Sunday, August 23, 2009

Personal is Political: Ring edition

I thought I’d share some of the decisions Justin and I made in our engagement that we hope reflect our sensibilities and our beliefs about gender and relationships. I hope for this to be the beginning of a series on this blog about a variety of life choices that I see as political in some small way.

When Justin and I started talking about engagement, and looking at rings online we had fun looking at a wide range of things. I felt strongly about wanting a conflict-free gemstone, and about not spending too much money. We quickly learned that I couldn’t have both those things and also have a diamond. More shopping and some serendipity led us to a sapphire in a beautiful filigree setting that was already just my size, which I love.

The more we shopped for women’s rings, the more I wanted one. But one day Justin brought up how him giving me an engagement ring didn’t seem to represent our relationship very well. I agreed that the engagement ring tradition seems linked to traditions of status and marking ownership of a woman that doesn’t sit well with the way we see our relationship. But we were having so much fun shopping!

So we started looking for men’s rings. We wanted something that didn’t necessarily look like a wedding band, but that was still elegant and manly. We were excited when we found a designer on etsy who lives in Athens, GA whose work we loved, and I got Justin a ring in silver that we might replace with gold or platinum for our wedding bands.

Like a lot of the choices we are facing in our relationship, I’m happy with both of us having rings because it honors some of the elements of the tradition that I like: signifying our commitment in a way other people will be able to see and understand, honoring each other with a pretty gift. But it avoids some of the problems: irresponsible spending, unequal giving.

When I lay it out this way, it feels like a silly thing to spend so many pixels on. But I like that we made a few small unusual choices, and that they are weird enough that they sometimes bring up questions, which allows us to talk about our values.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

identity, advocacy and relationship statuses

It’s funny how some things become a part of your identity that you feel awkward when they change. I didn’t realize that being single and independent was one of those things until my recent engagement has forced me to rethink it.

In college I slowly let go of the idea that I’d get married soon after graduation. I had a few dates and several crushes, but nothing that would make me change my facebook status to “in a relationship” if we had had facebook in those days. In that maturing process, I realized that temporary or long-term singleness was not a terrible sentence, but one situation in which one can live well. I especially was aided in this realization when I considered some single women who were professors at my school. They were smart, fun, successful people who I wanted to emulate. If I could be single like them, then that wouldn’t just be okay, it would be great.

This attitude cemented itself as I moved to Georgia alone and discovered that academia is full of successful people in a variety of life situations, and 22 wasn’t very old to “still” be single. Living alone, I became proud of my independence. I killed my own bugs, assembled my own cheap furniture, made my own decisions about food and time and money (with advice and support from parents and friends, of course). I felt like this time as a single adult made me a stronger person, and forced me to rely on and appreciate community.

I began to feel so strongly about this perspective, that I started to get frustrated with the ways single adults were treated in church and spoken to and about in Christian literature. These were issues I finally wrote about on this blog and in an article for The Banner. I was surprised after the Banner article hit print that a lot of people contacted me about how much they appreciated the article. Maybe, I thought, this is an important project God has for me: help the church find new ways to love and include singles. I started to see myself as Bethany Keeley: singles advocate.

Then Justin went and asked me to marry him. Of course I said yes, I love Justin and am excited to commit to him. And of course, I can still be married and smart and independent, and I can still be invested in community. I can still stand up for single people in the church, but I realize my new life situation makes me a little bit less credible on the topic. This is a perennial problem in identity politics: do you have to be in a certain identity group to write about it? I think the personal experience helps, but I also think attentiveness to the issue and passion is the most important. And all along my writing about singles has been less about me and more about a set of experiences, mine and those of friends. I don’t need to share someone else’s experience to help represent it.

I’m writing this post in part to clarify for myself why I’m worried about this, and in part to announce that this issue is still important to me even if it has become less personal. So, single friends, if something happens to you that makes you say “this is what is so hard about being single in the church,” please, tell me the story. I need anecdotes.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Only in a College Town

So I just got back from seeing Angels and Demons with some friends at the theater here in Athens. The movie was good, not exceptional, but fine. A bit too much with the rotating camera for my poor stomach (a bit much with the gruesome for my stomach as well, actually) but I'm not a film reviewer. What I do want to comment on is what I experienced in the theater which I expect you would not find in a place that didn't have a large segment of researchers in the population.

First, the joke that got the biggest laugh was when Professor Langdon says "I could have finished my book if I had this! It would have sold dozens of copies!"

Second, soon after that, the woman he is with tears a page out of this only copy of a Gallileo book that has their code in it (instead of copying because there's no time). The entire audience gasped. gasped loudly. All the gruesome deaths in the movie? Less reaction than destroying the archive.

