Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Mystical Experiences

I just started reading The Geometry of Love by Margaret Visser, which is a wide-ranging meditation on the architecture and contents of a particular church in Rome. I was struck by her argument, early in the book, that a church intends to remind the people who enter of their mystical experiences. Two friends (one here) recently talked about wishing they could experience God. Visser writes that everyone has mystical experiences, experiences of an intensity that goes beyond the world and our understanding of it. Is she right? I have no idea.

I know I had mystical experiences before I associated them with God and then when I became a believer I went back and re-understood them as experiences of God. Nowadays I have them mostly in the context of therapy, where I will sometimes reach a desperate place and then feel God's light surrounding me. And sometimes not--I don't count on it. Years ago I once remarked to a therapist that the room had suddenly gotten lighter. And she said that was because I had released some of the tension in my neck muscles and more blood was getting to my brain.

Monday, December 30, 2002

Icon of Mary

I ordered an icon to be my advent icon (I have 5 or 6 I rotate with the seasons on the wall next to my bed). It is an icon of Mary called "More Spacious than the Heavens". The Creator of heaven and earth was contained in Mary's womb so her womb must be more spacious than the heavens. My daughter was born at 10 pounds 1 ounce so I'm not sure I find that entirely a comfortable image. But it does expand my image of God inside me.

Saturday, December 28, 2002

WASP culture

Yesterday I was listening to the things my mother told me as a child about how important it was not to be needy and I thought about WASP jokes. The one that came to mind actually was "How do you tell the bride at a WASP wedding?" "She's the one kissing the golden retriever." It is so hard to feel that it is ok to have feelings and needs.

Friday, December 27, 2002


Today would have been the birthday of my friend Ruth. Last year I sent her a purple fake-suede shirt for her birthday and I have always wondered if she was wearing it when she died.

update 12/28: My friend Ann suggests that I imagine Ruth wearing the shirt in heaven. My image of heaven isn't that specific, but it is a good thought.

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

Blue Ridge Mountains

I lift up my eyes to the hills;
from where is my help to come?
My help comes from the LORD,
the maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121, Book of Common Prayer

Monday, December 23, 2002


Unpacking boxes of books in my new office and Christmas are a bad combination. My dream holiday right now would just be to curl up and read something light, but 9 and 12 year old kids have very clear Christmas expectations. I always feel like I can't get to what I am supposed to feel.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Pregnant with God

I was thinking that for Advent I wished I had an icon of Mary pregnant with Jesus. I heard an Advent meditation once on imagining ourselves pregnant with God and I found it a powerful image. I don't remember one in the catalog of the usual place I buy icons, but Google found me a good one. No, I'm wrong, St. Isaac of Syria Skete does have several (one, two, three).

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Writing ourselves into existence

One Pot Meal used the line that we are "writing ourselves into existence." He meant as a community, but I feel very strongly that as a person I am writing myself into existence as well. And I want to be seen, though at the same time I am doing it for myself, not for someone else's approval.

Steve goes on in his next post to write about new ways of writing on the web. I get so frustrated with asking students to write web pages because no matter how much I talk about how the web allows other kinds of organization all I get are illustrated papers. It is incredibly hard to break my students (freshman engineers from southern public schools) out of organizing things linearly. Back when Apple invented the idea of hypertext, before the Web came along, I remember there was some discussion of this as a new way of writing. Anyone remember whether any of it was useful?

I'm too tired to think about it further. I'm still struggling with painful memories from childhood. The tree was lifted off our house Tuesday by a 60 ton crane and an entire new roof put on yesterday. My new office is stacked with 33 boxes of books, I've unpacked maybe 5 and sent another 5 boxes of bound journals to the seminar room. One of my main journals, Isis is now available online from University of Chicago Press and back issues are available from JSTOR all the way back to 1913. So I guess I don't need my collection of back issues. There's a way that academic work is changing whose effects I can hardly imagine.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Finished Grading

Finally all my grades are in. The last class I did was an honors class mostly of freshman engineers. I had them read Langdon Winner's book The Whale and the Reactor and it worked better than I had feared. I asked them on their final exam if Winner's predictions that computers would not enhance democracy and equality had proved true in the 15 years since the book was published, and most of the ones who answered that question said they had.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Moving Offices

Two and a half years ago we moved out of our offices to a building even worse in need of renovation. They gutted our building down to bare walls and dirt and rebuilt it and today we moved back in. They even bought us new furniture, which means everything is terribly uniform. However, they didn't allow money for blinds and I can't read my computer screen when the sun comes in my window. I hung in my window some scarves I had had draped over the window frame in my temporary office, which were part of the decorating I did there to make it feel like my own, my safe space. The department chair just asked me what I have hanging in my window, dirty laundry?

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Lott's Priorities

As little as I think of the man, I'm still shocked that Lott is putting out the word that he would resign from his seat if forced to resign from the leadership (link is to a good article in the Washington Post--registration is required unless you get to it through Google News). Isn't the majority leader supposed to put the good of his party ahead of his own personal ambition? Has honor simply come to be seen as oldfashioned?

When I urged my students to vote in November they talked about how their votes don't matter and they talked about how little respect they have for politicians. It is getting harder to argue against them--I finally was reduced to asking them if they thought it would make our system of government better or worse if 20% of eligible citizens voted instead of 40%.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

A Tree on our Roof

I was feeling yesterday that packing to move my office might not be as bad as I feared. Then I went home and this is what I saw:

The casualty contractor was out to look at it this morning and said "Now that's a big tree."

We were on the edge of the big ice storm last week and didn't have any damage. This was just a windstorm in the middle of a day of rain.

Friday, December 13, 2002

Teaching and authority

In haste, as I've just started packing my office to move back into our renovated building Monday (after 2 1/2 years in temporary quarters which I will miss). A nightmare--this is exam week and grades have to get in and my office packed at exactly the same time.

One Pot Meal has come back to the topic of teaching with some very thoughtful reflections. When I started using the internet in teaching what I most hoped was that it would encourage students to be exploratory learners. It doesn't work as well as I would hope--they just want to know what they need to know for the test. But I keep trying. I wrote some thoughts a couple of years ago on The Authority of Experience.

