Tuesday, August 15, 2006

59 Cents

Ordinary Time
The Assumption of Mary

Men and women are different. Everybody knows this, right? How well do we know this, and how much do we think about it, when it comes to theology - God talk? In much of the Church's development of theology, men have been asking the questions and formulating the answers. Men frame the rules of the debate. How many of the concerns we think of as "human" are more masculine than really human? I'm not assuming a particular answer to that question, and I don't think for a minute that (for example) our Christology needs to be uprooted and redone just because there weren't female bishops at the Council of Nicea. This isn't a "hermeneutic of suspicion," but a simple question. It's also a question that I'm not qualified to answer - I'm a dude.

Katie is a Master's student at Dallas Theological Seminary. I've asked her to consider the question and offer her reflections. It's not what I expected, but that was really the point - and I think it's a wonderful essay. Give it a read and let her know what you think - I'll add some of my own thoughts later on.

“So what’s the difference between the way men and women think about theology?” This is the 59 cent question of the hour. How do women “do” theology differently? Well, it’s really quite simple. . . we develop all of our theological constructs while soaking in bubble baths and eating chocolate. Then we write down all of our cute little ideas on pink stationary. 59 cents will buy you a sheet of some pretty decent pink stationary.

59 cents will also buy the can of corn that goes into my grandmothers squash casserole. She would never admit to being a theologian but she has a theory that we should help people before they have to ask. Fortunately she’s a pretty good cook and she knows a lot of sick people.

My best friend visits sick people too. Besides that she does theology in libraries with stacks of commentaries and in sanctuaries with stacks of people. And every now and then she and I get the chance to spend 59 cents on an ice cream cone and a conversation about life.

My whole life has been spent teaching Sunday school classes. My high school girls are huge theology nerds. We spend a lot of time sitting at Starbucks and chatting about boys. We ask a lot of questions and do goofy things. 59 cents will buy a Post-it pad that can be used to leave people “I love you” notes at 2 in the morning.

In the mornings I do my best theological thinking. It’s usually because the night before I rode my bike up onto a mountain and saw a vision. Maybe it was just the squash casserole I had for dinner but I’m pretty sure I saw a bible laying open in the library with a pink post-it note in it that said “I love you.” 59 cents will cover the late fees for the books that I neglected to turn in because I was daydreaming, ahem, “doing” theology.

So far this probably sounds like nonsense. 59 cents. My grandmother. Post-it notes.

What does this have to do with the female perspective on theology? I guess what I’m trying to say is that women do theology in all kinds of different ways. We come at it from all kinds of different places. It’s incredibly hard to make a list explaining exactly what it is that women contribute. It’s also hard to say in what ways we differ from men when it comes to theological thought. If I’m pushed to reflect upon my observations of the seminary classroom I will hesitantly say that women seem to be a little more emotional. There are more women criers and more women visibly moved by powerful discussions. It is often the women in the class that seem dissatisfied with purely logical arguments that lack compassion. This is either because I am surrounded by a certain type of woman or because women are just generally more emotionally expressive. We tend to think and care about things that we are linked to emotionally. This is what often motivates our desire to understand and enlivens our conversations with passion and practicality. Basically we think about stuff that we care about. My grandmother does, my friend does, and my high-schoolers do. I’m not convinced that this is a gender specific quality and I’m hesitant to make generalizations so if enough of you send me 59 cents I’ll consider revising my comments.

Don’t waste your money on me though. Take your 59 cents to 7-Eleven and you can get a pretty good understanding of what doing theology in a community should look like. It’s called a slurpie suicide. Pretend you’re 10 years old again and fill your cup with a little of each flavor. A healthy theological conversation consists of many different perspectives including men and women. For 59 cents you may find that it tastes pretty good to have a bunch of different flavors in the mix.

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Aimee Milburn said...

"It is often the women in the class that seem dissatisfied with purely logical arguments that lack compassion."

I can relate, and would add logical arguments that lack not only compassion but depth, lack a broad, holistic understanding of the faith as a richly lived experience of Christ.

John Paul II has had much to say about the importance of women in theology (I'm Catholic), because we do tend to see things differently and can add perspective. I get frustrated from time to time in my classes with what sometimes seems an overly abstract, reductionist approach to both theology and scripture. It does break things down into and describes important details, which is needful – but it often fails to put things back together again in a way that can contribute to a full, rich, lived experience.

In the Catholic world, this manner of teaching and writing can lead ordinary lay people to think the faith is too hard to understand, or too dry to be interesting, and so many may never seriously undertake a study of it for themselves (which is a real travesty – the faith is so rich and deep). I’ve heard this from some of my Catholic friends, so I’m not just dreaming.

But when I try to talk to certain of my professors about it (who are men), about the need to put things together again in a meaningful way, and communicate it in ways that the average person in the pew can understand, they look at me like I’m from Mars and tell me we shouldn’t “oversimplify” the faith – and so miss my whole point, and the whole point of the faith: the salvation of souls. How can people hear the good news, if they can’t understand it?

I don’t think my point of view is unique to women, though it may be common to women as we do tend to be very relational and oriented to seeing other people’s needs. But women theologians are concerned about this. There was a conference of women theologians in Italy last year where they addressed their desire to see a more integrated, interrelational approach to the study of theology and scripture, a point of view I share.

Peter said...

A brilliant, brilliant essay.

Brannon Hancock said...

fan-freakin'-tastic post. thanks, Katie (and Kyle for puttin' her up to it).

[by the by, I wonder if this will become the trend: the ladies gushingly responding to katie's reflections, while the boys say, "huh huh, yeah, good stuff there"...? Maybe the boys rightly feel the need to take a more apophatic approach, and allow the mysterion of woman to have the last word...]