Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Cult of True Feminism

I've only had one formal class that would fall into the category of women's studies. My college offers a minor in it, but it's one I haven't bothered to get into. And my one "women's studies" class -- Feminist Theology. (Taught by an incredible professor who's now at Vandy.) Now, this wasn't a conversion experience for me. I had already moved through my initial childhood recognition that girls were treated differently from boys, through a pathetic teenage period of resentful resignation, developing into an angry young "why yes, I am a feminist, and you need to hear that word more often" type at the end of high school. But I was a self-taught feminist, and I basically still am. So my first encounter with formal feminism was, shall we say, interesting.

The first text we read was Mary Daly's Beyond God the Father. In many respects I see why it's an important book -- someone had to point out that "if god is male, then male is god." However, I personally felt that the trying to read Daly was like chewing on broken glass, and I'm very hesitant to say that just because having God as Father as the ONLY image of God is detrimental, that there is anything ontologically wrong with the image of God as Father -- it just should not be the exclusive image.

And then there was the issue of experience. It just didn't fit. Not because I had managed to sidestep the patriarchy. I most haven't. But I did miss the patriarchy specific to upper-middle class white America. Lower-middle, working class rural white America patriarchy is different enough, throw in that I was constantly moving back and forth between the patriarchy of fundamentalist Christianity and a family where, oddly enough, women are less restricted in terms of what they can do than are the men due the family patriarchy. (Thank you, Great-Aunts!) So yeah, things just didn't fit. (And often I felt like grabbing one especially talkative and WASPy chick, shaking her, and screaming -- you do not speak for me!) Then we read Ada-Marie Isasai-Diaz's Mujerista Theology, and I was a much happier little thing. Even happier when we got to Sallie McFague -- I likes the high theology. Finally, the course led around to Kwok Pui-lan and Postcolonial Theology, and I liked that even more. (There was a method to the Prof's starting us out on Daly. Chewing glass does help one cut teeth quickly, I suppose.)

At first though, it seemed to me that the Cult of True Womanhood had only been replaced by a Cult of True Feminism. Some ideal-type was in the works dictating what you were supposed to believe, how you were supposed to think, and even what type of experiences you were supposed to have under your belt. And if you didn't live up to that ideal-type, too bad, you just weren't enough of a feminist.

I discovered the Feminist Blogosphere a few months later. I found it fascinating. So many different opinions -- not even necessarily ones I agreed with all the time, but one's that certainly made me think which is why I read. And, I've somehow always managed to miss the central battles of the Feminist Blog wars -- probably because I'm not too faithful about reading comments, but it does seem to be a case from the periphery that some Cult of True Feminism is at work in some sectors deciding who is and who isn't enough of a feminist. And my response to that is the same thing I thought back in class: well, that's silly now, isn't it?

A link

Where Will You Stand?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

An Anniversary Post

This is be the 100th post here at Lost in the Underground. I feel like I should say something profound to mark the occasion.

That is all. You may now return to your regularly scheduled thoughts. ;)

(p.s. I drink my soymilk from Central BBQ glasses with the happy hog.)

An Unfortunately Visible Monster

I'm feeling pretty guilty about the amount of driving that I'm doing this summer, but their isn't much to be done about it. At least until the summer classes I'm taking are over, then I'll work on walking to the grocery. Right now, I just don't have time for round trips of at least an hour a half there and back -- according to Google maps it's about a 2 mile walk -- very doable and not an unpleasant walk thanks to tree growth in Midtown, but you need more time than I have between class and work.

My pathetic attempt at relieving guilt is this. I have forsworn the AC in my car, and I am driving around Memphis with the windows down. Yes, I will get every last mile out of that bleeding expensive gasoline.

However, I have found that driving through the city of Memphis with the windows down as an unaccompanied female is apparently an open invitation for the dregs of the Memphis populace to shout lewd comments of a sexually based nature at one. This behavior leaves me bumfuzzled and quite annoyed. It's such a nice addition to my day, to be referred to as some bit of meat, or I think the term I used in a prior post was woman-matter. And, yeah, I've been honked at and yelled at before on walks in city, but for some reason today's just was too much.

