23 January 2006

On Teaching

I love teaching. I know I've said it before, but I'm done on Tuesday, so I thought I'd better express my joy properly before I have to stop (and have to start catching up on my own homework).

And I know teaching's not perfect. I have good days and bad days. There are days when class finishes and the best thing I can say is that I guess we'll have to learn from that one. (And wanting the best for my students, I feel like I've let them down.)
There are other teaching days, when it truly is great fun. I feel like I'm doing one of the things I love best - and am using well the gifts that I have been given.

I thought I'd share with you some of my favourite teaching moments from this January
- on the second day of class, I managed to show my students how postmodernity doesn't fit a nice definition. I refused to give a definition and kind of made it be all about how they felt about it. They were definitely annoyed at me, but the ambiguity of the definition and even postmodernity's refusal to be defined were made very clear to them.
- all the class discussions that worked (as opposed to the one's that kind of flounder - or you feel like you're pulling teeth to get people to talk). The best example of that was last Friday: i had asked a question, received a mediocre response from the class, and had started to move on, when a student interrupted to say that she didn't agree with what had been said and wanted to spend time discussing it.
- all the times in class when students shared something that was personal, and they were willing to be vulnerable with each other - and more so, encourage each other.
- somehow it came up that a student had a friend in a class like ours where they didn't get any homework. Knowing everyone's dislike of homework, I made some comment about how that might have been nice - and he indicated that he would have rather been in this class. His friend didn't learn anything, and he's learned tons. (and in that moment, i felt like i had been faithful in doing a good job of teaching).

after all that, how could i not be overjoyed?

21 January 2006

Being female in Seminary

It was inevitable that this would come up. So I thought I’d do a pre-emptive strike. I’m female. I go to Seminary. That’s unusual, especially in small conservative Reformed denominations. Most of my classes are about 10% female. And some of them have fewer than ten people. Every so often I feel the need to introduce myself as the ‘token female.’

And sometimes it is annoying. I don’t want to represent the entire female population. Half of the time I don’t know how to speak about my feelings on as issue, so how can I speak for everyone else? And as far as social events, they can be awkward. Do I hang out with the guys and talk theology or do I hang out with their significant others and talk girl stuff (which is problematic because i know little about kids)? Some days I just feel forgotten – I’m not one of the guys, so I’m not invited. and even if the females do tend to look out for each other and have a common bond, can I assume that just because a female has come to Seminary she immediately would be the type of person I’d be best friends with? (and the answer is, sometimes I have been – and sometime I haven’t been.)

But most of the time, the seminary thing is good. even the female part. i've had good roommates (fellow classmates) over the years. I’m doing what I love, and i know my peers (even if sometimes they forget me socially) generally want the best for me. I shoot the breeze with the professors (a lot), and many of them have gone out of their way to encourage me and help me. And it’s kind of fun to stick out every once in awhile. And to be noticed. as long as it's not all the time.

Addendum: As much as that is all true, it doesn't quite explain everything involved with being a female at Seminary. Whether females ought to be ordained to being pastors is something the church is divided on. It's allowed but not necessary. That decision - to hold that women in office can be argued both for and against biblically - is a lot easier to understand in theory than it is to actually live out. At the Seminary we tend to ignore it as much as possible. except it's hard to be hospitable to be women studying for the ministry while also being hospitable to students who think women ought not to be there. Thus, even if we don't talk about it, the issue remains. I wrote the following article in response to an article written by a fellow student commenting that we ought to talk more about the issue.

"Must we keep talking?

I’m female. Although that fact doesn’t define me, it definitely affects how I see the world. I get tired of having too many discussions about what I think and ignoring how I feel. When the topic of abuse comes up in class, the “victims” aren’t abstract concepts, but rather women I know who aren’t all that different from me. And when the topic of women in office comes up, it seems that the answer I’d have would be obvious. Except it’s still not. I’m not convinced that the Bible says that women should be pastors and/or elders. However, I’m also not fully convinced that women are not allowed to be. And those lack of convictions have led to enough awkward painful moments over the years that I wish we would stop talking about it so much.

Just because women in office doesn’t come up in arguments in class or in the Student Center doesn’t mean it never comes up. For many of the females who are here seeking ordination, the issue comes up all too often – we live out the issue. It comes up with every thought of a future pastorate. When male students put their requests in for summer assignments, they go by location and timing. When female students put in their requests, we pray that somehow the number of churches that are okay with students of both genders will be greater than the number of female students needing places to preach. And as we try to explain the decision to go into ministry to family and friends who are hostile to women in office, the whole debate gets old and painful. Never mind the pain that too many females have lingering on them when we arrive – pain of being rejected by classes for money, of having opportunities denied, and of having to fight to be allowed to use God-given gifts and follow Him.

I struggled with whether the paragraph above was about ‘we’ or ‘they.’ I feel absolutely no call to be a Minister of the Word, so the paragraph was about those who did – them. Except I’m a female in the M. Div program, so it’s about me, too. When I receive money for being female, I worry about being merely a cause instead of a person trying to follow God faithfully. Sermon writing tears me up inside; I feel pushed into something I don’t know if I am allowed to be. When I receive comments that seem focused on how nice it will be when God enlightens everyone to see how women ought to be in office, I’m not sure whether to be mournful, hurt or angry. Am I being misunderstood or am I the one not understanding? How do we hear God rightly on this issue and still show grace to those who disagree on something that questions our ability to hear God?

