Portrait of a Real-Life Feminist.

For some reason, I’ve been meeting a lot of new people lately (cue panic). As I’ve been meeting what feels like the entire world population, I’ve had to answer the following series of questions several times.

 

So, you’re a student? What are you studying?

Feminist theology? Really? At a seminary? I didn’t even know that existed!

You’re a feminist then? Oh. You don’t look like a feminist.

*facepalm*

 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, though. I’ve been trying to figure out why it is that, despite my strong commitment to and activism for women’s rights, people are so surprised that I, of all people, am so persuaded.

And then I had a “well, duh” moment.

People are so surprised because feminists, like any other socio-political group, are better known as a caricature than as real people.

A cursory Google images or iStockPhoto search will return a shocking amount of photos of female dominance over men, overly hairy (we’re talking wookie status) women lighting bras on fire, and other similar, unrealistic photos.

And, while many of the people in my life are committed feminists, I had to wonder if this is what those who do not identify this way imagine when they think of us.

So I decided to prove them wrong.

 

This is a portrait of a real-life feminist, namely, me.

I am a feminist, and I am married. To a man. I even took his name.

I am a feminist, and I enjoy quilting.

I am a feminist, and I wear skirts. And dresses. And makeup.

I am a feminist, and I have a Pinterest account.

I am a feminist, and I struggle with accepting my body.

I am a feminist, and I shave.

I am a feminist, and I wear bras.

I am a feminist, and I feel safer when I’m with my husband.

I am a feminist, and I want kids.

I am a feminist, and I earn less than my husband.

I am a feminist, and I think men are pretty great. Usually.

I am a feminist, and I am religious.

I am a feminist, and I am in seminary.

I am a feminist, and I love it when my husband brings me flowers.

I am a feminist, and I have a hard time being confident.

I am a feminist, and I have far more male friends than female friends.

I am a feminist, and I was given away at my wedding.

I am a feminist, and I really, really love being female.

I am a feminist, and I am not a caricature.

 

I am a feminist, and I believe that, whoever you are, you deserve the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else.

Why I DON’T Use Birth Control: A Response to Rachel Held Evans and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

I’m sure, by this point, you’ve all heard about the absolute cluster that was the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case (or, in our household, that which is referred to as “The time when five middle-aged, rich, Catholic men decided that companies are people but women aren’t.”) In case you haven’t, this should sufficiently enrage you.

Today, Rachel Held Evans posted a response, including statements from eleven women who explained why it is they use birth control. This was an excellent response to a very complicated issue. I’ve long admired (read: envied) Rachel’s ability to navigate controversial topics with respect and grace, while still bringing a much-needed critical eye.

I really appreciated this. The reasons these women shared were varied, and really helped to show that being sexually active and being on birth control are not interchangeable, though they often do correlate.

I, however, found one voice not represented: that of women who are, by choice, not on birth control.

I am one of them.

And I think my voice counts, too.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m very much pro-birth control, pro-family planning, and pro-women’s health. I used to be on birth control. I was a Planned Parenthood client.

I wasn’t on it because of health issues, and I wasn’t on it because I wanted to be able to sleep with anyone on a whim without the risk of an unplanned pregnancy.* I was a newly married woman and a college student, and my husband and I neither wanted to have children at the time, nor were we, in any sense, ready.

Last winter, I stopped taking my birth control. Not because we were trying to have kids. Not because it was too expensive (I’m lucky to live in a state that covers family planning services, including birth control, for low-income women).

I stopped taking it because I didn’t want to take it anymore.

I have an anxiety disorder, panic disorder, OCD, and a bunch of other mental health challenges. I am on, between prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, herbal supplements, and homeopathic remedies, roughly twenty different medicinal treatments.

Being on birth control, however, seemed to counteract much of the effort put into managing my mental health challenges. I was moody, grumpy, and tired, I gained weight, I had headaches, and my periods were, at best, unpredictable.

When I was diagnosed with anxiety et. al. in February 2013, I started to pay more attention to what I put into my body. Body chemistry affects brain chemistry, and therefore a body unbalanced begets a brain unbalanced–and more susceptible to attacks.

Putting extra hormones into my body seemed like an unnecessary risk.

But more than all of that, I just didn’t want it. I was plain old tired of taking it.

So I stopped.

That was nearly a year ago. Thus far, I have managed to not get pregnant, but who knows what will happen.

Some of my fellow feminists may call this irresponsible. They may tell me that I’m experiencing internalized sexism. They may tell me to embrace my sexuality, that my body is glorious and that I should realize that.

And, while some of that is true, whether or not I take birth control doesn’t change any of it.

Just like being on birth control doesn’t change whether or not a woman is sexually active.