And you know, what makes me the maddest is there is very little I can do to stop random people from looking at me as some sort of object intended for their pleasure. I'm boyish already, I don't wear particularly risque clothing anyway and today I was in a regular t-shirt (not that skimpier clothing would be an excuse for street harassers), what is this? (Mind you, I shouldn't be surprised, I've also been hit on when I swear on the Bible I might as well have been in drag.) More "modest" -- in the conservative religion sense of the word -- clothing wouldn't do any good either and in fact might make the situation worse as long, full skirts and feminine tops would just more obviously mark me as someone crammed into the category of female and therefore intended, by some cosmic power, to gratify the male gaze. Perhaps, I could buy some wide Ace Bandages and tape down what little chest I have to begin with, have my hair cut into something that's traditionally masculine, continue wearing the same clothes I do now and see what happens? I could, but I won't, and I should not have to in order to drive or walk around in peace. I also just finished up Chuck Palahniuk's Invisible Monsters -- but that idea is even madder. Yet, somewhere in the back of my mind it makes sense, a radical break from categorization is what I need.

I don't have an ornery streak.

All the summer residents at my college received a little reminder e-mail today. If we are members of a fraternity or sorority we are not to wear our letters during the lovely summer orientation programs the college is holding for which they forces us into a dorm without a kitchen for the summer. (No, I'm not bitter. I just want to be able to cook.) The first thought that popped into my head was -- hey, I could make up a sorority and wear letters just to see what would happen!

By the by, ornery is a fun word to say!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Or follow up to the what religion am I anyway post.

The top five religions for me according to Beliefnet's quiz thingy -- which is actually quite flawed, if you ask me, because I'm not quite any of the answers they have.

1. Unitarian Universalist 100%
2. Mahayana Buddhism 96%
3. Neo-Pagan 89%
4. Liberal Quakers 85%
5. New Age 83%

But I want to run away and become a whirling dervish! (No, I am being serious.) And while Mahayana Buddhism is quite nice in many respects, I've found myself to be far more attracted to Tibetan Buddhism. Meditating on bodies decomposing in boneyards, collapsing false dichotomies -- yeah! Hmm, maybe that can be my next project after I get perfecting the gender deconstruction in early Christianity out of the way.

And well, I would take their spirituality quiz, but the division of answers in the first questions already had me feeling claustrophobic.

I don't want to start any blasphemous rumors...

So, apparently this weekend is Father's Day, a fact I had nicely been managing to repress overlook until today, when I was bluntly reminded twice. Probably helped that I have had neither the time to the inclination to watch television much and be bombarded with ads reminding me how much Dads love a gift from Best Buy.

I saw one of my friends in the UofM parking lot and stopped to chat. (I was in no rush to get to my class.) I asked her if she was doing anything on Saturday, and she said she didn't know, since it was Father's Day this weekend she'd need to spend sometime with her stepdad. I apologized and mentioned that I did my best to pay no attention to Father's Day.

One of the supervisors stopped in at work just now and asked me if I had my schedule for the weekend figured out and if I was going home. I said that I did, I'm only taking Saturday off and will be in to work on Sunday, and I wasn't planning to go home. (I had yet again successfully pushed it into the back of my corner of my cranial cavity that Sunday is Father's Day.) He commented something along the line of "oh, you're not going home for Father's Day." And, unlike my friend, my supervisor doesn't know the back story. So hear we are again. I paused a moment and resorted to my blunt cynicism, "My dad died five years ago, so there's not much of a point." (Actually, we're less than two months away from six, but I'm not so good with dates.) Whereupon I promptly get the awkward pause and the genuine but still awkward, "sorry, I didn't know."

Yeah. Six years. And I'm still not good at handling that with new people. Since I'm young, people assume that my father's still alive. After all, most Americans are still kicking at age 51. It made the first semester of Russian fun. We hadn't learned how to conjugate past tense forms yet, and language textbooks are obsessed with having students talk about their families. The main two Russian professors now know the story and don't ask me direct questions about my father. And I know past tense now, so I don't have to stare blankly and try to decide how to answer. But since we've been getting TAs, at some point it comes up. Or with A. multiple times, cause he kept forgetting.

