gender and sexuality are an inextricable part of our lives. Gender informs the way we interact with other humans, larger social institutions, and thus our faith (or lack thereof) in whatever tradition practiced/not practiced.

Isn’t this qualifier of “feminist” theologian boxing her in within the religious study of theology the precise way she is critiquing the academy for pushing the study of gender to the boundary?

To be fair, i’ve not taken theological courses at a Divinity School. I’ve not done a comprehensive study of all theological courses across the country or world. So maybe i’m railing against a system that is undergoing important and necessary change.

But even if i am utterly mistaken and, in fact, we’re all secretly reading our womanist and feminist and gender study readers by flashlight late into the theological evenings, that doesn’t change the point Daly is making. And that was forty years ago.

So is the feminist qualifier necessary? Does it mark the boundary of people of all gender identities fighting for an egalitarian space within the framework of larger social institutions? Or does it continue to marginalize such ideals to the boundary of mainstream discourse? Can feminism even be used inclusively, when Daly herself was intensely critiqued by her contemporary, Audre Lorde, for her lack of accounting for the experience of women of color?

current jam: “apertura” gustavo santaolalla

best thing: celebrations.

Reflections on the UGANDA 2012? Event

“Pain is an irrational thing, but there are practical and employable tactics we can use to work through it. But arresting one man is not going to ‘clean up’ the pain of an entire country – or an entire region, which is in East Africa.”

I said something to this effect two Wednesdays past at the aforementioned Uganda 2012 event. It was probably less cleverly phrased in actuality than in my memory, as i tend to be considerably more gawkish in person than when hidden behind a laptop keyboard – but the sentiment remains. The #Kony2012 campaign began as something building off of emotional energy – the ‘irrational’ side of human nature – rather than assessing the practical and logistical ways we, as Global North youth can empower and actualize Ugandans to work through the trauma of recovering from war. This isn’t to say empathy or compassion have no place in action (i argue they are at the core of all empowerment) but you cannot channel your emotions alone into a movement that could, via governmental policy, potentially impact the lives of thousands (if not millions) of people. Compassion is key, empathy is needed, but to act on emotion alone renders no progress.

Which is why we had gathered last week to talk about what we could do, beginning with a critical conversation concerning UGANDA in 2012. In this, my goal as the event coordinator and facilitator was two-fold: i wanted to engage in this discussion in a way that actualized and recognized Uganda without putting the “face” of the problem as a face of a man who has instigated incredible pain and travesty in the country – with full understanding that being able to have this very conversation meant i had to recognize the privilege i posses, as a white American university student with leisure time and the resources to learn more readily available to me. Secondly, i wanted us as a crew (whomever showed up) to leave the event feeling, if nothing else, to have learned enough to want to continue to seek bigger, harder questions.

I’d like to think i achieved my two aims.

We began the event with, well, yours truly, making an opening statement to something of this effect: You are all most welcome in this place.* We would like to begin by acknowledging that it is a privilege for us to be gathered in this space discussing these global concerns. Furthermore, as you have no doubt noticed from the title of this event, we are talking today about Uganda in 2012, not the internet-driven “Kony2012” campaign. To this end, this gathering is not intended in any way to attack Invisible Children, its affiliates, or supporters. We will be incorporating thoughts on the film into our conversation today, but we want to make an effort to give light to and engage in the complex history of Uganda and its peoples, not just the face of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The event itself today will be a little atypical in format; it is a panel-led conversation. Our panelists will make brief statements concerning their area of research, after which i will guide us all in a group discourse with key framework questions. I therefore invite you all to speak out and voice your opinions and questions but simultaneously encourage you to be respectful of all our fellow human beings in this space.

With my co-coordinators Professor Holly Hanson, chair of the MHC African & African-American Studies Department and Saran Sidime, one of my best friends and future Secretary-General of the UN. Photo by the lovely and talented Mohini Ufeli!

