What I Learned This Year

Here are some things I’ve learned this year in school:

  • I am capable of a lot of work when I put my mind to it, but I also recognize my finitude. I have sometimes taken on too much to the detriment of my family. This will require that I plan my time better in adopting a consistent sleep schedule and study plan. My family deserves better than I gave them this year.
  • I had an inkling of this, but it got fleshed more out in my research of Gordon Kaufman’s theological method: all theology is constructed, from beginning to end. It does not exist “out there” to be discovered and exegeted but emerges out of a thinker’s use of sources. This means that one is responsible for what one says; one cannot just blame something on God.
  • Because of what I discovered with Kaufman, I am giving Christianity not another try, but a different try. I will be actively engaged in the process, not just uncritically accepting certain things. In a sense, Christianity exists “outside” the person because it is a social phenomenon. However, Christianity does not exist above and beyond the individual, because it is always embodied and expressed by individual persons. It shows up socially, too, social or political movements. I’m still working out what this even means.
  • I’ve come to realize more and more that I cannot universalize my personal experience and call myself a responsible person. I don’t call what I do “common sense,” “the way things are,” etc. I own what I do, say, and believe to the point that I recognize I have to demonstrate to others how I’ve come to some of my conclusions. I can’t take for granted that people share certain elements of experience with me to come to the same conclusions. And so this gives me room to hear other people’s stories and how they’ve constructed meaning on their journeys and not dismiss them out of hand; those are their experiences, as important to them as mine are to me. True dialogue can occur after each person recognizes this in the other, once we accept that we are not the same, and then attempt to find shared spaces or possibly create them.
  • There’s a world full of religions (one could just as easily say cultures since “religion” and “culture” intersect so seamlessly sometimes) that have worked for peoples to organize their societies. It’s interesting to learn how diverse understandings of religion arbitrate the relationship between church and state, individual and group, secular and sacred, what actually constitutes “religion,” male and female, or beyond binaries in more recent thought.
  • The word “religion” means something obvious to everyone else besides religious studies scholars. Ninian Smart outlined seven elements that most religions of the world have at least some of: doctrine, ethics, narratives/myths, ritual, experience, material culture, and institutions (here is a picture showing the interrelations of six of those dimensions, minus material culture). Some religions will denigrate others for not emphasizing what they emphasize. Some emphasize ritual and minimize ethics and doctrine, while others do the complete opposite. Both wonder at each other as a foreign, exotic “Other,” which is nonetheless wrong. Religion can also be defined in other ways: functionally, essentially, descriptively, and normatively.
  • There are lots of smart people in the world. I no longer feel the impulse to be the smartest in the class or see myself in competition with others to do better. I’ve adopted a more cooperative attitude that feels better. When I treat my classmates as fellow scholars or collaborators rather than as competition, we all benefit. I don’t glean nearly as much as when I share with others and they with me in a dynamic relationship. I just do my best and hope for the best.
  • Facebook and other internet activities waste a lot of my time. So does Netflix. Not to say these aren’t wonderful things in limited quantities, but they kind of contribute to me being a more passive than active person, making my brain feel kind of mushy after indulging for too long.
  • After reading an article by Richard Godbeer (his writing is as cool as his last name sounds), I encountered the idea that discourses of sex are always present in every sex act. One never “just has sex”; one is playing a script, like it fulfills a biological need or emotional desire, acts as a means to bond with a lover, a duty to fulfill, a peak experience with another involved, etc. He was drawing his ideas from Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality in three volumes, some of which I’d like to read this summer. The class I was in, Sexuality and American Religion, has actually given me some ideas of possible minors I’d like to pursue alongside the major of religious studies, like gender or sexuality studies and their presence in religions.

That is all I can think of for now. If I think of other things, I’ll edit this post and add them. Ask questions or comment if you want.

What Will We Be Like as Parents?

The other day at my in-laws, I was on my way to take a slam. As is my custom, I grabbed a book to occupy myself. It was Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat. I sat down. I read the

Source: thecornfedfeminist.blogspot.com

Source: cornfedfeminist.blogspot.com

publication date. 1957. At least I think that was the date. Then I began the book. Two kids are left home alone while their mother is running errands. They’re bored. And then in comes a stranger to entertain them. Granted, he’s an animal, but he’s a grown up animal, anthropomorphic, and a stranger still. These few pages got me to thinking.

My brother and I grew up, many times being left alone at home while our parents worked. Our friends grew up with this experience. This was about the mid 90s to the time we left the house. I don’t think my parents did anything wrong. It was a different time. They’d probably do things differently if they raised us today. I wonder if I would want my kid(s) (only got one now) unsupervised very often. It’s not so much a trust issue as a responsibility issue. Kids aren’t born

Source: Amazon.com

Source: Amazon.com

responsible. They have to be taught responsibility. This requires supervision for awhile. Ethics/morals don’t occur naturally; they must be fostered from without until internalized by the children. Parents slowly introduce more and more freedom to their children so that the values instilled from without are allowed to emanate from the children’s own wills. For, eventually, children will be on their own. Why not start practicing their values while still under the guidance of parents?

Not that my brother and I did anything crazy, but there was plenty of opportunity. At my friend’s house (unsupervised) was where I was first introduced to pornography. Much worse could have happened. What if my friend’s older sibling had molested me? What if girls or guys had been there to experiment with? What kind of drug trouble could I have encountered? But I think porn was enough to skew my view of sexuality without proper framing from my parents. They were quite open with me about matters sexual. Dad taught about human sexuality in a graduate setting. We were free to ask them questions. Through no fault of their own, I was already introduced to the subject through pornography. So while I was getting what should have been a good framing of human sexuality, it was already perverted. Instead of two (and only two) mature, committed, freely chosen, and loving individuals expressing their care for one another, I viewed sexuality in an individualistic, selfish, dominating, ignoring of the other’s needs/desires, non-relational, notches in a bedpost fashion. Funny such a view took over 20 years to undo.

And sexuality is only one thing. There are so many things to supervise and guide. Money. Domestic responsibilities. Work ethic. Picking a good partner. Picking and maintaining healthy relationships. Health. Education. The hard thing is trying to avoid being overbearing, too. I am a father. While that involves authority, I don’t want to reduce my son’s relationship with me to one of authority/obeyer. Sarah and I will probably supervise (or have someone else supervise) our kids directly until their teenage years. I’ll have to continue talking with her about this, lol, but I think that’s when I’ll start relinquishing some of my supervision. I’ll be there, but not as constant a check as I was. For how else will the kids grow unless they do a bit of living on their own? I can’t be there to fix all their mistakes. I won’t leave them helpless, but I probably would let them sit in a cell overnight if they jacked a car, flashed helpless teenagers, or vandalized their school. What would you do? How will you parent or are you parenting?