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Attempts to illuminate our brief mortal existence

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A quick one

I do realize that it has been an obscene amount of time since I posted something. I shall give out my excuse of 5 days away from home, followed by a weekend, followed by trying to pull my life back together post-absence, and then attempt to move on. In that vein, here is a little collection of somethings for you all.

- Something odd: I read this Maureen Dowd column and did not feel like hurling the computer in frustration. This is either a sign of maturity on my part in being able to recognize possible truth in the most unlikely of places, or a sign of the impending implosion of my sanity. Those two options have little to do, by the way, with my reaction to the contents of the piece, but rather to the author. We do not have a good history, Ms. Dowd and I. The piece itself is rather dreary but at this point I find it difficult to argue against.

- Something urgent: If you have not done so, you must read Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate arguments for the relevance of Christian Doctrine, by Dorothy Sayers. If you don't agree with a word she's saying, at least read it for the brilliance of her wit. It's one of the few serious books that I spend a lot of time laughing over. And I do think that you should agree with some of the things that she's saying, and that all of it should be much thought about.

- Something to think about: consider ice cream and whole grains to be specific examples of more general categories of Events (or treats) and Spaces (or "normal life"). Now, in an ideal world would we be able to have all the ice cream that we want, whenever we want, with no ill effects? Or would we instead not desire ice cream at all and take perfect delight in a steady diet of whole grains and other completely healthy foods? Or does neither of those options constitute an ideal? Do let me know what you think, because without your input I might get my conclusions wrong in the paper that I'm writing.

Friday, July 16, 2010

On Wondering

I laid wide awake the other night sifting the day through my mind, turning it over, shaking it to see what rattled, holding it up to the light to catch a different angle; suddenly, my mind snagged on a bit of Jeff Dunn's post over at iMonk.

You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right—somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?”

To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”

Oh dear,” said Lucy.

But anyone can find out what will happen.” said Aslan. “If you go back to the others now, and wake them up, and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must get up at once and follow me—what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.

“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan, “No. Nobody is ever told that.”

“Oh dear,” said Marina.

This lesson may be self-evident to some people, but I'm just beginning to learn it. When things aren't going “right” (by my definition, of course) I tend to look back at the moments when I considered other decisions, or was pulled towards a course of action that I didn't take; I could spend (and have spent) years agonizing about “what could have been” if I had taken the other fork, made the other choice, or followed the other voice. If I had made all the right choices and said all the right things at the very beginning, my relationship with Landon would never have hit a rocky moment. If I had followed every hunch and compulsion and possible whisper of the Spirit in looking for a job, I would have found something fulfilling that would further my vocation. If I had handled my morning correctly, my afternoon would never be this stressful, choppy, and unproductive. But Aslan says that this is not mine to know. Not only that, but I know from experience that none of my “if-only”ing is necessarily true.

When I try to follow every voice inside of me I end up being pulled in half-a-dozen incompatible directions. There were times dating Landon when I said and did exactly what I thought I should and it ended up hurting us both. Sometimes the morning is messed up through no fault of my own – things just happen. Looking at this I realize that I fell for yet another lie while I was busy not believing it. I have been a vocal critic of the idea that if you just do x correctly, y will work itself out like you want, yet I wasted the first year of my marriage acting like I believed just that. I frantically rearranged, redefined, and reworked things in my head so that I could believe that the present was exactly what I wanted, because if it wasn't it meant that I really had done something wrong. Wasting time like this is an awful things to do. Thanks be to God He has pulled me out of it.

In the past weeks, God has been in the process of waking me up, shaking me up, and setting me on my feet. By His grace He has shown me so many things that affirm my choices of the past few years. Remembering that I am dust, and need much strength, He has let me see some of the good things that are coming out decisions that I doubted, especially in areas of work and school. Knowing that I need a booster He has proven to me that when I take two seemingly incompatible things that I know to be true, He can eventually resolve it for me. He is showing me what is appropriate and necessary remembering, in contrast with useless speculation and regret about the past. And He is in the process of showing me what it means to follow His voice in the present without an exhaustive review of the possible consequences. It's amazing to see validation for my choices unfolding in front of me, along with proof that if I did make the wrong decision He is capable of redeeming it. It's a little embarrassing that my faith is weak enough to need this, but it's incredible to see it happen. I feel as though I'm growing into a walk where there is no “what might have been,” there is only “what's next?” As my husband and I enter this season of defining, searching, and growing, I am more excited than I have been in a long time. Maybe I can finally learn to follow Aslan by myself, without needing other people to see Him as well. Maybe I can learn to scramble off of the cliff without knowing where the path is, just trusting that it is there.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


The sacrament

Reduces us.

Boils us down

To our Essential.

Flesh and blood,

Finite spirit.