If I had any question whether this town was dominated by the university before, I do not any longer.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Church Transitions

The worship service I have been helping to lead for nearly 4 years now made a big transition this week. We moved out of the Morton Theatre and into the fellowship hall of our church building. This is a good transition for us for many reasons. The new space enables a lot of community activities that the theatre space inhibited. It seriously cuts down on our set-up and tear-down time, and it saves the church money. I have long felt uncomfortable with the way leading church from a proscenium stage makes worship seem too much like a concert or show.

Nevertheless, transitions lead one to reflect on all the good things we are leaving behind. I’ve been thinking about other transitions from my life, and thought I should perhaps reflect on this closing era for me.

I remember vividly my first day at the Morton. I was adjusting to my new life in Athens, after living here for maybe a month. I was frustrated because I missed Centrepointe quite a bit, and hadn’t felt especially welcomed or at home in any of the churches I visited, though I did see places I could perhaps use the gifts I had developed in college, which was important to me. The only reason I went to the Morton at all was that a friend suggested it. I didn’t see myself in such a large congregation or such a rock-toned service. Within a week, though, I knew that God had prepared a place for me here. For one thing, it was the last week of the band’s violin player, Andre. I talked to Julie after church about playing and singing, and I got an email a few days later asking me to participate in an offertory. Even though I arrived alone and sat toward the edge, several people were very welcoming to me. I know that this hasn’t been everyone’s experience in this service, but it was a clear signal to me that this was my place.

Since then I’ve rarely missed a Sunday playing with some of the best musicians I have ever been around. I’ve learned a lot about the Christian life from the people I’ve met at the morton. A lot of those things have surprised me. I know that none of these things are changing in our new space, but the old theatre was special because it was the site of these important relationships that helped me acclimate to my current stage of life in the south.

Our first service in our new space had a feeling of excitement and community. I could see the people, and there was space for us all to hang around afterwards. I have really missed feeling like that fellowship time was encouraged. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for us in the upcoming years. God has really shown me through this church, and through my previous church homes that there will always be a place for me wherever I move. None of these places are perfect, but they are all beautiful.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Thinking Christian

I'm doing some blogging for Think Christian now, and my first post showed up today. I don't know if I will still use this blog. Definitely if I have things to say that aren't specifically about Christianity. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 23, 2009

In the Banner

Check out this article I wrote for The Banner last summer. I'm so pleased it's finally published.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Manly Calvinism?

This weekends NY Times Magazine has an article about Mark Driscoll, a popular minister in Seattle. I wanted to bring it up on my blog to start a discussion with my calvinist friends about how to parse his (offensive to me) message given our background. I should mention first that I think the writer does a great job, although I wish she would have consulted other mainstream calvinists with some of her discussion of the impact of calvinism.

My primary question is about the way Driscoll's understanding of masculinity and authority are tied up in his understanding of calvinism. A few illuminating quotations:

Driscoll is adamantly not the “weepy worship dude” he associates with liberal and mainstream evangelical churches, “singing prom songs to a Jesus who is presented as a wuss who took a beating and spent a lot of time putting product in his long hair.”
The mainstream church, Driscoll has written, has transformed Jesus into “a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that . . . would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell.”

“They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached. John Calvin couldn’t have said it better himself.
Now, I think I heard that John Calvin himself was kind of an authoritarian jerk and sexist (it was the 16th century after all, who wasn't?). However, I don't think that Calvin's theology, or the other theology in that tradition necessarily implicates these attitudes. In fact, I found Molly Worthen's conclusion quite satisfying:

At one suburban campus that I visited, a huge yellow cross dominated center stage — until the projection screen unfurled and Driscoll’s face blocked the cross from view. Driscoll’s New Calvinism underscores a curious fact: the doctrine of total human depravity has always had a funny way of emboldening, rather than humbling, its adherents.
So here's my question for participation: DOES Calvinism lead to this kind of arrogance and machoism?

Here's another: why does Driscoll reject most evangelical's distrust of alcohol, tattoos, cursing and violence, but stand resolutely behind traditional gender roles and sexual mores? (My suspicion: he likes power and to be "tough" and feminism takes away power from men like Driscoll.)

Also, I think it's incorrect to associate warm fuzzy Jesus who doesn't challenge anyone or deal well with bad things that happen with liberalism. This might be my bias, but I think liberal theology does the opposite: acknowledges the wages of sin in the world and calls for justice. Also, are tattoos and spiky hair still a mark of hipness? Just saying.