And of course, Father's Day is a week away from his birthday and falls at roughly the same time he started the chemo treatments that killed him. (Correctly administered chemo is bad enough -- overdoses do funny things to human body.) It's why I hate summers because my brain learned to associate heat and humidity with the plethora of shit of that happened in summer 2001. With all the lies from people who aren't supposed to lie to you, and all the fuck ups from people who are supposedly among the best in their field, and all the idiots who thought I gave a damn if god just wanted him home.

And, frankly, because you knew this would have to take a theological bent, this is why I fly off the handle with persons who try to say that the problem of evil doesn't actually exist. Cause it does: there is pain, there is suffering, and I'll be damned if I can tell you the reason why. This is why nutters who say women don't need to speak in church because they can just ask their husbands or fathers at home get a particularly catty response from me. And this is why I have no patience with people who freak out because of mass tragedies that do not directly affect them. Cause if your sense of immortality is only interrupted by the 24 hour news channel, my god, you are one lucky bastard!

And then there are the people who innocently bumble into reopening old wounds. And I just don't know what to say to them.

The return of the snark-o-saurus!

So, when I was a small child, I wanted nothing more than to be an archaeologist. I drove my mother up wall bringing home books from the library with incredibly long and unpronounceable names. Carbon dating. Layers. Depressions in the earth. How to read signs from crops that a wall might be buried under that field. Oh yeah. I was growing up surrounded by a family with a scientific bent, stacks of National Geographics from my grandparents longstanding subscription, and the Discover magazines that my dad never through out. My adopted grandfather, Bracey, had cable and taped me all of a six hour or longer mini-series about dinosaurs. And, better yet, since Tennessee was once under the sea there were tons of little sea creature fossils just waiting in the back pastures for me to dig them up and tote them back home with me. And arrowheads and other fun things. The foundations remaining from the houses of early European settlers in the 'Shire. Ah, these were happy times.

And at some point, I realized that the Bible didn't mention any dinosaurs. (How I loved my menagerie of plastic dinos!) And the first chapter of Genesis disagreed with my science for kids book. So, I did what I normally did when I came across a situation like that -- I asked my dad. Who patiently explained to me the concept of a metaphor and how "day" in Genesis one doesn't have to be read as a literal day, simply as an unspecified unit of time. So, it wasn't that either book was wrong -- there were just just two different ways of describing how the earth as we know it today came to be. So, basically, I've never quite understood the push to believe the earth was created in six, literal, 24 hour days. I also have never quite grasped why the idea of evolution should be seen as hostile to concept of a god. And I will flat out state that Intelligent Design, as currently formulated by the big boys of the Religious Right, is bad theology.

So, I've been watching the reaction to the "Creation Museum" in Kentucky with great fascination. I stumbled upon a post with many a great detail in the blog BlueGrassRoots from a link in Theology and Geometry. Oh my. Incest was okay for Cain and the other youngins back in the day because their weren't as many harmful mutations in the human gene pool? And this is nitpicky, but I have trouble believing any organization who thinks that 1 in 3 equals 30%. Yes, I understand that 33.3 repeating is a bit awkward, but rounding there should be done to 33% thank you very much. They can't do basic math and they expect people to believe their "science." Okay, so I'm a little hesitant to agree with the labeling of creation science as abusive to children -- I do think more malicious intent needs to be there before we bring out the label abusive. But how on earth does this get so far with so many people? I'm not a biology major and I can comprehend the logic holes in this stuff! And then some of the just wrong statements on displays -- since when did all Greek philosophers not believe in the afterlife?

Oh, wait, I'm not supposed to think: Just listen, and believe. Sorry, my bad. Bad brain, bad bad brain, go sit in the corner!

Monday, June 11, 2007

CofC Identity Crisis?

