As the new year begins, I hope to use this site more regularly. I’m terrible with WordPress, but I’m going to try to make it into something functional. Let’s see.
Well. The fall of 2017… happened. It was my first semester in seminary and my first four-odd months living in New York City. It started out so, so hot, unseasonably hot, I mean, with the heat lingering well into November, but at the end, it was suddenly bitter cold. I gave my first eulogy. I mourned relationships with mentors whom I loved (and still love) very much. I got so angry. I also petted cats on the streets in Harlem close to midnight, fell in love with a sweet little chapel slated for demolition (they want to put luxury condos there, where we sit in a circle on the cold stone floor on Thursday nights and watch the candle wax run down), administered exams to undergraduates, ran through a sunny corn maze in northern New Jersey, sobbed in a coffee shop in Princeton, realized how beautiful and radical the Magnificat really is, went to my college homecoming for less than 24 hours, said a goodbye, hung out a lot in an apartment above an Episcopal church, took part in an exorcism, ranted with my housemates, got disillusioned (again and again and again), prayed the rosary, read a few books and a few brilliant theologians (Mary Daly, Delores Williams, Ivone Gebara, Rosemary Ruether…), finally started to read the Bible (Intro to Old Testament!) went to group therapy, cried from loneliness some more, hung out with some more cats (and the friends who own those cats), ate lots of rice and beans, drank lots of rose black tea, took the train home and back and home again, got angry again and again and again…
It was one of the worst semesters I’ve ever had, but it was also vivid and brilliant and perfect, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Here are a few things I’ve learned:
- Intergenerational relationships are critical. In my pastoral care class, we met weekly with “listening practicum” groups. At 23, I was the youngest in my randomly-assigned group of four. The oldest in the group was probably in her sixties and the other three women were all mothers. Every week, we sat together for an hour and talked about school, children, adoption, homework, loving, in-laws, mental illness, our professor’s slip-ups, whatever. I learned things from that class, sure, but I learned the most from being in that group. If given the choice, I likely would’ve gravitated toward a group with people my own age, and I’m so grateful that I wasn’t given that choice. The group helped me understand that intergenerational relationships, which are somehow so countercultural, are critical in all sorts of ways: politically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. I’m so grateful that these wonderful women are my peers.
- It’s hard to be a Catholic at a Protestant seminary. I’ll probably write about this in greater depth at some point. It’s a challenge that I anticipated; I’d been warned by a mentor. It’s a challenge that I embrace, but it’s an itch, an irritant, whatever. Mainline Protestant condescension is such a thing (…in very specific contexts in which I spend a lot of time); I resent your patronization, your sympathy, your self-righteousness! I’m grateful for the relationships that I developed with my (few) Catholic classmates and hope to strengthen those relationships next semester. This recent article beautifully articulated many of my feelings. While I’m a staunch supporter of women’s ordination, ordination won’t solve the fundamental problems with the priesthood as we currently conceive of it. This writer’s perspective on ministry is something I hope to emulate.
- People in seminary are just like people anywhere else. I’ve known enough immature clergypeople to anticipate this one, but honestly, it feels like high school sometimes. There’s plenty of self-righteousness, immaturity, and drama here – and it’s some ways it’s worse, because everyone thinks they have God on their side. (And I don’t exempt myself from that, either.)
- On a similar note, institutions are… institutions. Again, this isn’t a shocker, but that knowledge is different from the experience. $eminarie$ need money. You can’t be an institution with an (endangered) multi-million dollar endowment and truly act morally. Institutions don’t have souls.
- Living in the city makes you aware of your complicity. I went to an elite liberal arts college in rural New England. I was more aware of rural poverty than most of my peers, since I was basically a local and knew the surrounding towns quite well, but it was something relatively easy to forget about. In the city, there are literally homeless people sleeping outside my ivory tower. How can I live on the rapidly-gentrifying edge of Harlem? What is my net impact on the community in which I live? Honestly, I know it’s not good: I give money to an institution that’s planning to build luxury condos on the edge of Harlem, for God’s sake. What should I do? My complicity in racist, capitalist logics is disgusting. Should I leave school, then? But then I would be less equipped to dismantle systems of oppression, wouldn’t I? Basically, I don’t know, no one really knows what to do, and this horrible, sick indecision follows me around. That said, I’m grateful to be in community with people who also experience the ambivalence of what we’re doing – and scour the corners of its contradictions with me.
- Writing is complicated. I read Walking on Lava over the summer, a beautiful book that I’d absolutely recommend to anyone. Finding The Dark Mountain Project was such a breath of fresh air to me. I’d “fallen out of love” with the literary world in college because it felt dead, hopelessly commoditized, self-referential, self-serving, etc etc etc. In its own words, “the Project grew out of a feeling that contemporary literature and art were failing to respond honestly or adequately to the scale of our entwined ecological, economic and social crises. We believe that writing and art have a crucial role to play in coming to terms with this reality, and in questioning the foundations of the world in which we find ourselves.” This is good stuff. I want to make real, good stuff. Giving a eulogy, speaking in chapel, writing articles and emails and angry Facebook messages and papers about feminist theologians… all of that made me think so much about why I write and who I write for. Basically, I don’t want to write aesthetically pleasing stuff; I want to write real stuff, because we need real stuff, I need real stuff, and this earth needs real stuff, urgently.
- You can survive losing people. Something we all have to learn, again and again and again, as awful as it is.
There’s more, of course, but that’s a sample. Oh, and I finally found a church! I have to take the bus there, but I love it.
Here’s to 2018.