Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Year In Review

I’m not real big on Christmas cards, but I am big on reflecting on the year and updating friends on what’s new in my life. Consider this my Christmas (ok, epiphany) letter. And my year-end blog post. 2007 has been a pretty exciting year in my life. Here are some of the things I did:

I suppose the biggest accomplishment of 2007 was my master’s degree. I finished my 90-some page thesis and defended it in May. I participated in the graduation ceremony in August wearing not-quite-right borrowed regalia, but I was pleased to watch some friends receive their doctoral hoods, which was pretty cool. I also started my PhD studies at UGA this year, and completed ¼ of my coursework.

Also in August, I moved from my one-bedroom apartment across town into a townhouse that I now share with my colleague Jamie. She’s a great roommate, and we get along well. It’s nice to have someone around even when we’re just reading. In fact, some of our classmates make fun of us because we often begin comments in class with “when Jamie and I were talking about this article earlier…” It makes us seem like pretty big dorks, but we are, so that’s ok. I think graduate school was the right choice for me, even though it can be stressful, lonely and high-pressure sometimes. I love the new place too, it’s a great location where we can walk to the campus bus, so we don’t have to drive as much or pay for campus parking.

August was a big month for me; it’s also when I adopted Zeus, who was then only 5 months old. He’s very playful and makes a lot of noise for a cat – he purrs constantly and meows quite a bit. He also has some strange dog-like behaviors, such as playing fetch, drinking out of the toilet and following people around the house. I love him. Another thing that happened then was that I officially joined Athens First United Methodist Church, where I had been attending and leading worship for about 2 years.

I got to visit a lot of places this year. I visited family in West Michigan in the spring and for Christmas. It was nice both times, but somewhat less exciting this winter, as I spent several days laid up after my wisdom teeth surgery. My family also visited me in Georgia, which was pretty cool. We even got to play some music at my new church! I went to LA twice, when I came for my birthday, Jim and I hiked to some natural hotsprings one day and saw some of Joshua Tree National Park on the next. It was a great trip. I also visited Jim this fall in Washington DC, which was a lot of fun. In July, I went with my friends Kristy and Katie to the Hostel in the Forest in Brunswick, GA. While we were there we visited St Simons, Jekyll Island and Savannah. Some of our touring included the Wesley sites, preparing me for my impending Methodism. The hostel was an experience in itself, ask me about it sometime.

My quotation marks blog took off like gangbusters, and I figured out how to make money off of it. I’m hoping the money thing will work out for me some more in 2008.

This is getting long, I feel like I have more stuff to say. I got my first Revise and Resubmit from a Journal this year, I discovered my love of karaoke, I went kayaking for the first time. Jim and I dated all year. I am still rather in love with him. Thinking about this year has really reminded me how fun and supportive and wonderful my family is, and my friends are. Thanks, y’all, for a great 2007! If 2008 is close to as exciting, I'll be a happy lady.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Google Reader

I recently started using Google Reader for my RSS feeds. If you want to see what I'm sharing, it's here. I wish google would enable me to share these things with a few comments about why I think they're interesting, but for now you'll have to refer to the Bethany in your head. Or ask the real me.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

more on Huckabee

Jim sent me this Huckabee campaign ad last night and we talked about why it's such a good piece of candidate marketing:

It's a gorgeous pander to the family-values, war-on-christmas, stop-being-so-negative crowd, while being perfectly innocuous. It's often challenging to wink to some voters without offending at least a few savvy others. Where was the staffer that came up with this one when Huckabee said all those terrifying things about women being submissive and quarantining AIDS patients?

Regardless, this ad functions quite well for him. It makes him seem serious and sincere, when his jokester ways could cause problems. It makes him seem wholesome and positive in the midst of attack politics - many aiming for him given his recent rise.

I still don't think he has a chance in the general because of aforementioned terrifying statements, but this ad is a good bit of politics.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Religion in the Presidential Primary

The internet and media are suddenly abuzz about the role of religion in the presidential primary. The discussion centers primarily on Romney and Huckabee. Romney’s Religion Speech a few weeks ago brought the topic to the fore (fascinating commentary by Comm Scholar Josh Gunn here. Fair warning for my non-academic readers: cites Levinas.), and Huckabee’s rise also solicits a lot of discussion about the role of religion, given his background as a Baptist Minister. Frank Rich wrote a really interesting piece in the Times this week about the kind of religious perspectives both of these people espouse (and how they are hostile to non-religious or secularists, which is pretty terrifying for democracy even if you think religion is important).

There also has been some discussion about whether or not questioning political candidates if they believe the bible qualifies as a religious test. Christopher Hitchens reminds us that the constitution is not talking about how individuals should decide who to vote for, but about official rules for who can take office.

I tend to side with Frank Rich – I’m quite nervous when anyone makes statements that are hostile to any people, regardless of their faith OR the lack thereof. While the US has a long history of being vaguely Christian (In the 1950s, for example, a lot of vague God-talk was used to unite American Christians and Jews and to differentiate theistic Americans from atheistic communists) as globalization continues, democracy must learn to include those who do not believe. Deliberative Democracy advocates suggest that religious people must translate their values into arguments that appeal to those outside of their belief system. Barack Obama’s 2006 Faith and Politics speech forwards this view. While my faith is important to me, I think in a democracy it’s important that we speak from a position that includes everyone, and does not start out excluding some people’s assumptions before their positions on the issue at hand are even voiced. Rhetoric from candidates that is hostile to some members of our nation should be unacceptable to all of us. But it seems that to some, it’s appealing. What does this mean for our democracy?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Advent and Material Rhetoric

I was explaining to my roommate Jamie the other day why I love advent so much. There are lots of reasons, really, that I love advent. I’ve always loved advent. I love the color purple, I love twinkling lights and candles, I love hymns in minor keys. In Michigan, anyway, Advent is often the season of the first snow, and it’s crisp and sparkling and still exciting. The dominant mood in advent is waiting and longing. This is probably the theological mood that I could comprehend best as a child. Everyone understands what it is to wait.

Advent is also a time when we reflect on one of my favorite doctrines: the incarnation. In the Christmas story, God becomes a person. Not any person, a first century Jewish baby in a stable. He gets born. The word becomes flesh. God announces to us in a dramatic, private, angel-heralded event that bodies matter. Bodies matter so much that God needed to become embodied to show us how to live, and to save us. Jesus’ body mattered, Mary’s body mattered. If bodies mattered enough for God to decide they were a crucial part of his salvation story, then they must matter for us in our lives too.

The piece I realized when I was talking to Jamie is how much my love of this doctrine affects the way I think. It’s this commitment to the idea that bodies matter – that our physical needs and location and actions are important – that has a big influence on my scholarly commitments. These material concerns have been largely overlooked, especially by those who study the making of meaning and argument. But through the incarnation I realize that the most profound meanings are made with bodies and buildings and objects, including the person of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bono on Wave of Sorrow

This video is a really interesting text that offers a unique glimpse into songwriting. It's rare that you see a songwriter listening to his own song and interrupting to explain the allusions. But I also wonder if you would get this kind of self-reflexive insight into a writer's thoughts about a song's meaning without the kind of long-term process that this song took. That is, it was written 20 years ago and finished recently. Bono presents a kind of self-importance that few other people can get away with, but I'm willing to take it from him.