Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Highromance.com reposted poetry, prose

I reposted some of the mushgoo over on my Highromance.com site. The site's poetry page was down for a while, including my Song of Solomon stuff (Parts One and Two), but it is now back due to massive demand (at least one email). Snark, snark, snark...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Woman Be Free! Interview with Patricia Gundry

In what will hopefully be the first of a string of interviews with women leaders in the evangelical Church, I’m honored to present a dialogue with Patricia Gundry. Pat is one of the founding leaders of the evangelical world opening up toward women. Her book, Woman Be Free (which is indeed free, along with her book on marriage, Heirs Together, on Pat’s website) was the first evangelical book I and many others encountered on the topic. (The other for me was Elaine Storkey’s 1985 What’s Right with Feminism, along with the very non-evangelical Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women.) These books in some ways ratified my “Jesus movement” understanding of women and leadership, while challenging me regarding marriage, “static” gender roles, and my privileged position as a white male in America and the church. I hope you enjoy Pat’s responses to my brilliant questions. Perhaps, if demand calls for it, we’ll have her back on blue christian for another go.

[Patricia Gundry, 2006. Photo copyright Pat Gundry.]

Patricia, your name is synonymous with evangelical feminism. Maybe we can start with the “evangelical” in that? How did you become an evangelical Christian?

I was born to a Southern Baptist mama who taught me the song "Jesus Loves Me" when I was very small, and took me to church and Sunday school wherever we lived. At age six I was attending some sort of after school thing for children in a woman's home in the Los Angeles area, and was told that Jesus stood at the door knocking and wanted to be invited into my heart. I invited him in, and consider that my conversion experience. I remember the inner joy I experienced at that time, that continued onward.

At age thirteen I went forward during the Invitation at the end of a hell fire and brimstone sermon at a Missionary Baptist church in Corcoran, California to make sure it was clear that I had really been converted, and was then baptized. Unlike most Baptists, though, I was immersed twice. Just as I was catching my breath, the pastor dipped me under again. Later, he explained that he'd not immersed some part of me completely, and he knew there would be objections if he didn't do it again. I don't know what kind of Baptist that makes me, maybe a DuoBaptist.

Well, I’m glad you survived your baptism—er, both of them! Evangelicals emphasize Scriptural authority. How central to your life is the bible, and how “authoritative” is it as far as matters of faith or practice?

I bought my own Bible when I was a child, at what we used to call a dime store. I think I paid a dollar and a half or maybe even two dollars for it, which was a lot of money to me. I read it continuously from then on, and became a whiz at odd bits of Bible info, such as, I can name the three daughters of Job and give you the lineage of Queen Esther's persecutor.

The Bible has always been the most important book I own, and I consider it authoritative, Inspired, and the rulebook for matters of faith and practice.

What first made you aware of feminism? Were there secular feminists whose articles or books affected you?

If you mean the modern feminist movement, it was reading Betty Friedan's book, The Feminine Mystique, which I thought had major flaws. I thought she used a straw man (woman in this case) argument. But it did alert me to the movement.

Previously, while still in High School, I'd discovered Simone De Beauvoir's The Second Sex on a public library shelf. I found that book to be interesting, well presented, and when compared later, much better than Friedan's.

What was the first previously held belief of yours that you began to rethink regarding women?

That's hard to answer, because I was raised to feel free to notice, challenge, and seek to solve and understand contradictions and paradoxes. I remember wondering, in high school, how to reconcile certain Bible passages that appeared to contradict each other. I assumed there were answers that would make sense, but didn't know where to find them.

And where did that take you next?

I began to ask questions of those I thought would know the answers, and was surprised at the answers I received. I'd be given some brush off non-answer, or my respondent would make a joke about my asking, or give me an answer I knew wasn't valid. I thought I'd have to keep asking until I found someone who knew more about it.

How did your husband respond to these discoveries of yours?

He didn't know the answers to my questions either. But, I thought, well, he's young, he just hasn't studied that well enough yet. Later, I found to my surprise that hardly anyone had. It didn't seem to be an important area of study to the Bible scholars of the past.

Did he accompany you intellectually as you made your journey, or did you go there first and then explain to him what you’d found?

I went there first. And, in fact, it took him a long time to come to the same conclusions.

I'd been very informal and casual about my questioning until I had a sort of "light bulb" moment that set me on a path to seriously study the Bible passages in question.

While serving a meal to a visiting preacher I asked him how he interpreted the passage [regarding women in the church] in I Timothy. To my shock and surprise, this man, who was usually very friendly and gracious, snapped at me, "Why do you want to know?!" He was sitting at my table, eating my spaghetti, and being obviously rude to me about a simple conversational question.

That's when the light bulb moment came to me. I thought, He doesn't know. None of them know. But, they are willing to limit all women's lives and participation on the basis of Bible passages they know are problematic and they don't know how to interpret. I determined to someday search and find the answers to my questions, and to share them with all other women who wanted to know too.

How did you describe these new ideas?

It was simply sharing information I'd discovered while searching for answers about the Bible passages that had puzzled me.

When did you write Woman Be Free?

It was published in 1977, took a year from acceptance at the publisher to publication, and I worked on it steadily for at least a year, so it must have been 1974 and 1975. But, I'd been informally researching it for a long time.

[Patricia Gundry in the mid-seventies, the Woman Be Free era. Photo copyright Pat Gundry.]

Were you a “feminist” or an “egalitarian” or what?

I had always been a feminist and egalitarian, before I knew those terms. I'd been raised to be an independent thinker, confident in my ability to do and be whatever I set out to do or be. It came as a shock to me as an older child to realize that some people would want to limit my opportunities solely because I was female.

Labels are so quickly affixed within the evangelical fold, what did others call you?