Rather interesting series of articles running at the Christian Chronicle on the lack of growth overall in the Churches of Christ. I've got to read through the whole enchilada at some point. (While sorting through demographic data on the CofC last year I found it rather striking that the number of CofC ministers increased in the past decade while the overall number of adherents dropped.) But right now, I'll be cherry-picking reader comments on whether or not the CofC is experiencing an identity crisis. Which are quite fascinating and express a wonderful diversity of opinion.

First, the award for most enlightened comment according my highly subjective evaluation:
Irie Session, former lifelong Church of Christ member who became senior pastor of New Life Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Dallas in October and still teaches a weekly Bible study at the Preston Road Church of Christ for former sex industry workers: I don't really see an identity crises as such. At least not in the sense of "knowing who we are and what we stand for like we once did." If there is an identity problem, it is trying to discover how churches of Christ can remain the church of Christ as we have come to know it, and still be relevant in today's society. This seems to be a big problem. How can churches of Christ continue to preach and teach exclusivity and at the same time, help women and other marginalized groups understand that there is neither Jew nor Greek, Male or Female, Bond or Free, but that we are all one in Christ Jesus?
Second, this one made me laugh with that special laughter known amongst Religious Studies geeks. Particularly the comment about the CofC's "special" formulation of the Trinity:
Shaun Casey, assistant professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and member of Fairfax, Va., church: As one wag put it, there are only three things left that all members of the Churches of Christ agree on: 1) There are three sacraments: the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and attendance. 2) There are at least two members of the Trinity. 3) There will be a collection on Sunday morning. This is an identity crisis. The only chance for an emerging consensus will be forged from the ground up and not by a top down imposition. Before there can be resurrection there must be crucifixion.
This comment speaks after my own heart:
Jeff Foster, minister, Cortez, Colo., church: Yes, there is an “identity crisis.” But, again, there are so many different groupings within Churches of Christ that it is extremely difficult to speak in a collective sense. I think it is passé to speak of “our movement/fellowship,” and I do not think that is necessarily a bad thing. I think the concept of “one church” has a much broader meaning than we have often argued in the past. I do not see a “model church” in the New Testament; on the contrary, I see a lot of diversity … founded on the principle of the Lordship of Christ and his death, burial, and resurrection.
And, MIT has a CofC chaplain, which I think is rather cool. And I can't argue with the theology of this comment. Also, if my little self migrates to the Boston area I might have to go check out Brookline. I have heard good things, based both in this short comment and from
Robert M. Randolph, minister of Brookline, Mass., church and chaplain of Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Many understand that some of the things we stood for are not as important as we once thought. We used the same arguments to support segregation (It is in the Bible.) as we did baptism (It is in the Bible.) When we changed our views on issues of racial exclusivism, it did not take much for some to question other markers of the "true church". Our identity tended to revolve around two things: our notions of baptism and our unwillingness to use instruments of music. We are more likely to view our notions today as simply "our notions" than we once were. There is a subtle arrogance present when we present our conclusions as if they were the 10 Commandments. Better to be known as the people who serve others in areas of need and who also practice certain forms of baptism/worship, than it is to be known as people who think that getting it right is a prerequisite to getting to heaven. It does not take much Bible reading to discover that God seems more tolerant of our mistakes than we are.
So, there's my entirely non-snarky (I think) cherry-picking for the night. Now, I do have to comment that it does stand out to me that there are only one -- maybe two, if the last Robin is a lady -- women represented in the reader comments. And the only definitely belonging to a woman voice has left the CofC for the more outspoken female friendly Disciples of Christ. Just an observation. It's a cycle, methinks.

Material Girl

How did I wind up with this many shoes? I HATE shoe shopping.

Since this photo was taken, I've given away two pairs of shoes and dug another pair out from under my bed. Oh my!

The college I attend is mostly populated by upper-upper-middle class kids. This has lots of "interesting" effects on the campus, but during move-out week the campus make-up makes life fun for the determined young woman with no shame. Dumpster-diving season is open!

