Keeping (and Losing) Faith, the Asian American Way (Repost)

Originally posted on AAPI Voices May 22, 2014

Keeping (and Losing) Faith, the Asian American Way

In Search of Male Role Models

During the Christmas and New Years season, I end up reflecting more than normal about some of the choices I make in my life.  In celebrating with family and reflecting on the birth of Christ, I’m reminded of many of the relational blessings in my life.  Although I’m not one to make New Year’s Resolutions, in starting a new year (and new semester), I’m often challenged to be more intentional in the choices I make.  It’s also a good time for me to reflect together with my husband about where we want our life to be headed, and what directions we feel will help us live most in line with God’s passions and vision.

With the end of the semester also comes the grading of tests and papers, where I ask students to reflect on how their gender (and other’s gendered assumptions) has impacted their own trajectories.  I am immersed in the literature on challenges faced by evangelical women (as women), so many of the responses from my female students are often not surprising.  As a woman myself, I also relate personally to many of their experiences. I am reminded that there are few models of strong women providing leadership in evangelical institutions.  The project I’m currently working on alongside Janel Curry at Gordon College and the Center for Social Research at Calvin College is focused on understanding some of the structural, cultural, and theological factors at play.

In her book Evangelical Christian Women: War Stories in the Gender Battles (NYU Press, 2003), Julie Ingersoll finds that for the married women who do succeed in being in positions of power in the evangelical world, having the support of their husbands is incredibly important. For myself, I’m incredibly thankful to work together as part of a team with my husband, as we jointly think about what it means to live faithfully.  (I do not think all people need to be married, and agree with the arguments made by Christine Colon and Bonnie Field in Singled Out: Why Celibacy Must Be Reinvented in Today’s Church (Brazos Press, 2010)) that the church needs to find more ways to support and encourage single people.)

As I’m mentioned in previous posts (Why We Should Support Men and Egalitarian Men and Working Fathers), the problem of women’s underrepresentation in leadership and decision-making roles is not just about women.  Men who are committed to more egalitarian relationships face many of the same work/life challenges; they also face challenges and pay-gaps in the job market. As I read some of the reflections from my male students, I’m struck by the fact that they also lack a plethora of strong role models to follow.  That is, for those men committed to living in egalitarian relationships in their pursuit of Christ, it can also be hard to find good examples to emulate. We need more examples and role models of strong men, working alongside strong women.

I want to highlight three of those models – strong men, working together alongside strong women – that have been influential in my own life.  They are models that my husband and I look to together of the type of people we want to be like.  Catherine and Andy Crouch, Ruth and James Padilla DeBorst, and Sandra and Paul Joireman.  Each of these couples has also traveled extensively as part of their vocation, be it spending time abroad or traveling regularly for speaking engagements.  For each of these six individuals, his or her career accomplishments alone make him or her a person I would seek guidance from. Yet it is through watching them do the dishes, answer their child’s question, lead worship, teach a Bible study, provide mentoring, and live in community, that they challenge me in my own journey.

I first met the Crouches as an undergraduate at Harvard, where I was part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  Andy was working as a staff worked with IV (and serving as the editor of re:generation quarterly). Catherine was a post-doctoral student in the physics department at Harvard.  Today, Andy is a senior editor at Christianity Today, and a popular author/speaker. (Andy has written a great piece on the need for churches to better deal with scientists, which to me exemplifies some of the ways the two of them live in mission together). Catherine is a tenured professor at Swarthmore. They invested deeply in the lives of the students at Harvard; they’ve prioritized their children in their decisions. I was able to witness the way they co-parented young children at a critical juncture in their careers. They’ve been committed to specific religious bodies, and the lives of their children, and institutional structures within the church.

A few years later, while I was in El Salvador with World Relief, I had the privilege to meet Ruth and Jim Padilla DeBorst. They were working with the Christian Reformed World Missions. They began the Seeds of New Creation network in EL Salvador. Ruth has served as the general secretary of the FTL (Latin American Theological Fraternity), spoke at the last Lausanne Congress and currently works for World Vision. Jim provides leadership to the Centre for Interdisciplinary Theological Studies (CETI), has worked in development for over 20 years, and teaches and researches on international development. Jim and Ruth have six kids in their family, and currently live in Casa Adobe in Costa Rica, where they are invested deeply in the local community of Heredia. They are leaders in the global and local church, committed to ideas of integral mission. They frequently are asked to speak at conferences around the world. Yet in their quest, they have supported each other and their children. They are one of the best examples of a couple who provide global leadership through their local commitments.

Most recently, we’ve been able to be part of Lombard Mennonite Church as we live in Wheaton, where we’ve been inspired by the example of Paul and Sandra Joireman.  Sandra was a political science professor at Wheaton College, but is currently the Weinstein Chair of International Studies at the University of Richmond. She is also the current chair of the Board of Directors of Bread for the World.  Paul works as an Advanced Developer at VG Bioinformatics.  He previously worked at Fermilab, and has been a chemistry professor at various universities.  They are deeply invested in the community of our small church, from children’s ministries to adult education. They have two children, who they have parented together (sometimes from different countries).  We’ve seen them deal with some of the same questions we ask regarding dual career households, and their advice and example has been especially important to us in this life stage.

As a woman, I’m really thankful for the different models that Catherine, Ruth, and Sandra have been, usually in ways they do not even know.  It’s the ordinary way that they live their lives. As a woman, I also really appreciate Andy, Jim, and Paul. None of them are leaders in the feminist movement (to my knowledge). But they support strong women, and encourage them to succeed. They are committed to their families, sometimes at personal cost to their career.  They invest in building community with their spouses.

Given the gendered norms and inequalities that still exist in the evangelical world, we should recognize that it’s not just women struggling to find strong role models, but also men as well.  I realize that some reading this post may not want egalitarian role models, but for men and women who do, they have to be intentional about those to whom they look to for wisdom. I want to especially encourage young men committed to greater gender equality and shared partnership with women to look for strong male models such as those mentioned; to look for mentors who not only pursue Christ in their vocations, but alongside commitments to church community, and who encourage their partners to exercise their full potential.

 

The March on Washington remembered

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington from which we gain many of our most iconic images of that era and the Civil Rights Movement. Thousands have arrived in DC today to remember that moment. Here is a youtube clip of Martin Luther King’s speech:

YouTube Preview Image

And here’s a link to catch current coverage (as of 2pm EST):

nbcnews coverage

President Obama will give a speech approximately at 2:45pm. It might be interesting to compare and contrast King and Obama’s speeches, to understand better what has changed and what has stayed the same.

 

 

Remembering Robert Bellah

This is a guest blog written by Jeff Guhin, a sociologist doing a post-doc at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at UVA. His current work is on morality and citizenship in public schools. He’s also interested in theory, science studies, qualitative methods, religion, and how to be a decent human being. He originally posted his reflections on his own blog, and gave me permission to re-print it here.

By Jeff Guhin

Robert Bellah

In their books, authors can appear wise and kind, with moral courage and keen aesthetic sense.  Yet in person, these same authors often disappoint: they can be lechers or snobs, mean spirits or simple bores.  A gifted writer is not necessarily a good speaker, and neither is a capacious mind necessarily a generous soul.  Margo Rabb wrote about this very problem in a recent New York Times article, and now, as I reflect on Robert Bellah’s death, I’m struck by a quote in the article from one of my favorite writers, George Saunders.  He said, “You can read Mailer or Hemingway and see — or at least I do — that what separated them from greater writers (like Chekhov, say) was a certain failing of kindness or compassion or gentleness — an interest in the little guy, i.e., the nonglamorous little guy, a willingness and ability to look at all of their characters with love.”

Bellah had this very generosity, this concern for the little guy.  It’s what made him a communist and what made him a Christian.  He shares that move—from radical leftist to radical Christian—with another of my heroes, Dorothy Day.  The two had a lot in common: a gift for writing, a mysticism of quiet wonder, a sense that their lingering questions about community and meaning and God could be answered in a community of fellow travelers who cared about personal relationships and common meals and the idea that small steps like this could change the world.  They were also both brave.  Day stood up to her church and her government, and Bellah stood up to his government too, and the first church of every academic, Harvard University, going into Canadian exile rather than naming names during the McCarthy era.  Yet he eventually found his way back to Harvard, where he got tenure, and besides a brief controversy at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, he finished his life and work at the University of California, Berkeley, where many of my most important teachers and mentors worked with him.