The question of authority is really interesting. In some sense I believe in undermining it, at least undermining the old idea of a one-way flow where I tell the students what they need to know. But where I have the authority to give a grade, to pretend that I don't have authority over students is not helpful to anyone. I think sometimes students don't want the professor to give up authority partly because they are lazy and partly because their parents are paying and they are giving their time believing that the professor has something to give them, and they see authority as how that works.

That ties into AKMA's thoughts about elitism. His argument made me nervous; it seems to me to go too far towards the idea that elites are justified by efficiency. Elites too often use that argument to keep out anyone whose politics they disagree with (I was on an NSF panel for a while and was particularly struck by that in some of the proposals we reviewed for small conferences of experts). I've seen it happen so often particularly that feminist critics are dismissed as a waste of the time of the "real" experts.

But elitism is efficient; the most efficient way for me to get facts into my students' heads is to lecture. I've actually done an experiment that showed that was true, at least in the short term. On the other side, discussion courses at their worst don't rise above what the students already know, and I have real doubts about that as a learning experience. We have to live in the messy middle. When do I want my students to reflect what they learn back into their own experience or to have the experience of wrestling with an idea? Then I need to give them responsibility. And when do I have something to give them that they will be glad to get from me? I actually end up doing a lot of the talking in class, but I do it not as a know-it-all authority but as a role model of wrestling with the questions. I select my topics carefully to not scare them off but then in a subtle way I am gut honest about my thinking process.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Lott and Bob Jones University

Lott can't say that his comment at Thurmond's birthday party was an isolated occurrence. In 1982 he tried to save Bob Jones University from losing its tax exemption because of its policy of racial discrimination. Lott both filed a friend of the court brief and then when the Supreme Court ruled (U.S. Supreme Court BOB JONES UNIVERSITY v. UNITED STATES, 461 U.S. 574 (1983)) against Bob Jones, cosponsored a bill to preserve the tax exemption.

In 2000, after the furor about George W. Bush speaking at Bob Jones University, Bob Jones II said: "In our court case 20 years ago we fought for religious freedom, not for our policy banning interracial dating, but for our right to hold that policy. God has again brought us to national attention." (Chapel Talks, Monday March 6, 2000). The place hasn't changed much: the rules for guests in the dormitories include that women must wear dresses or skirts (no pants except for recreation) that are knee length or below and "hose". Openly-gay alumni were banned from visiting campus in 1998. Bob Jones Univ. started admitting African-American students in the 1970s but was in 2000 still defending its prohibition of interracial dating. The ban was dropped in March of that year but the university has not chosen to try to get back its tax exempt status back. More sources

Wednesday, December 11, 2002


I asked the students in my women's history class to write on the web board about what issues the course had left them thinking about. One student wrote:

"I came into this class wanted to learn
something since I have never been previously exposed to
this material before, but I really thought this would be
some sort of evil feminist class. I realize now that
was quite the opposite. I have come away from this
class with just an introduction into the lives of women
throughout history. I want to continue reading books
about women who were active in the women's rights
movement, the civil right's movement, and the women's
liberation movement."


I grew up in a family where someone always had to be to blame for everything. I still tend to blame because I can't bear to blame myself. I realize that there is part of forgiveness that I am scared of because if I don't blame the other person then it must be my fault (the letting go of resentment part of forgiveness is easier for me). I'm trying to understand that things just happen, someone doesn't have to be to blame. But I wonder is there some way to put the responsibility on the other person that is better than blame, that can turn away (still carrying all that is precious and wounded) instead of staying entwined.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Teaching, Authority, and the Internet

I wrote AKMA some thoughts about his Disseminary proposal, and then thought I would share them here because writing about it helped me think both about my own call and about teaching with information technology. When I get a little time I need to start to draw some conclusions from my experience this semester teaching lap-top required courses, particularly for the first time a large class (80 students).

1. As I think about my own call and whether it makes any sense for me to go to seminary, I would very much like a place where I could read scholarship, reflections and new ideas of the sort that I would experience in seminary. I walked into a new Sunday School class in my church at the beginning of the fall, and one of the organizers said: "Oh, no, a college professor." I'm hungry for places where I can be intellectually challenged and can start to build bridges between my intellectual world and my internal faith experience.

2. I would love to be a part of a community of people wondering about attending seminary. In my small town and spread-out diocese I don't know of anyone else, and I'm still in the stage where I am afraid if I talk about it to people they will think I am foolish. Certainly a community would help me discern and develop my dream.

3. The Internet has the potential to transform the processing of teaching in ways we must think carefully about. Its great strength is the opportunity it gives students to learn independently, to share ideas, and to publish their work. That is, it helps build community and gives students more opportunities to take responsibility for their own learning. This proposal takes advantage of those opportunities both by making information available to learners and also by blurring the roles of teachers and learners. Teachers who aren't giving a grade don't have the same kind of authority over learners; learners are coming for what they want. In my own teaching I would most like to encourage my students to be exploratory learners, but it is hard to get them out of the focus on what will be on the test. I would love to see a site that had not just discussion boards and the opportunity for outsiders to submit material to go on the site, but also some way that groups of teachers and learners could write white papers on various issues that would be products of group thinking and discussion and would be posted to the site. I think it could be a tremendously interesting group learning experience.

4. As the Internet gives students a more visible voice, we must think more deeply about the balance between professional knowledge (the authority of the teacher) and what students already know from their own experience. I actually think a seminary context is a wonderful place to explore this aspect of the impact of information technology on education because seminaries have to take seriously the inner life of the student in a way that other educational settings can avoid. The opportunity here is to bring seminary professors together on an equal basis with people who are interested in similar issues. The learners want to gain the perspective that scholarship can provide, but they aren't students coming to be socialized into a professional role that ends in a degree. I would hope that the professional authority of the seminary professors and the authority that the learners have from their own life experience could meet on a more equal basis. Think of what a model this could be--can you imagine doctors sharing on an equal basis say with the parents of kids with learning disabilities in a discussion of what works and what doesn't work? It is much easier to imagine such sharing in a seminary setting than a medical one.