I am grateful for the women (and men) who have encouraged me, helped me, called me out, and liberated me. I am grateful that I live in a time and place in which I can easily get birth control legally, inexpensively, and safely (even though my current insurance does not cover it). I am grateful that we, as feminists, are calling out injustice, sexism, and prejudice.

But I feel like I’m being pressured into a decision all the same. Because I’m a feminist, I ought to be on birth control.

So, to everyone, to those who think birth control is a right and to those who think it’s a sin, here’s a reminder:

My body, my choice. 

 

*Not that there’s anything wrong with this. I’m just deconstructing a caricature. Get some. Or don’t. Your body, your choice.

A Day in the Life.

***Trigger warning for anxiety, panic, health anxiety, OCD***

Somewhere, in the recesses of my brain, there are neurons that do not function properly. They reabsorb serotonin and norepinephrine instead of passing them on to the next neuron.

It seems like such a tiny thing. Yet, this has made my life an awful, wonderful mess.

I have generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, several phobias (including agoraphobia), and other mental health challenges.

I am in the healing process, but like the best and worst of stories, I am eternally unfinished.

I have become pretty vocal about my mental health challenges as of late, and I have found some incredible people, some of whom were already in my life, who have shared their stories of their own challenges with me and have woven themselves together to form an amazing network of support.

But still, a lot of people don’t understand what it’s like. I get a lot of “just calm down”s, “stop worrying”s, “talk to God about it”s, and more completely baffling phrases that, while they may be well-intentioned, do much more harm than good.

If I could calm down or stop worrying, I would have by now. If the Divine could fix this, I think She would have by now.

I also get a lot of similarly well-intentioned people who have made the critical first step of realizing it’s not that simple, but still think they have the solution. These are not, usually, people who have similar challenges. So, I get unsolicited advice like “take some deep breaths,” “maybe you just need a break,” “try out this tea, it’s really soothing,” et cetera.

Again, thanks, but if it were that simple, I’d be better.

My challenges are likely to be with me for the rest of my life. There will be seasons of intense struggling and there will be seasons where the burden is lighter. I’m slowly but surely building my skills and tools and learning how to manage.

I think the biggest problem in how others relate to those of us with mental health challenges is that those who do not have these challenges don’t always understand how pervasive these challenges are in the life of one who is faced with them.

For that reason, I’ve decided to give you a glimpse into what an average day might look like for me, and specifically, how my challenges affect my daily life.

***DISCLAIMER: This is by no means universal. I am neither assuming that the day-to-day life of every person who deals with similar challenges will look like this, nor am I trying to advise anyone on what he or she should or should not be doing. This is one person’s story. If you want to know what others’ lives are like, you’ll have to ask them.***

8:00-8:30 a.m.: An alarm specifically designed to monitor my sleep and wake me up at the end of a sleep cycle sounds. I (hopefully) wake up and manage to stay awake for more than 30 seconds. I record my mood upon waking and log my heart rate, as well as any traumatic or anxiety-inducing dreams I may have had.

8:45 a.m.: My husband brings me a breakfast of high-protein, refined sugar-free, all-natural Greek yogurt and gluten-free granola and a cup of decaf coffee. I have to avoid sugar, caffeine, and gluten because they can negatively affect my body chemistry and make my anxiety worse. I also often have intense nausea as a side effect of my medication, so I have to be careful to pack in the protein when I can manage to eat it. I eat my breakfast in bed because I usually am too anxious to get up right away, and I need time to prepare myself.

9:00 a.m.: I take my morning medications for the day:

  • 10 mg Prozac–I’m in the process of tapering off of this and on to a new medication. Doctors have no way of knowing which medications will be effective and which will not for individual patients, so it is usually trial and error.
  • 150 mg Wellbutrin–This is the medication I’m tapering onto. It seems to be working okay thus far, but SSRIs and SNRIs have a long incubation period before they reach their maximum efficacy, so we won’t know for a few more weeks.
  • 10 mg Zyrtec–This is unrelated. I have allergies. 
  • 5000 IU vitamin D–My vit D levels are low. I don’t go outside much because I am terrified of leaving the safe confines of my apartment. I also have a lot of medical anxiety, so I try not to spend too much time in the sun much because I am terrified of getting skin cancer. Also, vit D helps in improving mood. 
  • B-complex vitamin–I’m sure this is good for me somehow. I’ve been told to take so many things that I don’t really remember why I’m taking this. I think it helps regulate metabolism and mood?
  • Vitamin A–I get really bad stress acne, and when one has an anxiety disorder, there is a lot of stress that goes with it. Vit A helps to keep my skin in check.
  • Calcium–My chiropractor started me on this as it will help to keep my muscles relaxed, thus helping keep a physical calm. 
  • Magnesium–I take this for the same reason as calcium. 
  • Women’s Daily Multivitamin–I take this because I am an adult who cares about her body. This is not directly related to my anxiety, though likely has some connection with my medical anxiety. 