I don't think I had a label. I thought of myself as a biblical feminist, when someone asked me to give them some descriptive term, that's what I'd tell them.

But, most people didn't know about Woman Be Free for some time. So, no one was giving me any labels, they didn't know I existed. The book didn't have an easy entry into Christian bookstores, many bookstore owners being quite conservative, and some of my publisher's own salesmen even advising booksellers not to stock it.

I smile here because as a man, I’m not sure if I get to call myself a feminist legitimately or not, but have been called “a goddess worshipper” among other things by anti-feminist critics...

I like the term "feminist" because it has great historic origins. The first feminists were Christian women working to gain voting rights for all women. If I'm going to have some label attached to what I believe, I think I should get to define that label. I like Alan Alda's definition, "A feminist is someone who believes women are people." Feminists believe that women are fully human, and if they are, then they need to have full access to human rights and opportunities.

Your husband worked for a conservative evangelical institution. What transpired there as a result of your embracing feminist / egalitarian ideas?

It was a very interesting situation, and different from what many probably think.

Stan and I were guests at the home of Moody Bible Institute's Dean of Faculty, Sherrill Babb. As we were conversing in their living room, Stan said to Sherril, "There is something you need to know," and proceeded to tell him that I had an upcoming book, and what it was about. Stan said he wanted to know if Sherrill thought that subject and my approach to it, which he said he substantially agreed with on most points, would be a problem either to him or at Moody.

Babb said, no, not at all from his perspective, but that if it ever did become an issue at Moody, that Babb would defend Stan, and if he couldn't successfully defend him in the matter, Babb, himself, would resign. Which he did, after unexpected elements and events caused Moody's administration to change their position away from toleration of diversity of opinion on the interpretation of Bible passages regarding women.

However, for two years after the book was published, there was no problem at all.

During that time I was invited to be one of the main speakers at an all day women's event at Moody, speaking on the subject of the book.

I was also a participant on Moody Radio shows at least twice, again on the subject of my book.

I'd been asked to present the book's ideas, with full approval, at Moody, until we were targeted by a political action group (STOP ERA) that had been putting pressure on Moody to make a policy statement opposing the Equal Rights Amendment, and their efforts led to a letter writing campaign denouncing us to Moody administrators.

I'd been invited to speak at a local meeting of Housewives for ERA (HERA, founded by Methodist minister's wife Anne Follis) on the subject of my book (not on ERA at all). In the newspaper announcement of the meeting it mentioned that my husband taught at Moody. Interestingly, I'd not wanted to include that info on the vita sheet I'd prepared for the newspaper. But, Stan had seen it sitting on an old pump organ we had, read it, and insisted that I add to where I'd just said my husband was a teacher that he was a teacher at Moody Bible Institute, saying he was proud of working at Moody. I said I didn't want to ride on his coattails. But he said he really wanted me to add the Moody bit. I included it, against my better judgment. If I'd followed my own inclination, he probably would not have been fired.

See what happens when you submit to your husband? (Okay, another pathetic attempt at humor gone awry...)

I thought that was pretty ironic too.

Once, when we were having a social evening at our home for Moody students, I noticed a couple of the male students talking animatedly to each other in front of the bookcase where I kept my cookbook collection (It will no longer fit into a single bookcase, but it did then.) One of them finally asked me, doubtfully, "Mrs. Gundry, are those *your* cookbooks?" They'd had a hard time believing a feminist could be interested in such things.

But, I've been, and am, quite domestic. I have four children, and was always a stay at home mom, there before and after school, and the children also came home for lunch when they were in grade school in Wheaton, Illinois. I'm also a scratch cook, an organic gardener, and can sew, crochet, and knit. I've compiled and had a cookbook published, by Zondervan, and reprinted it myself later via my micro publishing house Suitcase Books.

So feminists can cook after all, huh? Then what’s my excuse? Never mind… So what happened next at Moody?

Local STOP ERA members reading the newspaper announcement saw an opportunity for them to get leverage to use on Moody. So they attended, and then wrote letters to Moody administrators denouncing me, and my husband too, by association. The letters were full of distortions and downright lies, which Moody administrators said they knew were fabrications. One of the letter writers also sent a copy of her letter to a radio preacher who broadcast an impassioned plea for listeners to write to Moody and object to their having a man like that on the faculty.

As Moody began receiving a volume of letters demanding to know why they had such a terrible teacher on their staff, and saying they would not contribute as long as that was the case, certain administrators decided it might be a problem after all.

Moody's solution: they simply forced him to resign, and then could say he was no longer there, eliminating the need to do anything further.

Ouch. More on the up side, were you involved in the founding of any of the egalitarian women’s groups that came into existence in the seventies or eighties?

I was involved in the founding of Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) but did not become a member until a few years ago. I helped write most of the founding documents, and provided the name for the CBE journal, Priscilla Papers.

How did you react to the split between Christians for Biblical Equality (or was it their immediate predecessor – I’ve forgotten the history on some of these names) and the pro-gay group now called Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus?

I thought it was a foolish thing for the EWC pressure group to do, to try to railroad something into the charter that would inevitably hurt the group and its members in conservative churches.

I guess the secondary issue in this is homosexuality and its role (real or imagined) in the overall debate over gender mutuality.

The issue of homosexuality has absolutely nothing to do with equality for women. They are two distinctly different rights issues, and I've always insisted it's a mistake to combine them. I know that some feminists and many anti-feminists attempt to link the two issues, but I believe it is a forced connection, usually for the purpose of furthering their own particular agendas.

Have the arguments against mutuality / egalitarian ideas changed much from the 1970s / 80s til now?

