some poetry

The floors are being replaced in my apartment and so my life is in a bit of chaos right now. I’ve sought refuge at the house of some friends (church friends are so handy for this kind of thing), but I don’t have much energy to spare for blogging. So this week I will subject you to some poetry. Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t. I enjoy writing it, and that’s what really matters I think.

All of these were written on public transit: on buses, at bus stops, or on skytrain, just little bite-sized mouthfuls of haiku.

mountains stretch across
horizon jagged and dark.
rough silent backdrop.

air sparkles, snaps with
electric infectious sound.
mouth corners creep up.

cool breeze caresses
my face. moment of bliss. sweet
serene surrender.

sprawling patches of
bright white daisies lazily
ooze out of the grass.

green buds caress clear
blue sky bathed in summer light.
branches reach new life.

bright dawn light sparkles
on the river below me.
eyes open to hope.

fresh darkness plays with
each last whisper of daylight.
teasing dance of dusk.

silence sits pregnant
wonders when wisdom will birth.
who is her midwife?

my passion binds me
to you with bonds of hot fire
eros burns my core.

in my dreams you taste
like roasted almonds, salty sweet,
hot in your passion.

sonic seduction,
sweet moist luscious symphony
lures me into you.


packing up ghosts

So I’m packing up all of my “stuff”, literally, as my apartment-mate and I get ready for new cork floors to be installed this week, and I find that as I pack up my physical stuff, I can’t help but find myself packing-up emotional “stuff” as well. I’ve been trying to do a bit of purging while I pack, and inevitably I find myself coming across bits of flotsam and jetsam that are haunted with the ghosts of past friends and lovers, bits that drag old memories out of the dusty corners of my mind. Some of the memories are great and fun to re-visit. Others are heart-wrenchingly painful.

I laughed hysterically at pictures of our grade 4 trip to Victoria, and nearly cried when I came across a letter from an old flame. I kept my old prayer journal from college, and tossed a postcard from someone I’m still trying to forget. I filed away old bank statements and tucked into a drawer a pile of stones whose significance I’ve forgotten but whose beauty made a convincing petition for their keeping.

I’m a highly reflective person, and so I’m a sentimental sucker for shuffling through the bits and pieces of my past, both the literal and figurative bits. The ghosts of the past never quite completely disappear, and I find myself startled by how the ghost that haunts some little item can assail me so swiftly and so effectively that I can barely stay standing, barely hold back the tears.

The shocking thing is how pleasurable the overall purging process has been. Here I sit in a nearly empty room, excited about the chance to re-arrange my furniture, shocked at how much stuff I own, and yet also unable to part with even some of the most painful stuff. Hopefully as I unpack I’ll have the time and emotional energy to let go of some of the painful pieces and both confront and exorcise some of the ghosts. I also hope I have the time and energy to properly put away the pleasurable pieces where they can provide me with joy.

fishing around for some answers

So I happened upon this article in the Vancouver Sun on Monday: “Fishing around for a religious connection”. It ‘caught’ my attention because it was about both fishing and the church, two things I’m always interested in reading about. I work at a commercial fishing nonprofit organization, and so I always pay attention to what is being said about fishing in the media.

Once I began reading the article, I realized it hit on a topic that seems to have been bleeping on my radar screen fairly regularly in the past few months: “the feminization of the church”. My first, sarcastic response is: “And they say that like it’s a bad thing?”. But as I think about it more and more, I wonder what exactly that phrase means. What do they mean by “feminization”?

The Sun article by religion columnist Douglas Todd talks about a man who conducts fishing trips for men looking for a Christian, religious experience, men who are not finding satisfying experiences in churches.
From the article:
“‘Church is too boring for men,’ says Ed Trainer, head of International Fishing Ministries. ‘Church is set up like a country club for women.'”

“The author of Why Men Hate Going to Church, David Murrow, says studies show the average U.S. congregation is 61-per-cent female. Alaska-based Murrow says many men see church-going as soft, uncomfortable ‘womanly’ behaviour.”

“Barb Trainer, 46, who runs International Fishing Ministries with her husband, says, ‘The church has been feminized. It appeals to women in that it focuses on emotion and children and coffee. It’s not bold enough for men.'”

I really am curious about what issue these complaints are trying to diagnose. Apparently statistics show that more women are going to church these days than men, but does sheer numbers really a ‘feminization’ make? And when that word ‘feminize’ is used, it is used in a very traditional, non-deconstructed very pejorative and almost antiquated way of characterizing certain ideas or practices. Is there a way we can articulate what is going on in the church without resorting to polarized, stereotypical gender norms that not only assume what ‘feminine’ is but assume it must be bad?

I can agree with the idea that the bulk of Christianity in North America has, in fact “gone soft” in many ways. Most of mainline Christianity doesn’t require or request much of its adherents: from the talk in many churches, as long as you make a financial contribution to help keep the institution on life support, you are doing fine. Yes, that is the cynic in me talking, but even my most optimistic self agrees that it is an accurate diagnosis. Radical, sacrificial discipleship is rarely required or even suggested. In my opinion, discipleship and sacrifice could be integral to overcoming contemporary issues such as global warming and global poverty. Instead of being a public witness of a different way of living and engaging with the world, Christian faith has become a matter of private devotion, and disengagement from the world.

But even though I agree with the “softening” of Christianity, I don’t call it “feminization”. I can see why popular thought would equate the two: there is the very basic idea that stems straight from the sexual realm that hard is good and soft is bad, and man is hard and woman is soft, and man is good and woman is bad. (I have just terribly over-simplified a huge area of study of which I could be much more articulate, but I am tired and this is not an academic paper and hopefully you get the gist of what I’m trying to say) The other part that leads to the “feminization” label is what could more accurately be called “privatization”, but since the feminine has long been associated with the private realm, there too we see how matters get convoluted.