9:05 a.m.: If I can manage it, I get out of bed and start to get ready for the day. I spend about half an hour putting on my mask for the day, perhaps trying to hide my social anxiety with makeup and hair dye. Or maybe I’m just vain.

9:35 a.m.: I sit down to check my mail (panic), Facebook (panic), the weather (panic), and whatever else needs checking. 

9:50 a.m.: I leave for work. I work on campus, so I walk up the hill, and I try to walk slowly so as to keep my heart rate down. Anxiety/panic attack #1 has usually occurred by this point.

10:00 a.m.: I begin working at job #1 in the Marketing and Communications Office. This is a great job for me as there are only four other people in the department, and while my projects are assigned by my boss, I work largely independently and can usually communicate with most people via email or gchat. 

12:00 p.m.: My shift for job #1 is done. By this point, I have likely consumed 1.5 L/6 cups of water. I have to keep hydrated in order to both keep my body chemistry relatively constant and because I am terrified of having to go into the hospital for dehydration. I did this once already, and while I had probably the best nurse ever, it was still traumatic and I’d rather not relive it.

12:05 p.m.: I walk across to the other side of the building and begin working at job #2. I manage Luther’s short-term housing. This involves making reservations, communicating with guests, assigning room turnovers to the custodial team, managing my hospitality team, processing payments, and preparing packets for guests. This is also a good job for me because it allows me to stay active and also work at my own pace. I can usually put my headphones in and listen to music, which means I largely do not have to speak with anyone.

1:30 p.m.: During an average week, I’m usually done with job #2 at this point. Sometimes it takes a bit longer. Once every two weeks, I head down to my therapist’s office for a 2:00 appointment.

1:40 p.m.: I get into my car and brace myself for driving at highway speeds around other cars. I am terrified of this. Especially the 35W-94 interchange. It is hell. Anxiety/panic attack #2 occurs.

1:55 p.m.: I arrive at my therapist’s office. I listen to some supposedly-calming-but-too-contrived plunky harp music mixed with whale sounds that’s always playing in the waiting area as I wait for my appointment.

2:00 p.m.: My therapist, Rachel, comes to collect me. Depending on the day and my current struggles, we might do talk therapy, EMDR, sandplay therapy, relaxation exercises, or any number of other things. I am lucky to have a therapist who is very attentive to my needs, works cooperatively with me, and is generally flexible and open-minded. I would highly recommend her. 

3:00 p.m.: I leave my therapist’s office, usually feeling more relaxed and positive. I fill my water bottle for the third time today and brave the traffic headed back home.

3:30 p.m.: I arrive at home and change into workout clothes so I can head up to the gym. I am blessed with a gym on-campus that has a whopping one-time rate of $10 for life. I spend 30 minutes on the elliptical, and often do a set of strength-training exercises as well. Exercise is one of the best anxiety-reducing measures in existence, not to mention it’s good for everyone and it’s completely natural. I complete my workout with a brief yoga session to relax and bring my mind and body into harmony. I have worked with Shelley at the Yoga Sanctuary to incorporate some poses and breathing exercises that are particularly helpful for those of us with anxiety. 

4:30 p.m.: I walk back home, shower, and eat a long-overdue lunch. I am terrified of cooking, so this is often a collection of snacks like veggies or chips and hummus, chips and salsa, olives, fruit, and/or cheese. I have low blood pressure to start, and one of my as-needed medications (Tenormin) lowers my blood pressure when I have panic attacks. I also drink a LOT of water. Thus, I often have to replenish my sodium levels post-workout.

4:45 p.m.: I settle into bed and rest. I often put on British panel shows or stand-up/sketch comedy shows because they help me to laugh and relax. I often fall asleep while watching these.

5:45 p.m.: My husband returns home from work. He snuggles in bed with me for a little while, both of us trying to connect and relax from the day. 

6:30-7:00 p.m.: We finally get around to making dinner. This is largely dependent upon what my body can stand to eat for that given day. Essentially, we eat a lot of things with quinoa in them.

8:00-10:00 p.m.: Because I am terrified of being out in public on my own, and of driving, and of dealing with money, this is when we usually run our errands. It’s much more peaceful at this time, though a lot of places are closed and we have to find ways around this. Anxiety/panic attack #3 occurs.

10:15 p.m.: We arrive back home. I wash my hands, feet, and face to remove the germs and bacteria I inevitably picked up while we were out. By this point, I have washed my hands over 20 times today, and my face and feet (on average) around five. 

10:30 p.m.: We settle in for the night. This is when I usually write, process, and try to unwind from the day. Sometimes, especially during the school year, this is when I get around to doing my homework.

