One Man’s Feminine Discomfort

How my Readings In Feminist Theory are Challenging me

The scenario: At some point in the last year I decided that I would fill a gaping hole in my education by spending this summer studying feminist theory and women’s spirituality. This is a full-blown independent study, not a grad student’s typical “oh-yeah-I-think-I’ll-do-that”-and-then-not-really-do-it passing summer fancy (of which I have had my share).

My reasons: My dissertation research will require me to use tools that I do not yet have (assessing the leader of a women’s movement as a woman and, potentially, as a feminist, after having defined “what is a feminist?” and “on what basis can I make that assertion?”). To boot, I was becoming increasingly convinced that, as a responsible theologian hoping to dialog with the broader culture and the discipline of religious studies, I simply needed to know this stuff. Bonus: it looks good on my resumé.

External results: strange looks from my classmates, including one member of a women’s religious order; stranger looks from right-leaning Bible study members; and heated debates raging on my FaceBook status comments sparked between my most left- and right-leaning acquaintances responding to a simple status update: “I feel like I’m eavesdropping as I continue to catch up on feminist theory.”

Internal results: I really do feel like I’m listening in on someone else’s conversation. I am an outsider. I do not belong. For a man who essentially reads for a living, this is an unaccustomed feeling when behind a book. My concepts, my language, my faith in every form of its expression — all are subject to question and to suspicion. Any why not? A deep hurt runs through the world. In all likelihood, I am both part of the problem and part of the solution. I cannot take the status quo for granted as a manifest good. There is a big f-ing difference between Biblical gender ideals and 1950s roles.

Conclusion: Feminism challenges me, if not in my masculinity, in how I see the world. A lot of people have been hurt by men wielding their power and authority as men. We who are men should listen, whether we understand ourselves to be directly culpable or not.

Good Old Fashioned Suffering

I Once Thought I Would Enjoy a Lifetime of Easy Living. How Good it is that I was Wrong.

Since 9/11 it seems that so much of America has been struggling to regain its lost sense of comfort. Economically (and some would say politically) this has become even more difficult. Many wonder: Will we ever regain our ability to buy maximum quantities of stuff?

So what it we don’t? Now is the prime time for us, as a nation, to relearn the values of hard work, perseverance, community, simplicity, and — dare I say? — suffering. The present crisis can either kill us culturally and morally…. or it can make us stronger. We stand at a crossroads.

The message of the cross is this: Jesus died to pay a debt you could never repay… but to receive that gift you, too, must take up your cross and follow him. Faith was never supposed to be easy. We need God’s help. We need each other. We need to accept that in this life there are no quick fixes, but that’s okay because there are fixes in the end. Whether you , in this body, will live to see that end is beside the point.

Breaking the Silence

It is good to wait to speak until, one hopes, one has something worth saying. It has been a nice wait.

Published in: on June 10, 2009 at 1:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Christians + Rules = WTF?

A few days ago, a reader asked, “where  [did] the church decided to adopt a code of ethics of its own, and for what?”

I was stumped a bit, because there should be a simple answer… but there’s not.

From the outside, Christianity can look like it’s dominated by rules, especially by a long list of don’ts. Shoot, from the inside, many people feel oppressed by all the restrictions. Some people rebel and do whatever they think is right without any deference to authority, while others remain tied to a long list of shoulds. How did it come to this?

Commandments have always been part of faith in the God of Abraham. In the beginning, God gave humans a very short list (one item!) of what not do to, knowing that, as long as they obeyed that one thing, they would be responsible in living in the best possible way in everything else. Well, they screwed up, so God took things up a notch.

God gave Abraham any number of commandments throughout his life, but all of them were preceded by God’s promises — and all of them were for Abraham’s ultimate good, even if they didn’t make sense at the time (sacrifice Isaac!). Those promises were in the context of a trusting relationship.  Commandments without faith are dead. Obedience to commandments is part of a healthy faith, but it is not the be all and end all.

Jesus came to set people free from themselves, from each other, and from the deceptions that can weigh each of us down. With this comes great freedom, but in this life, there are some things that God – and responsible religious leaders – will warn us against because they will harm us or others spiritually, physically, etc.

If people claim to be Christians, but demonstrate their faith through rules more than through love, other people have the right to question their faith. But, on the flip side, if people claim to be Christians but demonstrate no self-control or concern for living out their faith in purity and responsibility, ditto. If you don’t feel like you have a cross to bear…. Faith is joyful, liberating, healing, and many wonderful things, but no one ever said it was supposed to be easy.

Noah Bennet vs. Benjamin Linus

“Heroes’” original bad-ass dad takes on the patriarch of “Lost.”

Even in the midst of newlyweddom, mid-semester shennanigans, and the current economic crisis, some things are just worth blogging about. My wife and I could not reach a consensus on Gandalf vs. Dumbledore, but we did make some progress on pitting TV’s two best dads against each other.

Noah Bennet would do anything to protect his daughter. He quit his job as a secret agent when the Company threatened her life. He later reenlisted in order to catch the supervillains who would threaten her. He has no superpowers because he does not need them. All he needs is a gun, a few ninja moves, and Plans A through C. If Bruce Wayne had enough emotional stability to settle down and raise a family, he would dream of being a man like Noah Bennet. In a bind, all Claire-bear really needs to do is shut up and trust her father. (Of course, she usually doesn’t and drama ensues. That’s why it’s TV.)

