"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.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Further Reflection on Creation Museum

Now that I've had a few more days to reflect on the Creation Museum, there are some things I would like to add to my earlier account. Although I was working some of these thoughts out prior to reading their reflections, I am indebted to my classmates Michael and Derek, as well as conversations with my husband for this reflection.

First off, for the wider blog readership, I should make it clear that the creationism of the Creation Museum is of a particular kind, namely, a young earth, six day (24 hour period) creation. By browsing the bookstore, my husband determined that there's no room for the Discovery Institute's Intelligent Design Movement...only one of the many, many books represented that position. And - get this - the book was by a Catholic, namely Michael Behe. But the people who run the museum probably don't want to know that.

Above is a larger picture of the poster I included in my last blog post. You can see here that the world is a little over 6,000 years old. The time periods are arranged as the 7 C's: Creation, Corruption, Catastrophe, Confusion, Christ, Cross and Consumation.

The opening movie tried to make it clear that creationists don't hate science: "God loves science," is what one of the angels said. The problem is when people are told they are stupid for believing the Bible. This seems to indicate a certain degree of compatibility between faith and reason. And yet, the displays in the holding area had signs juxtaposing "God's Word" with "Human Reason." I should have taken a picture of one of these signs because I can't remember the exact words. One, I know, related to fossils, and enlisted a dichotomous approach to thinking about fossils- either a Biblical understanding OR a rational approach. Michael suggested that these kinds of dichotomies ran throughout the museum. Such dichotomies rarely sit well with me.

Now, a few more comments about that "Last Adam" movie. The way the film was done biblical characters spoke about their experiences of the crucifixion. The crucifixion was portrayed in a Gibsonesque manner, with centurions nailing the hands to the cross and blood everywhere. (Yes, I was happy that Maia was playing on the floor for that scene.) Later, the centurion ("Truly this man was the Son of God") spoke to us about his experience. He was still in Roman centurion gear... maybe just so we could identify him... but I thought - how odd - realizing the man you were crucifying was the Son of God didn't prevent your continuing as a Roman soldier? This centurion was the one who informed us that "It is finished" means "Paid in full." The film was a bit of gospel harmony, but Jesus' last words that it included and excluded were telling. There was no "This day you will be with me in paradise," no "Into your hands I commend my spirit," and no "Woman behold your son, son behold your mother."

Somewhat surprisingly, Mary (that is, Mary the mother of Jesus) was included in the film. The segment on her started off by her recollections of seeing the Passover lamb sacrificed each year as a child. My husband thought this was funny as, historically, all the lambs were sacrificed in the Temple with representation from the male head of the household. As she gently stroked a fuzzy lamb, Mary told us how her dad always forced her to watch the lamb being killed. Then she recalled her son's death (perhaps a little too cheerfully for my taste), and she clutched at the lamb, noting how great it was that with the once-for-all sacrifice, these poor little lambs don't have to be killed. Hmm... with my (albeit traditional Catholic) thoughts on Our Lady of Solitude, this version of Mary was slightly alarming.

When Maia and I were waiting in line to buy some pita chips, I heard two men discussing how much they loved the part about Mary. They were saying how great it was that Mary actually made the connection that her Son was the lamb of God... and how appreciative she was that they no longer had to do this brutal Passover practice. Meanwhile, I was trying to explain to a very hungry Maia why we had to pay for the chips before eating them. I told her, "Look, it's a result of the fall. If it weren't for that sin, all our food would be given to us and people would share freely. Now we have to pay." Then I shut up because I thought the cashier might think I was criticizing the commercial enterprise that is the Creation Museum. Let's be honest - it's a wonderful example of the great American combination (or even confusion) of evangelization and money-making. It's both a mission and a business.As to the Luther inclusion, I thought maybe including this poster above would help. But actually, I never got to read it then, and it's not so clear in the picture. It's a timeline (right to left) juxtaposing "Scripture Alone," "Scripture Questioned," and "Scripture Abandoned" with "Human Reason" (and the key figures who have undermined Scripture). "Scripture Alone" is an interesting starting point for this declension narrative... but I won't discourse on that. I just wanted to give some further context for why Luther and the Bible printing press was included. For an account of the ambiguity of the proliferation of the Bible in America, see Paul Gutjahr's An American Bible.

I wish my reflections could be more careful and critical, but unfortunately the presence of a certain toddler detracted from my picking up on the various details. I was too busy pointing out the dinosaurs and trying not to lose her in the mass of people. If it weren't for the enormous crowd and my intense dislike of waiting in lines (especially when accompanied by a certain toddler), I'd consider going again (toddler-less) so I could get a better sense of what's going on there.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Trip to the Creation Museum

(Here Maia imagines the joy of dinosaur-human coexistance.)

My Evangelical Historiography class took a field trip to the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Wow! What a day! Although the museum is probably only 15 miles from Cincinnatti, I have to admit that upon approaching it, it had a sort of an "out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere" feeling. So you can imagine our surprise when we pulled into the parking lot (at 10:00 a.m.) to find it packed with cars. Uniformed security was actually directing parking traffic in order to facilitate the large crowd. We were greeted on the outside by a huge dinosaur, and greeted on the inside with a $20 admission fee per adult. After our group purchased tickets, we waited in the first of many lines. This particular line was to get our picture taken, pretending to be afraid of dinosaurs. Then we waited in line to see a satirical movie called "Men in White." This production was in a special effects theater...with the whole deal - trembling chairs, blasts of water (during the flood, of course), lightning, etc.! Maia wasn't too scared, thankfully, and she really liked the rain: "More rain, Mommy, more rain!!!"
The movie was certainly entertaining. It made fun of how schools present evolution and science as neutral fact - exaggerated, of course, but not altogether inaccurate. But it was interesting how the angels who demonstrated the problems with evolution were kind of "country-folk" angels. They were dressed all in white, of course (hence the title), but they were wearing long john tops, overalls, and sneakers. One even had a pretty heavy accent (I can't think of a politically correct adjective to describe it, so I'll let you imagine). I would have thought the museum would want to eliminate those stereotypes of creationists as backwards and uneducated... but I'm not sure those angels will do the trick! The basic message of the movie seemed to be, "Don't let 'science' detract from your belief in God. God exists, and creation happened in six days."

After "Men in White," Jeff milled around the Dragon's Hall bookstore. Meanwhile, Maia looked at the presentation of animated prelapsarian dinosaurs munching veggies and peaceably coexisting with humans.
Then it was on to our next line, this time for the planetarium. Once inside we kicked back and were presented with the argument for why the study of astronomy should not detract from belief in a 6-day creation. It was tough trying to keep Maia still for 30 minutes, so I couldn't tell you the details of the argument - something about stars in the galaxy and universe being younger than we think.After that stellar presentation, it was onto the museum itself! Or, at least the line for it. We had heard the museum was like Disney World... no kidding! We probably spent about forty minutes in line waiting to get into the exhibit. Once inisde, we encountered Adam and Eve - their pleasant prelapsarian life, their deception, their fall, their toil in labor, etc. We saw Cain killing Abel. We got to experience Noah's building of the Ark and the tremendous flood that, according to the Creation Museum, left all those fossils everywhere.Martin Luther also made an appearance in the museum, nailing his theses onto the church door. I'm sure that's related to a 6-day creation somehow, but with chasing Maia I didn't get to read the sign carefully. I seem to recall it had something to do with access to the Bible. There was much, much more, but I think I'll cut my account short and just note that the museum closed with a movie entitled "The Last Adam," which presented Jesus' saving once-for-all sacrifice. In their words, Jesus' "It is finished," has made our debt "paid in full." And I'll leave you with one more image and also a video. First, the sign shows that the museum is not compltely closed to evolution . (Shouldn't the sign say, "This space is yet to be created"? I guess it can't say that since creation was a 6-day thing.) The video is of our close encounter with a postlapsarian, carnivorous dinosaur.

Friday, March 28, 2008

No time for exercise?

It can be tough for a busy theologian mom to fit in exercise. That's why a theologian mom sent me the following link to an "exercise of the week" that involves doing a squat and press with an infant. It has a great video of a dad doing the exercise.


This LONG winter, and long month of March, has prevented Maia's and my trips to the park with the jogging stroller or bicycle. Instead, we've been doing a dancing-in-the-living-room work out. Check it out below - Maia and I dancing to one of her favorite Romanian dance songs, commonly known as "Numa, Numa." I think she thinks this song is about her, since it says "Maia" over and over.

I'm still waiting for them to develop some kind of swimming stroller/raft so that I can take Maia swimming with me.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sts. Eustochium and Paula

St. Paula and St. Eustochium assisted Jerome in the translating for the Vulgate (Latin) bible. St. Paula (at right) was a widow at the time she and her daughter Eustochium moved to Bethlehem. Along with Jerome, they worked in caves adjacent to the cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Jerome seems to have had great respect for their ability with languages; I have a theory that their role in the translation has historically been downplayed. The mosaic image above is from the cave in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity where they worked. St. Paula is another excellent model of a Theologian Mom. In her case, she was united with her daughter in doing God's work.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Update on Inaugural Blog

Jeff walked into the living room the other day to find Maia perched on our bookshelves, trying to get to the family heirloom Immaculate Conception statue. My inaugural blog, "Living with Maia, Living with Mary" described how Maia's Mary doll has become a part of our life. Apparently, Maia's affection for the Immaculate Conception statue has continued, even with the companionship of the doll.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Faith like a Child: "Eat Jesus" and Other Stories

(Maia in makeshift habit, April 2007)
Shortly before Christmas we were at daily Mass about to enter the communion line when Maia called out "Eat Jesus!" A friend in front of us turned around and whispered, "Sounds like we've got a theologian back here!" I have to admit it was somewhat of a proud moment. Maia in some sense seemed to understand what we were doing - even if she still doesn't understand why we won't let her take communion with us.

Just a couple weeks later we were preparing to go to Sunday Mass. I was getting dressed, and I was telling Maia we were going to be leaving for Mass. She said, "Eat Jesus" and I said, "Yes, we eat Jesus at Mass." I bent down to put on my socks, and she said - this time more insistently - "Eat Jesus!" I could tell from the tone of her voice that she didn't think I was understanding her correctly. So I glanced up from the socks.

Maia was chewing on the crucifix of a Rosary. As I looked at her, she said, "Maia eat Jesus." Ah. Now I understood. I guess she figured if we weren't going to let her eat Jesus as we do, she'd have to find her own way to do it.

I've been constantly impressed by the flexibility of her little mind. I'd think it would be confusing to see Jesus - as a magnetic doll with his mom, as a wooden block in a nativity set, in Bible story books, and hanging on crucifixes - and yet grasp what's going on with this person. I remember a few months ago she was playing with the magnetic baby Jesus when all of the sudden she said, "Jesus sad." "Why?" I asked her. "Jesus fall down," she said, "Sad." "Fall down" here seemed to mean "died." So I told her, well, that is sad, but that's not the end of the story, right? And no, it's not the end of the story - or her Bible story to which she was undoubtedly referring.

My friend Deb tells this story of how, growing up Presbyterian, when her Catholic aunt sent her a Rosary, she thought it was mardi gras beads. A few weeks ago, Maia came home from playing with our friend Sue with mardi gras beads around her neck. "Maia," I asked, "what's this on your neck?" Without even hesitating, Maia said, "Rosary!" Hmm.

From an adult perspective, we know there's a difference between mardi gras beads and a Rosary. We know that the crucifix is different from the Eucharist. But I have to say that having a child has made me aware of how my imagination can be limited by distinctions, intellectual wanderings, and sophisticated jargon. Little by little, Maia is becoming immersed in the narrative of salvation history, and part of this is undoubtedly made possible by her curiosity, her sense of trust, and her imaginative interaction with objects. The rest, no doubt, is the work of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this is why little children are a model for us in the Christian life.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Determine the Perfect Length of Your Ph.D. Program!

Determining the perfect length of a Ph.D. program is an important issue that many of us struggle with. Because of this, Theologian Mom has designed an easy calculation to determine the perfect length of your doctoral program. Just follow these simple directions.

Begin with your age. (e.g. 28)
If you are married, add your spouse’s age. (e.g. 28+29=57)
Add the age of each child that you currently have. (e.g. 57+2=59)
If you are hoping you'll have kid(s) during the program, add 5 to the above sum. (e.g. 59+5=64)
Subtract the number of years of guaranteed funding. (e.g. 64-3=61)
If your spouse is the primary bread winner (and is willing to continue as such), add 10. If not, subtract 10. (e.g. 61-10=51)
If your spouse is not the primary bread winner, and you care about going into debt, subtract 10. (e.g. 51-10=41)
Add the total number of exams required for your program. (e.g. 41+4=45)
Now, divide by the total number of years it took you to get your masters and your bachelors degrees. (e.g. 45/8=5.5 years approximately)
According to this handy formula, 5.5 years is the perfect length for my doctoral program!
Of course, if somehow your calculation results in the exact amount of time it takes you to finish the program, you have probably made a mistake in the calculation. As it turns out, there is no “perfect” length. Some people (like that confused uncle who can’t understand why the heck you’re still a student) will think you have taken too long. Others (like a prospective employer) may think you completed the program too quickly for adequate scholarly formation. Some (like that toddler) will wonder when she’ll ever get to live in a place that has a yard. Others will wonder why you don’t have more footnotes…or why you don’t already know everything.

As for your own preferences on how long the program should take, forget it! Most of the forces are beyond your control. Besides that, your opinion is probably wrong.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My daughter ate my homework - no, really!!!

This is Maia about a year ago munching on my Americanism homework. It was hard to read (and to highlight) when she was doing this. But somehow I still made it through the class. I think it was my Americanism prof that told me he still has books with his kids' teethmarks on them. Just more proof that kids leave an imprint on your academic work.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sts. Perpetua and Felicity: A Challenge to Theologian Moms

The saints Perpetua and Felicity, martyred in North Africa in the early 3rd century, hold an important place in the memory of the Church. Liturgically, these women are mentioned in the traditional litany of saints, and their feast day was celebrated recently - March 7th.
I've had the privilege of teaching "The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity" to students in four different classes now. I say it's a "privilege" because this text always raises a lot of questions and discussion from the students. I have to be honest and admit that - like my students - I also struggle with this text, especially now as a theologian mom.

On the one hand, Perpetua is an easy source of inspiration for a theologian mom. Her authorship of at least part of this text is a demonstration of early theology from a mom. Perpetua was clearly well-educated, and perhaps the first theologian to write in Latin. Moreover, Perpetua is not of the traditional virgin-martyr or professed religious saint mold. She was a mother - but not a mother as we might stereotypically imagine women of that time, i.e. confined to the house and concerned with the "private" realm. No, Perpetua was a public mother and a public theologian, connected to a community wherein her holy leadership was valued.

The challenge for theologian moms today, however, comes in Perpetua and Felicity's seeming lack of concern regarding their children. Even my childless students are shocked that Felicity would want to have her child early specifically so that she could be martyred and "abandon" that child. Yet we have to acknowledge that these women did care for their children. After all, Perpetua tells us that, in the midst of the overcrowding of the prison, "I was tormented with a brand new concern - my child" (III.6. Trans. Maureen Tilley). She notes that her breast-feeding infant had lost weight from her time in prison. After nursing her son, she asks her brother to take care of him. But she later notes that her son had gotten used to staying in prison with her and breast-feeding (VI.6.). This situation ends when her father refuses to return the child, and the son miraculously no longer wants to nurse while Perpetua's breasts are miraculously no longer swollen with milk. Perpetua says "Consequently, I did not wither away with worry about my child or any pain in my breasts" (VI.7.).

This is the last we hear of Perpetua's son, and perhaps this is why my students easily categorize Perpetua's refusal to pay tribute to the emperor as a neglect of her vocation as mother. At the beginning she seems to care deeply for her son, but by the end, he is not even a factor for consideration. This interpretation could be even more strongly supported by the case of Felicity, who has her child in prison and immediately gives her up that she might be martyred with her companions. Going to meet the "ferocious cow," Felicity is described as "immediately post partum with milk still leaking from her breasts" (XX.2.).

An interpretation of Perpetua and Felicity as neglectful mothers, however, seems grossly inadequate and a real misdescription of their choices here. Despite their joy at meeting their martyrdom, I argue that they were not negligent toward their children. Rather, they represent several insights regarding how to be a theologian mom.

First, Perpetua and Felicity exhibit a deep trust in the Christian community of which they are a part. We are told that Felicity's daughter was immediately adopted and raised as the daughter of one of the sisters. Perpetua and Felicity were part of a deeply devoted and spiritually united Church. We can also see in their story a deep trust in the heavenly Christian community. Even prior to her death, Perpetua exhibited an understanding of connection between the "dead" and the living, as her prayers for her deceased brother Dinocrates attained his contentment in the afterlife. Given this, we might consider that Perpetua and Felicity did not see death as the end of their relationships with their children. Rather, they could continue to be of assistance to them, albeit in a less "tangible" way.