11:30 p.m.: I take my nightly medication:

  • Two Benadryl tablets–My anxiety medication (and my anxiety in general) makes me quite an insomniac. My doctor thinks it would be unwise to add a prescription sleep aid into the cocktail of drugs I’m already ingesting, so I take the max dose of OTC medication. It doesn’t really work all that well.
  • .5 mg Klonopin (occasionally)–If my anxiety is really, really bad, I will take my “attack pills” (anxiolytic muscle-relaxers) to help ease me into sleep. Sometimes, these make me high. Occasionally, I have to take them during the day, and then things get really fun when I have to be a grown-up but I’m quite loopy. 

12:00 a.m.: My husband is fading quickly into sleep. I am jealous of his ease at this seemingly impossible task. Intense paranoia kicks in as the apartment is dark, weird noises are happening (as they do when you live in an apartment complex), and my primary defender is unconscious. I put on another panel/comedy show to distract myself and ease my mind.

1:00-2:00 a.m.: I finally get to sleep. For now.

4:30 a.m.: I wake up, drenched in sweat, heart pounding. I have nightmares most nights. I drink some water, cool myself off, and curl up on my husband’s chest to help me relax and feel safe. I maybe get back to sleep within an hour.

 

And the cycle continues.

Nearly every moment of my day is in some way shaped or affected by anxiety. It isn’t just occasional bouts of intense worry–it is my whole life. I have a lot of ways to go about managing it, but just like a garden, it needs constant attention or it will grow wild and take over. 

For those of you who don’t deal with these challenges, I hope this has helped provide some insight. Please try to be respectful and mindful of those who do face this every day. May you find understanding.

For those of you who have similar struggles, be encouraged. We can do this together. Even if we have to do it in the safe confines of our own homes, we can support one another. May you find peace.

For all of us, may we learn to see each other not as our triumphs and struggles, but as humans. We are better together.

 

This kid.

Four years.

 

Holy shit, you guys, I’ve been with this kid for four years.

I stole his last name three years ago.

 

THIS KID:

 

The kid who makes my food. And only usually sometimes complains about it.

 

The kid who falls asleep on me more frequently than most sloths.

 

The kid who goes with me to the doctor and then carts (literally) my sorry, high ass around Target.

 

The kid who may be AN ACTUAL GODDAMNED MODEL.

 

The kid who apparently (?) likes to make meals out of my ear and/or hair.

 

This kid, you guys. He’s the biggest dork around. And I love him to pieces.

 

Happy anniversary, goofball. I love you. Don’t ever stop being your ridiculous self.

The Damn Rain.

This morning, the clouds turn grey and I hear others around me complaining,
“I wish it would stop raining–it’s spring, it’s supposed to be nice out.”
And I cannot help but think–

The seasons in my psyche look an awful lot like this. “I’ve been working so hard for so long!”, I shout towards the heavens, “Why am I still so fucked up?!”

Because, truth be told, I want sunny and 75.

I want to be better.

I am tired of daily donning the raincoat of my isolation, the galoshes of my self-preservation, the umbrella of my well-intended doubt. I am tired of the rain.

And oh how very wrong I am. Minnesota, my first true love, has yet to live up to my expectations to be expectable. We have a joke, one too slippery for my memory, about simultaneously clothing ourselves in parkas and shorts. “Expect the unexpected,” they tell us, “be prepared for anything.”

But, after a while, my parka is heavy and my legs are cold. I am no longer able to carry both mittens and sunscreen.

When it rains, the sky opens her arms and graces us with her bounty. She pours all her love on us. She nourishes our ground and clears our air. She brings us life–at once, release.

This morning, the clouds turn grey and I hear others around me complaining,
“I wish it would stop raining–it’s spring, it’s supposed to be nice out.”
And I cannot help but think–

“I think I’ll go out in the rain.”

A Cosmic Mother’s Day

Life begins with birth.

At the beginning, She strains against the pain,
Each burst a star exploding into existence.
She screams and the heavens are formed.
Each breath She breathes creates a new world.

This creation She carried for so very long,
This piece of Her, this being that bears Her features,
Pregnantly waited within Her,
A swirling maelstrom anxiously expecting existence.

And, in a moment, it is born.
She breathes deeply in relief,
Sending Her spirit forward
To protect and nurture this new life.

As She gazes into the eyes of Her newborn child,
She smiles and laughs with joy,
The former agony instantly forgotten,
And She declares,

It is good.

On Defending My Space.

If you’ve been reading this blog for, well, any time at all, it should be pretty clear that I am, shall we say, vocal.

