03 June 2017

Learning to be an academic

An article on Inside Higher Education, "The Confessions - and Confusions - of a First-Generation Scholar," helped me reflect on my own academic journey.

I would categorize the family I grew up in to be very much in the "not academic" category. We were down-to-earth blue collar folks, a family who worked hard simply to make ends meet. We had few books in the house, and the fact that I wanted to read all the time was seen as strange. Most of those I went to school with were also children of blue-collar types, and I learned to hide my high grades from classmates because it would only ruin my already disastrous social standing.

Going to college and then Seminary introduced me to families + situations that were vastly different, and there was a phase when I was jealous of other people's families because I seemed not to have fit so well into mine. I am thankful that phase has long since passed, and even though I sometimes wish I could carry on a coherent conversation with Matthijs about classical music, I am deeply grateful for my family, especially the love of laughter and life skills that they taught me (and continue to teach me, such as buying a house and taking care of a baby).

I have sometimes beaten myself up that I haven't already finished my PhD: it shouldn't be taking so long since I'm smart enough and lots of other people finish earlier. I don't think it ever occurred to me to see a correlation between my non-academic family and my current academic progress (or why, at forty, I am not currently a tenured professor somewhere). Yet, this article argues that there is a correlation, which then also helps me extend a bit more grace to myself and my (lack of) accomplishments in this area.

One section that especially stood out to me is Herb Childress's description of his own academic progress:
"I graduated with my undergraduate degree in 1989, at the age of 31. Had I come from a college family, I’d have finished my Ph.D. by the time I was 31. Had I come from an academic family, I’d have had half a chance of being tenured at 31."
It is those words that gave me the sense that perhaps my failure to complete my PhD before now was not simply about incompetence on my part. Perhaps more played a role, including the possibility that I had brought with me to the academy the sense that I did not belong - a sense that would only have been compounded by being a female in a predominantly male field and studying at a foreign university. 


Childress's words regarding how first generation scholars often do not fit well either in their home community or their academic community also resonated with me:
Every first-generation scholar becomes the butt of jokes about not knowing how to do some task like replace a toilet gasket or stack firewood, how to make a good pie crust or a tortilla, because our labor doesn’t really look like labor.. . .
As with any immigrant community, naturalized scholars are never quite welcome in their new homeland, either. We study the habits, master the vocabulary, serve on yet another committee. .  . We take nothing for granted; we always think our cover will be blown, our ruse revealed, our passport revoked. My first-generation colleagues tell me that they can never allow themselves to be seen as “that farm girl,” the former truck driver or warehouseman, pretending to be scholars like little children wearing their parents’ shoes. We master the camouflage that keeps us hidden and safe. We smooth out our jarring regional accents, stop telling jokes, take up skiing rather than snowmobiling. We are double agents."
The words also make me realize that it is perhaps not so strange that I've found a fit within campus ministry. Not only do those words above describe the unease of first generation academics, they also can be applied to some of the unease that Christians feel when they go into the academic community - or when academics become part of local Christian churches. 

31 May 2017

Learning to work with men

Billy Graham is known for his rule not to ever be alone with a woman who is not his wife. Vice-president (US) Pence came up in the news awhile ago, as he had adapted a variation of it.

As much as I can admire the intent behind the rule (to limit falling into sexual sin), it's not a rule I condone or appreciate as a female who is both a pastor and struggling biblical scholar. Most of the people in my field and my line of work are male, especially the ones having more power and authority. If I'd had to hold to this rule - or had my many mentors along the way who'd held to it - I would never be where I am now, having been challenged and encouraged by so many men up to this point.

Tish Harrison Warren, in an article at the Well puts it better than I could:
"I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for meeting with me — some of you years ago, some of you last week — to disciple me, befriend me, love me, and honor me as a fellow follower of Christ and as a human being."
She goes on to describe the specific situations and persons who had encouraged and honoured her. My list would be similar, so I will simply say 'Amen' to what she has said, including her final words that point out the sexism that this rule perpetuates:
"Thank you for seeing me as someone worthy of love and investment, and not simply as a temptation to avoid. Mostly, I thank you for seeing me as a human being, God’s image bearer, who, like you, needs Jesus and pastors and friends and good conversation over coffee.Your impact on my life is clear to me each and every day. And I thank God for you."