And I don’t know how exactly to do that. For the sake of the females who have too long been the issue, instead of merely having to live with the questions raised by it, is it fair to ask that those against women in office be less vocal? But can you limit the voice of one side without it becoming the position held by all those ‘in the right’? The questions come down to how we can be hospitable to both sides and those of us in the middle.

Intermingled with the women in office issue is that of females being a minority at Seminary, a minority that has historically been considered the lesser sex. The gender issue, as it is intimately tied to the women in office question, needs to become part of the hospitality question, while also seeing that it raises other questions. Sexist comments made by those who are for women in office are as inappropriate as believing that being against women in office makes one a male chauvinist. But in a world that struggles with too much abuse and too much white male-bashing, sometimes it’s hard to know what’s good clean fun that reflects a healthy perspective on reality and what’s inappropriate.

Sarah Sumner, in her book Men and Women in the Church, quotes a female talking about Seminary: “’I don’t want to enter the world of theology; I’m afraid of what it might do to me. So many women in seminary are angry, and I don’t want to be like them. I wish it wasn’t like this because I lose out no matter what choice I make. If I seize the opportunity, I lose out big time by becoming embittered at Christians who refuse to accept me. If I forgot the opportunity, I lose out even more by missing god’s call on my life.’” (23-24) The issue, as much as I want it to be merely about how I feel and what I believe, is a lot more complicated and painful and unfair than I wish it were.

So maybe I’m not tired of talking about it all the time, so much as I’m tired of having to live with it. I know that being female is something to delight in, but sometimes it raises so many questions and complications that it clouds over that male and female were created in God’s image. And together we are called very good. And commanded to follow God faithfully."
It was published in the Seminary's student newspaper. Jan 16, 2006. The article is available elsewhere on the internet.

14 January 2006

to go public or not

I think the answer is 'sure'.

although by nature blogs are public, i could live somewhat anonymously on it. just let it sit there with minimal information. and random thoughts. and it would be anonymous until i put my full name on it (my name is such that if you google it, it really is me 95% of the time). but even with my full name, i could just wait until people i know wonder onto the blog.

i guess it comes down to why i've joined the blog phase. a friend of mine mentioned that people either write blogs out of anger or pride. neither choice puts me in a good light. so i'll go with pride. but still claim that this is part of my joining a conversation that's been going on around me. and maybe share a bit of my story with the hope that it is a blessing to others.

and if i'm going to blog, it'd be nice if it were read. and if it's going to be read, shouldn't i want it to be by at least some people who know me? definitely (even if i want this to be a place of conversation with more than just people i already know). besides, the people i know will hold me in check. and as for those that i teach, by this time i've done enough 'batty' things in class that i'm not worried about any of students 'discovering' inappropriate things about me.

Guess I'll be sending out an email to friends to let them know about this, eh?

and maybe share a bit more about my life while i'm at it. I've been teaching a January interim class at Calvin College on what it means to be Reformed and about truth (and postmodernity). it's been a lot of fun for me (and hopefully at least some for my students). It's delightful to get to do what i want to keep doing for the rest of my life. and to get a sense that this really is what i ought to be doing. hallelujah!

09 January 2006

Math major to English teacher to seminary student to doctoral studies to who knows? (or where'd the title come from?)

In college when I’d tell people that I had a math major and a double-minor in chemistry and theology, I got a lot of funny looks. Apparently that isn’t the typical combination. Then I went on to teach English as a Second Language in Ukraine. And I hated English in high school. And except for the correspondence TESL class I’d never taken an education class. And now I go to Seminary. Usually I say that this is all God’s way of making me well-rounded. :)

And I loved all of it. And all of it challenged and delighted me (even if I know that I am definitely not supposed to study math or teach English for the rest of my life.) And what has delighted me most is seeing how the skills that I’ve learned in doing random things have come back to be helpful later on. The math major endeared me to the headmaster (also the math teacher) at my school in Ukraine. And even now I periodically tutor people in math (mostly for the GRE exams). Doing so helps me to remember the part about math that I love: having this great puzzle that needs fixing – and the delight of being able to know if I got it right. Now I just study languages. It’s close. Although the problems to be solved are slightly more fuzzy. As for the english teaching part: Even if I don’t love English, I love teaching. And after two years of teaching, I have more teaching experience than most people I know who want to teach at the post-high level. And teaching only gets better (although less of a challenging puzzle) when everyone listening to me speaks English fluently. :)

As far as figuring out how things fit. My brain tends not to be very linear. I think in terms of connections. Think of most ways of thinking as a bunch of points in a straight line. Most of us like to have each of the dots next to each other connected to the one closest to it, with maybe a few extra lines in between. Mine’s more like having most of the points in the line connected to as many other points as they possibly can, and not necessarily the ones next to them. And that explanation alone gives you a slight clue of how muddled can get at times. but it's okay. i just want to know as much as i can - and make as many connections as I can. and hopefully along the way i can share it with others.

To sum it all up: all of it has been good. and i look forward to the next pieces of the puzzle of my life - and the surprises along the way. and all the other ways in which the things along the way have prepared me for what's next.