Thursday, January 28, 2010

In Memory of Mary Daly (1928-2010)

A theological and philosophical giant died on January 3 with little more than a responding murmur. In a way, this may be appropriate. Mary Daly didn't make many friends in her long academic career. Her early books, The Church and the Second Sex (1968) and Beyond God the Father (1973) were veritable feminist bombs on an androcentric theological landscape. And, her later volumes, which include Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (1978), Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy (1984), and Webster’s First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language (1987) further undermined the "religion" of patriarchy (her term) by playfully altering language, thought-patterns, and practices in such a way that women and women's flourishing are prioritized and empowered.

As you can imagine, Daly was no friend of men. In an interview with What is Enlightenment? magazine, she said, "I don't think about men. I really don't care about them. I'm concerned with women's capacities, which have been infinitely diminished under patriarchy. Not that they've disappeared, but they've been made subliminal. I'm concerned with women enlarging our capacities, actualizing them. So that takes all my energy." Needless to say, her brand of radical lesbian feminism turned many away, even sympathetic feminist theologians who see her as an important influence. Eventually, she was forced to resign from Boston College, the Catholic Jesuit school where she taught for 32 years, when she refused to allow men in her upper level women's studies classes.

Despite the controversy and despite the many, many ways in which I am at odds with Mary Daly's theology, philosophy, and methodology, I think its important to acknowledge the passing of a great thinker and exceedingly important feminist scholar. Indeed, Beyond God the Father remains a foundational work in feminist theology. And, even though Daly would have a serious problem with my aspiration to be a Christian feminist theologian (like my conservative evangelical friends, she would reject the premise that one can be a feminist and a Christian), I am grateful for her trailblazing in the field. So, this short blog is my inadequate offering in memory of Mary Daly. She passed on alone and left behind no children. But, I trust the truth that can be mined from her work will continue to influence thoughtful women and men for years to come.

(You can listen to an NPR broadcast remembering Mary Daly here, a Boston Globe article remembering her here and view her official website here.)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

My Little Darling

We took this picture this morning with Ronnie's iPhone before heading for church. I just love this little boy.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Wondrously Unplanned

In life, there are surprises and then there are SURPRISES. Over Christmas, we had a SURPRISE. Ronnie and I found out on December 22 that we will be having another baby. William is eight months-old and, needless to say, this was unexpected. In fact, we were taking measures we thought were appropriate in order to delay pregnancy until a later time--a time when we thought we'd be more ready, a time that we could "plan." Nonetheless, we will be welcoming another child toward the end of July.

The experience of finding out about this pregnancy was quite different than that of finding out about William. At first, I was shocked and dismayed. I'm in the middle of a Ph.D. program that is quite high stress and involves a lot of reading, writing, and studying. It makes life busy and tricky as I seek to be a good wife, mom, and student all at once. The thought of adding to this life another little person to care for was overwhelming at first.

After the shock wore off though, if I'm honest, I have to say that the next emotion I experienced was embarrassment. What a strange thing to feel, right? (I almost feel embarrassed admitting this in writing!) Why was I embarrassed?

This reaction bothered me. A lot. And, I've thought about it for the whole first trimester. Why was I embarrassed? Why did I feel the need to explain myself to people when I told them the news? I think it all comes down to the concept of an "unplanned pregnancy." I know that for me, the fact that we were pregnant unexpectedly carried with it a small sense that we had failed somehow, or done something socially inappropriate. (Am I the only one who has had this experience? I don't know, but I doubt it.) Somehow, I felt a measure of shame over the fact that we are educated people with a very busy life, who managed to stumble into an (dun dun dun dun...) unplanned pregnancy.

All this leads me to ask: What is it, exactly, about an "unplanned pregnancy" that seems so distasteful to me and to others in our culture? For whatever reason, I think there's a stigma attached to unplanned pregnancy, that's not altogether healthy or appropriate (or Christian!). I may be over-analyzing this, but I don't think so. Here are my initial thoughts.

What is it about "unplanned pregnancies" that seems so wrong? Well, in our culture, especially middle-class Anglo-American culture, we put a lot of stock into rationality, reason, responsibility, and control. Anything unplanned challenges such goods and puts them in jeopardy. And, specifically in regard to children, there is an unstated expectation (especially for white, middle-class Americans), that we have a responsibility to plan and bring to pass a certain standard of family. If that standard is not attained, we have failed as Americans and even as Christians.

Here's what I mean. In America, we know that educated people plan their children out. They have a certain number of them (usually no more than three) within a certain window of time. They make sure they are in all the right pre-school activities, can read by an early age, and have an appreciation for music, art, sports, whatever, before they're four. And, hidden within this sense of familial perfectionism is the classist (and at times racist) notion that only the poor and uneducated reproduce without planning. Only the inferior classes are irresponsible enough to have lots of children without planning.