I don't know. I've never tried to persuade anyone to agree with me or become egalitarian in their outlook. I'm happy to allow traditionalists, whatever they currently call themselves, to continue to believe what they do about women. There are so many people who want to have answers to the same questions I had that I figure the best practice is to share the information with them and allow those who aren't interested to go their own way in peace.

Who in your opinion are the most articulate egalitarian voices today?

Oh, that would be me [large smile]. There are some very articulate voices online, which is where I do most of my egalitarian issue reading and writing. But, they aren't well known outside the forums and discussion lists they frequent.

What books would you recommend for someone really wanting to dig into the theological questions surrounding women, men, and the biblical framework regarding their interrelationships?

Because my books are pretty foundational, I always send people to my web site: http://www.patriciagundry.com/ where I've posted the full text of my first two books, Woman Be Free and Heirs Together. And, additionally, I'd recommend they surf around on CBE's site: http://www.cbeinternational.org

What is the most destructive book / argument in your opinion regarding women?

It would be hard to choose one book. I guess I'd have to say it would be a toss-up between Summa Theologica, by Thomas Aquinas, and the Malleus Maleficarum, by Jakob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer.

As for the most destructive argument, I think that would be that there are "patterns" in the Bible that must be used as absolute hierarchical models, such as the argument that woman being created second in the Genesis account proves that women are to be ruled over by men.

The use of "patterns" that supposedly prove hierarchy absolutes was a most destructive part of Medieval theology and Bible interpretation. Most contemporary Christians have rejected those Medieval hierarchical beliefs, but traditionalists still cling to the one placing males over females.

You deal with abuse fairly extensively in some of your writing. Do you think the hierarchalist (complementarian) viewpoint contributes to abuse in marriages or/and the Church? If so, how?

I disagree with some of my fellow egalitarians in this regard. I do not believe the hierarchicalist viewpoint causes abuse. Abuse is caused by the individual who chooses to abuse. I believe abuse is an addiction, that the addict changes his or her uncomfortable emotional state by creating it in a chosen vulnerable person, then the abuser feels better.

But, I do believe that the hierarchalist viewpoint, applied, creates an environment that is sheltering and enabling for abusers. It provides a cloak for them, and more opportunities to abuse than would be available in a non hierarchical environment.

Thank you so much, Patricia, for your witness and your family’s witness for women and men in the Church.

Friday, September 22, 2006

"Idol Poet": Trott's lyrical side gets its own blog

Alrighty then... I sometimes spit out lyrics like a rabbit havin' babies. Most of 'em are worth the time it took to write 'em, too. Anyway, I have a new blog now -- Idol Poet -- where from here on out I'll post my lyrical stuff. I may even move older stuff over eventually from Blue Christian to the new address. Why not leave it here? Most folks would rather not see poetry unless its Pablo Neruda quality... and hardly then. Mine is decidedly not Neruda.

Oh, and for you who wonder... the title "Idol Poet" comes from Soren Kierkegaard's observation that "Poetry is idolatry refined." For a so-called melancholy Dane, he could be pretty funny when he wanted to be.

Anyway, make a note of it, you legions of Trott poetry fans!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006



sittin here listnin to t bone (burnett not the rap guy) and wondering what wild truth really looks / sounds / feels like as I recall a guy i thot i knew who did a sort of run on rant about how liberals are wrecking the nation and i found myself bewildered by all that rage he felt but could turn off like a tv set and go eat dinner while i sat there troubled in my mind

he is a nice guy mind you

he said how it was good john kerry lost a few years back because his wife teresa was worse than hilary and rush limbaugh helped him to realize how dangerous she was and he then he bit into his steak and I felt queasy and had to walk to the veranda where the moon was out and the trees' whispers seemed reassuring

the same thoughts i had keep coming again about jesus is a placard to wave but hardly ever a lover to be imitated, adored, or followed out of the cultural cul-de-sacs -- sacks of poo or glue or paint that's red not blue or wild true -- and the same old thoughts run through. my head. this way every single day

slavery was once believed in by a slob like me who got up and put on his pants and thoughts and preconceptions about the way things good people do stuff and went out for a casual stroll around the plantation with a stop-off at the slave quarters to rape eleven year old Sally or maybe pat her on her little nappy head depending on his / my mood

jesus was his / my god and provided justification for all he / i did and the plantation prospered and the slaves all sang sweet songs about jesus as they picked cotton or waited their turn in the shanties for my visits to their mothers / daughters / wives or the call of the slave trader who took the ones he / I didn't want any more

and of course we're better now i say to myself as the history of man not women mostly but men keeps unraveling to prove i'm an idiot

the constricting constructions of cultures keep coming and going and breaking the bones of the poor and helpless and raging hearts who get so tired of it they strap on bombs and steal airplanes and invoke their gods to excuse the murder of other poor and helpless and raging hearts who get so tired of it they elect the leaders willing to use the smartest bombs and tell the biggest lies about why the bombs are needed to destroy the poor and helpless and raging hearts who think god is on their side

like we don't

and the same old thoughts run through. my head. this way

i again looked at my country through the lense of my faith and the news and the friends i have and my dearling wife carol whose tears are true as her kisses i wondered at the way we all move forward / backward or not at all and the way we curse our brothers while blessing god and oppress our sisters in the name of the bible and find ways to justify our actions / inactions by talking about culture wars / morality / gods will

like we ever really knew his will

or care to

huffman's farmhouse floor was hard where i knelt down and the sky outside hung so low against the montana prairie where no tree rose my voice with tongues of men or angels singing love love love HIS love around and in and through me like a virgin being loved her first time by her most tender gentle wholly desirable husband

i am part of this place here and now share its misery and sin

the tongues of love still kiss my heart in the private place where even carol cannot reach and i am we are they are if we could only accept it


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Is Islam Intrinsically Violent?

