Sunday, March 20, 2011

Big update, on my way to grad school!

Wow,so, the last time I posted, I was just starting my first semester in my return to undergrad studies. I was working towards finishing my undergraduate degree with an eye on attending grad school in Religious Studies.

In the intervening time I've almost finished my degree! I can measure the distance until I graduate in weeks -- about 9 of them, in fact! I will be graduating with a BA in Comparative Religious Studies and a minor in Middle East Studies.

There's bigger news, though! This winter, I applied for grad school, and a week ago, I was accepted! I'll be attending divinity school in Boston. It's going to be a big change for me -- leaving my family on the west coast to spend the school year in Boston.

As part of that move, I'm hoping to begin blogging more. It's been pointed out to me that I'm not so much a theologian as I am a religious studies scholar; that's something I hope to address more fully in the coming posts. In the meantime, I'm on my way to being on my way. :-)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Roadmap of topics

This is a placeholder for things I'd like to cover:

1. The second half of my background, including my involvement with feminist theology and paganism.

2. Bhakti, making room for relationship with God.

3. This very cool book, "God's Mechanics".

4. Rethinking the value of Thomism. I have held on to it for years as a kind of theological security blanket, helping me bridge the divide between rationalism and theology. I am now beginning to think that Aquinas as I understand him distances me from the divine, or at least creates a sort of formalized head-first dynamic that insulates me from intimacy in that relationship.

5. Being angry with Mary Daly.

6. Two mystical experiences and how they expanded my understanding of my relationship with the divine.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Further introduction: challenging belief and Episcopal heritage

I have mentioned that I'd been confirmed in the Episcopal Church. I didn't realize it at the time, but the process of preparing for confirmation profoundly affected my thinking about faith. Rather than study a traditional catechism, our prepartion course was "Refutations", an experimental course that the church was evaluating. Each week we were introduced to a proof or argument against God and challenged to respond to it. For example, "If God exists and is omnipotent, why is there suffering?" The intent was to prepare us as Episcopalians and Christians, but the course also taught me that it was good and appropriate to think critically about issues of faith, to own them by way of struggling with the arguments for and against them.

Because of that experience, I understood that it was more than appropriate to struggle with questions of belief and to think critically about articles of faith. At no point in my early religious life did anyone ever ask that I accept uncritically, that I believe without thinking, that I choose silence over questioning. Because I know that many people of faith had the opposite experience, I am deeply thankful that the Episcopal church of my childhood gave me the protection and permission to think critically about the divine.

As a young adult, I had another experience that cemented and made explicit this understanding. I took a class in Medieval Theology with Dr. Anthony Neimitz at that big southern university, back in the late 1980's. It was a combination grad/undergrad class, and pretty heady stuff, covering key texts by Bonaventure, Anselm and Aquinas. Aquinas especially spoke to me, because his Summa Theologica made explicit what I'd understood implicitly about the pairing of thought and belief. There are certainly limits to what Aquinas can say to me, or to theists like me, but much of what he wrote about the nature of belief rang clear and true.

The third big experience was going on pilgrimage to Grace Cathedral and discovering that as a place where I felt comfortable and welcome. In the late 1990's, I began an annual tradition of going to Grace for the liturgical holiday of Michaelmas, to take communion and reaffirm the part of my spiritual nature that is nurtured by the Anglican tradition. I could go on and on about what makes Grace so important to me -- and I probably will, in an other entry -- but one of the most important things I found there was this statement of purpose and acceptance which is posted inside the entrance. I have felt explicitly invited to partake of the Eucharist even though I struggle with assenting to the entirety of the Nicene Creed, even though I don't feel comfortable claiming the identity 'Christian' for myself. Grace Cathedral and its dean, the Very Rev. Alan Jones have been instrumental in leading me to a revelation and appreciation of the value of my Episcopal heritage.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My Protestant roots

In the first two weeks of my classes, we've been talking a lot about personal histories and about the roots of several different religions. Today I was listening to classmates embodying women they interviewed about faith. I found myself surprised at how "other" I still find experience of Catholic women, even though I've been exposed to Catholic theology for years. I think it's that on a personal level, I'm the child of generations and generations of Protestants.

