Tuesday, October 18, 2011

the class Calvinist: a historian's (?) dilemma.

In my (too many) years in higher education, I haven't yet been in an environment where I felt completely at home in the school's mainstream. I've already talked about that on this blog, with reference to Yale. I think it's somewhat true at my current school, too. But what I'm particularly thinking of is my Reformation class. I think part of the weirdness is that it is a history class, in the history department, so people are not necessarily asking theological questions all the time. I'm not sure how to negotiate that difference.

But, today, when we were discussing parts of Richard Baxter's A Christian Directory of Practical Divinity (a great text, by the way), I found the drift of the conversation really odd. Baxter was an English Puritan pastor, and in this work, he's advising pastors on how to care for church members who suffer from a "melancholic" personality. It's quite interesting reading. But the argument that got raised in class was, "Well, no wonder Protestants got depressed. Catholics can do something about their salvation, but when you're Protestant, it's all about your faith." There seemed to be a consensus that Protestantism (at least in the early generations of Reformers) is sort of gloomily introspective and subjective whereas Catholicism is concrete and active and good for the less theologically inclined common people.

I'm not sure if this has anything to do with the fact that I go to a Catholic university. Especially in the history department, one's personal affiliation doesn't get brought into discussion so much. But I still felt the pressure of being (as far as I know) the class's only Presbyterian, or at least known to my classmates as someone who's working on Reformed topics in my research. Obviously, I disagree with that sweeping assessment of Protestantism. One of the chief joys of my faith is that it is not purely subjective. It's not about my ability to believe in Christ, but about Him, and the means of grace given through Word and sacrament. And yes, there is a subjective aspect to my reception of those things. How could there not be? And why must that be bad? Ultimately, I know that it's not about me (or at least, that's the thing I am struggling to learn!).

I'm not making this post a Catholic versus Protestant thing, understand. I'm just thinking about the weirdness of my position -- like, to what degree is it appropriate for me to try to "defend" my faith in this particular context? Do I need to? The discussion was not, at least on the surface, about the theological validity of one position over the other. To be honest, my instinct is to try to let these things roll off my back because it isn't a context where apologetics feel appropriate (and I am bad at apologetics anyway. I can tell you about my faith, but if you expect tidy, well-thought-out argumentation, you'll be pretty disappointed; it isn't my gift). I don't think I have to feel offended or defensive.

Sometimes, it does get to me, I admit. More in a tiring way than an angering one. I dislike being forever on the defensive, and I don't think it's a very healthy posture. Sometimes, though, I wish I felt less like an odd,  half-mythical critter being studied as a historical curiosity, and more like a person who actually believes the stuff.

Don't get the impression that it's a hostile environment, because it isn't. And I bet I'd be surprised to learn who else feels that way, if from a slightly different standpoint. (And let's be honest, there's likely no learning environment that is fully "safe" in this way...)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

My Husband!

I just wanted to express a few words of appreciation for my wonderful husband this evening, as well as to give a promised update on some of his recent doings.
  • As of about a month ago, he is working part-time as an IT coordinator at our church. He seems to enjoy the position a great deal, as it's giving him a chance to develop his computer skills, work in an enjoyable environment, and balance out his schedule with something besides academia. I'm really proud of him -- and also very thankful this opportunity opened up at a point when we were hardly expecting it.
  • He is also taking the initial steps towards ordained ministry. There's still a lot that's up in the air about this, since he's not taking the traditional route that most ministers-in-training take. But I've seen him (and us, as a household) kind of growing in this direction over the past few years, so I'm excited for whatever the Lord may have for us in this area. I can really see him being a wonderful pastor as well as a professor!
  • He just turned 29. We had a quiet birthday celebration at home, per his request, though my main gift for him was very exciting... as it was a book titled Paradigms in Polity: Classic Readings in Reformed and Presbyterian Church Government, that should tell you something about our life!
He's really an amazing support for me. He knows how to help me talk through and prioritize when I'm feeling overwhelmed by school obligations, and he makes me feel loved no matter what. It's difficult to imagine how I would get through this without him. But whatever ends up happening career-wise for either of us, I'm happy we'll be navigating it together.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mary, marriage, and being Protestant...beginnings of thoughts.

I don't have any great insights here, but I've lately had a couple different occasions to think about Protestant women in history and what it means to be a Protestant woman today. And I'm using "Protestant" advisedly versus, say, "evangelical" or just "Christian."

For one, my husband recently participated in a men's retreat that focused on the masculinity of Jesus and in what ways it's applicable to Christian men today. I am not very familiar with the world of women's ministry, I admit. But much of what I've come across under the category of "biblical womanhood" takes Paul as the starting-point, and while that's good, I wonder if there are books out there, or if there've been retreats/conferences, that focus on women in the New Testament and how they are models for us (or not)? Specifically Mary. It seems one does hear a lot about Mary and Martha of Bethany, but I'm having a harder time calling to mind materials that focus on our Lord's mother. And actually, I think it would be very interesting to look at the figure of Mary from a particularly Protestant perspective, and how she might speak to our lives of faith. I don't doubt there is much that could be said (and perhaps has been). Like I said, I'm not familiar enough to know.

Of course, it's a little different because, well, no woman in Scripture lived her life without sin. But whether we're women or men, we have Christ to look to for that...

I won't say I don't have more questions about it all. This gender stuff does get complicated.


Speaking of, in seminar today, we were discussing Luther's writings on marriage and early modern views of gender more broadly construed. This is not my major period of study, but the recent "scholarly consensus" seems to be that the Protestant Reformation was a raw deal for the ladies. That is, the Reformers took away devotion to Mary and other female saints, and they got rid of convents, where women could exercise certain degrees of autonomy and leadership and had the choice not to marry and bear children. By contrast, the domestic household and Protestant churches offered relatively few options and leadership roles for women. Needless to say, I have some...quibbles with this thesis. Most of them, I suspect, wouldn't tend to be taken very seriously. And, as I said, this is not the era I primarily study, and I don't have the energy to do a big project on women in the early generations of Reformers. But it almost makes me wish I did.