Bellah was an author who lived up to his beautiful books. And the books were beautiful: gracefully written, intellectual without being obtuse, full of moral urgency yet without didacticism or despair.  Newcomers should look especially at his books on America: Habits of the Heart, and its sequel, The Good Society. Look also at his work on civil religion and the relationship between religion and sociology in Beyond Belief and The Broken Covenant.  Here’s how we work, Bellah wanted to say, and he was a talented enough sociologist to convince many of us he was right.  His teacher was Talcott Parsons, who famously attempted an important synthesis of Weber and Durkheim (along with Marx, the two are considered the founders of sociology).  Parsons’s synthesis was criticized and then completely attacked just as Bellah was coming into his own as a scholar.  The tension put Bellah in an odd position as he was in many ways Parsons’s star student. Yet he was also a member of the new guard, and a friend since graduate school to celebrity anthropologist Clifford Geertz, who advocated, with Bellah, a new focus on interpretation in the social sciences, borrowing techniques from literary theory and hermeneutic philosophy.If Parsons’s fusion of Weber and Durkheim was conservative, focused on structural stability instead of change, then Bellah’s was reformist, describing how our symbols work and also how that work works to either bring us together or pull us apart.

Unlike his teacher, Bellah was more indebted to Durkheim’s later work on religion than his earlier work on social structures, and it was this focus on meaning that influenced a generation of cultural sociologists.  Perhaps most important was his essay, “Civil Religion in America,” which showed not only the late Durkheimian basis of our national life but also the Weberian contingency of our connections.

Amidst a new generation—led by the world systems theory of Immanuel Wallerstein—who insisted that economics and power were the only ways to understand sociology, Bellah insisted that meanings were more than just superstructure.  His sociology was neither quantitative nor especially variable-driven, which made him less popular as his field moved towards scientisism.  Yet it also made his work an early prophecy of a post-positivist future.  Along with a scattered few colleagues across the country, he was a voice crying out in the wilderness, making straight the way of culture.  Jeffrey Alexander, one of Bellah’s most successful students, is not exaggerating when he says that “There is a sense in which every contemporary sociologist is Bellah’s child, niece, or nephew.”\

Besides showing how we work, Bellah wanted to show us why that question mattered and how, by asking that question, we are able to imagine other ways we could live, ways that might provide greater justice, or compassion, or community.  That focus on community was not only theoretical. From everything I have heard, Bellah took his relationships very seriously—with his students, his colleagues, his friends, his family, and his wife of many years.  He was a remarkably happy man—I thought of Aquinas’s adage that “joy is the noblest virtue” when I met him—and the smile that you see on the cover of the Robert Bellah reader was surely not a pose.  I get the sense that’s often just how he looked.

I was lucky enough to be at a dinner for him after a talk he gave at Yale, and a former student of his asked him about his experience of graduate school.  “I really enjoyed it,” he said.  What about being a junior professor? “I enjoyed that too!” he said, smiling.  The former student asked him, “Was there ever a period of life you didn’t enjoy?” He smiled and paused thoughtfully.  “Well, my wife died recently, and that was simply a fact I had to endure.  But, basically, I enjoy life.”I barely knew this man, and I had only managed to finagle my way into this dinner because I knew the organizers and I had recently written a review of Bellah’s last book, on the relationship between evolution and religion.  The book is an incredible achievement, not least for finally bringing Bellah back to his early interest in East Asia and evolution. As I describe in the review, I was struck by the intellectual breadth, the ethical sensibility and, the exuberant excitement in the many ways we’ve found to be human.  He didn’t deny that we all might destroy ourselves, a worry Bellah had for some time. Yet it was his deep appreciation for everything human culture can achieve that made his worries matter: for all the evil we can do, you got the sense from Bellah that it’s good we’re still here, and we should think hard about how to get better at it.

Unlike the authors Margo Rabb mentioned, I was struck by how similar Bellah’s person was to his written work: the same optimism, the same combination of intellectual luminosity and straightforward, exuberant joy.  I’ve rarely met someone about whom I immediately thought, here is how I should live. Which is not to argue that I have anywhere near Bellah’s mind—or, for that matter, his soul.  But still, it’s nice to know that real people like him existed.  Even if for a time.When we talked at that dinner, I told Bellah about a poet whose work I love, Marie Howe.  He hadn’t heard of her, and so I e-mailed a poem she wrote about her brother’s death, “What the Living Do.”

Here is what Bellah wrote in response: “Thanks so much–this is quite lovely.  Perhaps you know that I lost my wife of 61 years in 2010.  Anyway the poem strikes home and I want to read more of her.”  As I look over the poem myself, I find myself weirdly thinking of Bob Bellah, despite not having had more than two e-mails and four hours with him.  Nonetheless, to quote the poem’s last lines:

“But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass, say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless: I am living. I remember you.”


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