Sunday, March 27, 2005

Being a Thinking Christian, pt. 2

If you haven't seen it yet, go read the first part I wrote a couple of weeks ago.

I decided to go back and write the rest of this while watching Meet the Press tonight. (The link is to the rough transcript released earlier today).

The Rev. Jim Wallis said this: "There is theocracy. There is fundamentalism in all of our religions. The answer to bad religion is not secularism, it's better religion. So prophetic faith always is the corrective. I see it now around the country. A whole generation of faith-inspired activists, a new generation, are really starting a new civil rights movement on poverty, on the environment. They want a progressive faith. They want to put their faith--they have personal faith, but not private faith. God--in the Bible, it's a public God; cares about justice and peace and equity and fairness. And this prophetic faith drives movements, and that's the best way for religion to shape a democracy, not by competing religiosities in the public square, but a moral discourse on politics. All Americans want our politics to have a moral compass. I see it all the time going on around the country. We're have a wide, diverse conversation with lots of young people who want their faith to shape public discourse."

This is the faith I have found, the faith my husband and I have, I think, found together. It has changed us both, and I don't just mean in the warm, fuzzy "God saved me from X-horrible-thing-I-was doing" sort of conversion. It made us think, really think, about where we were and how we were responding to God's call. Let me back up a bit, to how we got there.

As I said before, I was impressed that Luther (and early Reformationists in general) had insisted on a thinking faith, a faith studied, meditated on, considered. And I slowly found myself doing just that--studying, considering, debating, even. After making my way through the Bible, especially with the context offered in a good study bible (there are lots of options out there--I just linked the one I was familiar with), I was a little more confident on what was in there, but I also wanted better insight on church history, since that also comes up often. And, as Robert A. Heinlein wrote, "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it." With two millennia to cover, I had no idea where to start, and my studies drifted off for a while.

Then I borrowed How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill from my mother-in-law. I enjoyed the writing style as well as the wealth of information on how the Irish "green martyrs" brought texts back to the mainland and helped re-establish the western world as we now know it. In my usual fashion, I scooped up his next two books, which were out by that point: The Gifts of the Jews and Desire of the Everlasting Hills. This last was the book that really changed things for us. Colin and I had read Gifts together, and we were very impressed. We then moved to Desire, and it made us rethink things. If you have not read this book, and you want an understanding of how Christianity started and who they were and what they were doing before the whole thing went corporate (namely, in the conversion of the Roman Empire via Constantine), READ THIS BOOK.

After reading DEH, Colin and I realized that part of why we were less than satisfied was that our church's vision of "mission" and "service" was at best knocking on doors and inviting people to church. I've personally never been a big fan of what we jokingly call "arm-twisting for Jesus." Mostly because I think, particularly in modern America, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone totally unfamiliar with the Story. (And that was several years ago, before The Passion kicked up the fires again.) People avoid churches not because they don't know they're there, not because they don't know about Jesus, but because they don't like what they see there. I can understand that. I've been that person.

Servanthood is the answer to hypocrisy. Showing, rather than telling. Slowly, we realized that we no longer wanted to be part of the church we were at (and by this point, I really felt "at" was a more appropriate description than "in"). We started looking at other churches in the area. Quakers, though interesting politically, were too unstructured for us. We both come from liturgical habits, and we like the format of church, the shared worship of music and liturgy, the prompting of a good minister. Neither of us can quite get along with Catholicism, and we weren't going to go halfway. If you're going to become Catholic, you ought to accept all of it, and neither of us can quite go the step of an infallible Papacy. (Not to mention that we're rather happy using birth control.) So we looked at what I call "first-generation" Reformed churches: Lutheran, Episcopal/Anglican, or Presbyterian. We'd already been at the only nearby Lutheran, and Colin was not sure he liked the direction the American Episcopal church was going. There's a Presbyterian church just a few blocks from our house, so I started looking into it.