Most importantly, however, we see in Perpetua and Felicity a willingness to sacrifice tangible motherhood for their beliefs. In this sense, we can say that it is not that they saw motherhood as something worthless, but that they saw their martyrdom as a necessity. In other words, motherhood is a real good, but God is the true and ultimate good; hence it was not possible to deny Christ.

I am grateful and I pray in thanksgiving that I am not faced with the situation of Perpetua and Felicity. But even as I write this, Perpetua and Felicity stand as a real challenge to me as a theologian mom. Does my theology adequately account for the Christian community, living and eternally living? Does my theology consistently acknowledge God as the true and ultimate good? Does my motherhood adequately account for the role the Church plays in the formation and care of my child? And does my motherhood consistently acknowledge God as the true and ultimate good? Saints Perpetua and Felicity, pray for us theologian moms!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Analogy for Theologian Moms

One of my favorite theologian moms sent me this cartoon. The two women in the cartoon are undergrads at MIT and competing in a contest to make a robot that will do a 6 degree incline. They're lamenting that their robot hovers, but won't do the incline. Aren't theologian moms inclined to do the same? We lament our not living up to others' expectations and our own, but fail to see our actual successes.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Migrating Books

My husband often says that when you're an academic, books are the "tools of your trade." He doesn't just say this, either. He really believes it, as is indicated by the unbelievable amount of books crammed into our small two-bedroom apartment. I admit that I sometimes find the sheer quantity of books at our place a little cumbersome. On the other hand, one of my classmates told me of a study on children's reading where the only factor correlative to strong reading skills was the number of books in the child's home. If this is true, Maia will be an excellent reader.
(Above, Maia in the midst of Dad's reorganizing project in 2006)
Unfortunately, Maia seems to take after her dad when it comes to reshelving books after using them. Hence it is an unusual day when there are NOT books scattered on the floor, as well as every other available surface. Maia also absolutely loves to pull books off of my shelves, which are in the living room (Jeff's are in the second bedroom - when he reshelves them). The interesting thing is the way that the books seem to migrate from my shelves to hers. Perhaps even more interesting is that once the books end up on Maia's shelves, I tend to continue reshelving them to her shelves. St. Basil's On the Holy Spirit, for example, has been on Maia's shelves for about five months now and was joined just a few months ago by St. Athanasius's On the Incarnation. Merton's No Man is an Island was on Maia's shelves for a month or so, but I guess she didn't like that one. It ended up back where it belonged. (Above, Maia practices the presence of God by chewing on Brother Lawrence)
I have to admit that Maia's interaction with my books makes me a little nervous. Thank goodness she's beyond the chewing/gnawing stage. But she is into writing... and she sees her parents writing in books all the time, so it seems pretty normal to her. Anyway, Maia's book preferences seem to be continually shifting. For a long time she always went for St. Augustine's City of God. Jeff and I thought this to be a good sign. More recently, however, it's straight for Milbank's Theology and Social Theory, which, admittedly does have a nice shiny cover, perhaps more comprehensible than the text itself. Maia's other favorite at this time is my two-volume Tanner collection of the Ecumenical Councils. I only discovered this yesterday, but Jeff said she's been digging through them for at least two weeks now.
(Above, Maia with City of God - this is not a posed photo!)
The Tanner collection, I think, is taking Maia's exploration a little too far. Her Greek and Latin (not to mention her English) are way too weak to get a full appreciation of the value of the texts, not to mention their cost. And yet, ironically, it was in the midst of worrying about Maia looking at Tanner that I myself splashed a little coffee on Volume II. Alas!
(Above, Maia turns the Ecumenical Councils into a tower)
What's interesting about the migrating books in our apartment is that none of Maia's books ever seem to end up on our shelves or in our school bags. I keep waiting for the day when I show up to my Evangelical Historiography class with Personal Penguin by Sandra Boynton and Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss, while Maia stays with dad reading about the development and use of the Bible in the U.S. But so far, it hasn't happened. I guess that's a good thing.