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