Monday, December 09, 2002

Exam Week

Too many students, too many papers. Most of my students turn in their exams by email--one class has a takehome and the other classes are laptops-required classes and the students have the option of writing their tests on their laptops and emailing them to me. I'm afraid I will miss something else important in my in box in the flood of papers. Most of the time I print them out, though I have a few times graded the attachments and emailed them back. Is the pain of printing them all out worth the ease of reading typed exams instead of handwriting? I need to remind myself that it is.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

Old Strom

I'm really upset about Lott's saying it would be a good thing if Thurmond had won the presidency. One Pot Meal suggests Reading and Writing for links on the topic. Thurmond ran for president as the candidate of a separate political party formed for the sole purpose of fighting desegregation. If he had won we would still have segregated schools. Lott thinks that we would be a better nation for that????

Stom's strength in South Carolina is based partly on the fact that his office has done excellent constituent service. An article in The Economist said that when a significant number of South Carolina black began to vote then his office started providing services for blacks as well. But a student who knew someone who worked in his office said his opinion behind closed doors has not changed much.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

Valuing Women

jeanne d'arc said it beautifully.

Friday, December 06, 2002


I'm chairing a search committee and was complaining after a meeting that I don't like leadership situations because I agonize too much. Then I realized that what I really don't like is any situation where it is wisest to not be open with people. The last time I chaired a search committee I got into a situation where I was open with some candidates, and the only thing that came of it was they ended up feeling mistreated. I was trying to help, to see if it might be possible to hire a husband and the wife, but it didn't work out. It was a lesson for me that there are situations where being open with people just means they get hurt.

I realize "leadership" isn't what I am really talking about. To me "authority" is about how we play our roles, not about job descriptions. I guess I'm talking about the constraints on the person who is "in charge."

I worked for a while at an innovative small college where department meetings were run by consensus rather than Roberts Rules of Order . It wasn't inspiring--it just meant longer meetings because the group would just wait until the people who were blocking consensus got tired and left and then make a decision. So I'm not saying I want to avoid hierarchical organizations entirely, but I don't like being on either side of it.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Real Women

A student commented about Ruby Doris Smith Robinson that African-American women in the civil rights movement didn't see feminism as an issue because society didn't see them as "real" women, they suffered the same harsh treatment as African-American men.

The student's point was about what issues African-American women might feel should be their highest priority, but that term "real" women caught my eye. That's part of the trap we are struggling with. Most of my students want to be real women, not feminists. We feminists thought we could change what it meant to be a real woman, but it hasn't changed as much as we thought it would. We made ourselves more freedom to be real in different ways, but when you are 20 it is scarier to try to define for yourself what it means to be a woman.

In Soon We Will Not Cry, Cynthia Griggs Fleming writes that even though Robinson died young of cancer, she "had still achieved a victory of monumental proportions. She had defied all of society's efforts to categorize her and circumscribe her ambitions. Ruby Doris Smith Robinson had made her own decisions, charted her own course, and ultimately invented herself."
Ice Non-Event

The university closed at 2:30 yesterday until noon today--there was some ice on the trees but in the end we never got any on the roads. Thirty miles north it was a lot worse. But it is frustrating to have missed the last day of my women's history class when the roads were just fine this morning even when I took the kids to school at 8. I really wanted to hear what they might say in summing up issues from the course. Hopefully I will get some of that on the WebCT discussion board and on their takehome exams.

Our power was out for two hours last night and my husband and I struggled with the decision of whether to go to a hotel or stay home and hope it came on and take the risk of being iced into an unheated house. I finally said my gut feeling was to stay home. Ten minutes later the power came on and didn't go out again.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Snow in the South

It is raining here now, not slippery at all, but some mixture of snow, sleet and freezing rain is predicted. Yesterday the traffic was a mess--everyone was out buying bread and milk. It is a tradition to buy bread and milk when snow is predicted, even if no one in your family drinks milk. Most of the schools have already closed, though the university hasn't, since about half the students live on campus or within walking distance and this is the last week of classes.

Last year there was a day with a couple of inches of snow and I checked the TV school closings and my kids' school wasn't listed. So I took them to school only to find it was closed--the TV station had missed listing them. The next day the snow had completely melted so I didn't check the TV, we just headed for school, only to find it was closed again. Coming from Massachusetts I find this very frustrating.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002


Terrible, terrible memories slowly coming clear. Can I live with having done those things as a child? Pray for me.

Monday, December 02, 2002


Sunday, December 01, 2002

A Woman Blogger and Proud of It

Sharon writes about not wanting to be put in a separate category as a woman blogger. Dorothea has a good analysis of the larger issue. But I want to bring some thoughts that probably come mostly from 1970s feminism to the question of being identified as women. (I'm speaking here as more of a difference feminist; equal rights feminists wouldn't agree.)

I don't want to be accepted as just a person, because then the standing I have is what the men (who still have the weight of numbers and aggressiveness in most subcommunities) will give me. I would like a community where we will stand up for our interests as women, help each other and insist together on being heard. I don't feel we are past the point where that is needed, and am not sure I want to be. Our particular concerns are still seen as trivial or silly--today people make jokes about knitting and tomorrow the jokes will be about the acceptability of breastfeeding in work-related contexts. "The personal is the political" felt so crucial to us in the 1970s because women's interests were so often trivialized. I would stand up for those interests, not ask them to be ignored so that we can be accepted into a sex-blind society. I care more about acceptance by women than by men.

I did a google search on "the personal is the political" to try to find some quick background to provide, and what came up was a lot of weird stuff. The phrase was not about selfishness but rather was a way of fighting back against a system that said that war is important and childraising is not. Our experiences and our concerns need to count, in political discourse and in the classroom.

addition 12/3: Don't miss the thoughts of Sheila Lennon

Tuesday, November 26, 2002


Continuing to bounce off issues raised by One Pot Meal.