We then moved around the circle, as there were only 20 or so gathered, to introduce ourselves with reasons for coming. Some were required by their professor (but i like to think they found the time valuable nonetheless) and most others because they had seen the Kony 2012 film and wanted to know another perspective. It was the perfect size gathering; small enough that everyone could speak if they wanted – giving it a real conversational air – but not so small that people felt obligated to speak.

Photo by Mohini Ufeli, of Vocal Lens Photography.**

From there, some of the panelists gave an outline history of who the LRA are, why they came to be, and why supporting the UPDF (Uganda Police Defense Force, which is the Ugandan army) as a means of ending the war is not a viable political alternative. We talked of Archbishop John Baptist Odama and the religious leaders who slept on the streets with the night commuters and, transitively, of the attention given to the victimized children long prior to Invisible Children’s presence. The point was made that night commuting has ended, Joseph Kony is no longer in Uganda, and the real problem Uganda faces today is rebuilding a country recovering from a traumatic guerilla war. Such a dilemma is more psychological than anything else- and therefore more complex than the capture of one single person.

I could enumerate the rest of the conversation, but i feel it would be better if i instead recalled the highlights that stand out to me now, two weeks away from it. Most of all, amidst the conversations about what reintegration of child soldiers looks like and detailing the power of fair trade purchasing, i saw hope. I shy away from clichés as much as possible, but the frankness of such a feeling needs its proper name. The horror of war is, ultimately, an irrational thing. To attempt to hold the idea that human beings can enact such atrocities on one another is simultaneously terrifying and almost impossible. This is why IC is right to react to war – and why emotion-centered films are so effective in invigorating action within people. But to be lost is the sorrow is to lose sight of what a dear friend of mine, Dr. Fr. Emmanuel Katongole, often says: “lament is the heart of hope.”

Wanting justice isn’t a wrong thing to desire. But we have to critically examine what we mean by justice; does deploying more violence in the form of military action really mean justice will be brought forth? I think not. Claiming an American military action will end a war is such a limited way to view Uganda – and it loses sight of the most crucial aspect to healing: forgiveness. Having hope doesn’t mean covering town with posters of a criminal. Having hope means listening, processing, churning through ideas and making mistakes. Hope is the power of reconciliation, hope is what i saw when my peers knew that something was wrong with the documentary that rendered it, as one student put it, “impossible to have a rational reaction while watching the film because it is so emotionally manipulative.” They came anyway. Just because one film presented one skewed side didn’t mean they couldn’t seek out the questions on their own.

And ultimately, that is what we were left with. There isn’t a universal plan for action. Seeking peace isn’t as easy as a painted sign or letter to congress. And, to be totally fair, IC is stepping up their game in handling the critiques so well. I applaud them for that; i also must thank them for making such a controversial video. I say now as i said then: “let’s be real: we wouldn’t be gathered here to talk about Uganda 2012 today were it not for this internet buzz spawned by Invisible Children. On some level, we owe that to them.”

But peace is complex, and the first step in unraveling the complexity enough to see the knots as individual pieces rather than jumbled balls of yarn is understanding. Continuing to ask the questions, to dig deeper into history and read continually about on-the-ground information. If its purchasing power you want to employ, buy fair trade Ugandan products. Support micofinance outreach and loan to small business owners. But know that capitalism isn’t the ultimate truth to curing afflictions on this scale.

It has taken me considerably longer than i intended to write this blog post; in part, this is because i am in a musical and exams are encroaching closer than comfort prefers and, well, i do occasionally leave the internet in my wake whilst sitting outside and reading Dorothy Day. While i do feel slightly guilty for not talking sooner, i am glad i waited – because a few days ago, i stumbled across this gem via some friends met in Uganda:

I highly encourage you all to watch this video; it is a more community-focused mini-documentary on the need for a nonviolent resolution with the LRA. On a personal note, i have met almost all the people interviewed and have critically engaged in some wonderful, challenging, gut-wrenchingly-hard conversations concerning the meaning of forgiveness. It is a powerful film that serves as a beautiful counterpoint to the Kony campaign. Most of all, though, i think it says everything i just did but more eloquently, more directly, and from the people whose voices matter far more on the subject than my own.

current jam: “it gets better” fun. (i cannot stop listening to this song. just cannot.)

best thing: putnam goes up in less than a week! if you live in the valley, there’s a facebook event for you.

