Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sink or swim.

The end of Thanksgiving break means that I'm living in the last days. Of the semester, that is. Nothing now stands between me and the looming judgment of final deadlines. Unfortunately, I seem to be battling a severe case of burnout.

Once I hit the right level of urgency, adrenaline will kick in, and I will start being productive. In the meantime, after weeks of thinking about it, I haven't mustered the will to start writing anything, feeling dead frightened at the prospect. I haven't convinced myself that I have anything worth saying on any of the topics, or that I've done enough or the right kind of research. All I know is that I don't want to face it all.

Man, I've learned a lot, but this semester has been such a struggle. I can't wait for it to be over.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

stuff I can't do

Lately, I've been especially wishing I had the ability to sew, or knit, or do something crafty with my hands. This is for a couple of reasons, besides the obvious awesomeness of being able to make clothes, gifts, and other cute and useful items by myself.

One reason is that it would let me get out of my head a little bit. I spend around 10 hours a day inundated with text, and virtually all my interests and abilities are somehow cerebral. It would be so nice to use a different part of my brain for once!

Another is more mundane: if I carried knitting projects with me everywhere, it would help smooth over many an awkward social encounter. Imagine being able to focus on knitting something, instead of worrying about where to focus my eyes or what to do with my hands during a casual conversation! It sounds liberating.

However, I am  not too hopeful about a sudden gift for needlework manifesting itself. I'm not sure if it's the fine motor skills or my poor spatial reasoning ability, but every attempt to learn sewing has proven a tangled failure. If you hand me a needle and thread, I immediately become clumsy and bewildered. No matter how carefully I watch what's demonstrated, I can't seem to replicate the steps myself. Until eleventh grade physics, my worst grades in school were in classes requiring me to make stuff out of fabric or wood. If I were a frontier woman or Amish, how would I survive?

So, I am definitely NOT making an appeal to family and friends who possess this enviable talent to attempt to teach me. I'd much rather save us both the agony.

In the meantime, maybe I'll discover some pleasantly non-intellectual hobby soon. As much as I'd love to think I could excel at something besides words, it doesn't have to be something I'm remarkably good at. Just something I could enjoy. If you have any ideas, let me know. I will probably be reading.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Women in Theological Studies: Some Honest Questions

I'm a little nervous about writing this...but, darn it, it's been bugging me. I've been sitting on this post for several days, thinking how best to articulate it.

It isn't something I've encountered face-to-face, but in the corners of the internet I frequent, I've occasionally run into an attitude that's something like this: A woman doesn't need to pursue an advanced degree in Theology in order to teach children and other women.

I can't tell if this is somewhat misogynistic, simply an ill-considered remark, or if it may have a grain of truth.

It seems there are two issues here.

First, if my primary calling is going to be in the home, with children, why go through all this higher education? It's an awful lot of time and energy spent that could well turn out to have been wasted. But, it seems to me that, if you go down this route, it isn't too long before you hit the question, "Why should a woman bother to be educated at all?" Even if you concede that a basic liberal arts education helps make her a well-rounded human being (and I am very much a proponent of reading/learning for its own sake, degrees or no), it takes for granted that she will never be called to exercise gifts outside of the domestic setting. (Or that, far more practically, circumstances may force her to help support her family financially, whether that is her preference or not.) Presumably, even if she puts her career on hold while her children are small (something I would be nothing but grateful to have the opportunity to do), she will not need to devote most of her waking hours to them for the rest of her life. There may be other vocations alongside of or joined to her work in the home.

Second, the issue of theological education.

Lately, I've felt like I go to bat for my tradition every day in my graduate department, and sometimes feel a bit kicked around for belonging to that tradition. And I talk all the time about wanting my scholarship to be devoted to the service of the church and in submission to it. So, I've assumed that when push comes to shove, when I'm on the job market, my denomination/etc. will have my back. But occasionally I wonder if there is really a place for me, as someone who will never be ordained, to have a call to teach theological subjects. I wonder if, even if no one is ever hostile to my training, even nothing but admiring, they'll admit that there is no natural place for a woman with my resume within the tradition. And maybe there isn't. And maybe that's right.