My father's family was Episcopalian by the time I was born, and most of the family had been Episcopalian (Anglican) or Methodist for at least 200 years. At least one part of my father's family was Mennonite when they came to America in the 1700's, but family lore is that they converted to being Episcopalian because it was "more socially upwardly mobile." By the time I was a child, being Episcopal was more about social standing and appearance than any sort of faith. Even though we lived less than a block from church, my family largely attended only forChristmas and Easter, though they expected me to attend confirmation classes and be confirmed when I was 13.

My mother's family were (and are) Southern Baptist, with a few more conservative independent evangelicals every now and then. On that side of the family, too, church participation was in part about social context -- everyone we knew attended church, all the family members and friends, and failure to do so was noticed and commented on. People didn't socialize or do business with the unchurched. In that context, it's considered socially acceptable to ask about church attendance and Christian belief in casual conversation, and church and God references permeated daily life constantly. For example, school events began with prayers lead by students or local pastors -- at football games, the entire crowd would pray together before the game started that God would lead and protect the players, and perhaps touch the lives of the fans while they watched the game.

My mother is a special case. She's moved through religious identities repeatedly in my lifetime. She was brought up as a Southern Baptist and remained that until I was 6 or 7 years old. At that point, we moved from the south to the small town where my father had grown up. My mother sent me to sunday school at a Baptist church for a while. I remember almost nothing about it, except singing songs on the church bus that took me there. Eventually, we moved to live very close to the Episcopal church in town where I had been christened as a baby. My mother started attending with me and had me confirmed there. That said, on major holidays we would frequently go to a second service at the Methodist church a few more blocks away, because they had better music and played the "right" hymns on those holidays -- hymns more like the Baptist ones.

Later, my parents divorced, and my mother eventually met her second husband. He was a Mormon. My mother converted to his faith, so that they could have their marriage sealed in the temple. For several years, my mother was a very good Mormon. She gave up caffeine, became Relief Society President, brought me to services. I think she still identifies as Mormon, but is no longer actively practicing. She also is at least aware of feminist/goddess spirituality, because she mentions it to me from time to time.

So, that's me -- mainstream Protestant on both sides of the family, for generations.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A brief history and an introduction

I've been remiss in not creating a post to introduce myself and set the tone here. I'm a Comparative Religious Studies major at a large public university in California. I started working on my undergraduate degree in 1984, but was unable to successfully combine being a student with being a wife and mother. (I'll write about that at some point; it's remarkable how things have changed in 20 years.) When I started college, my intention was to dual major in biology and computer science, so that I could go into genetic engineering, which was a brand new field at the time. I joke that my freshman year at the women's college I attended I was exposed to too much Chaucer too soon, which led me to liberal arts over the hard sciences. I fell in love with comparative literature, linguistics, poetry explication, women's studies, and myth theory. I ended up in the Religion department at a big ol' southern university, because my major advisor there agreed to let me focus on myth theory and take any course I wanted in any department, as long as I could convince him it fit into the larger picture of my major.

I enjoyed studying theology there, but I found the department restrictive. I was interested in the intersection of women's studies and theology, but there was nothing combining them in the department. I was captivated by the writings of Carol Christ, Judith Plaskow, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Mary Daly, Starhawk, and women like them, but voices like those were absent from my coursework. On the other hand, I was exposed to The Big A's (Aquinas, Augustine, Anselm) and the variety of American religious expression -- things I love to this day.

Eventually, I had a religion professor tell me he thought it was time for me to be a mother, not a student. It was the last straw in an ongoing battle to combine motherhood and college. Even after I left school, I still considered myself to be a myth theorist and student of theology. For almost 20 years since I left that big southern university, I've been parent, wife (and ex-wife), writer, activist, and customer service techie. Now I've come full circle; I have the opportunity to focus again on those academic passions and finally complete an undergraduate degree.

And after that? I'm not certain, but grad school is looking pretty good.