**photos by the lovely & talented mohini ufeli, of vocal lens photography! (go leave her & co-photographer, ify’s, facebook fan page some loving!)

* i realize i use this phrase with considerable frequency here with not context; it is something that was told to me over and over when in uganda. i mean it to offer that same hospitality, as much as i can in my smallness and via the internet.

thoughts in my head: collective concern

Reflections on my First In-Practicum Nonviolence Meeting

 Since arriving in Uganda I have been spending my days around the city of Kampala as you, dear reader, have come to learn. I’ve had a swell time trying Turkish cuisine (something I confess to not having anticipated doing while in Africa), seeing the new Pirates movie at the Garden City movie theatre, purchasing paintings and vintage dresses from thrift stores and craft markets, and generally being an adventuresome teenager with my newfound and oldfound friends. This kind of vacation mentality has really eased me into being in Uganda and given me necessary space to adjust, be a little homesick, and mostly to marvel at a true East African city.

But I did not travel halfway around the world for a big whopping vacation. And, believe me, I’ve enjoyed myself, but the time is approaching when the real work begins…and I cannot wait!

Today I had my first taste of MCC, what they stand for, whom they work with, what I’ll be doing in Kotido, and perhaps most especially, I attended my first real nonviolent planning meeting. It was the Annual General Meeting (AGM) for MCC and their partners, meaning that there were logistics covered (spending reports, clarifying transitions in staff, etc) but more importantly, there was an open discussion between the partners, office staff, Service Workers, Country Representatives (bosses of MCC Uganda, essentially), and all those affiliated with MCC Uganda around the central theme of nonviolence vs. violence.

As you might imagine, I was in a state of note-writing frenzy and intellectual bliss as these wonderful people shared their wisdom and insights. But this was so much more than my class last semester- for as profound as said academic venture was in exposing me to the writings of Gandhi, Bonhoeffer, Cleaver, and others, our discussions were always in the abstract. Sure, historical examples and scenarios were mentally played out, but at the end of the hour and fifteen minutes we each went on with our Mount Holyoke lives. And there is no badness in this; I am truly home in my snug Ivory Tower of MoHome.

But today- today was tangible. Real. Partners from various organizations that MCC endorses, funds, and supports were providing real-life examples of when nonviolence needed to be implemented. Real strategies and demands and questions were posed with the intent of truly implementing them. It was a sliver of what I imagine it must have been like to be a part of the American Apartheid struggle- a small sliver, but one nonetheless.

With the spike in fuel and food prices in Uganda as of late, there were a series of “demonstrations” in Kampala a few weeks ago. In part prompted, no doubt, by the Tunisian and Egyptian (etc) revolutions, Ugandans began walking to work to protest the high petrol prices. This idea, rooted in the same mentality with which blacks and allies applied in Montgomery during the Bus Boycott of the 1960s, had the workings of being a truly successful and effective nonviolent protest. But, as no group seems to have truly stepped up to the plate to teach and organize nonviolent methods of protests, these demonstrations turned into riots. This specifically was addressed, as well as problems within school beatings, domestic violence, and political corruption.

These are monstrously huge problems. But, as one partner said, Uganda is more than its political parties, more than its tribes, and most of all, more than its problems. And change begins with an internal decision- the act of choosing Love. Once this choice is made, we as a people (a universal people, folks, because this is absolutely applicable to American or Canadian or Indonesian or Whateverian culture too) must recognize some crucial aspects to the act of the choice.