I have no hesitation in sharing my opinions, beliefs, and views. I enjoy debating and, to a somewhat sadistic degree, arguing. But I also believe that theology should be cooperative, i.e., my beliefs and your beliefs, not competitive, i.e., my beliefs or your beliefs.

People harp on moral relativism, but I think it makes things easier. At least in theory.

As annoying as I may be, this has gotten me far. I graduated from a prestigious, male-dominated Bible and Theology program with honors in 2012. I’ve maintained this blog for over two years and have picked up some writing gigs on the side. I’m a MA senior who has established herself as a significant player at her school. I am damn good at theology, and I owe that to my relentless desire to make myself heard.

But there are limits to anyone’s tolerance for BS.

My school is 48% women, 51% men, and 1% other, according to our 2012 stats. Women make up, essentially, half of this campus. And yet, if you listened in on a class, you’d never know it. Far more men speak up than women.

My school is 27% ecumenical and 73% ELCA. Again, you’d never know it without asking. I’ve read Luther for all but two classes thus far (excepting my consortium classes taken at another school). I have read Wesley once, Calvin never, Aquinas twice, and once, for a Pentateuch class, I read a Jewish author whose name I cannot remember. Hell if I’ve read anything by an author outside of the Judeo-Christian traditions. My professors teach Lutheran theology, and rarely leave room for ecumenical voices, unless they themselves are ecumenical. Lutherans get more of a voice than ecumenical students.

Furthermore, I am the ecumenical student representative for student council. I do not have the figures, but considering the other constituencies, I can reasonably put forward that I represent the greatest number of students for any representative, and yet I have one vote.

I am not a person of color, and I cannot speak to the experience of a POC at my school. Nor am I LGBTQ, so, likewise, I cannot speak to the experience of a person who identifies as LGBTQ. I am not a person with a physical disability, so I cannot write about what it is like to live that experience. I do not know the experience of most oppressed groups here. If you want to know the experience of a person who fits into these or other categories, you will have to ask them. What I do know is that I only occasionally hear POCs speak in class, I have never heard a student who identifies as LGBTQ associate their beliefs with their orientation, and my school isn’t even ADA accessible, so the few students we have who have physical disabilities are a definite minority and do not speak to their experience often.

The point of this is to say, we hear the voices, mostly, of white, able, straight men who are usually ELCA.

And when someone who does not fit those criteria speaks up, we get emails telling us we need to be less vocal in class.

Or we are asked to qualify our beliefs based on our experience (e.g., “As a woman…,” “As a non-Christian…,” etc.). Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for identifying our contexts. But if I have to, everyone has to.

I am tired of defending the space I take up.

I am confined by labels–some true, some not–and those labels allow others to not have to deal with what I have to say.

At least once every week, I get asked, “So why are you here?” This is not a friendly conversation about my life journey or why I want to study theology. I have never heard this asked of any of my friends who fit the norm here. The answer is obvious for them, and they don’t upset the status quo.

But me, I rock that boat with such fervor and fury that I think some fear they might just fall overboard.

What is it about opposing views that we are so damn scared of? Why am I more of a threat than my brothers who are white, male, able, straight, etc.?

And it’s not just me. I know I’m intense but I’ve seen it with others. People are mocked behind their backs for being vocal about their views, and I can only imagine what’s said about me.

I am the only person who gets to decide how much space I take up. I don’t want to dominate conversations. God knows I do not want to run this school. I just want to be heard, really heard, without being an outsider.

I am tired of defending my space.

Beatnik Theology

Hey everyone! Yet again, I am recycling material I wrote for a class. Such is the life of a seminarian. This was my final project for my J-Term class on John Cobb and Process Theology. Enjoy!

I am relatively certain that the field of theopoetics exists because, at one point, John Cobb, Alan Ginsberg, and Homer walked into a bar. This is obviously facetious, but nonetheless, the form of epic poem as conceived in ancient Greek mythology and the zeitgeist of the Beat Generation have much in common with Cobb’s process theology, especially in terms of narrative. Though the three speak, on the surface, to different locations entirely, their concepts are not altogether dissimilar. All three focus not on the final destination, per se, of any moment, but on the journey that brings one there.

As an exercise in this, I have penned a set of poetry found in the latter part of this essay that seeks to draw these together. This, however, is something to explore later. First, it is necessary to explore exactly what is meant by Cobb’s process theology.

Cobb writes at length in works such as Is it Too Late? and Reclaiming the Church about particular issues in Christian theology and praxis, namely, the climate crisis and the state of the church (respectively). While these are certainly wise and informative, they are not the nexus of his theology, and focus more on the practical implications of process thought than on process thought itself. Therefore, they are not my area of concern here.

The primary, fundamental element of Cobb’s process theology is concrescence, if nothing else.[1] Concrescence refers to the process by which a moment happens or is actualized. It is hard to say where it “begins” and “ends” because this process is a cycle that repeats indefinitely. Some would start with God, others with the past, others with the present, but nonetheless, this does not start and end anywhere in particular. Cobb, however, chooses the human prehension of the present moment, and therefore, I will begin there..

In the present moment, every element of the past is prehended, or considered. Some of these narratives are accepted and some are rejected; some are prehended consciously and others subconsciously. For a dynamic being, in this case, for the sake of simplicity, a human, this prehension has the responsibility of shaping the next moment and creating a new present reality. This is the subjective stage of concrescence. This is the supplemental stage.

In this process of prehension, the initial aim from God, that is, God’s suggestion or will for that moment or God’s superject, is also prehended. This is the means by which novelty enters any given situation. God sends forth the initial aim from God’s primordial nature and it is accepted or rejected to varying degrees.

Once this process of prehension has occurred, the superject goes forth from the moment of prehension to create a new objective datum that is received into the consequent nature of God and becomes a part of the objective past. This is the satisfaction stage. The next moment will then have this moment, as well as all of history, to prehend in its time. This then becomes the conformal or initial stage, and the cycle repeats.[2]

I suggested earlier that this understanding of concrescence is the primary foundation for Cobb’s theology. Primary implies that there are secondary elements, and perhaps tertiary and beyond. These secondary elements are found in the process of concrescence: creation, God, Christ/Logos/creative transformation, the soul, and humanity. In a surely heretical way, they each fit somewhere in the elements of this process.

Creation can be said to be the objective past, as well as (perhaps confusingly) also the future. It is everything that has ever happened and the possibility of what could happen, but is not subjective or capable of prehension as it does not presently exist in such a way. It informs the present moment without acting on its own.

God is fairly easy to point to in this process, as there is an element named God as part of its fundamental description. God is the supplier of the initial aim from God’s primordial nature and the being into which every objective moment is received (in God’s consequent nature). In this way, God is temporal, but not spatial.

Christ, or the Logos, or creative transformation, depending on how one wishes to explore and understand the concept, could be said to be God’s initial aim. This Christ is transcendent and eternal but also does not have actuality until it becomes part of the present moment. This is the novelty I mentioned previously, the way in which God acts in our realm and creates new experiences.

The soul could be considered to be the present moment, or perhaps, the act of prehension. Cobb claims that beings that possess a prefrontal cortex have souls, and are therefore capable of prehension.[3] This is in comparison to, say, a rock, which exists in each moment, but stays relatively static throughout time and tends not to change unless acted upon by an outside force. The degree to which a being is sentient impacts the degree of prehension that occurs in its soul. This soul is, by nature, social and interconnected to all things as prehension is interconnected to all of history.

Finally, humanity is most like the superject. This is the realm in which we act and decide. We respond to our prehensions and to God’s initial aim and act accordingly. We relate to all of creation. We create a new future as we go. This is not unique to humanity, but, as one could argue that humans are the pinnacle of sentience as far as we know, then humans have the greatest capacity for creation of new moments as well as prehension.

Taking full poetic license, I have crafted characters that represent each of these five secondary elements. These are further explored in the poetry that follows, but first it is necessary to introduce each of them. Though in my earlier exploration of the process of concrescence, I began with the concrescing moment or supplemental stage, for this, I will begin with the past or the initial stage. I previously paired this with creation, and, considering Cobb’s emphasis on the climate crisis, I have constructed the character of the Prophet for this role. The Prophet calls out for change and action but is incapable of facilitating the level of change needed on its own. The Prophet is similar to an activist, not a religious “future-teller” as we might conceive.

Next, then, is God, or, as I call the being, the Sage. The Sage is keeper of village stories and/or wisdom, similar to the character found in Greek and Norse mythology. The Sage is a person seldom listened to or heard properly, but is stories, when understood as intended, have the potential to do great good.

It then follows that the Logos, as the emanation from God, should be explored. I have named this character the Muse. Like Cobb’s Logos, the Muse has no actuality until embodied in one way or another. Like Cobb’s creative transformation, the Muse is the means by which inspiration comes. Finally, the Muse is accessible by anyone and everyone, but requires intentionality.

Next is the soul, or the Visions in my terms. This is defined here not as a prophecy or trance-like experience, but is more in line with such things as motivation, goals, existential desires, and so on. The Visions are plural because the soul, in Cobb’s definition, is social in nature and I thus find it necessary to refer to this character as a collective.

Finally, we reach the Poet, or the character representing humanity. The Poet has a unique role in society as one that can determine the ethos and, to an extent, the fate of a generation. Humans as the highest beings we know have the potential to do the greatest amount of good or evil. Likewise, artists (such as the Poet) have so much impact on society that it can almost be said that they move the world along. The Poet characterizes and shapes the future. Though it would seem this is the beginning of change from a human perspective, this is actually the last possible element of subjectivity before a moment becomes an objective datum.

