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?