I'm a nerd. I live online. So the first thing I reached for was not even the local phonebook. I went online and searched the phonebook there. Two Presbyterian churches in town: one Cumberland Presbyterian, one Presbyterian Church (USA). So I Googled. The Cumberland website was like the Our Gang clubhouse: for insiders only. The PC(USA) site actually gave a lot of information about what the church (nationally) believes, how it works and is organized, answering a lot of our first sorts of questions. So, we called the church and arranged to sit down and talk with the pastor. We decided we'd visit for a while, and were instantly welcomed by the congregation. After a few months, we went through an Inquirer's class, then transferred our membership to the church, making us officially the first new members brought to the church by the Internet.

When we had talked with Wally (and we talked a lot--he really relishes the intellectual challenges that we tend to put in front of him), he understood and supported a lot of our ideas. He was envisioning change for the church--not anything drastic or merely for the sake of change, but to reinvigorate the congregation and get them reaching out, rather than just looking inward. He also shared our want for space to tackle Christianity intellectually: to study and share our thoughts about meaning as well as finding work in the church.

Since we've started attending, one of the big changes has been the addition of a Wednesday night dinner/meeting where we study and discuss. It started when the church did the 40 Days of Purpose as a group last year for Lent, reading Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life (okay, I'm getting tired, I'm skipping the links now. Remind me and I'll post them in comments later). Then they did a study of Phillipians. Then another book...which is on the shelf in the bedroom, but my husband's already asleep.

We also started a young adult group (being for the post-high school, pre-middle-age group), and while it didn't particularly stick past the summer, we talked a lot about service among that group of people. Simultaneously, Colin & I were reading C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity (I did promise I would come back to him). Amazing stuff. Again, I highly recommend that anyone wanting to know about the basics of what Christians agree on should READ THIS BOOK. (Especially you, Alan.)

And we mentioned it to Wally. He had read it years ago, but our mention got him thinking about Lewis again. And as Lent approached, the session agreed with Wally to move away from the assigned lectionary again for a series of sermons linked to a common study by the church. He and they chose a video series of lectures by Dr. Earl Palmer (I'll link these, too, if I can find it) on Lewis' life and teachings as they relate to Christianity, to pair with a common reading of Mere Christianity and sermons relating to Lewis' discussions in the book. And when we showed up the first week, Wally came up to us and said "This is because of you guys. You inspired me."

It was a good feeling. And it was because we had wanted to know more, to think and meditate more on what our faith MEANS, what it requires of us. And I think it is things like this that are moving the people Rev. Wallis was talking about when I quoted him way up there earlier in the post.

G'night folks. Happy Easter. He is Risen!

I know, I'm slow...

Things have been so busy this week that I've barely had time to think, let alone blog. For those of you who may not have been in on my mass emails:

I have a job interview in a week and a half with a small college in Georgia. This has taken a lot of my time and will continue to do so for a while, since I'm trying to make sure my portfolio is totally up to date before I head down there. I'm pulling together updates since last spring, so there's plenty to go through.

After the conference last week, I went straight into my school's spring break. Unfortunately, that meant working four days at my fast food job to try to pay the bills for said conference. Physically draining, since I haven't done that sort of physical labor since early January.

Plus, it was Holy Week. I didn't attend ALL of our church services (partly because who really wants to attend a 7AM outdoor service in Missouri in March?), but I still took the time to reflect on the season and the lessons I'm taking from it this year. At one point Thursday, I found myself praying for God to show me the path he wants me to take (with the job interview, my future, our family plans)...and it struck me that, on this same day, Jesus prayed "not my will, but Thine be done." That's where I need to be, and I think I'm getting close, especially on the job issue. There are a lot of good things I can do here, even if I don't become a professor. I just don't know what He wants me to I have to wait to see what He lays before me.

Monday, March 21, 2005


If you're not reading it already, check out 63 Days. The story is a tragedy... at 15, Alli was shipped off to a "rehabilitation program" which even now (after about 5 or 6 days worth of the story) I can tell is horribly abusive and evil. Help support Alli in telling her tale, so that people will know about these things. And before you ask, I have googled some of the people in the tale (counselors, the head of the program) and the news sources on the net support the generalities of Alli's story, even if they don't address the specifics of her time in Challenger. I am naturally suspicious because so much of the internet is filled with legend not necessarily connected to fact, but this one checks out.

And thanks to TheZeroBoss for pointing the story out and getting me started reading it.