I began this explanation by calling upon the Greek tradition of epic poetry and the Beat Generation’s zeitgeist. It does make sense, then, that I make a case for its incorporation. Greek mythology, like most mythology, seeks to explain the world and why things happen. Epic poetry follows a character through his or her quest and the process of becoming a hero/ine.[4] Process theology follows everything that exists in the process of becoming itself and thus the transformation is not altogether different. Additionally, particularly Greek mythology and epic poetry incorporates the gods into the framework, making it particularly fitting for a theological discussion.[5] The one glaring exception would be, in epic poetry, there is often a final destination, whereas process theology would not argue for this.

Similarly, the Beat Generation bears much in common with process theology. The openness to spontaneity, the focus on human connection with one another and with the rest of the universe, the willingness to experiment, and the rejection of preconceived understandings characterize both.[6] The names for the characters I have chosen draw from relevant characters in this time period.[7]

It is hard to go much further into this without infringing on the necessary liberties and nuances of the following poetry. Thus follows my exercise in theopoetics as an attempt to explain Cobb’s process thought.

O Muse, sing in me, and through me tell the story…[8]

The streetcorner Prophet shouts for justice

To a ticker-tape parade of empty ears.

Immobile on its own

The prophet lives in the age of great dreams.

But following through is not a virtue

And one soldier does not an army make

(Especially when the war is undetectable by sophomoric radar).

Its words, unintelligible groans

And its pamphlets covered in foreign scribbles.

Is it because we don’t understand?

Or because we don’t want to know?

We exist in its realm

Without noticing—

There’s too much to hear so we tune it all out.

Heaven forbid

We actually be motivated to something.

Higher callings are the aspiration of starry-eyed academics.

Not I, ever the pragmatist.

I am an island.

Our apprehensions

Only take account

Of moments we have already seen

And provide different names

For the same thing.[9]

The wizened Sage

Sits on a bench in the middle of the village

And waits.

It is present, but does not intrude.

It is in harmony

With the imminent world,

But somehow beyond it,

Like light from a distant star

That only reaches the Earth after millions of years.

It keeps the stories of this village

Neither locked up nor shouted from the rooftops,

Like open secrets

That we might chance to know

If we take the time to listen.

All the while, new stories are being written,

And it knows them all.

Its identity is wrapped up in narrative

And seems lacking without.

“Listen, child,

Listen to the stories being told all around you.”[10]

Though seemingly ancient,

The Sage always has a new story to tell.

The Muse, like a drug,

Beats, beats, beats

Through veins and arteries.

Same old drug

But always a new experience.

Common sense

And modern piety

Tell us that drugs are bad.

But oh, for the way it transforms,

The novelty it brings.

Should we desire inspiration,

We would be silly to reject it.

This bodily experience

Is somehow transcendent;

This drug has no meaning

Until it’s ingested,

But takes us to somewhere

We have not yet been.

Our best ideas

Never seem to come from sober minds.

Rooted to the earth

And stretching towards the sky

Bodiless Visions grasp hands

And together draw out the prana[11]

That comes as a side effect of sentience.

Arms branching out forward and back

The past and future are of no concern.

In this moment

Their feet, their roots are their focus.

They are now.

A channel for all of history

To become all of the future,

They contemplate without dwelling

And consider without worrying.

The Visions create a melody

Of notes sung and unsung.

The next note not yet chosen

And the previous chord no longer rings in the air.

Young and hopeful and

Worldly and cynical and

Always curious

The Poet is porous

Soaking up the world around it.

Strong and courageous and

Scared and anxious and

Constantly considering

It thinks about the line

That does not yet have words.

Beautiful and honest and

Ugly and deceitful and

Never completely certain

It realizes just how heavy

These lines are.

With that, it writes.

It is all in the same city

Where the Prophet shouts

And the Sage abides

And the Muse inspires

And the Visions sing

And the Poet writes.

Each a different thread

In a tapestry woven

Of chaos and order

Each moment weaves a new story.


[1] John B. Cobb Jr, A Christian Natural Theology, second edition (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 50-54.

[2] Terms and explanations of the process of concrescence taken from the author’s compilation of class notes.

[3] Cobb, A Christian Natural Theology, 19.

[4] Stephen Cushman and Roland Greene, Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 4th edition, “Epic” (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 439-448.

[5] Cushman and Greene, Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 443-444.

[6] David Sterrit, The Beats: A Very Short Introduction (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013), 22-26.

[7] Taken largely from the language used in Allen Ginsberg’s Howl: Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems, 57th printing (San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books, 2001), 9-28.