Benjamin Linus failed to save his daughter, but it was not for lack of trying. Some might call him a manipulative weasel. Maybe. But that’s only half the story. He has been the fearless leader of the native tribe inhabiting the Island. He can bend space and time if need be. He could convince a dozen of aircrash victims to stay on the Island rather than seek rescue. Okay, so he failed to convince the evil special ops forces to release his daughter. His revenge resulted in him slitting a man’s throat and blowing up a boat full of innocent civilians. But he has his own fare share of ninja moves and, beneath the mousy exterior, lies a force to be reckoned with. Did I mention that he killed his own father (and all of dad’s co-workers) in a poison gas attack?

Who would win in a fight? They’ve got a lot in common. Both:
-always have a plan
-ends always justify means
-possess the power of persuasion
-have ninja moves
-fiercely protective of their adoptive daughters

Ben “is a little crazier,” write Mutantreviewers, discussing Heroes vs. Lost. Maybe. But Bennet seems to be cooler under pressure. He’s better with a gun and equally capable at hand-to-hand combat. Ben’s greatest strength is getting other people to do his dirty work. He is a leader, however disreputable. Bennet is more of a loner, who would prefer to work with a trusted partner or alone. Ben relies more on verbal manipulation, but I doubt Bennet would be subject to his wiles. Unless they’re on the Island, my money’s on Bennet. And even if they were…. But, then again, Noah Bennet was the only one my wife could conceive of possibly beating Dumbledore.

Published in: on October 16, 2008 at 11:39 am  Comments (9)  
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And your fantasy is… football?

Reflections on the phenomenon of fantasy football.

It’s that time of year again.  A crisp breeze is in the air after even the balmiest of days.  It’s almost football season, time for the people of America (but especially the men) to celebrate the act of brutal, strategic team ass-kicking.

I appreciate football, but I do not enjoy football.  There are many reasons for this.  Much of it has to do with the fact that, in my rootless youth,  I never had a home team to cheer for and now I am a man without NFL loyalties.  But the bottom line is I’m a man, I’m not afraid of the dark, I eat red meat, and I’m one of the most athletic people I know.  While I have a multitude of ways I’d rather spend my time than watching other people being athletic, I certainly understand those who appreciate a good game, especially in such Olympic times as these.

What I do not understand are the men, many of them my friends, who devote countless hours to the crafting of imaginary teams.  Real players.  Fake teams.  You’re the owner/coach.  This is your opportunity to play God… and this is how you’re going to spend it?  Really???

Faith Unprovable

I cannot prove the assertions of faith. No one can. That is what defines faith.

Published in: on August 18, 2008 at 1:33 pm  Comments (2)  
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Batman as Christ-figure?

(Contains Dark Knight spoiler.)

In an earlier post, I reflected on the differences between Batman, Superman, and Spider-man. At that time, I was of the opinion that Superman most vividly reminded me of Jesus and that Spider-man was the strongest of the three because he most clearly embodied the tensions of being human. However, after seeing the Dark Knight, I realize that Batman exemplifies aspects of Christ in ways that Clark Kent never could.

Don’t get me wrong. There are a multitude of ways in which Bruce Wayne is not like Jesus: violence, ruthlessness, willingness to lie, moral ambiguity, and such. But in his chosen calling, in his self-sacrifice, and in his humanity, Batman is much like Christ.

Batman was born as a sort of reverse incarnation. Rather than God becoming man, a man becomes more than a mere mortal by virtue of his choice and the actions that choice necessitates. His commitment to his calling overrides all of his other rights and needs. He became a legend. [That was the point of Batman Begins.] If Batman is the greatest of the superheroes, it is because he is super not by chance but by choice.

Likewise, Batman’s sacrifice of himself which defines him and makes him Christ-like. Beyond sacrificing his own personal safety, comfort, and well-being, Batman in the Dark Knightsacrifices his reputation. By defining himself as legend and nonetheless sacrificing his reputation, Batman has sacrificed his very self. Rather than allow the name of justice to be smudged and the hope for peace to be darkened, Batman took upon himself blame for actions that were not his. He became the ultimate superhero as a scapegoat.

Like Christ, “He was despised and rejected by men…. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3-4).

Simply because Batman has not yet physically sacrificed himself to the point of death does not mean that he wouldn’t… or that he won’t. (Side-note: The Dark Knight provides the perfect set-up for a sequel to capture the essence of The Dark Knight Returns, storytelling genius Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic novel.)

Superman has often carried with him a certain stoicism. Batman, too, could often be accused of the same. However, in Christopher Nolan’s latest contribution to the Batman story, he struggles, cries, and nearly gives up. (There’s a man I can relate to!) But he goes on anyway. (Now there’s a man I can praise!) He will do whatever it takes to save Gotham, whatever the price, whether for criminals or for himself.

So what?

Do all great stories mirror the greatest story? Do we need reminders of who we are and of who we should be? Or is this merely for entertainment’s sake?

What Dogs Smell

For Emma.

When dogs smell, they smell in vivid color. They smell every hue of days past and days to come. When dogs smell, they smell the eons, every forefather and foremother who has ever peed. When dogs smell, they smell the beginning of time, the history of their race and of humanity, too. When dogs smell, they follow every trace of the Creator’s touch. When dogs smell, they do not smell rot or stench or death. Even bad smells smell good, for dogs smell redemption.

The Quest for the Historical Jesus

The “Quest for the Historical Jesus” is neither historical nor a quest.  Discuss.

Published in: on August 14, 2008 at 4:28 pm  Comments (2)  
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