So, does this mean I'm a drunk?

Apologies for all the extra space...can't figure out where it is to fix it.

Bacardi 151
Congratulations! You're 134 proof, with specific scores in beer (80) , wine (133), and liquor (95).
All right. No more messing around. Your knowledge of alcohol is so high that you have drinking and getting plastered down to a science. Sure, you could get wasted drinking beer, but who needs all those trips to the bathroom? You head straight for the bar and pick up that which is most efficient.

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:

You scored higher than 70% on proof

You scored higher than 92% on beer index

You scored higher than 97% on wine index

You scored higher than 94% on liquor index
Link: The Alcohol Knowledge Test written by hoppersplit on Ok Cupid

Saturday, March 19, 2005

News from Florida

The conference is going well, so far. We're all really enjoying ourselves, although there have been rough spots. First, there was a person whose crassness really made a dinner last year uncomfortable. That person has returned (see, I'm even avoiding the mention of gender, here), and gave a really almost embarrassingly weak paper. Unfortunately, said paper was presented between two papers which I really wanted to hear, so I couldn't really just run away.

Second--we were stuck on a floor where about 8 rooms in our hallway were occupied by people on spring break. Apparently, rather than seeing the hotel as a haven from the partying and craziness, these folks saw it as the main party site. Slamming doors repeatedly at 4AM is apparently now cool. I am now officially old, because I was party to repeatedly calling the front desk and complaining--eventually leading (I think) to the offenders being ejected from the hotel. At the very least, they were checking out before 5AM, so we should sleep better tonight.

On the good side, however, my paper and all of my friends' papers seem to have gone spectacularly. We've gotten good, insightful comments and questions, and we've held up well under cross-examination. :) Sharon will have her paper published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, and she has been contacted about expanding it into a possible book chapter. I'm working on my own book proposal, which seems to be going well. And Kathy has actually managed to get some sleep--although not enough, thanks to the dimwits from Spring Break.

The banquet tonight should be fantastic (appropriately, yes?), and I'm hoping that I may do well in the Graduate Student Award competition. More once I get home...

Friday, March 11, 2005

In the style of Terry Pratchett

Crosswind waited for the next of an all-day series of student conferences--which set her apart from most of her colleagues*. Unfortunately, this schedule also meant a lunch of meat-onna-bun, rather than a satisfying feast with beer at the Newe Heidelberg** down the street.
So many of these kids don't get it, she thought. They just don't understand that most of them really are average.

In another hour or so, Crosswind was able to get away long enough to check her messages with Grrrr****, one of the department's thinking-machines. She had to fight for space with others who were checking mail, shopping or playing solitaire. The Corey-Seedin DFP weren't helping her cold much, but at least they made the conferences entertaining.

On the way back from Grrrr's lab, Instructor Crosswind was unable to avoid the Director of Compost-ition.

"So, I heard you're wanting to do research on the students?"

"Yes, I want to write about how they respond to having certain topics assigned."

"Oh, you just want to write? Then why do I need to sign off on this Review of Research form?"

"Because, since grades are involved indirectly in the study, students might be considered an at-risk population."

"At risk of what?"


"Well, we can't have them getting any of that. It could be disastrous for retention..." and he went blithering away in his fog of officious mediocrity.

*The mark of advancement in the university involves mainly having as little as possible to do with students.
**Formerly the Olde Heidelberg***
***Until the fire, that is....
****So named for the sound emitted by its users.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Being a Thinking Christian

I know, some people would say it's an oxymoron, but usually it's presented as an insult by people who don't want to believe the two can co-exist because that would threaten their little worldview.

I haven't been a Christian all my life. I was lukewarm at best growing up, and in high school, I was an agnostic because I couldn't make church make sense. Why? Because my pastor wouldn't answer my questions. I had a lot of them, and they were tough. I haven't answered them all by any means. Sometimes it really sucks to be a smart kid, because adults won't always take you seriously. It really came to a head when some folks that I was in church choir with wanted to circulate a petition for a state referendum to keep gays from having "special rights," as they put it. I had questions. Like, why was the right to not be discriminated against in jobs or housing "special." And how did this whole thing reconcile with Jesus' command to love our neighbors as ourselves. No one wanted to answer me, including the pastor. So I gave up on the church and Christianity in general because of stupid hypocrites. I still sang in the choir, because I liked the music, but I was all but pulling out a book during the sermons.