"Is Islam a violent religion?" we in the post-christian west are asking. "Is Christianity?" our Muslim neighbors counter. These questions are not easy.

Pope Benedict XVI stirred it up this time. On one hand, the extremists burning him in effigy, or even (in one case) murdering a nun, sure seem intent on leaving us in the west thinking of Islam as a habitation for fundamentalist loonies. But on the other hand, the many Muslims expressing their objections peacefully yet forcefully deserve our closest attention. Was the pope wrong to quote the ancient Christian spokesperson saying of Islam that it was a religion of the sword? And on a deeper level, was the ancient source quoted correct or incorrect to make such an assertion?

CAIR (the Council for American Islamic Relations, a premiere Islamic civil rights organization based in my hometown Chicago) posted this comment on their website:
The proper response to the Pope's inaccurate and divisive remarks is for Muslims and Catholics worldwide to increase dialogue and outreach efforts aimed at building better relations between Christianity and Islam. This unfortunate episode also offers an opportunity for Christians to learn more about Islam, the Prophet Mohammad and the Islamic concept of jihad.

Jihad is a central and broad Islamic concept that includes struggle against evil inclinations within oneself, struggle to improve the quality of life in society, struggle in the battlefield for self-defense . . . (having a standing army for national defense), or fighting against tyranny or oppression. "Jihad" should not be translated as "holy war."
And as an apparent cautionary note to the extremist elements, CAIR noted:
Muslims are also asked to maintain good relations with people of other faiths, and to engage in constructive dialogue.
Now if CAIR is right, I'm both relieved and impressed. But is CAIR's definition of either Islam or jihad theologically and/or historically accurate?

As a Christian, I start such questions by looking closer to home, that is, to my own faith's theology and history. I believe I can safely say that biblically there is no justification for spreading Christianity via violence. Christianity's founder, after all, preached non-violence as a norm and spoke of conversion as something deeply personal and interior. In fact, not to be heretical or anything (who, me?), I see certain parallels to the idea of jihad and the idea of sanctification. Where jihad in Islam is a war on evil within oneself, sanctification is also an interior war. In Ephesians 6:11-17, Paul writes:
11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.
15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.
16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Now, imagine dropping verses 11 and 12 and again reading this. So construed, the above could be misinterpreted by Christian fanatics as a mandate for making war on non-believers. I don't know how they would do it, but I trust they could.

And at some point historically, they apparently did.

The Crusades are the most appalling example of such acts of terror, Christians (if such a name can be used for such people) killing both Muslims and Jews by the hundreds if not thousands. At that moment in history, it did not appear that this violently expansionist version of Christian faith was either an aberration or a version of faith practiced by only a small segment of the Church. It was something being done and advocated by the very power centers of Christian faith!

So, my fellow Christians, I suggest we very carefully remove the log from our own eyes before hunting the dust moat in our Muslim neighbor's eye.

But what does the Qu'uran say about jihad? I am trusting the Muslim sources from whom I gathered these English translations, as I of course am not an expert on Arabic. If they are wrong, I apologize to Muslim readers and Christian readers, and will correct them as soon as I'm appraised of the error(s):

Permission (to fight) is given to those who are being attacked, because they have been wronged. And surely God measures out help for them. - Surah al-Hajj verse 39

And what is with you that you do not fight in the path of God and (in the path) of the oppressed of men and women and children, those who say "Our Sustainer, take us out from this city, its people are wrongdoers, and decree for us a protector, and decree for us a helper". - Surah an-Nisa verse 75

God does not forbid that you do good and make justice for those who do not fight you in the religion or drive you out from your homes. Indeed, God loves those who do justice. God only forbids your friendship with those who fight you in the religion and drive you out from your homes and back those who drive you out. And who befriends them, such are wrongdoers. - Surah al-Mumtahana verses 8-9

(Above citations from http://www.muhajabah.com/quran-jihad.htm).

In short, self-defense from attackers is permitted in Islam, but assaulting others because of their faith (or lack of it) is prohibited. Islam historically has been fairly tolerant of Christians and Jews in its cultural strongholds. That said, there may be some ambiguity about just what "self-defense" means. As one Islamic writer asserts:
[W]hen we say that the basis of jihad is defense, we do not mean defense in the limited sense of having to defend oneself when one is attacked with the sword, gun or artillery shell. No, we mean that if one's being, one's material or spiritual values are aggressed or in fact, if something that mankind values and respects and which is necessary for mankind's prosperity and happiness, is aggressed, then we are to defend it.

(See: http://www.al-islam.org/short/jihad/4.htm)
I don't know what the writer meant specifically, and am not accusing him of suggesting that terrorism against the United States is legitimate, or suicide bombers are legitimate, or any such thing. What I do hear him saying, or implying, sounds a lot like what many Christian spokespersons are saying (Chuck Colson comes to mind) about the so-called "culture wars."

Today we are faced with a very painful reality. Islamic fundamentalism has taken on characteristics which are highly violent, oppressive, and abusive to human beings not in agreement with its version of faith. Again, I would remind us Christians of our own sad heritage regarding the Crusades (not to mention the Inquisition) and suggest that instead of labeling Islam itself a violent faith (remember "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"?) label the violent fundamentalists what they are -- heretics against their own faith, violators of Islamic tenets, and abusers of their own holy writings. That's fair, true, and objectively accurate.