I asked my women's history class (about a third of whom are practicing Baptists) what being feminine means to them. Lots of them talked about wanting to be attractive, wanting to dress up. I didn't push them on who they wanted to attract (it was, after all, the last class before Thanksgiving), but I think they would first have said they wanted to feel good about themselves. However, they didn't think being feminine meant deferring to men. After some discussion it came out that while they absolutely thought women should be assertive, they did think that to be feminine involved putting others first.

I think the issue here may be understanding authority. They seemed to like the model of the mother who makes all the decisions for the household but never puts herself first. But I'm suspicious of that model both because it seems like a way of borrowing authority instead of having a right to it and also because I think putting oneself first in subtle ways can be more dangerous than being upfront about it.

I'm off for a few days, will be back here Dec. 1.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Blog Privacy

One Pot Meal asks whether professors worry about students reading their blogs. I wrote the following answer.

I do worry about student gossip. I don't feel it could endanger my job--I have tenure and a strong record and the support of my colleagues. But I feel it could reduce my effectiveness if the students are sniggering about me behind my back; they love any excuse to not respect the professor because then they don't feel obliged to learn. I remember in the early 1980s male colleagues laughing about how all the students paid attention to in the class of one tenured woman professor was her breasts. And I remember a student who said that he stopped reading a book I had assigned after 10 pages because he found one fact he knew was wrong so the book wasn't worth reading.

But I also figure students are usually lazy and the downside if students do start reading my blog isn't very severe. I have a web site on abuse issues which I keep very separate from my public identity. My blog I just keep a little bit separate. If you go to my blog it is easy to figure out who I am, but if you do a search on my name my blog doesn't come up.

Would my students be upset to read my writing about them in my blog? I don't know. I don't think I am disrespectful but it is always a bit of an uncomfortable feeling to be talked about.

I suppose it may be somewhat of a different issue next term, when I am going to call students' attention to blogs by requiring them to write one. I will write a separate one myself pertaining to the class as a model for them rather than giving them a link to this.

Saturday, November 23, 2002

Critiquing Evolutionary Psychology

There is a biting and amusing attack on evolutionary psychology in the lastest New Yorker, in the form of a review of Steven Pinker's book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. "Music appreciation, for instance, seems to be wired in at about the level of 'Hot Cross Buns.' But people learn to enjoy Wagner. They even learn to sing Wagner. One suspects that enjoying Wagner, singing Wagner, anything to do with Wagner, is in gross excess of the requirements of natural selection." There is also a critique in The New Republic.

Friday, November 22, 2002

Local Culture

The messages of local church signs often bother me, but here it gets even more basic--R U saved or lost?--on a winding mountain road. The sign has been there the 5 years I have been driving the road; I don't know if it goes back much farther or not. I don't like the question--I'll borrow the answer that I am saved, I am being saved, I will be saved--but I like the merger of nature and culture.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

I'm reading Soon We Will Not Cry, a biography of civil rights activist Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, with my women's history class. The courage of the activists of the early 1960s is remarkable. I already had some mental image of the lunch-counter sit-ins but none of what it was like to be arrested at a sit in and go to jail for 30 or 60 days. I notice how much nonviolence was about accepting pain, choosing pain, in order to stand up for what is right. Turning the other cheek doesn't mean giving up on justice (a camp counselor with lots of Christian ideas told my son that he should respond to teasing by turning the other cheek, and I struggled to explain why that was wrong).

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Monday I had my students actually solve a problem on a slide rule. Today I told the story of what it was like to write computer programs and run them by batch processing of punch cards in the mid 1970s. I'm not sure the students even believe me.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Too pressed. I handed back book reviews and the students handed in rough drafts of their papers. Much to think about deep inside as well.

God, help me to hear what is in my heart and at the same time to live up to my responsibilities without getting overwhelmed. Help me to see how it all weaves together into a life. Amen

Monday, November 18, 2002

The Mangel Wurzel

The elementary students were curious about the use of turnips (actually beets) as animal feed in the agricultural revolution that preceded the British Industrial Revolution. I did some searching and found one description with a picture. It also seems that the mangel-wurzel was at least in some areas of England the original jack-o-lantern and all those stories at halloween that talked about the use of turnips didn't explain about the kind of turnips/beets used for animal feed.

But my favorite find is about Robert Nichols who "refused to deny the rumour, current among younger Oxford poets, that he had been sent down from the University for throwing a mangel-wurzel at Lloyd George."

jumping between topics

I had an intense phone conversation with my therapist this morning--I had found an article debunking recovered memories in a publication he reads (I won't dignify it with a link) and I needed reassurance that he believes me. We acknowledged that all the details aren't necessarily accurate, but I wanted him to say he believes me, what I remember was real. He got stuck on exactly what I meant by that, but it was so important that I kept pushing. I acknowledged that details get mixed up with symbols and feelings but I need the overall statement that he believes it was real. Finally he did give me that.

By the time we had worked that out it was time for me to give a talk to 4th-6th graders on the history of factory workers. I gave a brief description not just of the development of textile factories in England, New England, and the American South but also of the basic principles of capitalism (why the profits go to the owners, not the workers). I had a lot of energy to put into it, I guess.

I have almost an hour to catch my breath before lecturing on the history of computers before the computer. It intrigues me to try to get my students to understand what a slide rule did and didn't do. I'm going to get them to try one on their laptops.

Friday, November 15, 2002

Abusive Priests

Amy Welborn posted an interesting discussion of the bishop's revised policy on sexual abuse (scroll down to Nov. 14--the post links aren't working). I very much like her approach, and I think many of the issues she raises are applicable beyond the Catholic church. But I want to push us all to think more carefully about one issue.

Amy writes: "Try to help others understand the difference between forgiveness and allowing to continue in ministry. This is the story that keeps popping up, and will continue to. We have not seen the end of parishes crying over their lost Father Predator who only did it once twenty years ago. People really need to understand that the desire to be sexually involved with a child or youth is not normal and goes beyond the way we normally speak and think of sin. It betrays a wealth of problems that should alert anyone to the fact that such a person isn't fit for ministry to others. He may be fit to fix cars, but a person who harbors sexual desires for a child or a teen, even if he recognizes it and fights it, doesn't belong in ministry."