We touch flesh

To touch spirit.

And need the finite

To find the Infinite.

I've said things like this before. I know I have. But it makes sense to me now in a way that it never quite did before. Possibly a matter of experiential v. intellectual knowledge. In any case, this is the second post of mine "discovering" something that I get the feeling so many other people knew already. Does anybody feel like they're watching somebody learn how to walk whose been analyzing walking for a long time?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Christianity and Climate Change: Part 2

My wife and I recently listened to a recording of a lecture entitled “Christianity and Climate Change: Understanding the Range of Responses.” The speaker was Janel Curry, Dean of Research and Professor of Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies at Calvin College, and she gave the lecture in October of 2007 and again in May of 2008 as part of Calvin College's seminar series on Christian perspectives in science. If you are interesting in exploring the relationship between Christianity and science, the web page for the seminar series is an excellent resource.

This is part 2 of a 3 part series.

In my last post, I looked at the first factor in Curry's framework – eschatology. This post will discuss the second factor – integration. Integration represents a tradition's formulation of the relationship between God, nature, and humans. To illustrate a highly integrated worldview, Curry relates the story of a farmer in Iowa who told her that the number of birds on his farm had decreased during the 1980s farm depression. Curry's analytical mind quickly jumped to changes in land use patterns as an explanation for this phenomenon. She asked the farmer about her idea, and he responded by saying that it was the “state of humanity” during that time that caused the number of birds to decrease. The farmer viewed nature and humans as integrated, not as two unrelated things.

Curry discusses two traditions that have a high level of integration in their theology – Reformed and Catholic (can you tell yet that she is from Calvin College? :). The Reformed tradition views people and nature as tied together because they are both parts of God's plan for Shalom. Redemption in this tradition is all-encompassing, not just limited to humans.

The Catholic tradition also has a high level of integration. Curry specifically points to the National Catholic Rural Life Conference as an example. This organization views nature and humanity as being very closely related. Their website states the following: “...creation has an integrity and an inherent value beyond its utility or usefulness for human beings. Human beings are meant to be responsible stewards of creation, and indeed we can say that we work in harmony with God as co-creators. Just as God is one, the web of life is one and we are its caring stewards.”

Traditions with a low level of integration are dualistic – they emphasize the gap between humans and nature. Curry specifically points to her research involving seminary students. Baptist seminary students tended to conceptualize nature, humans, and God as very distinct entities. Some viewed nature as something that God does not directly interact with – instead, God interacts with humans who then interact with nature.

What are the implications of integration? A higher level of integration leads to the idea that all choices, even ones about the environment, have spiritual implications. Choices of what cars to drive, where to buy food, what companies to support – all of these have spiritual implications. There is nothing that is “outside” the realm of spirituality in a highly integrated tradition. Also, somewhat obviously, a high level of integration leads to high value being given to the earth. This relates back to eschatology and the accompanying views of nature. If nature is integrated along with humanity in God's plan of redemption, then nature will hold more importance then it will if it is viewed only as a neutral stage upon which God interacts with humans.

Here are some important questions for you to think about and respond to relating to integration:

  1. Is the earth worth saving? Does it have any intrinsic value? Or is it just a “backdrop” for the salvation of humans?

  2. What is the extent of redemption? Is it limited to humans?

  3. Do choices relating to the earth have spiritual implications?

  4. What is your vision of what the human/nature relationship should look like? What is the vision of your tradition?

Eschatology and integration. Two down, one to go :). In my next post, I will finish with a discussion of the responsibility factor. Interestingly enough, the Mennonite tradition will make an appearance in this one :).

Note: The focus of this series is not on climate change in and of itself, but rather on responses to climate change. Please do not try to argue about the science in the comments. If you are interesting in learning more about climate science, the following resources may be helpful: NASA's Earth Observatory, a website by Scott Mandia, and the IPCC AR4 FAQs.

Monday, July 5, 2010

My dilemma and resolution

As an intellectually inclined, married, conservative Mennonite woman, I have a bit of a dilemma. As dilemmas go it's not such a calamitous one. It is simply this: my future has more or less been decided. See, being an intellectually inclined Mennonite woman can come with its challenges, but it is, for the most part, rather wide open (barring ordination, basically). Add "married", and all the wide-openness disappears; I will, of course, be a stay-at-home Mom. Since Landon is in school right now, and we don't have children it is perfectly acceptable for me to keep going to school, or work to support us, but the purpose of school at this point is suspect, and the job doesn't need to be anything with possibilities for future progress - I'll only need it until we can settle down and be a real family. The problem is that I'm a little uncomfortable with that. And I've been thinking some seditious thoughts lately.