A final note: Back to the Pope's comments, which in part were read out of context in my opinion. I think he has run into the same issue dogging many Christian efforts at apologetics these days. It is a real problem to attempt bridge-building and dialogue while also attempting evangelism. As a Christian with evangelical instincts myself, I don't pretend to know how to answer this set of problems. But I do know that the Pope does seem to be trying, even if he stuck his foot in it initially. I also think many Islamic folk are trying to sort this out from their end, which on some levels is less problematic than it is for us (they believe Christians and Jews, as "people of the book," are if sincere also numbered among the righteous).

How do we as Christians view Muslims? Are they doomed to hell because they do not hold the faith of the man currently declaring war on much of the Middle East? Sigh... see, I told you these questions aren't easy.

Monday, September 18, 2006

We Found Out

My dearling marching in Finland in 1972 as a member of
the European group "The Jesus Family"
(not to be mistaken for "The Family / Children of God")

Last night, my dearling and I attended a political rally of folks who'd not be considered at all evangelically proper. And in the midst, an old friend -- a bona-fide sixties-era radical who has struggled for the poor for decades in our neighborhood -- engaged me in conversation. His journey has in recent years taken on a decidedly theological turn. And as we talked, he softly told me that though remaining politically left of center, he and his wife had come to believe abortion was wrong. I realized his journey was far deeper, and far more foundational, than I'd imagined. We talked more, exploring the paths each of us have traveled in trying to listen to God, understand the theological underpinnings of our political activism and our search for meaning. Somehow, from that conversation, emerged this lyric.

We Found Out
(c) Jon Trott, 2006

Keep Strong Publishing ain’t around no more
I remember you in those days of peace and war
Idealists for change but the heart won’t switch
They called me a commie and called you a witch
We marched for the homeless started a tent city
Got ourselves arrested, angry, sick of pity
Zeal for justice burned within us like eternal flame
‘til we escaped to drugs and sex and blame

And then we found out…
And then we found out…
Jesus is the lover of the world as it is.
Jesus is the lover of the world.

The Jesus People communes where we fought for love
Soon became suburbs where we push and shove
Chase the dollar, raise a family, lose the shining eye
Mortgaged to the status quo our hearts slowly die
Come join the Christian right we’re right so right
Our roads diverge they're dark and we’re so bright
To us the cross is empty to them He still bleeds there
God enters in to the world’s despair

Yeah, then we found out…
And then we found out…
Jesus is the lover of the world as it is.
Jesus is the lover of the world.

I’m white I’m male I'm an American
Evil is externalized let’s crush its head again
The sixties were a mistake the fifties were so nice
We yearn for Christian America, I want my slice
“They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love” – who sings?
I don’t forget and won’t regret the covenant He brings
I want to touch your face and trace the lines of sorrow
Jesus loves you don’t you know, true today and true tomorrow

And now we found out…
And now we found out…
Jesus is the lover of our world as it is.
Jesus is the lover of our world.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Ruth Tucker, Calvin Seminary, and Constructions

Just one more note on the Ruth Tucker controversy at Calvin Theological Seminary. (See my previous post for the basic storyline, and this WOODTV8 video interview of Dr Tucker.)

Consider this quote from the Grand Rapids Press article, and as you read, focus on the Calvin administration's rationale for silence in the face of Dr. Tucker's charges against them:

Plantinga said seminary officials are unable to fully respond to Tucker's allegations because of confidentiality rules.

"A former employee on her blog can say whatever she wants without fear of refutation because it's inappropriate for Calvin Theological Seminary to comment publicly on confidential personnel matters," he said.

Why is it "inappropriate" again? And why are seminary officials unable to fully respond? I mean, the lady has had her reputation brought into question here. And all the sudden, when she is the one asking the questions, it's time for Maxwell Smart and the Cone of Silence? (Sorry for those too young for that pop culture reference...)

Calvin's reasons are mere constructions -- constructions that ought to be admitted to as constructions. "Confidentiality rules," for instance, are rules made by men -- and here, I do mean literally males. As such, they can be unmade. They aren't Holy Writ. They have no moral power.

And who says it is inappropriate for Calvin to comment publicly if the personnel matter is one the individual involved in wants made public? Since Ruth is not averse to this, one finds it hard to think Calvin has any real claim to secrecy here.

I suspect the real problem is one of specificity. If Ruth had committed adultery, been sneaking cocaine during lunch breaks, or taught that Sun Myung Moon was the true messiah, I don't think we'd be hearing this talk of confidentiality. My own sense is that Calvin is dealing with not knowing how to retrace their steps gracefully. Dr. Tucker, it seems to me, is not at all interested in legal charges or other nonsense. She wants Calvin's administration to apologize, along with the back pay she deserves (which would also be putting feet on the admission of error by Calvin's administration).

Is that too much of a construction to ask for?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Little Miss Chaos

My wife Carol sometimes comes home from work with tears on her face. Other times, it is simply weariness. She deals with women and kids who have gone through a lot, some not through fault of their own, but a few who seem driven by what I long ago labeled "Chaos Addiction." After yet another episode, this one fairly scarey as well as sad, I came up with the below lyric.

Little Miss Chaos
(c) 2006, Jon Trott

Stop the drama I want to get off
Stop the opera before its tragic end
Stop screaming, scheming -- undreaming
dead are walking as lives bend

Living careless, no cause or effect
This moment’s feelings take the day
Giving flesh caress regress – dissect
hope fading, yet friends pray.

Little Miss Chaos
Your choices bullets in a child’s gun
Little Miss Chaos
You’re your own addiction
Little Miss Chaos
I wonder who’ll you’ll be before you’re done
I wonder how long before I'm forced to run…
From you.

The drugs, the sex, the pointless lie
The fun-house-mirror reflects you back
The random order thought to act
Leaves poisoned souls dead on the track

Redemption is a word unheard
Because you choose chaos instead
Roll in it and never ever begin it
Eat those husks for that willful head

Little Miss Chaos
Your unmade choice will always hurt
Little Miss Chaos
You’re your own addiction
Little Miss Chaos
Tiny Katrina in a scarlet skirt
You’ve ground love down into the dirt...