I agree absolutely that someone with just one offense doesn't belong in ministry, if only because the institution must do its best to live up to the trust we cannot help but hold it in. But I think it is dangerous to see these people as somehow fundamentally different from you and me. My abusers were and are upstanding citizens--it is very hard to see them as not normal. Such grevious harm (and it is grevious, it is beyond our everyday concept of sin) is something that many of us could fall into the trap of committing, if we both made a series of bad choices and got trapped by circumstances and couldn't imagine a way out. I fear that if we say these people are different we avoid facing the risk, we distance it by identifying it only with a small group of perverts.

My addition to Amy's call to action, particularly her point about being alert, is to stress the importance of avoiding minimizing. My mother told a story recently about a family where the grandfather lived with them and the daughters told their friends who came to visit overnight to make sure to lock the bedroom door because grandpa would come prowling. We too easily work around problems instead of confronting them, define less serious abuses as not harmful. My mother told the story in a casual tone, accepting this as ordinary. We should be shocked and horrified and take action against all offenses, not define some as less serious.

Thursday, November 14, 2002


The sun is shining, finally. It seems out of season.

"...for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night."

Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach

Somehow that poem usually feels hopeful to me, despite its pessimistic message. Somehow I feel the light still there behind the words.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002


I went to a meeting this morning that was intended to encourage interdisciplinary cooperation, particularly in the humanities and architecture, around issues of health care. The most striking comment was one of the architects who said some of our worst experiences of the built environment are in health care settings.

Then I went to visit my friend in the hospital. I can't tell how much it was scary because of the arrangement of the space and how much it was that I remember being in that hospital with my son nine years ago. He had a serious kidney infection that led eventually to surgery. My daughter was just 3 months old at the time but my son wanted me with him so my husband would drive to the hospital and I would go down to the car and nurse my daughter there.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Too much to juggle

Classes to prepare and teach, papers to grade.
Took my daughter to the doctor because after two weeks of duct tape the wart on the bottom of her foot looked really weird.
Praying for a friend having surgery today.
Laundry from the trip.
A long "to do" list from the trip--this time I don't want to get home and forget to do the things I said I would do.
A special meeting tomorrow that I have to go to because I occasionally (foolishly) teach history of medicine.
What I need to move up the priority list is paying attention to the parts of me that got squeezed out by the professional conference.

Monday, November 11, 2002

Professional Conferences

It was a good conference--some very interesting papers and productive professional conversations. But I'm gradually getting clearer on how I crash when I get home from professional conferences because all the parts of me that aren't welcome there have built up so much pressure. I feel like the task of this part of my life (I am 47) is to find some integration of the different parts of my life. But I don't know if that is possible in a professional setting (I don't feel it is appropriate in the classroom, except in very subtle ways). I have one friend I talk to about personal stuff, beyond that I have a very clear sense that people don't want to know. Last year there was a more personal discussion on another society's women's group's listserv after 9/11, but then it wasn't mentioned when we got to the conference.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Away for 4 Days

I'm off to a conference for the rest of this week and won't be posting. I'm not looking forward to going to Milwaukee--there will be lots of talk about beer and I don't drink. I'll be back here Monday.
Reverse Sokal Hoax II

The reverse Sokal hoax fake physics paper seems to be at least somewhat confirmed by experts to be nonsense, despite the denials of the authors. See an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education and another description by a mathematical physicist. (I found these links via Arts and Letters Daily)

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Praying for Rain

My church has been using the prayer for rain for several months:

O God, heavenly Father, who by thy Son Jesus Christ hast promised to all those who seek thy kingdom and its righteousness all things necessary to sustain their life: Send us, we entreat thee, in this time of need, such moderate rain and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth, to our comfort and to thy honor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer p. 828)

We have been having a lot of cold gray weather with rain on and off, and I think of the prayer and don't complain so much.

Monday, November 04, 2002


We have today off as well as election day but I foolishly agreed to give a talk today at a public school more than an hour away. It is done, anyway. And compulsiveness paid off. I usually prepare a web site with illustrations--PowerPoint is too linear for me. I realized that while I had said I wanted to use computer projection I hadn't clarified that I planned to use a web site, so just to be safe I copied my web page onto a disk. And sure enough, when I tried to call up the page via the web it turned out that the web server was down. I knew the university was turning off the power for repairs, but I didn't realize that included the web server most of us use for teaching (in fact, the power is back on and that server still isn't up).

Saturday, November 02, 2002

I shouldn't complain about how other people vote. Living in South Carolina I hold my nose and vote for whomever the Democrat is, even the one who ran a commercial showing himself and his wife skeet shooting (and it ran while the sniper in Washington was still on the loose). I learned my lesson when I refused to vote for Jimmy Carter; the lesser of two evils may be hard to swallow but the greater of two evils really can make things worse. Thankfully we have a real (and nonpartisan) choice in our city council election--several pro-growth white people who want to cut taxes and several African-Americans who want to make the city fairer. They got politicized after the police didn't do a breath test on a white college student whose car hit and killed a black man. I hope they last longer than the smart-growth (anti-WalMart) college professors who have run and been elected and then resigned for various reasons before their terms ended.

Friday, November 01, 2002


I keep talking to my classes about the choices we as a society have and about particular people (most obviously Jane Addams) who didn't believe their lives were worthwhile unless they had done something to make the world a better place. But I wonder if individualism has gone so far that my students don't really take it in; if they think about their lives only in terms of what they want. Do people vote on the basis of their own self-interest or some rather individual sense of who best matches their sense of right and wrong or do they have an image of the larger good, of where they want our society to go?