The funny thing about these perceived goods--control, perfection, ideal family life--is that they are unattainable. The truth is, we are not in control. We do not ultimately have control over our bodies. God has designed us in such a way that when two people have sex, they will very often procreate. Its the way we've been made. I've heard someone say before, "If you're not using birth control (i.e., the Pill), you're planning to get pregnant." I say, if you're having sex, you're planning to get pregnant! As much as we like to think with our pharmacological and technological advances that we have mastered the reproductive potential of human beings, we're wrong. In the end, God really does open and close the womb. Its the way God planned us.

Not only are we not in control, but we're not perfect. And the ideal of family life that we've bought into--the one with two white parents, a boy and girl, a dog, and a white picket fence--is simply unrealistic and wrong. We do not have a responsibility to breed baby Mozarts and Picassos. They do not need to master two instruments and become an accomplished gymnast by the time they're ten. Yes, we have a responsibility to educate our children, to rear them into adulthood, to model the good life of a disciple, and teach them how to cultivate Christian virtues. But, that does not necessarily include the "Baby Harvard" pre-school or the often insane elite soccer schedules that disrupt family and church life. The truth is, there is no perfect family or perfect kids. God's will for us is not perfection.

What am I getting at exactly? Certainly, I'm not saying there is no place for trying to plan out your children. And, I'm not saying that spacing them is wrong or trying to find the best pre-school or after school activities is wrong. But, I am saying that there is something wrong with a society that views "unplanned pregnancies" as a problem, a mistake, an embarrassing thing that needs to be apologized for. Life is messy. God's Kingdom is messy. As long as God is God and we are not, that means we aren't in control and we can't plan our lives. Not really.

So, I think we should let go of our un-Christian expectations of control and perfection and accept the beautiful mess that is our life in God. I think there's a place for embracing the unplanned parts of life. Indeed, most of our life together--Ronnie and me--has been unplanned and yet blessed beyond measure. This new life growing inside of me is wondrously unplanned and I can't wait to meet him or her.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What I'm Reading this Semester

Well, my patient readers, my second semester as a UD doctoral student has begun. I'm pleased as punch to report that I managed to get through last semester with two As--something that was a confidence booster, to say the least.

But, I have my work cut out for me this time around. Not only am I taking two classes and working 20 hours a week as a graduate assistant, but I'm also preparing for my first General Examination on the Bible, which will take place in May. This exam will cover the content of 15 or so books, not to mention the biblical text itself, and take both written and oral form. Passing is absolutely essential for progressing in the program.

Nevertheless, as I did last time, I thought you might appreciate seeing the books I will be reading in my courses.

For a foundational course called Theological Research Methods: The Tradition, we were required to purchase the following:

- Anselm of Canterbury, The Major Works. Ed. Brian Davis, Oxford World's Classics.

- Augustine. City of God. Trans. Henry Bettenson, Penguin Classics.

- Bernard of Clairvaux. On the Song of Songs IV. Cistercian Publications.

- Denis R. Janz (Ed.). A Reformation Reader: Primary Texts with Introduction. Fortress Press: 1999.

- Mechthild of Magdeburg. The Flowing Light of the Godhead. Trans. Frank Tobin. Paulist Press, 1997.

- Margaret Porette. The Mirror of Simple Souls. Trans. J.C. Marler and Judith Grant. Notre Dame, 1999.

We will also be reading portions of the following works, which can be found on the internet or in electronic form through our library:

- Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

- Aristotle's Physics 4.3

- Augustine's Confessions, Book 8

- Bonaventure's Commentary on the Sentences of Peter the Lombard

- John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio Prologue. Parts 1 and 2.

- Peter the Lombard, Sentences.

- Plato, Phaedo

- Plotinus, Ennead IV

- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Sentences of Peter the Lombard

- Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Excerpts

- Jean Leclercq, Love of Learning and the Desire for God

- Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality. Trans. Allan Wolter. Catholic University of America Press, 1986.

- John Duns Scotus. God and Creatures: The Quodlibetal Questions. Trans. Felix Alluntis & Allan Wolter. Catholic University of America Press, 1975.

- John Duns Scotus. The Examined Report of the Paris Lecture: Reportatio I-A. Trans. Allan Wolter & Oleg Bychkov. The Franciscan Institute, 2004.

- Meister Eckhart: Sermons & Treatises. Vol. 2. Trans. by M.O’C. Walshe. Element Books, 1979, Sermon 87, pp. 269-277.

- Arthur Hyman & James Walsh. Philosophy in the Middle Ages. 2nd ed. Hackett, 1973

- William of Ockham. Ockham: Philosophical Writings. Trans. Philotheus Boehner. Library of Liberal Arts, 1964.

- William of Ockham. Quodlibetal Questions. 2 vols. Trans. Alfred Freddoso & Francis Kelley. Yale, 1991

For a course called Theological Engagements with Culture, we have been required to purchase the following:

- H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture

- Mary McClintock Fulkerson, Places of Redemption: Theology for a Worldly Church

- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions

- Gordon Lynch, Understanding Theology and Popular Culture

- Kathryn Tanner, Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology

- Kwok Pui-lan, Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology

- Terry Eagleton, The Idea of Culture

- Nicholas M. Healy, Church, World, and the Christian Life: Practical-Prophetic Ecclesiology

- Graham Ward, Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice