Month: December 2013

Waiting during Advent

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file000865580513by Annie Hardison-Moody

I’ve spent most of the last three and a half years waiting.

Waiting for a cycle to start, waiting for test results, waiting for blood work, waiting for an ultrasound, waiting for a miscarriage, waiting for our home study to be approved, waiting for an adoption, waiting for a baby.

Waiting.

During the waiting period, I’ve been excited, frustrated, hopeful, scared, angry, depressed, and exhausted.  We’ve tried many coping mechanisms to deal with the wait, including enjoying our lives as they are now (along with friends and family, we bought a boat!), going on vacation, talking with supportive friends and family, praying, grieving, spending time with kids, spending time away from kids, holing up in our house, going out and having fun…and the list goes on.

I’m part of an adoption support group on Facebook, and lately we’ve been talking about how we cope with the wait during the holidays.  Some of us have to bite our tongues at family dinners, when family members ask us when we will finally have a family of our own.  Some of us take vacations so that we don’t have to see the little ones at family gatherings, who are a reminder of the one thing we want more than anything else in the world.  Some of us smile and laugh, then go home and cry because it’s one more year without a baby.  Some of us have a glass of wine, to take the edge off. Some of us who are Christian have trouble feeling hopeful during Christmas-time, because we are too sad, frustrated, or tired.  And some of us can’t listen to the Christmas carols and songs and sermons and prayers announcing the birth of a baby…

Advent is a season of waiting and anticipation.  During this time, Christians await the coming of a baby who will bring peace, love and hope to a world that desperately needs it.  We spend the four weeks before Christmas preparing for this miraculous birth, but for those of us who are waiting and hoping for a child, this season of waiting and anticipation can be so hard.   We struggle to hope, because it has not been an easy thing to find in our own lives.

I realize that this post is a sad one, during what is usually such a beautiful, joyous time.  And it can be joyous – even for those of us who are struggling as we wait to become parents.  I for one, feel a little more hopeful when my family and friends acknowledge that this time might be hard for my spouse and me.  They give us permission to be sad as we need to during the happy times.  They let us duck out on events that we probably “should” attend.  What also helps is when our church family provides space for grief and sadness during Advent.  Each year, we have a service of grief and remembrance, for those of us who need a place where we can let down our facade, for just a minute, in the presence of God and community.  These gestures of care and community mean so much.  They allow us to see and feel the love and care that surrounds us, even in the hard times.

Not everyone will be comforted by the same things, so if you know someone who might be struggling with  hope during this Advent season, consider asking how you can provide some support or what they might need.  And for those of you who, like me, are waiting to become parents or grieving the loss of a child or pregnancy – be gentle with yourself.  Take time to grieve. And try to find joy and hope where you can.  As you find ways to experience hope and joy during the season, or ways to cope during this waiting period, please share them with me here or on our Facebook page.

I hope that we are all able to find peace, hope, love and joy during this Advent season.

 

 

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Countering Consumerism

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by Elizabeth Gandolfo

Consumerism has been a topic of great concern in my teaching, research and parenting practices over the course of the Fall, and especially now that the Christmas shopping season is upon us.  (I actually had to tear myself away from shopping on Amazon to write this post!)  I am currently teaching a course on Religion and the Environment, which culminates this week with an exploration of religious resources for subverting the culture of overconsumption that is destroying not only the planet, but also human bodies and spirits.   This culture, which has been manufactured to meet the profit motives of market capitalism, consumes its subjects with dissatisfaction, anxiety, and insatiable desire.  It cannibalizes the lives of other human beings who pay the price (in low wages, poor working conditions, environmental injustice, etc.) for privileged communities’ access to cheap and convenient consumer goods.  And it devours the planetary ecosystems and atmospheric conditions on which our lives and well-being depend.  In her most recent book, Blessed Are the Consumers, Sallie McFague argues that “we are living in la-la land, a place that has no relationship to the finitude of our actual home, planet earth.  We are living beyond our means, both financially and ecologically.  We are consuming with an insatiable, and unsustainable, appetite” (18).  If we are to face this reality honestly and create a world in which other human beings and the planet as a whole can survive and thrive, posits McFague, then we the relentless over-consumers of the Global North must practice restraint in our personal and public consumptive practices and learn to share the world’s limited resources fairly.  It is in this process of kenosis, or compassionate self-emptying, that we might overcome the dissatisfaction and anxiety of consumer culture and find true self-fulfillment.  As a Christian theologian with liberationist, feminist, and ecological commitments to justice and sustainability, I couldn’t agree with McFague more.  As a suburban, middle-class mother of three young children, I am struggling with how to incorporate the practice of consumer kenosis into my family’s everyday life.

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Over the past half-century or so, middle-class parents in the United States have become excessively anxious about the health, safety, comfort, and future academic, social and professional success of our offspring.  In an attempt to protect, enrich, and entertain our children, we implicate ourselves in whole markets of vastly unjust and unnecessary systems of production and consumption that exploit other human beings and contribute to ecological destruction.  Most middle-class parents like myself are a long way from even imagining a world in which the material comfort and entertainment of our own children are relativized, let alone sacrificed, for the sake of children across the world and the health of the planet as a whole.  Parenting, it turns out, poses a unique and troubling obstacle to the kenosis of consumer culture.