Could it be that I don't have to give up my intellectual aspirations in order to maintain my stance on scripture (since I'm not willing to do the reverse)? When the Bible talks about God creating woman, did he have a specific role for her in mind in a societal structure that we think of as "the home", or did he have a specific relationship in mind between her and her man?

Being a stay-at-home Mom of multiple children is one of the most difficult jobs that I can imagine anyone doing. I know of no other job that has 24/7 hours and no paid vacations (while the rest of the family goes on vacation, Mom takes her work her). I rise up in the figurative gates and call my Mother blessed for the inhuman amount of stuff that goes into a day in her life. Being a parent is important (Mother or Father), it is something that I look forward to, and I don't want to imply that without something "else" a person is, ipso facto, unfulfilled. I have, however, begun to wonder whether our idea of what it means to be a godly wife and mother has been more influenced by scripture or the idealizations of our culture.

I recently read a book by Leora Tanenbaum, entitled Catfight: Women and Competition. While I would never recommend this book as a Christian view of women and femininity (Tanenbaum is Jewish, and her viewpoint is nonreligious), it has proven to be extremely thought provoking. Her perspective on feminism, work, and parenting differs almost completely from the viewpoints that I have grown accustomed to hearing; much of it would not be popular with most of the people that I know, and I find myself out of agreement with her on various point. On at least one point, however, she provided me with an epiphany.

In her chapter on motherhood, Tanenbaum explores the history of working mothers. As she sees it, most mothers have been working mothers for most of history. Of the infamous P. 31 women she says "She bought real estate, planted vineyards, collected food, and spun fabrics. The idea of 'staying home' with her children would have seemed ludicrous to her." (256) "[M]others" she says, "have always performed myriad tasks while they raised their children and while they delegated child care to others." (256) It is not until the Industrial Revolution that we see a split between the public sphere into which a man went out to make money, and the private sphere in which the mother remained with her children. Even with the creation of this separate role of "breadwinner" in the 1800s, mothers "continued to be central players in the economic well-being of their households (257)." In other words, they did a lot of things other than and in addition to raising their children. At this point in history, with men working outside the home, but with women busy keeping up the wellbeing of the home, staying involved with making some income, and having a positive economic effect (all of which sounds pretty good to me), Tanenbaum makes a distinction that I had not previously considered. She introduces as a completely new figure the "'full-time' mother (257)."

Huh? Unlike the busy, household managing, goods producing, maid-apportioning wife of most of history, the full-time mother is, apparently, a sort of unpaid nanny, whose entire focus is child care and ornamental housekeeping. She has no positive economic effect on the household, and her world is entirely child-centric.

As I read the chapter, and digested this distinction, it struck me that Tananbaum's recording of a cultural shift brings out an in important differentiation that I have sensed, but never been able to tease out of my mind. The ideal of women being able to stay at home and concentrate solely on the children and the house, without needing to contribute economically to the workings of the household, is a fairly recent cultural construct; yet when Christian women talk about not working, it seems that this is what they have in mind. This is a role to take upon oneself, and a distinct sphere in which to operate. Certain verses in Paul's epistles are read with this cultural construct in mind, and subtly the attitude begins to steal in: if you aren't being a "full-time Mother", you are creeping outside the lines that scripture draws for you. But is scripture drawing this line, around this cultural box?

I don't think so. As I pondered this, and mentally reviewed scripture (from Genesis on), I came to see being a wife and mother as a position, and not a role. It's a position in relation to God, my husband, and other people, but it is not a part to act with a script that comes with it. This is immensely exciting to me. It opens the possibility that my life can look culturally non-traditional, yet be exactly in line with God's revealed truth.

Here is how I see the distinction that I'm trying to make. I have internalized (but always felt profoundly uncomfortable with) the idea that to accept a role as a helper suited to your husband, you have to do the support work while he does the mission. Men have callings, women have husbands. That's a simplistic rendering of the the basic framework that I ingested. Men have jobs, women have houses and children.

What if, instead, a man and a woman who join their lives to create one entity share one calling?What if marriage doesn't mean that a woman gives up her ambitions to her husband's, and a husband gains a ground support team, but instead that the two of them decide on their mission, and go at it together, whatever that looks like? What if the specific roles that they play have more to do with what their mission calls for then what the culture idealizes? It might end up looking a lot like a male breadwinner/female homemaker standard combo. It might end up being parents who each work part time and care for children part time. It might be two people working separate full time jobs, but with the same goal in mind at the end of the day.

Being a good wife doesn't have to mean staying inside the protective shell of "home" while my husband goes out into the wide world to bring the necessary money back into the home for survivals sake; it means being on the same team. It is not the taking on of a specific "role", but rather a fundamental shift in loyalties. By marrying Landon I have taken up his banner, decided for his cause, declared for his side, and it's a knock down, drag out battle to the end for me. My responsibility is not merely to send him out,then wait for him to come back to my safe haven to lick his wounds. Nope, I'm going with him. Whatever this means. And into this battle will come our children, for whom we are both responsible. We don't operate in different spheres, my husband and I; we may operate in different places in the same sphere, but you better believe that it's the same one.