My friends and I did three nights in a row of diving or, rather, skimming (unless something really good is peeking through). I've now got gaming chairs for my little brother. A dish chair and ottoman for myself. Luggage -- nice luggage (and a brilliant child left her monogrammed trinket box and visa card in the luggage -- those have been turned into the appropriate authorities for return). A laptop bag. A groovy floor lamp. An awesome wine crate that will be housing DVDs. Clothing -- gap jeans and some t-shirts. Two pillows (one Ralph Lauren, I didn't even know Ralph Lauren made pillows, but it's very squishy). A rain-coat. And a restocked snack pantry, cause I'm not passing up an unopened box of granola bars. :)

We have rules. The piles made for a charity collection can't be touched, when in doubt leave it etc. We started carrying things that were good, particularly clothing that wasn't our size or things like ironing boards that we didn't have a use for to the charity piles rather than leaving it in the trash. Dumpster diving entails a lot of marvelling at just what people throw away and at their laziness at not taking things to the collection points. Of course, we were profiting from both character flaws.

One thing I like about living in Memphis is that it throws activities like dumpster diving into sharp relief. None of us have to scavenge through upper-class trash, either on move-out or at thrift stores for clothing, furniture, and granola bars, but pretty much as soon as we leave campus we're reminded of how many people in Memphis do have to scavenge and rely on charity just to get by. The contrast is overwhelming at times. You have college students throwing out 75 dollar pillows, pieces of furniture, boxes of clothing, textbooks that cost 50-100 dollars each, and then just outside there's a homeless man or woman selling the Commercial Appeal at intersections and just down the street there are apartment complexes where I wouldn't doubt there are whole families who have less food in there apartment than I do in my dorm room. I'm fortunate.

I like Memphis, cause Memphis doesn't let anyone escape into some bubble of middle class comfort.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A ________ Manifesto

My religion on facebook changes frequently, depending on what's the latest way I've come up with to attempt to put words to a thoroughly unorthodox religious sensibility. Currently my religion reads: I'm in a cosmic lesbian relationship with Sophia. Previously it's read: AgnosticGnostic. For a short period, because this one really didn't amuse me too much: No, I'm actually not an atheist. That one was the result of realizing that virtually everyone I knew thought that I was, in fact, an atheist. I blame the Christian Fellowship on my campus -- a group of very nice people who drive me up the wall with incessant optimism and the rare incident of bigotry -- and the short-lived campus Atheist Fellowship who together have managed to create a false dichotomy between the vitriolic atheist and the happy-happy-joy-joy- Jesus-loves-me-and-I-believe-everything-my-church-tells-me Christian Theist. And, well, the fact that I'm at a loss as to what to call myself probably doesn't help.

I'm not a classical Theist by any stretch of the imagination, so in some sense and by some definitions, I suppose I am an atheist. Unfortunately for those who would probably like to label me an atheist and ignore, I have some deep belief that there is something, entity, force, being, mystery, whatever, that is thoroughly infinite and to which the term Divine may be correctly applied. And, I'm not a deist -- this divinity is not only thoroughly transcendent, but immanent and expressive in nature, in music both sacred and profane, in poetry and theology, in high church Christian liturgy, and low church congregational singing when I can make it past years upon years of resentment, in the chanting at a Hindu temple, looking out through the eyes of a thousand saints in an Orthodox church, speaking through the Upanishads, and the Christian and Hebrew Bibles, the Koran, and a priest's simple sign off of "forgive" in an email. And the numerous theophanies I have neglected. Too big for any single representation.

And each representation is constructed by or filtered through human hands and imperfect and limited -- "artifice chokes inspiration to death" (Aleksandr Blok). I believe that many persons receive a glimpse of the Divinity, and that it is the human task to struggle with all the glimpses and the metaphors created to express them. To take the Divine seriously enough that we continue constantly to question and refine our understanding, embracing the revelation that has been handed to us and listening to revelations handed to others. Because there is something of God everywhere and in everyone if you can be willing to look hard enough. And, after all, we were given the ability to think critically and analytically and even synthetically -- were we not then intended to use it? And, sometimes, I must confess, I'm not willing to look hard enough and would rather write people off as just nutters -- probably my greatest actual sin.

So, what's my religion again?