Category: Dissertation

Masculine and Feminine

An amazing insight from Evangelical feminist author Susanna Krizo over at her blog, :

What is masculine and what is feminine? Well, no one really knows. What we do know is that men are considered masculine, and women feminine. In addition, anything positive is usually found in the masculine department, and anything negative is found in the feminine department. For example, courage, strength, logic and reason are usually said to be masculine, and gullibility, weakness, and emotionality are thought to be feminine qualities. Hence, men are said to be courageous, strong, and rational, whereas women are said to be easily deceived, weak, and emotional. In the real world, however, real men and women do not fit neatly into these categories, wherefore we talk about feminine men and masculine women, and not with a positive tone. But if men were created to be masculine, if it is an innate instinct nurture cannot override, how can they be anything butmasculine?

Because the one-verse-explanation doesn’t cut it anymore in a world where men and women are technically (although not always practically) equal, hierarchical theology has become obsessed with the ideals of femininity and masculinity. Pink is for girls, blue is for boys; cheer leading is a girly activity, sports are for boys; writing is for girls, math is for boys, and so on. But only two generations ago little boys wore pink, a little older ones were cheer leaders, and yet a little older ones aspired to write the Great American Novel.

Maybe we shouldn’t call a trait feminine, for it may actually be masculine.

Masculinity and femininity are as versatile as water; they can take many shapes, and often they are thought to be something they aren’t. Steam can look like smoke, ice can look like glass, snow resembles cotton candy. If we look only to the appearance, we will be deceived to believe to have found the real thing.

Or perhaps masculinity and femininity are versatile because there really are no strict ideals that all men and women must adhere to. Maybe we all invent femininity and masculinity as befits us;
maybe we will one day realize that being a man and woman has little to do with being feminine or masculine, for we are always men and women, but sometimes more feminine/masculine than other times; maybe we’ll realize that it’s ok for a girl to throw a ball like a boy and a boy to cry like a girl, for if you can do it, why not?

I may shoot myself in the foot saying this, but if some Evangelical scholars and authors are willing to consider that masculine and feminine are “invented,” (many scholars would use the term “socially constructed,” which to mind has more nuance), then it seems to me that conversation about the goodness of queer lives and relationships may not be too much of a hermeneutical stretch. To Susanna and other Evangelical/pentecostal provocateurs, I say: “Come now, let us reason together…” for we may yet, together, hear a “new thing” from the heart of God.

Once you were not a people…

Once you were not a people, and now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:10, NIV)

It might seem vaguely narcissistic, but last night I watched a video of myself reading poetry at a recent conference called Act Like Men? It was an interesting experience because I felt moved by the same moments watching that caught me by surprise while presenting.

Once such moment was when I read aloud the first half of the verse above, as I tried to explain in poetry why I was grateful for the Pride Movement as a Christian theologian who is gay. I saw and felt my voice break and tears come to my eyes again while watching. I believe this is because I still sense that in that moment, I was telling the truth, which, as I’ve admitted in other writings, “is not, I fear, straight-forward.”

I have trouble explaining how GLBTQ* Christians are a tribe. Moderator Nancy Wilson of Metropolitan Community Churches calls us a “trans-tribal tribe.” But I think I can explain by analogy to how disabled people are often treated in law, as “disabled persons.” Although the designation “person” is a profound dignity, it is also a way of atomizing experiences. In other words, if the law says “disabled persons” rather than “disabled people,” there is a tendency to look exclusively at cases rather than examine whether or not the broader system is creating or exacerbating the problems that laws about accessibility-accommodation are supposed to address.

In like manner, Christian pastors and theologians, especially of a conservative hue, are willing to talk about “homosexual persons” because they are willing to acknowledge that individuals need ad hoc pastoral care. But speaking of homosexual (or even queer!) persons allows the Church (whether institutional or mystical) to side-step much larger issues about whether an entire people are being well served or not, oppressed or not, equipped or not, celebrated or not.

I realise that it is counter-intuitive for some, but here is the gentle challenge I bring today from my own life and that of my people: we queers take solace in this verse and others of like spirit in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Why? Because, despite all the things that the Church does or doesn’t do to and for us, we often have a sense of breakthrough, of solidarity, of “now [having] received mercy” when those around us told us there was none for us to have.

Thanks be to God! Selah.

Theory snob or attentive theologian? A thought on my dissertation.

