Friday, March 24, 2006

Reconstructing Time and Space

Last November I did my first reading in Queer Theory. Before any of you get nervous or excited, this entry will not be dealing with my views on homosexuality. While a very worthwhile discussion, it is not one I am wading into at the moment. Rather, this entry is about our concepts of time and place.

In a book entitled A Queer Time and Place, Judith Halberstam has an article on “Queer Temporality and Postmodern Geographies.” In the article she argues that our culture has constructed our concepts of time and place around a set of “paradigmatic markers of life experience” within the “temporal frames of bourgeois reproduction and family, longevity, risk/safety, and inheritance.” Her writing in particular focuses on two aspects of the queer subculture: AIDS and paradigmatic life markers.

As Halberstam writes, the AIDS epidemic has created a subculture with a different understanding of life and death. Within the community there is a very real sense that each day is a gift, each day must be lived to the fullest, and that each day might be our last. This sense of the present reality of death pervades and reorients the lives of those who live close to it. It should not take an AIDS epidemic to orient our lives as if each day might be our last. We are to be a community where there is always oil for the lantern on hand, where we are always ready to enter into the wedding banquet (Matt. 25:1ff). Not only that, we are to live as if heaven is already present within us, among us, shaping our vision, defining how we see the world around us.

I had never before considered time and space as cultural constructs, yet as I read this article I recognized how in my own way I have been living in queer time and space. Halberstam gave words to my own experience of feeling out of step with so many around me, in particular my co-workers who are predominately married men, men who married young, with wives at home raising their children. I realized the tension in my own life of trying to live into the life markers of the culture around me while also trying to live the reality of my subtly alternative lifestyle.

Home and work space is differently defined for a single person living alone than they are a married person with a family. My home is my private space, my quiet space, a place of personal expression, a place of rest, and at times a place of isolation. My work is where people are, where I am a useful member of society, where I am defined in relationship to other people. For many married people with children, their definitions of space are the exact opposite. I don’t need to come into the office several hours early to get some time alone. I can go an entire weekend without seeing or talking to another human being.

I can no longer mark time and maturity in my life by when I get married or have a baby. I can’t measure my growth as I move into the phase of caring for a child who is solely dependent on me. I have had to adjust my understanding of life cycle, family, and maturity to deal with the reality of my own situation. I have had to find ways to grow up that don’t leave me isolated. I have had to find ways to publicly mark my adulthood whether through owning a home or buying a suit.
What would it look like to have time and space constructed around God rather than our culture? What would it look like if the church were truly seen as sacred space or if all space was considered sacred because of God’s presence? What if a week was marked by worship rather than work? A day by our time spent in prayer rather than at a job or in school? How might God ask us to reorient our understandings of time and space? Is that part of the liturgical tradition? Following a liturgical calendar that shapes the year around the great festivals of the church rather than around the academic year or national holidays?

It seems that queer theory and other post-structuralist readings that critique the cultural role in defining and shaping life provide tools to allow the Church to begin reconstructing a life that is truly counter-cultural. In considering how sub-cultures are formed we can begin to critique our own captivity to the hegemonic culture around us. We can also seek to be more intentional about constructing identities based on different assumptions, based on the values of the kingdom of God. Rather than competing with the world around us, perhaps a new understanding of time will allow us to be clearer about our own priorities and to challenge the cultural assumptions of production and success that consume us.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Embodied and Embedded

I’ve been reading in liturgical studies this week. It raised several different emotions for me.
I grew up with some liturgy… a nominally catholic background. I remember being fascinated with the ritual. Searching through the missal trying to follow the service. Staring at the crucifix until the rest of the world faded away in a blur. I would occasionally ride my bike the ½ mile to church. St. Sylvester’s, a small catholic parish looking out on to the bay. I remember winning some award in catechism and choosing a white porcelain sculpture of Mary, about 6 inches tall, as my prize. It sat next to my bed for many years. I remember the priest gathering us around the altar and explaining the ritual of the Eucharist. I no longer remember what question I answered correctly, but I was given the privilege of ringing the bell as the altar boys normally would as he enacted the ritual for us. I craved ritual when I was a child. Snuck rides to confession with friends. Found rides with neighbors on Easter.