I see you in the eyes of an old woman
Old and bitter at nearly everyone
Except you.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Is It About Gender? Ruth Tucker Loses Post at Calvin

Dr. Ruth Tucker, first woman to teach at Calvin Theological Seminary in its 130 year history, has apparently been the victim of a strange mix of gender bias and political intrigue resulting in her leaving the school as of August 31, 2006.

A very brief summary as I at present understand it: On track to become a fully-tenured professor at the school, Dr. Tucker suddenly in 2003 was shunted to a "terminal" track that meant her career was in jeopardy and would likely end as the word "terminal" indicates. Her response -- repeatedly attempting to discover upon what grounds she was being so treated -- led to the school's denomination forming an Ad Hoc committee to look into her case. Their recommendation in 2005 was that Ruth Tucker be given full tenure, and that she be paid retroactively as fully tenured from 2003 when her tenure was initially put in jeopardy. Instead, the administration chose to ignore those recommendations while simultaneously disallowing open examination of the slippery and ill-defined charges against her. Dr. Tucker found no other alternative open to her but to leave the school. It is important to realize that this process took place over three years, a time period which left Dr. Tucker feeling isolated and under suspicion.
But then, regarding hearts,
I guess I'd better look close to home.
This story in the Grand Rapids Press covers the basic points of the situation; Dr. Tucker's own website offers deeper insight (the godly, gentle, if forthright tone of which is quite moving from a faith point of view and in keeping with the Ruth Tucker I've always known). As someone who's been following the story for about a week now, I have only a few personal reflections to offer.

I do not come to this story without bias. Ruth Tucker to me is not only a scholar, author, and pioneering spokesperson for women's equality in the American evangelical Church. She is a friend who proved her friendship very publically when I and the ministry I am part of were unfairly treated some years ago. I cannot then pretend that what follows is without bias. Neither, however, do I think that my bias blinds me to fact.

Ruth at a happier time, her August 28, 2004 marriage
to fellow Calvin Seminary professor, John Worst.

Ruth Tucker has, until very recently, been part of the faculty at Calvin Theological Seminary. Located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the school has 300 students (a bit under 20% female) and of 28 professors only one full-time female professor. When Ruth was hired, she was the first woman faculty member ever at the school, who's parent denomination (the Christian Reformed Church [CRC]) allowed women into the pulpit five years ago.

As illustrated by my own previous post here, I increasingly have come to realize how much of what we so-called egalitiarian white males within evangelicalism is still a kindergarten variety version of true equality. In short, like me, I think the leadership (almost all white males) at Calvin have a whole lot to learn about their own hidden bias and unwillingness to face the implications of what true egalitarian relationships within the church and its structures means. Ruth provides a virtual primer on this sort of thing in discussing her own case. Too often, white males think we've solved racism or classism or sexism simply by assenting to the sins of the past: "Okay, okay... let's move on." Instead, we haven't even started yet to deal with the sins of the present.

Ungodliness. Ruth's site deals somewhat with one of the oddest and most vexing issues, namely charges of "ungodliness" leveled against her. Of all the charges, she notes these were the most painful:
Accusations of unspecified ungodliness have been for me the most devastating aspect of this case. There was no way to respond, and colleagues naturally assumed that they related to some terrible scandal that I'd kept hidden. A former administrator answered such speculation succinctly by saying, "If it were 'ungodliness' you'd be out of the classroom in a heartbeat." But the speculation persisted, and the charge served its purpose by undercutting any support I would otherwise receive from my colleagues.
As Ruth and others have noted, "ungodliness" usually refers in Christian circles to immorality. Yet no such charge was being made against Professor Tucker. These charges were finally linked by Cornelius ("Neil") Plantinga, the school's president, to two alleged incidents. Ruth in response wrote to the denominational board investigating her case:
President Plantinga has alleged ‘ungodliness’ in reference to me—particularly to groups of individuals and colleagues who questioned why I was removed from tenure track. In an email to me (1-14-03), he refers to ‘distinct incidents’ with two different dates and individuals. Again in a letter (1-29-03) he states that I must ‘gain a reputation for godliness’ and he refers to ‘two incidents.’ I have no knowledge of any ungodliness on my part that could be associated with those individuals or dates. Yet those accusations have been a very significant aspect of my case. I believe that it is essential that he present in writing these accusations and how in his mind these ‘incidents’ relate to ungodliness. Such information is critical for the committee’s review, and it is only fair that all such accusations be in writing so that I can adequately respond.
So what were the alleged incidents? Dr. Tucker is said to have exhibited "incoherent rage" and "vulgarity" -- yet the exact phrases or words used are words no one else (except Plantinga himself, on notes Tucker successfully challenges in my opinion) recalls having been used. An investigating committee set up by the adminstration bluntly recommended the ungodliness charges be reversed: "The allegations of 'ungodly' behavior will be deleted and acknowledged by administration to be inflammatory." Unfortunately, the administration apparently ignored this recommendation. (Some may wonder why I am not including comments from the administration. They, in the above linked-to Grand Rapids Press article, made abundantly clear that they are not interested in discussing this matter publically. I'd love to hear from them, and if they do publically comment later, I'll attempt to represent those comments here.)