Thursday, October 31, 2002

Authority II

One Pot Meal has some interesting reflections on professional authority, but I'm not sure it is so simple any more. Summarizing the sociological definition of a profession, I tell my students that a profession (as opposed to other kinds of jobs) has three characteristics:

1. its members have specialized knowledge
2. they are certified in some way (usually by other members of the profession--this kind of self-definition is called gatekeeping)
3. they have a responsibility to serve the public good.

When I talk about ethics I add that you get certain privileges as a member of a particular profession and in return you are required to follow the rules of that profession, you don't have the right to ignore those rules that you don't agree with (besides which, people who think they are above the rules usually end up deceiving themselves into serious trouble).

What strikes me whenever I teach these ideas is that we don't really believe any more that professionals are that honorable. The social contract by which we gave professionals authority is breaking down. We also have so much more access to information that we don't rely as much any more on the professional's specialized knowledge.


I think I just feel uncomfortable in any situation that gives people license to be not what they seem or to lie. I went through too much confusion as a child about what was real and what wasn't. I tend to be hypervigilant, and any additional confusion makes it exhausting. I hate April Fools day even more--my mother always fooled me and laughed at me for being fooled.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

All Souls

My church celebrated All Souls tonight at the regular Wednesday evening service. It meant a great deal to hear my dear friend Ruth Farrell's name read in church. She loved God so much, and now she knows God loves her.

But the person I thought of most was Martha Johnson, who worked for my grandmother for many years. My parents and my maternal grandparents were atheists; Martha was the Christian whose faith I saw most as a child. She belonged to the African Methodist Episcopal Church and her Bible and a devotional magazine were always on the kitchen table to read when she had a spare moment. I believe she prayed for me and that her prayers helped save me. I am grateful to her and to God for her role in my life.


AKMA says we can't get away from authority: when his dentist tells him to floss she has authority. But there are many kinds of authority. There is authority over (power) and the authority of specialized knowledge (professional authority) and the authority of experience. My daugher's pediatrician tells me it is better to take ADD medication 7 days a week but our experience is that my daughter doesn't have any problem with going off it for a couple of days and doing so allows her to catch up on her eating (the medication takes away her appetite and she was losing too much weight). I am very thankful for a pediatrician who will accept that the authority of experience trumps professional authority (because professional authority talks about what happens on average and doesn't necessarily fit any one individual) and who doesn't have oldfashioned power ideas about how people should do what their doctors say.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002


Anil Dash asks bloggers to talk about and share resources about mental illness, as it is so valuable not to feel so alone. I have struggled with the pain inside me all my life, though I am blessed not to be prone to depression. I have been doing intense therapy (at least 2 hours a week) for 6 1/2 years and how I feel about my life has changed more than I ever thought possible. I will point out one resource: Making Daughters Safe Again, for women who were sexually abused by their mothers.

Monday, October 28, 2002


My subject today in my history of technology course was the impact of television on politics. I told my students the story of how two years ago I strongly encouraged students to vote. We had class the Wednesday after election day, and with the election still up in the air we talked about the situation in class. Out of my nearly 100 students I had 8 or 10 who had voted in Florida. I knew that my students' political opinions are on average very different from my own, and I wondered if by encouraging my students to vote (and they in turn might have influenced their friends) I might have caused the defeat of the candidate of my choice.

Some of my students wanted to conclude that the 2002 election proved their vote didn't count. I argued that the electoral college can mean that a small number of people's votes count, but since you can't predict in which state that small number will be you have to assume it might be you. I also argued that if most people believe their vote doesn't count then the system won't work, so if we believe in democracy we should seek to have the faith that our votes count.

One student said he wasn't going to vote because he didn't know enough. We talked about the inadequancy of television information, but I suggested it is now easy to get specific information on candidate positions via the internet. In my second class we tried it out, and they found Issues 2002. Interesting information on anyone with a congressional voting record, though it is weak on candidates who don't have such a record.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

I should be more organized about opening my mail. I opened something I had put aside and discovered a letter informing me I have received a performance raise. Trouble is, now I have to grade papers and pull together a talk I am giving tomorrow at my kids' Montessori school, not celebrate. The university has been in a budget crunch for several years, so raises have been extremely rare for a while. I talked to a colleague who also got one who told me everything that was wrong with the way the system worked and what we got, but I will try to keep seeing the glass as half full.

Friday, October 25, 2002

There are unconfirmed reports that two French journalists, Grichka Bogdanov and Igor Bogdanov, have pulled off a reverse Sokal hoax, writing a Ph.D. thesis in theoretical physics (string theory) that was just nonsense and jargon and getting it passed and published.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

What makes me happiest is the thought of interesting ideas to play with. Colors and shapes. This is one of my deep language pictures, of tears:
colored drawing on black paper

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

There's a thoughtful post on Sursum Corda about the Vatican decision. I don't disagree with the need for due process, but there is a particular way that due process is handled when the public trust is at stake. Think about what happens when a police officer is accused of abuse of his/her job. The officer is put on administrative leave until an investigation can be done, and then may lose his/her job even if not found guilty of a crime. That is hard on someone who is put on administrative leave (often reported in the newspaper) because of an accusation that may prove to be false. But it is necessary to maintain the public trust. I don't see the people who are upset about due process calling for a system like that; it seems to me that they still want to keep everything secret until after an investigation finds proof. That's still the thinking that puts the feelings of the accused priest above the feelings of the victim.

Earlier reflections on this topic.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

I filled out a questionnaire over the weekend about family patterns and was shocked again by how little I remember of my childhood. But what particularly struck me is that I have only one specific memory of my sisters from before I turned 15. My (half) sisters are 6 1/2 and 10 years younger, so we didn't play together that much, and my full sister is moderately to severely retarded. But as I look at my memory I seem to have been extraordinarily self-centered. I didn't see anything but myself. Is that just the way children see the world or was that my defense from the harm that was done to me?