Maybe theological teaching, even on the undergraduate level, is best left to the ordained officers of the church. I can see how there may be a case for this. If I sought jobs in institutions closer to my own confession, my guess is (I don't know for sure) that this is what I would run into. If I'm open to working at a more broadly evangelical institution, like my husband's alma mater (and I see that as a good, live option...except, would I be subject to the discipline and accountability of the church in any concrete way in that scenario? another question...), then it might be less of an issue. As far as what I can do on the local church and denominational level throughout my career, though, will it have to be mostly circumscribed to women's ministry? (And please know that I am not knocking women's ministry. It's just not a world that is familiar to me -- though that's changing -- much less something I am trained for. I'm not even all that interested in studying "women's issues" in my graduate research!)

In short, the question I am asking is: Is there really a place for conservative/traditional/confessional women in theological academia? I am a product of environments where this was not an issue, and I chose to sink years of training into this path without imagining that a scenario would come up where that would be called into question. Now that I am in a position where I can foresee it being an issue, even if only in isolated circumstances, I am struggling with how to think about it.

Maybe it's entitlement and pride talking. I am quite aware of entitlement as one of my pitfalls; the attitude that, just because I've worked hard for something, means I "deserve" the kind of position and sphere of influence I've envisioned for myself. I don't think that's a correct attitude with which to approach any service to the church. So if what I end up doing looks quite different from being on faculty at a Christian college, I want to be gladly open to that. (I mean, heck, these particular issues aside, there is no guarantee that I will end up doing the kind of work I envision. Zero. There are few jobs and MANY gifted young scholars who are more accomplished than me.) Besides, as I have said before, what I am most excited about doing is writing...and that's not contingent upon my being hired anywhere.

I really do believe in God's sovereign plan, that when he put me on this path (long before I imagined I'd end up Reformed!), there was a specific reason. (And I don't think I've made flagrant errors in discernment by doing what I'm doing.) And I believe that what we do for Him isn't wasted. Even if we never have results that look successful by worldly standards, it won't have been wasted. Ultimately, it's all for His glory, not mine.

I don't think that venting about such things on the internet is necessarily the most fruitful way to seek answers. So I'm open to carrying on this discussion "off-blog," in fact hopeful that will be the case. In the meantime, I hope it's clear that these thoughts are offered in humility. I write this not as a challenge, but a sincere (if slightly anxious) inquiry. I honestly can't imagine a part of the church I could more joyfully, unreservedly be a part of.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


When I was a little girl, I wanted to be Amish. I think it had a lot to do with the clothes--I loved the dresses and headcoverings (I still think the traditional caps are pretty). It also had to do with Little House on the Prairie and my ardent conviction that I had been born about 120 years past my time.

When I got older, high school and maybe a bit into college, I developed an interest in actual Anabaptist theology and wondered if the answer to my denominational confusion perhaps lay in the Mennonite church. I never pursued that, however, and eventually realized that this was just another form of the same romantic view of the Amish and "plain" lifestyle I'd had as a kid.

Even though I'm now happy not to be Amish, I was intrigued to stumble across this blog in the past week. What's as interesting as the author's Amish background is the narrative arc, rather unusual for a blog. You can't jump straight to the story of how she and her husband eventually left the Amish community,  no matter how impatient you are to find out why. (I suppose one could, but the post titles don't always make it obvious what she's going to talk about; and each time I've tried to skip to "the meaty stuff," I've felt mildly rebuked...!) Most entries recount some memory of her upbringing, roughly chronological but not rigidly so. While she occasionally does posts responding to direct questions about the Amish, I think that to truly appreciate the blog, it's best to start at the beginning and gradually work your way forward. Which is what I've been doing, a little bit at a time, over the past few evenings.