29 May 2017

Why I bike

I'm going through old drafts, editing and posting them. I haven't been biking lately since my bike is malfunctioning (and having a baby is not so conducive to biking), but editing these words remind me of why I miss biking.

In Amsterdam I biked because it was the fastest, most efficient way to get most places. In Lansing, though, almost everything is faster and easier with a car. Yet, Matthijs and I both choose to bike here. We do it because it's cheaper - parking on Michigan State's campus is expensive, as is car insurance and upkeep for a second car. Biking also means that I don't have to deal with many of the annoyances of rush-hour traffic or finding parking on campus. And it's a great means for me to get exercise.

As much as those are all good reasons, what I like most about biking here is how it allows me to get to know my neighbours and people around me. Because I bike by often enough, I know the house down the street with numerous cats: one is almost always sitting on the porch (I've also bumped into a raccoon near there). I can tell you when the water level has risen so high that it crosses the River Trail near Kalamazoo Street. I've greeted numerous people on their porches or walking or biking (many people will smile or say hi). I've even bumped into some of Campus Edge's grad students along my route and enjoyed a short conversation to catch up on how things are. I expect yelling hello to a neighbour's husband as I biked by after dark while he was putting out his garbage was less appreciated, but that, too, creates memories and appreciation of my neighbourhood.

Hopefully I'll be back on my bike soon, but for the next little while, I will have to make do with learning to know and love the neighbourhood more through walking and other means (The Banner magazine has a good article about hospitable neighbourhoods that I can use as food for thought). And my enthusiasm for learning to know the neighbouurhood better has been increased by the wonderful discovery that people are even more apt to greet me when I'm pushing a baby buggy.

28 May 2017

A Sort of Sabbath

On good days, I joke about how the majority of my day is filled with either feeding the baby or trying to figure out how she (and I) can get enough sleep. In the few remaining hours of the day, I can read, eat, go for walks, spend time with Matthijs and others, do laundry, and even work on a random project.

Bad days are when all I can think about is figuring out how and when I can sleep. In the minutes and hours before I find sleep again, I am mostly overwhelmed and/or praying that the little one will quiet down. Thankfully, there have been few bad days - just a couple of hours every few days.

While the list of things at the end of the first paragraph resembles some kind of Sabbath, the second does not. Having a small person, irrelevant of how much I love her, determine every hour of the day what I can and cannot do (especially with regard to sleep) definitely does not feel like any kind of Sabbath. And yet.

Dorothy Bass, in her book Receiving the Day, talks about how keeping Sabbath teaches us to step back and remember that it is not by our own efforts that things happen. God does not need us to do things (cf Psalm 127:1). By taking a break from the ministry of Campus Edge, I am trusting that those that God has put in place in the ministry will do a good job and I am living out of the conviction that God does not need me for the ministry to flourish.

And I am learning that having baby makes time and accomplishments look different. By necessity, I feel like I've learned to accept graciously all those things that can't and don't get done. At the same time, I've delighted in the things that could get done - like reading BrenĂ© Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.  Brown talks about wholeheartedness and worthiness and learning to accept yourself, irrelevant of what you've accomplished. The following are two quotes that begin to express this:
“Worthiness doesn't have prerequisites.”
"Here's what is truly at the heart of wholeheartedness: Worthy now, not if, not when, we're worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”
Maternity leave might be a strange time for these lessons to sink in further, but I expect that there will be no shortage of lessons that God is able to teach me through the entrance of this child in our lives.

24 April 2017

Adding an identity, instead of changing one

As I near the end of my pregnancy, my joy in getting to meet the small person has increased, but I still have mixed feelings about becoming a parent. Part of the mixed feelings come from my sense that I've never really seen myself as the mom type. I have been open to having children, but I've also been fairly content not having a children (a feeling I considered gift when I was still single at 30).