The "incoherent rage" Tucker was allegedly guilty of is highly dubious to me for a simple reason. I've known Ruth when she's emotionally very upset. And as she herself says on her site, her reaction in such emotionally extreme moments is sometimes to weep and feel a most intense sorrow. Many years ago, when Cornerstone magazine wrote an article uncomplementary to a fellow professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (where she was teaching), she did in fact weep while remonstrating with us. Two points are instructive about that encounter. One, anger would have been the more expected emotion in that situation (at least, to me). Yet she exhibited no anger at all. Two, that sharp disagreement between Dr. Tucker and our staff did nothing to rupture the friendship and co-laborers for Christ bond we had. And finally, the word "incoherent" lent to Ruth Tucker is simply a non-sequitor--whatever she is, she is not incoherent!

To me, the gender issue emerges again and again. For instance, a 2004 review of her appeal for tenure once again refused it, partially on the grounds that she was being a bad example for others on the faculty during lunch-room bull sessions. I didn't need to read Tucker's own take on this to be ticked off by what is one of the most obvious gender issues in the entirety of the sad case. Because she's a woman, she's expected to play mother, telling all the naughty (but unreproved and certainly not untenured!) male faculty members to watch their language. Sigh... must a woman be cast in the role of mother or of cursing whore? Read your feminist texts, boys.

Here's Ruth's own take from her website:
From the beginning, the new administration was very concerned about the “faculty room ethos”—concerned that faculty “went over the line” in conversation and jest during the noon-hour lunches. I was aware of such concerns, but did not take them personally. And no one had ever suggested I was responsible for the “faculty room ethos” until other charges against me fell apart. (One colleague said to me: "The 'faculty room ethos' was there long before you came and will be there long after you leave.") Indeed, I was shocked when blame was directed at me. I realized only later how significant gender was in my situation.

Because of subsequent demotions and threats against me by the new administration, I stopped going to the faculty room for lunch. I feared that anything I said could be taken out of context and held against me—aware that I was being held to a different standard. In a 2004 Reappointment Evaluation that kept me off tenure track for a second time, the Vice-President of Academic Affairs wrote: “I was hoping that [you] would say something like”: “I have avoided ‘going over the line’ and have encouraged others to do the same.”

Here was an administrator who eats regularly with the faculty telling the only woman that she is to be essentially the school marm among a bunch of rowdy boys. I responded that I did not wish to take on such a role, and for fear of further retaliation continued to stay away from the faculty room.

I have little more to add to this sad tale. I do sometimes stand in dumb amazement at just how long it is taking gender equality to filter into our institutions of learning, our churches, or our hearts.

But then, regarding hearts, I guess I'd better look close to home. I'll look inward even as I pray for my friend Dr. Tucker and the school which, I trust, will eventually learn just how blind to gender bias we male egalitarians often are...

Can a Man Really Be a Feminist?

Sigh... I'm asking this question quite seriously. One fellow male, also haunted by feminist concerns, suggested recently that "pro-feminist" is as close as we men can get. In light of recent revelations -- aided by an articulate female professor who read an edited version (published in Christians for Biblical Equality's Summer 2006 Mutuality magazine) of my article another of my blogs is named after -- I discovered another layer of self-ignorance that needed peeling off.

Sure, the original article discusses race at some length (the edited one less so). But when I mention being propositioned by a prostitute in my neighborhood, I also mention that she was African American. As the professor pointed out, among other things, I (1) didn't really know whether she was African American, African, or where she was from, (2) seemed to link her race with my repugnance for her proposition, (3) offered fodder for the old mythologies regarding black women's sexuality, and (4) showed my incipient vulnerability to thinking racially by mentioning her race at all, especially when the bulk of the article does not mention the race of women (or most of the men) I discuss there.

Of course, I would like to say "No, no, no!" And in fact, her second and third critiques, while understandable, did not ring true to me the writer. The truth of it is that if anything I find women of a darker persuasion more attractive than women of a pale persuasion. That such feelings themselves betray a certain racialist framework I do confess, with a sigh.

But the professor's first and fourth critiques rang very true, her fourth most of all. Why mention the woman's color? What purpose did it serve? What did it tell the reader about me and my own universe? As I told her in an email, the lesson I take from this experience is that I am more than ever a white male still in transit regarding issues of both race and gender equality.

Finally, the online article in its original version (quite a bit longer than the CBE Mutuality version) has been edited by me here to remove the mention of the prostitute's race. I am currently unable to change it on another site (Cornerstone Magazine) due to a foul technical glitch locking me out of the article database (sigh!). And as a historical note only, the article was originally given as a 2005 seminar at the annual Cornerstone Festival's "Gender Revolution" tent.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Addicted to Blue

Yes, time for another arcane lyric. Think The Who meets Midnight Oil...

Addicted to Blue
by Jon Trott, (c) 2006

My paltry deeds done under the sun
Lead to my further insolence
The natural thing when I lose control
Is to rise and dress and visit Violence
He lives down on the Jersey shore
Has a condo lined with sharks on boards
Has armed henchmen that are short and thick
A bruised woman he strikes with his stick
And she looks at me but expects nothing
My girl before I threw her out for something

Humanity cannot be forfeited (so I say)
No matter what a man might do
We're doomed to remain ignorant
You're doomed to love me, and I to love you

My peacock proud strut as I spread tales
Blame you and others for my pain
Your deep'ning eyes of brown don't condemn
As I pour myself down Addiction's drain
He lives out on Wilson Avenue
Has nine women dressed in sharkskin blue
Has eight lawyers he calls the same first name
A stone heart and not one shred of shame
And you look at me and expect nothing
My girl before I threw you out for caring

Ah, dearling girl, it shades to black this blue
It shades to black, a lack that's true...
A lack of color we try to break through
Limbs are one as hearts beat - I still don't know you.