For, in the choosing of Love there is an integral realization and acknowledgment of universal human rights. But, as another partner addressed, with our Rights come some major Responsibilities. Chief among these is discipline; the discipline to endure methods of violence, discipline to realize each human being is of worth and to therefore treat everyone as such, the discipline to realize that choosing Love is an every moment act.

Forgive the preach-y tone, but in this idea of the Constant Choice I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Thomas Merton from his (phenomenal!) essay Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant: “…love triumphs, at least in this life, not by eliminating evil once and for all but by resisting and overcoming it anew every day.” Choosing nonviolence takes a helluva lot of work. My mother is fond of quoting John Wesley, the (unintentional) founder of the Methodist church, and his belief that human beings are “morally depraved.”

In this vein the act of violence is therefore something gutteral, something insitinctive on an animalistic level. To me, violence is rooted in Hate, which itself is rooted in fear. This idea was thrown around a great deal today as well; children act out in school or domestic violence occurs because of instability, insecurity, distrust- the unknown and subsequent unnerved attitude making a deadly toxin of fear. When we are afraid, we are incapacitated. We are confined to only that which is tangible, and when what is tangible is pain and loss and volatility, we desperately try to escape, to acquire enough power to get the hell out of wherever we are. In this desperation we choose violence; out of fear of returning and desire to remain where we are we fight like hell to keep what ephemeral power we have acquired.

And so the vicious cycle rotates on.

But with the Choice comes the power to exit. Enter the concrete discussion today from people who support MCC, an organization that explicitly is dedicated to Peace and moral ends by moral means. Right in my little MCC brochure was written their Truth that acts of violence disregard the sanctity of human life and “is destructive and costly, and robs the poor of needed resources.”

Therefore, in order to build capacity (my new favorite phrase) one must create a space for nonviolent education among all people, but most especially the youth. If We from a young age can understand dually we have Rights and therefore Responsibilities, what is not possible?

With all of these concepts in a flurry around the discussion and, admittedly, in my splotchy-from-the-furious-writing-pace notes, I was not only in total brain-euphoria but refueled for the coming weeks. Because this is not an easy path, whether I agree with Wesleyan thought or not (I confess, I’m still working my way through that one). From this interfaith dialogue (did I mention the number of religions and denominations within Christianity that were represented peacefully? And that a Muslim man had an enriching and profound demand for nonviolent action and Love in the family and within marriage? Eat it, Islamaphobia!) I gleaned so many plans of action and the vocabulary to share with you, dearest reader.

In brief, the All-Inclusive We need:

1. Collective concern; the recognition and action upon the belief that every single human being, regardless of their Kinsey scale identity, race, religion, class, nationality, gender, age, or background are people of worth and therefore deserve more than sympathy. We deserve action, support, and Community.

2.  A space for nonviolent education.

3. To acknowledge that having Rights demands Responsibilities (thanks, Peter Parker!).

4. To admit that Fear is the ultimate root of violence; we fear what we do not understand, and out of instinct to glean power and disassociate we come to hate what we do not know. From this misunderstanding comes forth violence, which degrades and disempowers the perpurtrators as much as the victims.

5. Violence, when it occurs, must be identified explicitly as such.

6. To Choose and to Change begins with the individual.

So therein lies my summer manifesto; Laws to live by, rules to obey, and a space for me to disagree and agree and explore and wonder and question. I have so much to learn to do and to be disenchanted by and to find the marvelous of the Universe within.

And good grief, I am in for one uprooting and smashing and affirming and hard summer.

current jam: “hair” lady gaga

best thing in my life right now: the discovery of mars bars!

pages read in war & peace: okay, okay, none. but i am nearly done with me talk pretty one day by david sedaris and i started the pirate’s daughter by a wellesly prof. so, there.

marriage proposals: kind of one? he was yelling out the cab window blowing kisses, but i missed the actual word choice. so we’ll say none still…?

fantas consumed: 3