Sunday, October 20, 2002

A good discussion of what is wrong with the business model of evangelism on e-church com.munity. I had a conversation with someone involved in the planning of a big celebration of evangelism my diocese is having and was told they were interested in healing services as a way to bring people into the church. I'm going to that workshop and I'm going to ask what about thinking about how to give those people the support they need once they are in the church?
God be with me, show me the way. Give me patience with the times when I don't know where I am going, where the path is clear but I can't see where it leads. Give me patience with the times when the path isn't clear and I must wait. Teach me to listen to and trust the small voice in my mind, even when it seems silly. Remind me of your presence when I get caught up in busy-ness. Most of all, help me to see your abundance, and to praise you.


Friday, October 18, 2002

I tell my class the story of Edison and the electric chair, but I didn't know that Edison electrocuted an elephant. You can even see it on video.
The Vatican has rejected the U.S. Bishops sexual abuse policy. Good God, when do they start to care about the victims? Yes it is hard to keep an institution from growing into an end in itself instead of a means to an end, but when you are brought up short you should be able to recognize you are wrong. I suppose that is the core problem, being able to admit to being wrong. A denomination that emphasizes confession should be better at learning from its mistakes institutionally. And better at drawing the distinction between forgiveness, which is hopefully always possible, and reconciliation, which shouldn't be attempted when it poses a risk of reabuse of vulnerable people (see Forgiveness Forum).

A story from the San Francisco Chronicle says: "'What upsets many priests is when it involves something like an open-mouth kiss with a 16-year-old that happened 40 years ago -- and that was the only offense,' said Maurice Healy, spokesman for San Francisco Archbishop William Levada." Sorry, I don't think an open-mouth kiss with a 16 year old is minor.
And I bet that 46 year old's life is still being affected.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

Baraita writes about wishing for more blogs with responsible, see-the-big-picture commentary. I'm a newcomer to this particular corner of the online world, but it strikes me that one ways blogging took off was with people who wanted a chance to be Rush Limbaugh. I don't find those interesting, either on the right or the left, and I don't find purely personal diaries interesting. But is there something in between or when I try to write about my own combinations of interests and how those fit into my life do I necessarily end up with something that interests no one but me?

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

I feel like God is calling me in so many different directions. I know one of my tasks is to learn to be gentle with myself, to see life as abundant, not as a difficult task in which I must discipline myself harshly. (My favorite example of the approach I am trying to get away from is my mother's line: "If you aren't hungry you aren't losing weight.") I feel very satisfied with my professional work, with the difference I can make. I've applied for a training program to be a spiritual director, and I feel that opportunities are opening up for me there. That is something I would only do a little of on the side, not something that requires a career change, but I see it as a step towards exploring my dream of wanting to be a priest. What I'm saying is that it is hard to discern anything because it all feels so right. How do I avoid either overcommitting myself and losing track of the journey to be more gentle with myself or doing too many things to do them well?

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

I was reading the conversation about imposing our values on other nations on Body and Soul and it made me think further about Jane Addams. I'm reading with a class Jean Elshtain's biography of Addams. Elshtain sees Addams as believing most of all in democracy as a relationship and a conversation, not one set of values but pluralism that values all the different voices. Yet Addams certainly believed in Western Culture and in the idea that we are progressing, becoming more civilized--that was the basis of her pacifism (expressed for example in Peace and Bread in Time of War). Perhaps at times our modern eyes have to read Addams' faith in Western Culture as imperialist, yet Addams lived her life so deeply as a neighbor to people from other cultures, respecting their cultures, not as an expert showing them a better way. Elshtain would perhaps say that Addams by her focus on doing right by individuals rather than on big theories is able to believe that democracy is a better way without being condescending to people who aren't part of our culture. Addams would I think say that before we criticize anyone else we need to live up to our own ideas better.

Monday, October 14, 2002

A student asked me to help him find information about robots replacing workers. It is interesting how the issue has faded since the 1980s. But I found scary a statement from 2001 that argues that the new future is robots in the service industry. Why have ATMs and pay-at-the-pump been a success, but we don't have automated order-taking at fast food restaurants? Is automation happening, though more slowly than predicted, and because of low unemployment not very many people worry about it? Or is it not as serious an issue as predicted? I need to read Amy Sue Bix. Inventing Ourselves Out of Jobs?: America's Debate over Technological Unemployment, 1929-1981 (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).

Sunday, October 13, 2002

The last chapter of Evil: The Shadow Side of Reality, by John A. Sanford (Crossroad/Herder & Herder, 1982), has a very clear overview of the history of Christian theories about the origins of evil and the relationship between those and Jungian ideas.

Saturday, October 12, 2002

I'm glad Jimmy Carter got the peace prize. I couldn't accept his comment that "life is unfair", but since he left office he has looked better and better. Not just because he has worked for good causes, but because the presidents since have been worse. And I guess I am more willing to compromise than I was then, more willing to see what I can do to push what is towards small changes rather than to stand on principle and fight only for what is right.

My sudents all wrote that the leaders of the women's rights movement after the Civil War should have compromised, not been so radical. I disagreed there, both for the practical reason that only a woman with radical ideas would have been willing to take a leadership position in such a movement at the time and also because it seemed so important to lay out the principles, not just to make small changes.

Friday, October 11, 2002

I just don't want anyone telling me the answer. What I most need is space to figure out my own needs. I'm defensive; I guess I don't have much confidence in my ability to listen to myself. I know how easily influenced I am by someone talking about how of course the right way to live is X.

Saying that made me realize I'm better at standing up for my own perspective in the world of information technology. I'm comfortable saying that Powerpoint doesn't fit my way of teaching, it is too linear (I project web pages instead). And I wasn't too bothered by someone who said that laptops don't work in large lecture courses just when I was starting to teach just that (I'm happy with how it is working out, but I do have the advantage of a teaching assistant sitting in the back asking students to go back to class work if they start doing something else on their laptop).