My holding on gone under this lit sky
Take me somewhere new and frightening
The surrender to that unknown Hope
Is inexplicable -- a life by drowning
His place is filled with pervs and thieves
And whores and one murderer - me
There you are, your eyes filled with diamonds
Next to Him Who loves you - Eternity
And He looks at me and demands everything
My God not unless He be my One Best Thing

Oh, my lady, it rises up in me, the color true
Incandescent Love that makes One of He me and you
Meaning to the rescue -- Addicted to Blue
All the colors of the rainbow run through You...

I'm addicted to You and you and You and you...
I'm stoned and blissed and never more true.

Addicted to Blue.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 -- Beyond Blame, the Meaning

ive years ago today, I was alone with my dear wife celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary. Far from anyone else, we endured the onslaught of news via radio (then TV) as a near-perfectly concieved conspiracy of evil. Carol and I embraced, a sudden outbreak of sobbing wracking both of our bodies. Anger surged as the perpetrators of the crime were revealed to be Osama bin Laden's Al Queida.

We tried to pray, and the imprecatory psalms suddenly took on a real character for me as I prayed for the terrorists' destruction. The prayer was schizophrenic: "God, please let us find bin Laden and -- well, let him have his chance to repent -- and then kill him. I'm sorry if this is a sinful prayer, I don't know how to pray, I'm so angry! Let us find him and kill him." Fairly pathetic attempt at a prayer...

Last night, watching ABC's controversial 9/11 movie didn't last long for me. It made me restless, and I suddenly realized why. It seemed a long hunt for someone to blame. Clinton? Bush? The FBI and CIA's inability to share information due to pride? And so on and bla bla bla. My finger twitched on the remote.

"In the end, however, imprecatory psalms give way to my own faith's call to love even my enemies."

I ended up instead watching parts of the documentary on CBS, one that dealt more with finding meaning in and through 9/11 rather than trying to find scapegoats. The suffering, and the redemptive power of love, seemed far more pertinent and far closer to any truth worth finding through the tragic events of that terrible day and the days that followed.

Today, I find myself still angry at radical fundamentalisms, even as I'm repelled and intrigued by the insanely pristine logic of their deeds. Al Queida, a group who's twisted version of Islam is reminiscent of the KKK's warped version of Christianity, offers by far the more striking example. And as I watched events from five years ago this morning (via CNN's 'pipe' broadasts) I found those emotions reawakened again.

In the end, however, imprecatory psalms give way to my own faith's call to love even my enemies. Either I believe that love really is stronger -- and I'm talking stronger even in terms of forceful might -- than hate, or it is not, and my faith in a God of Love is vain. I do not argue here for theoretical paficism, or theological pacifism, but rather a practical, faith-based activism rooted in love.

Let us love. Let me love. And though the black and white worlds of haters will always bring chaos, death, and suffering to the most innocent of the world, I continue to believe that my best response is to continue following after Jesus Christ, attempting in my sad and pathetically weak way to emulate His Love, His sacrificial displacing of Self for the Other.

Five years later, that remains the only real lesson I can find from the terrible tragedy of 9/11.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Elaine Storkey on Marriage, Community, and Intimacy

Here are three quotes about marriage from Elaine Storkey’s wonderful book, The Search for Intimacy. The book deals with far more than marriage, as the title suggests, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Maybe it is her British detachment from the American gender wars that gives this book part of its charm. But the most profound thing about her writing is how simultaneously intellectual yet emotionally rooted it is. This is a topic, and a book, of the heart. Anyway, her quotes on marriage (headers my own):


Learning the language of community even where the community is just two people, is essential in marriage. For the words themselves belie the reality beneath, the neither person has a monopoly on reasonableness and that each needs the other. Being able to admit to what one wants, and to be willing to have those wants challenged by another is a risky endeavour. For it exposes one’s insecurities and selfishness, as much as one’s lofty ideals and longings. But without such mutual exposure and sensitivity there can never be community, and without community marriage is at best a list of individually negotiated contracts. It is only in the learning to give that I can learn to love, and when I learn that, it is so infinitely more satisfying than having my own way.


Disappointment within marriage has one very clear answer: acceptance. The issue of acceptance is the core spiritual issue which lies at the heart of every marriage. For we are all failures. We are all disappointments. No one person can be all that another dreamed of. And so often we have to let go of our ideal of what a husband or wife should be like, and give ourselves in love instead to the one we actually have. We sometimes have to die to the hopes and ambitions on which we tried to build our lives, die to ideas and dreams of how we wanted to be happy, how we thought we should be loved. But these are painful deaths. They can leave us desolate and exposed. That is why it is often only possible to die these deaths when they are 'simultaneously huge acts of trusts in something beyond myself that I believe holds my life with care.' So say two authors who help people through this process of letting go. For it could be that God's purpose for me is far bigger than my own. Perhaps 'what God wants to do in me cannot be accomplished in the marriage of my dreams. Perhaps it can be accomplished only in the marriage I am actually in.'

Beyond Ourselves

Marriage is neither a social accident, nor a deliberate product of a patriarchal society. It is part of the very lifeblood of our humanness: given to us both in God’s created order of our lives, and in God’s redemptive provision for our healing. Characterized by love, faithfulness and commitment, marriage produces a powerful and inimitable structure for the expression and growth of intimacy in our society.

Yet marriage is under pressure, both from the emptiness of fragmenting society and from the restlessness of the human heart. That pressure cannot be relieved by declaring this to be an outmoded institution, ready to be replaced by less constricting relationships. It can only be countered by entering much more deeply into the fullness of what marriage offers us, and understanding the power it can give our lives and our society. Marriage is essentially an act of troth – of open, giving trust. It is the utter invasion of privacy, the unrelenting exposure of one to another. Its fulfillment lies in the time, care, respect and love two people are prepared to give each other. Its strength lies in its origins beyond ourselves.