Yet another aspect that can be clarified by using terms more specific than masculine/feminine is the sentimentalization of religion. The sentimental has long been associated with the feminine, in opposition to higher masculine rationality/reason. As religion becomes less rational and more sentimental, there is a tendency to again name it as a gender binary.

All of these dualisms where one is privileged over the other are in the end inadequate because in reality all are always at work and what is needed is balance between extremes. For Paul, Christianity was a religion that broke down dualisms: In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, Slave nor Free, Male nor Female…. And yet we still resort to naming what goes on in the body of Christ as one of those aspects being privileged.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that considering what a lousy time women have had in churches in general for the majority of the history of Christianity, could we cut the churches a little slack in the feminization department? And can we please, please, try to describe what is going on without attributing it to a gender? Can we say that the church is too private or too disengaged or too soft, or too sentimental rather than saying it is too feminine? But then I also wonder whether we haven’t actually deconstructed gender norms enough to unhinge those adjectives from the feminine at all….

I also want to know what men who are involved with churches think about this whole feminization thing – is it an accurate diagnosis? Why? Why not? What is going on in the churches, why don’t men want to come? Why is being religious or going to church not seen as a good thing to do? And even if it is “weak”, why is that bad? Is weakness a bad thing? Christianity’s “saviour” is a crucified man who refused to fight back – is that strong? Can a lamb be victorious? I wonder if deconstruction of gender norms and turning-over of the world actually runs very deeply in this religion….

What do you think?

on ambition and humility

It is not easy for a dedicated feminist theologian to admit that she has a certain affection for the confessions of St. Augustine. Countless contemporary theologians have launched various critiques of Augustine’s theology and how it has negatively affected Christianity through his negative view of women and problematic views about the body. I do have a certain affinity for Augustine’s Confessions though, an affection cultivated by an inspiring teacher (Sallie McFague), a brilliant translation
(Garry Wills, Penguin Classics), and a willingness to lose a bit of myself in the process of reading.

This week I found myself returning to a particularly biting chapter simply titled “Ambition”. It begins with Augustine saying “I panted after honors, wealth, marriage – and you [God] just laughed.” I returned because this week I was struck with serious doubts about my own ambition for honour. I had a sort of “state of the union” or summit meeting with my two main theology professors, the meeting that apparently most people have at some point in their academic career, the meeting where they say that I am doing ok but that it is time to step up my game and take things to the next level. The meeting where they say that it is time to start taking things seriously and working hard to maintain focus. They were extremely nice about it, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’m on the right path, if I’m really cut out for this work, if I should be doing something else…

It can be hard to tell, sometimes, why I want to be a part of theological academia, it is certainly not about the money, professors generally aren’t millionaires. It is perhaps about the recognition, the “fame” I might get even inside my own little denomination. It is perhaps about the potential job security of having teaching credentials and being the right age to step-in as the so-called “Baby Boomers” retire from academia.

But it is also about the love of wisdom – erosophy if you will – that pulls me along this path. And my love of wisdom is so tightly tied-up with my love of God, that for me, this is a faith journey. Once in awhile I think it is good to get a sort of “wake-up call” that forces one to re-examine one’s life choices. Especially if the final calculation is a hopeful one. So thank you to my professors for the scholarly coaching, and thank you Augustine, for examining your life in a way that helps me examine mine.

reacquainting with an old friend

This past weekend I was at Samish Island for a church Fine Arts retreat. It was a weekend full of great music, wonderful people, and lots of creative energy. There were lots of lovely moments. My favourite part of the weekend was sitting on the beach on Saturday morning and visiting with an old friend: my favourite tree. I met this tree about two years ago, and I say “met” because this tree has its own personality and distinctive character that seems to give it its own subjectivity.

I met this tree in the summer when I was approaching my last year of my MDiv program at theology school. I
was trying to figure out what I was going to do once I graduated, and was feeling rather disjointed and frightened about not knowing what was next for me. So I met this tree that has become a living metaphor for what theology school has been like for me. The tree clings to the side of a cliff with many of its roots exposed from being battered by the elements. It seems to sit rather precariously, yet it has massive roots that reach deeply into the hillside. There are other plants that live amidst its root system, and there are other trees that surround it further back in the hill, which will hold their ground long after my tree succumbs to the elements.

It is a metaphor for theology school for me mainly because of the roots: I feel like one of the things that this work has done to me is cause me to dig deep and expose the deep roots of myself and my theology, as well as the roots of my church and the larger faith tradition I belong to. It’s not always a pretty process. Sometimes parts get exposed that I wish I didn’t have to see. Sometimes it feels like I’m going to fall over. Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to just pretend those roots aren’t there, and cut off the life that flows to and from them… but like the tree, which surprisingly still has sap running through even the most dead-looking roots, manages to hold on and maintain its vitality.

Last year I went to the beach to see my tree, and was afraid that the fallen tree I saw stretched across the rocky shore was my tree – but no, my tree was still there. This year I was afraid the terrible wind storms we had in the late fall all along the coast might have spelled the end of my tree’s life, but no, it is still clinging to the cliffside, rooting itself more and more deeply all the time, exposing itself more and more all the time.

The tree was a key image for me in my own discernment of my vocation. It helped me discover that I enjoy that process of revealing roots, digging deeper, and always risking more and more. For me, that is what the theological academy promises – the possibility of constant revealing, deepening, and risking.

It’s amazing the things that the world around us can teach us. It’s amazing the wisdom that seems to be built into creation itself. Stop, look, listen, sniff, touch, taste and see what God has asked the world to teach you.