"Don't you tell me how to live my life!" I've got to figure it out for myself. How many people still go to church wanting to be told how to live their lives?
There is a beautiful web exhibit of strange anatomical illustrations at Dream Anatomy. See for example a seductive anatomized pregnant woman or man as a machine.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Ok, I can't resist. This technology to increase breast size is the funniest thing I have seen in a while. I was just talking to my class about the medicalization of everything but this is more like something out of the 1950s.
I'm teaching a book: Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy by Jean Bethke Elshtain (Basic Books, 2002), which is a fascinating book though hard for my students to follow. Elshtain tells a story that you can find in Twenty Years at Hull House at the very end of chapter XIII. Addams tells how as a child she found a small toad she thought was lonely and urged it into the company of a larger toad, which promptly ate it. She says her listener drew the conclusion that people like Jane Addams should not try to go where they did not belong (working with the poor). Addams says she "protested that was exactly what we wanted--to be swallowed and digested, to disappear into the bulk of the people." I don't know if I was able to get across to my students that Addams saw this as a giving up of the ego in a positive sense, not selfsacrifice but selfdevelopment by becoming immersed in an authentic web of relationships.

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

The phrase "God is in the details" came into my mind and I realize I'm not sure what it means. What matters, I guess, is not our big choices but the little things we do every day. But growing up in New England I got too much of "if it is worth doing it is worth doing right." Doing what we can is more important than worrying about getting it right (credit to Flylady who says housework worth doing is worth doing badly). How do you combine "God is in the details" with "don't sweat the small stuff?"

Wondering about God in the details led me anyway to a good article about forgiveness.
Aren't you glad you don't live in South Carolina? In the local news four boys were arrested for sexually assaulting younger children on the school bus. The school district says they can't afford to run separate busses for different age groups on all routes and is considering putting adult monitors on busses with mixed age groups. A lot of parents have long driven their children to and from school--the old reason for doing so was that the school districts hired high school students to drive the school busses (a practice prohibited about 10 years ago).

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Wired had a good article Sept. 30 on the problem of porn spam. I'm getting less of it recently because my univeristy is doing more to filter spam in general, but I still get things that upset me even in the quick glance before I delete them. I'm a survivor of sexual abuse and those images are particularly disturbing to me. It is a desperate feeling not to be able to protect myself from them (and still receive emails from friends who write about difficult memories as part of their healing process).

I'm not a big believer in censorship, but I really wish there was some way to reliably opt out. I started filling out the forms saying I don't want to receive any more mail from a site (even though all the advice is not to do so because then they know your email address is good and will sell it for more money) and I actually think that may have helped more than it hurt. It helped me anyway; it was something I could do instead of feeling completely helpless to stop this stuff coming to me.
AKMA wrote over the weekend about identity and secrets. He ends up mostly focusing on confidentiality, but I want to respond to something he says before he gets to his main point. He writes that we are constrained when we subdivide ourselves into partial identities.

I indeed find in my 40s that putting together the partial identities seems like the task of life. That is partly because our culture encourages so much the compartmentalization of religion, so only by putting together those separate identities can I see God as the center of my life. But it is a tricky process, because more important than putting the parts together is honoring them and listening to them and learning from them. The most important thing I've learned about integration is that it is only when I love the parts of myself enough not to want to lose them is it safe for them not to be so separate.

I've actually not connected this page to my other presences on the web because I want this to be a place where I can put the different parts of myself together. There is a tricky balance between authenticity and imposing on people parts of myself that they don't need. I am afraid of student gossip, but I also think that in most cases my students validly don't want to hear my problems. In those parts of my life where I focus on other people's needs I must be concerned with where the issues I am trying to put together for myself would just confuse them and get in the way of what they need from me.

Monday, October 07, 2002

My kids (ages 9 and 12) left this morning on a 5 day field trip with their Montessori school. It is hard to trust them to the care of others and to speak up for themselves.

I see following Jesus to be about openness, trusting what will come. My image of my journey is that God opens the path before my feet. The path may not be visible until I put my foot down but it will be there. And yet at the same time I know God doesn't protect us.

Sunday, October 06, 2002

The 2002 IgNoble Prizes for the strangest studies published as serious science were announced Oct. 3. These are not to be confused with the Darwin Awards, whose web site posts new stories each month of people who have contributed to the gene pool by removing themselves from it.
An excellent piece about Steven Jay Gould in the Sept. 30 New Yorker (The Descent of Gould) includes the following line: "Evolutionary biologists have always believed that the fossil record is abysmally bad. (Imagine trying to reconstruct Western history from two snapshots, one of Pontius Pilate and the other of Evel Knievel.)"

Today's collect
is: "Almight and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worth to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

God's abundance is an important starting point for me. But today I heard a sermon that focused on how everything we have is God's gift and I wanted to ask what about the bad things that happen, what about the times God doesn't protect us? I don't believe that God chooses for bad things to happen to us, but then how can you explain that God gives the good things that happen to us but not the bad ones?

I know the whole free will argument and I don't find it satisfactory because if you carry it to its logical conclusion then God never intervenes, and then what good is God? Mostly I just try to accept that the question of why God helps us sometimes and not other times is unanswerable, but I think it needs to be acknowledged, not ignored.

Friday, October 04, 2002

My prayer request at the healing service Wednesday was that I really need God's help to not panic when things are going well. The priest first laughed and then got it and prayed that I be able to know that the good things are God's free gift.

Is it my childhood or is it human nature to feel so strongly that if I admit I am happy that is sure to jinx it?

Thursday, October 03, 2002

I keep thinking of the effort to save the Red Cockaded Woodpecker , an endangered species that likes to live in long leaf pines at least 80 years old. The bird is limited by the availability of cavities for nesting and roosting, which it digs out itself. One problem is that other woodpeckers and also flying squirrels take over the cavities. At one point in one intensive effort to save a Red Cockaded Woodpecker population, technicians climbed each cavity tree once a month to check the cavities for invaders. If squirrels were found they were removed and killed. How much human interference with the natural order is appropriate in order to save the natural order?
I asked my students in American women's history to write anonymously about feminism. One wrote: "When I think of feminism I think of women who don't shave or wear makeup and think that men are evil." S/he goes on to say a better definition of feminist is someone who thinks that society should be fair to women and she certainly isn't a feminist because "life isn't fair to anyone."
I've been thinking about authority. What inspired me to write here is an article on religious authority at: Dorothy on Leadership. Can I speak here from vulnerability?