"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Mary, Seat of Wisdom: The Original Theologian Mom

In his Sermon XV, "The Theory of Developments in Religious Doctrine," John Henry Newman writes: "Thus St. Mary is our pattern of Faith, both in the reception and in the study of Divine Truth. She does not think it enough to accept, she dwells upon it; not enough to possess, she uses it; not enough to assent, she develops it; not enough to submit the Reason, she reasons upon it; not indeed reasoning first, and believing afterwards, wtih Zacharias, yet first believing without reasoning, next from love and reverence, reasoning after believing. And thus she symbolizes to us, not only the faith of the unlearrned, but of the doctors of the Church also..." (313, Fifteen Sermons Preached Before the University of Oxford). Theologian moms may often feel themselves to be at a disadvantage in the academic setting. With the demands of committed parenting, they do not have the luxury for daylong theological debates in the office. While others may head to the library or coffee shop for extended reading sessions, theologian moms have to pack as much into a 2-hour nap as possible. When others pull the occasional all-nighters, theologian moms may live in a state of sleep deprivation.

It is for this reason that Newman's description is so profound. Mary - first and foremost a mother - is the model of faith for the great doctors of the Church. We see that in her case, motherhood, far from precluding theological reflection, actually facilitates it. When others have more time for research, teaching, conversation, and writing, motherhood may feel like a hindrance to academic theology, but, in actuality, this is simply not the case for those who aspire to imitate Mary. When I was discussing this with my friend Ethan, I shared my conviction that being a mom should be beneficial both for my theology and theology as a field, despite my lack of study time that others have. Ethan responded frankly, "Well, you are in imitation of the Seat of Wisdom. That's got to do something."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Not Just Another Theologian Mom

When motherhood is on the horizon, it is natural for a theoloian mom to feel a bit of trepidation at announcing the pregnancy. How will people within the academy (which is not always very child-friendly) react?

I clearly recall a Graduate Assistant teaching meeting facilitated by Dr. Mize, the chair of our department. I was due about a week before the end of the semester, and Dr. Mize asked me if I had arranged for someone to cover my classes when necessary. I admit I was slightly insulted until I realized I had misread the tone of the question: Dr. Mize - the overworked chair - was offering to teach my class for me.

In retrospect, it probably shouldn't have been a surprise. Dr. Mize is a theologian mom, after all. The story of Mize taking her oral exam on Rahner while in the midst of Braxton-Hicks contractions is a legend in the department. (Frankly, I think she encourages that legend so that we doctoral students don't look for excuses to wimp out of our exams.)

When it was time for orientation in the fall, both Jeff and I were required to attend. So we brought the baby with us, but she seemed a little bored with the orientation program. When she cried in the midst of one of Mize's presentations, we apologized, only to be told quickly and emphatically, "I don't mind. I really don't mind." My first year of theologian motherhood was a little chaotic - classes, an assistantship, a husband who was teaching two classes and revising his dissertation, an exam, and a nursing baby for whom we were the "primary care providers." It happened more than once that I ended up sitting in one of Mize's classes with Maia on my lap (or in her clip-on highchair). Sometimes I found this a little distracting. Dr. Mize, a more experienced theologian mom, never did. "I lived through two boys tearing through the house, so nothing bothers me," she'd say, as Maia pelted my classmates with Cheerios.

In the winter semester, Maia and I were assigned to be Dr. Mize's graduate assistants. In our weekly meetings, Dr. Mize regularly allowed (or even encouraged) Maia to rampage her office. It took only a few weeks before Maia knew where all the goods were - the Powerpuff girl keychain, the wooden lizard, the plants, the cups, the water, the cds, the computer mouse, and, of course, the trashcan. The chair's office quickly became one of Maia's favorite places to hang out. Dr. Mize seemed to like seeing Maia weekly too. Maybe because it gave her an explanation for the ocassionally messy state of her office.

Maia has remained a big fan of Dr. Mize, and still seeks out her office when she can. Most recently, Maia has taken to retelling the story of Dr. Mize's unfortunate winter accident. Everyone has gotten to hear this story - both people in the department and various friends as well as grandparents, Uncle Biff, Tia Ann, and anyone else Maia can get on the phone. The story goes like this, "Doctor Mize. Ka-boom. Ice. Slip. Band-aid. Poor Doctor Mize." When we let her, Maia also likes to wear a brace on her arm just like Dr. Mize's.

And, of course, Maia always remembers to include bedtime prayers for Dr. Mize's arm.

In this video, Theologian Mom and Maia have a conversation about Dr. Mize's "band-aid."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Computer work

Last year when our computer broke, we kept it around so Maia could get some work done at the same time as me. It was fun for awhile, until she realized that nothing ever happened on her computer. So we threw the computer out, and she went back to inserting her comments into my homework.

Expanding the Retelling of Women in U.S. Religious History

In her essay in Thomas Tweed's edited volume Retelling U.S. Religious History, Ann Braude makes a convincing and historically astute argument that the presence of women is an important theme for the story of American religion. "Women's History Is American Religious History," is Braude's historiographical critique of the conventional focus upon the absence of men, rather than the presence of women (88).

Braude notes that women are the majority of particpants in religion in the U.S., and that they always have been the majority. She challenges the conventional "narrative fictions...of American religious history," namely declension, feminization, and secularization, none of which can be supported by empirical evidence (92). If we reject assumptions about women's powerlessness, she argues, then women's participation can be viewed as a positive contribution to American religion.

Braude lists the many active roles that women played in the church, from missionary organizations to social outreach to prayer groups. It is crucial for Braude to communicate that women's groups played a role in the "public" arena, and indeed, this is a long-neglected fact in the history of women in U.S. religious history. And yet Braude's critique could be extended further. As my classmate Derek pointed out, Braude seems to accept the public/private distinction, ultimately privileging the supposed realm of the "public." Braude's assertion that the historical narrative should be about "female presence" is indicative of this. Female presence where exactly?

Well, it's not in the home. By relegating motherhood to the realm of the private, Braude unfortunately undermines the great work of religious formation carried out by women in regard to their children. Instead, the valued arena is the more formally institutional. In other words, Braude accepts the conventional categories; she looks at women's presence in a supposedly male "public" arena but misses out on women's presence in a traditionally female "private" arena.

It is ironic, then, that when Braude asks "Which men go to church?" she answers that they are the men who have been influenced by their mother's piety (103). Power is an important issue here. Braude might strengthen her account by acknowledging that power comes not only in the form of church leadership but also in the faith formation of children. While raising children to be good Christians may not conventionally be described as "power," we might think of redescribing mothers' influence as such. This seems to me further indication of a need for an expansion of the retelling of women in U.S. religious history, namely, one that even further challenges the assumptions about women's powerlessness. Such an expansion would value the time and effort that mothers have spent both to form their children in the Christian faith and their work in more institutional organizations.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Living with Maia, Living with Mary

My seminarian friend Brian, in an attempt to save our family heirloom Immaculate Conception statue from certain impending destruction, sent our daughter Maia a Mary doll. The doll came complete with magnetic hands, magnetic chest, and magnetic baby Jesus. Since then, Mary has become a part of our life like never before. For starters, Mary sleeps at the foot of Maia's bed, alongside the many other polyester-filled gifts of family and friends. But Maia doesn't necessarily understand why we "sing a song to Mary" every night before bed, but not to the puppy, MaBaa and BaBaa, or any of the other toys.

We're also pleased to announce that Mary is now fully potty-trained. Maia, however, is not. It turned out that Maia had a much easier time potty-training Mary than we are having potty-training Maia. Recently, Mary has been very into nursing Jesus at every opportunity. It makes me think both of the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem (where a drop of Mary's milk fell to the ground and miraculously turned a cave white) and Margaret Miles's new book, A Complex Desire: The Secularization of the Breast. I've been to the former, but have yet to read the latter.

A few days ago, Maia put Mary in time-out. I'm not sure what the alleged offense was, because I wasn't at home when it happened. My husband Jeff wasn't very happy about it though, and he tried to persuade Maia that, as Mary is sinless, there is no reason for her to be in time-out. But of course, as I told Jeff, Jesus was sinless too, and yet crucified. There's no reason to think that Mary can't be unjustly punished for something she didn't do. And yet, I'll agree with him that I'd prefer Maia not be the one to do it!