I still crave worship that evokes that sense of mystery, whether contemporary or liturgical. Some of my peers would call me selfish or heretical for that. Worship is supposed to be about God, not about my own wants or needs. Perhaps, though, it is more than my own selfish desires that draw me to a certain type of worship. Many of the articles I read this week talked about the role of ritual in our lives. In particular, they talk about how we come to know things through ritual, about ourselves, our community, and about God. In ritual we do not just learn things with our mind or our heart, we actually learn with our bodies. The act of worship itself forms us.

Byron Anderson says several things about communal worship…
“Socially and psychologically, the sharing of meaning enacted and constructed in the course of ritual identifies a person with (or outside of) a community even as it grounds that person’s sense of self, rooting deeply ‘an orientation which can be drawn upon at a moment’s notice, even unconsciously.”

Perhaps there is something deep within me, something embodied, something unconscious, that was formed during those early years of worship, something I still seek. But more importantly than that, the God I know is the God I met in those early worship services. While I rationally and logically know that God is more than those early experiences, I still often feel closest to God in worship that evokes those earliest experiences.

I must say, though, that reading liturgical studies also evokes some very negative emotions for me. If communal worship forms us in ways we don’t even know… not just by what we say but by how we say it, who says it, where we say it, how we move (or don’t) while we say it… what has it meant to spend most of my time in churches where women are not allowed to preach or lead the sacraments. What do I learn about the church, myself, and God… what do I learn that I carry deep inside me, because I have been refused a place at the table. I remember vividly sitting in a church where I served on staff during a communion service. The associate pastor, who also had just completed his Master of Divinity and was not yet ordained, was presiding. The all male elder board was distributing the elements. I would never be allowed to participate in this sacrament at this church. While my worth as a woman and as a minister (not a pastor) was regularly affirmed, in that moment all I could feel was my separation from God. What I was learning in this ritual, embodied and embedded deep within me, was that I could not approach God on my own. There would always need to be a man between me and God. I felt as if someone had placed a heavy curtain between me and God. The curtain that was torn from top to bottom as Christ died on the cross had been put back in place.
Who else are we marginalizing in our worship? What are we learning and teaching through our words, our actions, our icons, our spaces, our motions?

(work cited: Worship and Christian Identity: Practicing Ourselves by E. Byron Anderson)

Saturday, March 11, 2006


The margins... the edges, the outskirts, outside, apart from... I felt on the margins most of my life. Funny, because most people would probably see me at the center of the world rather than on the edge. But in my mind I am always on the margins looking in.

In the past year I have come to a new appreciation for the margins. The journey began as I was reading Jung Yung Lee's book, Marginality: The Key to Multicultural Theology. Lee describes his experience as a Korean American as being on the margins, being in-both as well as in-between his Korean and American cultures. Then he takes an interesting turn... he goes on to argue for a definition of marginality that is no longer defined by the center. Rather, marginality is the intersection of all of his experiences. No longer revolving around a single center, marginality is the living space of existence. Roberto Goizueta, in his book Caminemos con Jesus: Toward a Hispanic/Latino Theology of Accompaniment writes of the margins as both/and. In a world where we are so often forced to choose either/or, these two writers force us to move beyond such dichotomies to something more complex and, in many ways, more true to human experience.
Perhaps I need to reconsider my own feelings of being on the margins... perhaps all of life is lived on the margins between various cultures, communites, relationships... Perhaps I am not alone on the margins, but rather the whole world is here with me. What then is in the center? If I can claim my place on the margins, perhaps there is hope of truly centering my life on something other than myself. Perhaps living on the margins will allow me to reconstruct the world with God at the center.
Welcome to marginal thoughts...