I have no desire to stop being who I am - a pastor, biblical scholar, wife, friend, Christian - in order to become a mom. Or even to replace one of those identities with the 'mom' category. As much as I expect that I will deeply love our child - because of God's grace and the calling God's given Matthijs and me, I also don't expect that I will all of a sudden start becoming excited about babies in general.  So one of the things I wondered about through the months of pregnancy was how I would add another identity - that of Mom - especially when church culture seems to see being a Mom as taking over one's entire identity (and becomes one's sole and/or primary calling). And especially when academia tends to see being a Mom as being incidental or inconvenient.

I'm thankful to have encouraging mentors along the way: these past months I've had lots of good conversations with women who have 1-2 children and work and love their job. Online there have also been encouraging examples, such as an interview with Katharine Hayhoe where she talks about the challenges related to children: "Having a family is hard. Having a dual-career family is even harder. And the reality is that the more kids we have, the harder it is. One is very portable, two are manageable, three becomes more challenging, and four... well, with four you have to consider that at least one person’s career has to be full-time parenthood for a while."

The part of the interview that I found most encouraging was reading about her disastrous trip when she went without her 2 month child to an important conference:
it was a miserable experience: sleep deprived, still coping with some horrendous health issues and surgeries that had followed the baby, just trying to find a place in the airport where I could pump, taking milk through security. It’s more accepted now, but back then they were like, "What is this? I don't know if you're allowed to take this through," and that was when I lost it. I have a vague memory of screaming something along the lines of, "I squeezed every single ounce from my body! And you are not going to take it!" in the TSA line. It was ridiculous. 
I don't find it at all hard to imagine myself doing the exact same thing. And when I can imagine myself relating to her at a low time in her experience with being parent plus everything else, I find it a lot easier to imagine that I, by God's grace and with Matthijs's gracious and wonderful help, will be able to know best how to take on the calling of parent while not forgetting or neglecting the other things God has called me to be and do.

11 April 2017

Thoughts from Bolz-Weber on Good Friday

As we approach Good Friday, I wanted to share the following quote from Nadia Bolz-Weber about Good Friday:

"Good Friday is not about us trying to 'get right with God.' It is about us entering the difference between God and humanity and just touching it for a moment. Touching the shimmering sadness of humanity's insistence that we can be our own gods, that we can be pure and all-powerful. . . . Good Friday is a stark and unapologetic display of remorse. Remorse for the way in which humanity kills ourselves and the creation and love and God him/herself."                           Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints, 140-1.

17 March 2017

A different way to follow God

Karen Swallow Prior recently wrote an article articulating how her unanticipated childlessness has allowed her to be used by God in ways that she hadn't expected. As she puts it, "The contributions God has allowed me to make to the church and the world are contributions specific to being a woman, and, further, a woman without children."

I found her words both encouraging and challenging to read.

As one who spent my twenties single and my thirties childless, it is an article that resonates with me.  The church has often seemed to be very enthusiastic about people getting married and having children, and not as enthusiastic about other possibilities. It is thus deeply encouraging to hear someone share the following words, proclaiming the good of a different way of following God.
"The church often doesn’t know what to do with those who—whether by circumstance, conscience, choice or simply through the brokenness of creation—fall outside the mold that shapes this ideal of family life. There is an unspoken assumption that this failure to fit the pattern is just that—a failure. To be sure, sometimes we break the mold by our choices, even our sins. But ours is a God of great imagination and infinite surprises. He sometimes calls us out of the standard mold and into a new one."
At the same time, I also found the article challenging. As Prior puts it, "While it’s certainly true that our passions and talents hint at our calling, God sometimes calls us to things we don’t want to do and don’t have a knack for." I am not so good at appreciating God asking me to take a different path than what I had expected, no matter how good it might be or how much it might honour God and bless others (and myself.)