I think this will be the first post related to things that are “cropping up” as I work on my dissertation. I hope that they might also stimulate some thought and discussion for my readers who like to have their minds tilted sideways a bit, as I do! As many of you know, my PhD work involves assessing the dialogue between GLBTQ* theologians (especially those who find Queer Theory useful) and Evangelical-movement and pentecostal theologians. One of the main Queer theorists is Judith Butler, who has written several difficult but rewarding books about gender, sex, and sexuality in contemporary social thought. Part of her viewpoint might be called “social constructionism,” the idea that society and language shape most of what we experience, rather than an intrinsic “essence” that we have previous to our use of language or any interaction with others. It seems that the main origin of the phrase, “the social construction of reality,” comes from a book of the same title by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann.

In my dissertation, one of the things I am trying to argue academically is: academic theology (theological theory?) is not the primary focus of the debate about the lives and relationships of Queer Christians (though academic theologians, like all theoreticians, tend to over-rate their importance in social discourse). Academic “knowledge” is extremely specialized and not everyone in society has access to it. This is why I am trying to argue that Christian testimony, storytelling about how the life of an individual or community fits into a Christian understanding of what God is doing in the world, becomes much more central. Everyday life and reflection (including, of course, listening to sermons, reading theology, and Bible study) is thus the primary resource from which people draw what they “know” about the world.

The following extended passage strikes me as tremendously useful for my argument. Try replacing “sociology of knowledge” with “the theological task” and you might see what I mean (1967: 14-15):

The sociology of  knowledge must concern itself with everything that passes for “knowledge” in society. As soon as one states this, one realizes that the focus on intellectual history is ill-chosen, or rather, is ill-chosen if it becomes the central focus of the sociology of knowledge. Theoretical thought, “ideas,” Weltanschauungen are not that important in society. Although every society contains these phenomena, they are only part of the sum of what passes for “knowledge.” Only a very limited group of people in any society engages in theorizing, in the business of “ideas,” and the construction of Weltanschauungen. But everyone in society participates in its “knowledge” in one way or another. Put differently, only a few are concerned with the theoretical interpretation of the world, but everybody lives in a world of some sort. Not only is the focus on theoretical thought unduly restrictive for the sociology of knowledge, it is also unsatisfactory because even this part of socially available “knowledge” cannot be fully understood if it is not placed in the framework of a more general analysis of language.

To exaggerate the importance of theoretical thout in sociaty and history is a natural failing of theorizers. It is then all the more necessary to correct this intellectualistic misapprehension. The theoretical formulations of reality, whether they be scientific or philosophical or even mythological, do not exhaust what is “real” for the members of a society. Since this is so, the sociology of knowledge must first of all concern itself with what people “know” as “reality” in their everyday, non- or pre-theoretical lives. In other words, commonsense “knowledge” rather than “ideas” must be the central focus for the sociology of knowledge. It is precisely this “knowledge” that constitutes the fabric of meanings without which no society could exist.

The sociology of knowledge, therefore, must concern itself with the social construction of reality. …

Don’t get me wrong: I love the beauty that comes from playing respectfully (and sometimes irreverently) with ideas and concepts and doctrines to see how they fit together, especially because I believe the Christian story. But so many Evangelical theologians (especially) want the Church to “solve” the homosexuality or queerness “problem” using only academic analysis of the Bible or by developing a full theological schema that will tell the world exactly how queer lives “fit” into the Christian metanarrative (and if you’re confused by the $10 word I used just now, that’s part of my point!). But such insistence, I think, slights the thousands of queer Christians–whether or not they approve of homosexuality or gender transition or even marriage–who, by being faithful Christians in their everyday lives, arrive at an answer that seems to them to cohere with the Bible, reason, tradition, and so on. They are faithful because they practice their Christian faith with consistency and devotion–they live the story and develop a sense, like a kind of reflex, about when something fits or doesn’t fit.

Of course, Christians disagree about what fits, and so the theoreticians among us, the ones who have calling to study ideas and their histories, can help us find out why the pieces fit together for us the way they do. The shocking thing is, that despite 5000 years of people “knowing” that queerness doesn’t fit (or at least teaching that idea), we have a minority population in the world and (especially!) the Christian churches speaking of how this “queer thing” does fit, because they experience the blessing of God through it. The “real life” experience of being in God’s presence, of doing the stuff as well and graciously as we can, is the much more immediate and important way that we make decisions. And theology should help us reflect well on thatand not just the theories that may or may not be underneath how we read “real life.” I am doing my PhD work with the hope that rampant theorizing can perhaps abate long enough that wise and considered and raw real-life stories can prevent us from being theory snobs , in order to make us attentive to the work of the Holy Spirit of the Living and Faithful God. Because once that happens, things will never be the same, but people will be more fully alive.

To coax God’s people into attention and full life in Jesus is what theology is for. Let’s get to it.