I don't have to try to make myself smaller in order not to threaten my husband's leadership, instead I have to exert every ounce of strength that I have to further our mission. I don't have to try to figure out how to defer to him; there will be chance enough for that when we have a real disagreement. I don't have to stuff myself into a box in order not to compete with him; we're working for the same goal here. My success and his success are the same thing. Marriage does not need to be an obliteration of one person's goals in pursuit of the others, or a delicate balancing act between two people's ambitions: this is a pursuit of one goal by two people, where each person's gifts are stretched to the max.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Christianity and Climate Change: Part 1

As I mentioned in the first post, Landon will be contributing the occasional "guest post", usually focused in some way on science. In this first part of a three part series he addresses factors that influence Christian responses to global climate change.

My wife and I recently listened to a recording of a lecture entitled “Christianity and Climate Change: Understanding the Range of Responses.” The speaker was Janel Curry, Dean of Research and Professor of Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies at Calvin College, and she gave the lecture in October of 2007 and again in May of 2008 as part of Calvin College's seminar series on Christian perspectives in science. If you are interesting in exploring the relationship between Christianity and science, the web page for the seminar series is an excellent resource.

This is part 1 of a 3 part series.

In the lecture, Curry presents a framework that she developed to help further the understanding of the range of Christian responses to environmental issues. Curry pursues this understanding with the goal of promoting effective communication and civil dialogue between Christian traditions which have very diverse reactions to climate change. She emphasizes avoiding the all-too-common fallacy of overgeneralization by repeatedly stating, “Every complex problem has a simple solution, and it is wrong.”

Three main factors make up Curry's framework. She identified these factors from her sociological research on the different views Christian groups have regarding nature. These factors are all influential, but no one ultimately determines the response of a specific tradition. The three factors are:

  1. Eschatology

  2. Integration

  3. Responsibility

Curry highlights three traditions in her discussion of the first factor – Quakers, dispensationalists, and Reformed. Quakers believe that humans are basically good (the “inner light”), that grace extends to all, and that it is our responsibility as humans to establish the kingdom of God on earth. These beliefs result in Quakers having an optimistic view of progress, being social activists, and placing importance on education.

Things became more interesting for me when Curry discussed dispensationalists. You can get a basic idea of the dispensationalist belief system by reading the Left Behind series (but please don't buy it :). Dispensationalists believe that when Christ returns and brings complete redemption, there will be no continuity between this earth we now inhabit and whatever comes next. Along with this comes the idea that an increase in the frequency and magnitude of natural disasters and violence will precede the Second Coming, and that the earth holds importance only as a “backdrop” to God's plan to save humans. Curry quotes one dispensational seminarian as saying, “[Our] relationship to God is what makes the land important. It's not the land that is important in and of itself.”

Curry proceeds to question the degree to which the dispensationalist tradition is actually an independent religious tradition, as opposed to its arising out of/being formed alongside American culture. Sociologists Dunlap and Van Liere have identified what they call the “dominant American worldview” or the “dominant social paradigm” - a “package” consisting of (1) utilitarian views of nature, (2) support for individual property rights, (3) anti-government sentiments, and (4) belief in the free market. This “dominant American worldview” is mirrored in dispensationalist beliefs – most importantly for this discussion in the common utilitarian view of nature.

Curry identifies the Reformed tradition as following, along with the dispensationalists, the traditional Christian framework of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. However, she identifies a distinct difference between Reformed and dispensationalist – the Reformed tradition emphasizes a continuity between this present earth and the new earth to come. She quotes a Calvinist farmer: “...we've begun our eternal life...the opening chapter...The whole thing of stewardship, is certainly a part of now and, or a part of eternity.”

I personally lean heavily towards the Reformed view, being influenced by some Reformed writings on Christian worldview which, true to Curry's representation, did emphasize the continuity aspect of eschatology. I am also heavily influenced by N.T. Wright, who, despite being an Anglican, does resonate with the Reformed on this issue.

Here are some questions for you to think about and respond to:

  1. Is the destruction of the earth a sign of Christ's return?

  2. Will there be some continuity between this earth and the new earth?

  3. Is there danger for dispensationalism in being closely tied to the “dominant American worldview”?

In my next post, I will review Curry's discussion of the integration factor.

Note: The focus of this series is not on climate change in and of itself, but rather on responses to climate change. Please do not try to argue about the science in the comments. If you are interesting in learning more about climate science, the following resources may be helpful: NASA's Earth Observatory, a website by Scott Mandia, and the IPCC AR4 FAQs.