Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Searching for a Home in the Academy

This past weekend I was at the American Academy of Religion in San Diego. Initial observations? Picture a thousand theology professors all wandering around a convention center carrying little canvas tote bags. The same professors are almost giddy with joy as they wander through a huge exhibition hall full of books at discount prices. And then... ours of wandering from room to room listening to paper after paper on a wide variety of topics. Some are interesting, some inspiring, some incredibly boring! Given the location just north of the border with Mexico and recent political debates, many of the practical theology sessions focused on immigration. My favorite... a group called "Bible, Theology, and Postmodernity" with presentations ranging from theological reflections on Algerian migration to France, a personal reflection from someone who recently migrated to the United States to teach, and a reflection comparing Exodus to the Japanese internment. Most frustrating? A panel on Asian reflections on ecclesiology made up of five white men... and one Asian man. Most interesting? A debate between two womanist scholars on issues of power and pedagogy in the classroom. One argued that you must establish your authority in the classroom before you begin to share power. The other argued that you must create a classroom of equals... with all the chaos it entails, from the very beginning.
As usual, the conference leaves me feeling a bit unsettled. I don't know yet where I belong in this vast world of academia. Who is interested in the same topics as I am? Who is committed to the same values regarding gender and ethnicity? Who shares a commitment to the church and the scriptures? Where will I find a home? I want to argue both that an academic home is essential andjavascript:void(0)
Publish Post that I must hold it loosely. The academy is meant to be a community of those pursuing truth and wisdom... together. Yet, we must hold the idea of a home a loosely. Otherwise we determine who the community is ourselves and it often ends up looking a lot like we do. We end up with the like-minded, with a little chance of really being challenged or stretched. When we hold the idea of home loosely, perhaps God can form a family that is much wider, more dynamic than anything we could ever hope for or imagine.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

"All" Inclusive???

So, as usual, Sundays leave me with a lot to think about.

Last week it was All Saint's Day. And as has been the pattern for the last few years at our church there was also an infant baptism. It is always a challenge for me to feel a part of the church on these days that emphasize family. Generally central to those feelings are my own sorrow at not having a nuclear family of my own... since this generally seems to be the family that is being talked about at church. Infant baptisms raise grief for all sorts of people, including those of us who are facing the reality of never giving birth for a variety of reasons. But tie that to All Saint's Day... and some feel caught in a crunch between life and death. I celebrate being a part of the communion of saints. I try to remember that this day is about my being welcomed into that communion, a remembrance of my own baptism and coming to faith. I rejoice that many of my family members are part of the communion of saints. Yet, I also know that as someone not born into the faith, I will always mourn those who are not part of the body, those who do not believe, could not believe, never had a chance to believe.

Today, during the service, the word "all" was used many times. It is meant to be inclusive. It is meant to indicate that we "all" share similar experiences in life, that we are all a part of a fellowship of believers. But as one who has always been a bit of a contrarian in life, "all" has more often than not only highlighted my feelings of exclusion and alienation. All to often the experiences that we "all" have shared are not experiences that I have been a part of.

I have thought back to my own usage of the word "all" in sermons and lectures. I realize that I have become much more careful about assuming that everyone in a room has shared the same experiences. At North Park Seminary, it was important to remind myself that not everyone was a part of the same denomination. We did not necessarily have a shared experience of the Covenant Church. How important this was did not hit me until I ended up at a primarily Methodist seminary where I have been reminded over and over again that I am in the minority.

This use of "all" exclusive is rarely meant to cause harm. It is a part of desire we "all" have to connect with those around us, to be reconciled with one another, to emphasize how we are similar, how we are one in Christ. Yet too often the "all" excludes by not recognizing the diversity within our unity. The "all" can cause us to oversimplify our faith and our experience of the kingdom of God.

This is where my own "all" bias comes in. I am a person who is seeking to know a more complex God. It is comforting for me to know that God is beyond all we can think or know. It makes me feel included when we break down the universal nature of "all" and consider the wonderfully complex diversity of our community. For many, this complexity makes God seem out of reach. It brings instability to an already destabilized world. So perhaps I need to make room for those who need "all" inclusive, who need to emphasize our similarities rather than our differences... Perhaps...

As we use the word "all" in an effort to include everyone, though, I would ask you to consider who is not a part of "all." For someone is always on the outside. And sometimes the outside is where Christ is dwelling. And sometimes the outside is exactly where we are called to bring Christ... to welcome "all" into our family of faith.