Then, in college, I met Colin. He's a wonderful man, and he really tries to be a good Christian. Like me, sometimes his thoughts would get in the way, but rather than giving up, he pushed for answers. He grew up Lutheran, and so we were married in a Lutheran church by a pastor who also was a thinker. In fact, he's probably a better thinker than a preacher, but he is called to do it even when getting up in public makes him physically ill. That's dedication. I was a German major at the time, so I was also exposed to a lot of Luther's thoughts and writings in German culture and history courses. And it struck me that Luther in particular, and the early protestants in general, were all advocating a thinking belief. That's why getting the Bible into the vernacular languages was so important--it unlocked the word of God so people didn't have to have it fed to them by Church authorities, and then they could examine it and really dig into the beliefs on their own.

I started reading voraciously. I wondered, more than once, if I was the only person who sat down and read the Bible cover to cover--including all the footnotes in my Concordia Self-Study Bible. I also borrowed a copy of the whole thing on audiotape from our pastor so I could listen in the car during my long commutes to school. And I really came to believe, and to believe that I was supposed to be constantly examining the church and the world to determine for myself what God wanted me (and the various communities I belonged to) are supposed to be doing.

Okay, I didn't quite get to CS Lewis this time, but I think that's enough pulpit time for one Sunday afternoon. Besides--Colin's barbecuing, and there's a dog to play with outside before the rain moves in.

Saturday, March 05, 2005


I'm going to go see today what someone OUTSIDE of my department thinks of my academic work. And I'm terrified. And it's totally silly.

The paper I'm giving today "Prospero's Magic: Magia or Goetia?" is a good paper. I got an A on it 3 years ago (after rewriting the whole thing over Christmas break). God, I'm such a dork for judging myself based on grades, but what person goes to grad school who didn't? In fact, I'm going to be giving the same paper in a few weeks at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, where it's entered in the Grad Student Award competition (I could use the $250 to help pay for the trip). But even though I'm being judged there too, I'm not worried about it. I know the audience there. They are, in many cases, my friends. True colleagues, in the emotional sense of collegial.

Today, I'm presenting at MU's Research and Creative Activities Forum. Basically, the GPC (Graduate and Professional Council, which represents all the grad students, plus those in the Med and Law Schools) brings in professors from outside MU to judge the work of those of us who are brilliant enough to submit it. There are 7 people in the "Humanities" category, and I'm not sure if the creative writers and I are directly competing or not. I'm the only name I recognize from my dept. who's not in the CW program. And I'm afraid I'm going to sound stupid. Anyhow, some portion up to the 7 of us in Humanities are competing for a single prize (the dollar amount of which I can't currently recall). Again, I could use it to help pay for my trip to ICFA later this month. Which is the whole reason I entered. I was a lot more confident about this a month ago.

If I win (which is looking less and less likely as my pre-presentation paranoia/pessimism sets in), I fully intend to crow in the department newsletter. Although they probably won't see it this way, I can choose to interpret it as rubbing my former committee's nose in the idea that I really do know what I'm doing, and they're too close-minded to recognize it.

Pray for me. Not necessarily to win (I always feel bad about asking God to intervene in something so trivial), but just to get through it without looking incredibly stupid. Just let me answer the Q&A without any major gaffes. Luckily, I don't have to worry about pronunciation--everything's Latin or Italian, and 8 years of school choirs at least taught me how to do the vowels. And how to breathe. I need to remember that.

Now I need to go take a shower and start getting ready.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Short Blog Today

I really need to be grading, so I'll keep it brief.

One of my students is, at best, really sloppy about documentation. At worst, this person thought they could skimp on the work and just paraphrase a couple of web documents to build several of their main points. I am disappointed. And grouchy. And it's probably good that I have two days to calm myself before the confrontation. But I have a plan, and it does involve reporting to the Provost's office (so these things can be tracked).

More later on C. S. Lewis and matters of faith... although later may be next week at this rate.