Anyway, I share the link because I figured some of my friends might be interested. Needless to say, it's a departure from the somewhat haphazard, distractible way I usually read the internet! It helps that she's a good writer. Though she clearly had reasons for leaving her childhood faith, she writes so warmly of her upbringing, without idealizing it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Theology Thursday: Dwelling in Christ's Wounds

I had the notion that, once a week or so, I might share a quotation from something I've been reading-- something that's especially touched my heart as well as my mind. I'm sure I won't be at all consistent about this, and that, on the weeks I do manage to post something, half the time it will not actually be Thursday! At any rate, I'll keep you guessing. :-)


This week, I've been reading some of the sermons of Samuel Rutherford (1600ish-1661), a Scottish Presbyterian minister. If you are not familiar with Rutherford's writings, you should be! But I'll leave you to Google if you are so inclined. For now, an excerpt from his 1630 sermon, "Christ and the Dove's Heavenly Salutations," preached at the little parish of Anwoth, in the southwest of Scotland.

Rutherford is preaching on Song of Solomon 2:14: "O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely."
Allegorically, he interprets the dove as the church (us), and the clefts of the rock as the wounds of Christ, in which we dwell by faith:

God has made holes and windows in Christ that his Doves may flee into, and make their nest in his Heart. O Dear and Precious Dwelling; The Lodging cost us nothing, yet we are desired to dwell in it. Now what is Christ's Petition? Cause Me to hear thy Voice. It's ordinary for man to beg from God, for we be but his beggars; but it is a miracle to see God beg at man; yet here is the Potter begging from the clay; the Saviour seeking from sinners. [What does he ask?] It must be some Great Thing; it is even a sight of his Bride; He is even saying to her, "My dear Spouse, be kind to Me, let me see thy Face; be not [bashful] and wavering; be plain with me, your Husband; tell me all your mind in Prayer, I delight to hear your lisping and hisping and speaking to me in Prayer." Ye may see all the wooing comes on Christ's side of it; she cannot hold up her face, or let one love-blink on Christ, but as He commands her, and wakens her up...

Have you ever thought of yourself as dwelling in Jesus' heart? Or that he passionately delights to look on you and hear your prayers? Rutherford portrays Christ as being the one who "woos" us, who longs for us and pursues us, before we have the ability to cling to Him, or even lift our eyes to Him.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

academic growing pains

It's been awhile since I've written anything on here, I know. It's not because things haven't been happening, but because I can't think of too many different ways to say, "This semester is really difficult and I want it to be over." Especially ways that don't sound like bitterness and whining.

While I couldn't have imagined saying it even last year, I am tired of coursework. Syllabi no longer excite me as they did for so many semesters of my academic life. Rather than possibility, they've come to represent long lists of obligations, imposed by someone else, that will require me to expend energy in multiple directions instead of settling down to one or two big tasks. This semester I'm learning that not every professor understands what realistic demands look like. Others are more merciful, actually suspending class for a month so that you can devote the additional hours to producing a publishable paper. For the latter type, I'm quite grateful. Either way, I am looking forward to being out from under such direct guidance.

I also look forward to not having to show up for seminars each week. Nothing else drains me quite like struggling to articulate things to contribute to discussion, fighting for opportunities to actually say them, and then the letdown when I haven't been well understood. Sometimes the atmosphere is truly collegial, and I have gotten better at navigating these things, but often it's a pain, with more anxiety poured into it than turns out to have been remotely worth it. I also find myself disagreeing with one or two of my professors more than usual, which isn't a bad thing in itself, but produces its own form of angst that I haven't enjoyed putting up with on a weekly basis.

I'm not as unhappy as this probably makes it sound. (Though I do have at least one meltdown each week. Especially Sundays; Sundays are bad.) I'm just coming to the realization that I have to write approximately 60 pages in a little more than a month, which would feel impossible enough if two of my classes weren't asking for additional work in the meantime. And it's not the writing I dread; it's figuring out what any of these papers are actually about that's the hard part. Not to mention reading 20+ books by April, well enough that I can pass an examination on them, so that I can be officially liberated from the coursework phase of my program. But I probably won't have the luxury of panicking about that until Christmas break...