I have found that my gendered role as a mother also plays into this challenge in very unsettling ways.  Since I have made the choice to stay at home to care for my young children, I am responsible for acquiring, organizing, storing, cleaning up, throwing out and giving away most of the consumer goods that enter our household.  When I first became pregnant, I found it surprisingly easy to get sucked into the massive and manipulative marketplace of baby registries, birthing balls, bella bands, nursing nightgowns, and parenting books.  After the birth of our first child, my husband and I began to accumulate (by choice and by chance, and mostly under my maternal direction) inordinate amounts of ‘stuff’: baby equipment, clothing, stuffed animals, toys, books, DVDs, arts and craft supplies, play dough, and much much more.   Even when we don’t do the shopping, it all just keeps coming as gifts, hand-me-downs, preschool-made crafts, and so on.  Rather than spending quality time with my children, I dedicate precious hours of each day to the frustrating and spiritually deadening task of maintaining all of their stuff.  When and how will it end!?

My acute academic awareness of social location tells me that I should tag this post #firstworldproblems.  Obviously my life is not threatened by the mountains of consumer goods that overcrowd our home.  But this is part of the whole point—however exhausting and spiritually deadening I find it to keep up with my family’s consumer lifestyle, it is not my well-being or that of my family that is most urgently at stake here.  Rather, it is the life of the planet and the well-being of human communities all over the world that suffer the adverse economic, social, cultural and ecological effects of our culture’s chronic problem with “affluenza.”

As Christmas approaches, I am finding it immensely difficult to restrain (and re-train) my consumer desires vis-à-vis my children.  I know what I should do—I  should go delete all (or at least most!) of the items I just placed in my Amazon shopping cart in the 15 minutes prior to writing this post.  I should spend time studying and implementing some of the counter-consumerist resources offered through organizations like Center for a New American Dream (which sponsors a “Simplify the Holidays” page) and Advent Conspiracy.  I should take the time to purge my household of at least half of our stuff (as suggested by Kim John Payne in Simplicity Parenting).

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And, finally, I should take a spiritual step back from the frenzy and contemplate, really contemplate, what it means that the infinite power of Divine Love became human flesh in the womb of a peasant woman, was born in a cold stall in the occupied territory of ancient Palestine, and was laid in a manger far from his parents’ home, all for the sake of compassionate solidarity with a suffering world.  I suspect that all the practical tips in the world will not help me to counter consumerism without the practical transformation that can come from this (or some other form of) liberating contemplative practice.

Do you hope to counter your own complicity in consumer culture this Christmas?  If so, what helps you to restrain your consumerist desires and how do you find the freedom to focus your time, energy, and resources on what really matters?

A Room of One’s Own

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by Claire Bischoff

A few weeks back, I was checking e-mail at the library of the seminary at which I did my masters degree (probably dressed in jeans and a sweater, looking much like I did eleven years earlier when I was a student there).  I was there because the WiFi always works (unlike the coffee shop by my house), I knew it would be quiet (unlike my home “office,” where I can hear my kids wrestling and arguing even with my head phones on), and the tables are big enough that you can spread your books out around you (unlike the other coffee shop by my house where the WiFi does work).

Before jumping in to write the conference paper that was on the docket for this particular chunk of work time, I came across an article by Robert Zaretsky, Honors College faculty at the University of Houston, which was entitled “Unburdened by an Office.” Zaretsky begins from the position that “there have been few greater markers of professional power and authority in the academy” than the size of one’s office, and he goes on to narrate the academic rite of passage that is taping cartoons, photos, and treasured quotations to one’s office door, an act he see “as symbolic as Neil Armstrong planting the American flag on the moon.” But having been asked recently by his dean to share an office, Zaretsky is led to wonder whether offices still hold the same importance and whether academics actually might find some freedom in giving up their offices.

At the risk of sounding like an irrational and emotional woman, something female academics are accused of with alarming frequency, I wanted to throw my computer on the floor and stomp on it. And not just because the author paired his ponderings with a Dorothea Lange Depression-era photograph of a homeless man, tastelessly equating his plight of sharing an office with actual economic destitution. Reading this post brought up feelings of frustration, built up over the past five years of combining part-time academic work with part-time stay-at-home parenting, frustrations I had no idea cut as deep as they did. Frustration with never feeling like I quite measured up, either as an academic or as a parent. Frustration with having so much of my mental energy dispersed by the daily demands of feeding, clothing, and otherwise meeting the needs of my sons that there is little energy left for the creative, sustained, and integrative work of scholarship. Frustration with having such a hard time with the seemingly simple task of even finding a place to work.

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In Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf argues that “a woman must have money and a room of  her own if she is to  write fiction.” I think the same must be argued about female academics, and  this goes double for those who are  mothering young children at the same time. It is fine for those  who have tenure to wax poetically about the freedom  that can come from giving up an office. But  what about those on the margins in the academy? What about the pre-  tenure faculty who are scrambling to publish their two books and seven articles so that they can be assured of a job? What about the adjuncts, like me, who have no room of their own in which to continue carving out a career as we wait for a more permanent position to open up? It behooves us to ask what basic material and social conditions make academic achievement a realistic possibility for mother scholars and for others on the margins in the academic world. A room of one’s own is a good place to start.