[8] Homer, The Odyssey, translated by George Chapman, edited by Tom Griffith (Hertfordshire, GB: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 2000), book 1, line 1.

[9] Ben Gibbard, “Different Names for the Same Thing,” in Plans (New York, NY: Atlantic Recording Corporation, 2005).

[10] Denika Anderson, “Mama G. and the Immanent Music,” Wandering the Desert, November 8, 2013, http://wanderingthedesert.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/mama-g-and-the-immanent-music/.

[11] Term in yoga for life force or energy.

Where Process and Mental Illness Meet

Hey all! Over this past J-Term, I took a course on Process Theology. As this is the parent field from which my future field–theopoetics–comes, I found it to be one of the most interesting and engaging courses I’ve ever taken, despite the 8:45 a.m. start time and the three and a half hour classes that met four times per week. As an assignment for it, I wrote a (short) sermon from a process perspective on mental illness and the church. This is that sermon.

Let us begin today with a brief exercise. I would like everyone to stand up (as you are able) and greet four people. There is no rule regarding who you need to greet; they need not be strangers or friends, people who look like you or do not, or nearby or across the room. Any four people will do.

You may have noticed some demographics of the four people you greeted. You may have considered their respective ages, genders, ethnic backgrounds, levels of physical ability, height, weight, eye color, hair color, and the list continues. We take in incredible amounts of information about a person just by seeing them, and interacting with them brings even more, such as noticing accents, levels of energy, or even signs of recent illness. We are bombarded with information in these interactions, and, for better or worse, we store that information in our brains as the characteristics of a given person.

One thing you probably did not notice, however, was if any of the people you greeted has a mental illness. There are signs, yes, but they are not often visible in such short interactions. Yet, the National Institute of Mental Health informs us that 26.2 percent of the population—roughly one in every four people—has a diagnosable mental illness.[1] That means, statistically speaking, one of the four people you greeted deals with the harsh realities of mental illness on a daily basis.

This is difficult news for most people, and rightly so. It is heart-wrenching to know that a quarter of the people we know and love struggle with their own minds, bodies, and the chemistry between them.

Why, though, should this be of particular concern to people of faith? Is there a reason that, as religious and/or spiritual people, we should care more about mental illness than a person who does not associate with religion or spirituality?

The simple answer is, yes. We do need to care more. We claim to be people of hope and thus have a responsibility to share that hope. The beautiful thing about hope, too, is that it is an unlimited resource. Like the flame of a candle that can be infinitely shared without any decrease in its original light, hope can spread without being sacrificed.

Some of you might be thinking, “Yes, I agree, but what do you mean by ‘hope?’” To you, I say, good question! Hope is a difficult concept to pin down, as, like other such concepts as love, happiness, success, and peace, it means different things to different people. Regardless, hope is an extremely powerful and meaningful word to those who struggle with mental illness.

Hope, for us, as people of faith, means this: we trust that God is active in our realm and is innately in relationship with all of creation—humanity included—without exception. We trust that the God in whom we believe does not make us suffer and desires that our lives be full of good things. We trust that this God does not stand back and let us suffer, but tries relentlessly to inject hope into our brokenness with each passing moment. We trust that this God is the Hope Divine.

Let us follow the proverbial rabbit trail for a moment and discuss the word “broken.” When we think of this word, many of us picture a shattered dish, or perhaps an electronic device that has lived out its functioning days. I would suggest that, when using this word in relationship to living beings, we think of it more as a broken bone. There is pain, suffering, and difficulty in such a situation, but there is also immense room for healing. The bone might never look quite the same again, as that past fracture has become part of its history and has left scars and memories in its wake, but it will become functional and whole again, with the proper help. In this way, people with mental illnesses can be said to be “broken”—in need of healing—but not terminally so. There is room for hope.

People with mental illnesses can often look at their lives as broken, shattered pieces that no amount of super glue will put back together. How could the hope of which we speak possibly enter in to this situation? It seems to be unfixable, and in many cases, there might be a lot of evidence pointing towards this, but it is not the case.

While a person with a mental illness is staring at the shards of his or her being scattered around him or her, the Hope Divine steps in and sees intrinsic beauty. The person sees something that was once whole, where the Hope Divine sees beautiful, intricate pieces that can make a new thing. The person wonders what happened to the lovely piece of pottery that once was, but the Hope Divine sees a mosaic waiting to happen, and while the person is consumed by the loss, the Hope Divine takes advantage of every moment as an opportunity to inject a new perspective into the story of that person’s life.

It is often difficult to pay attention to God’s aims, however. This is especially true for people whose internal narratives are so loud and overwhelming that hearing a story other than the one they know and believe to be true feels impossible. We have faith in a relentless God of reckless love and unabashed hope, and we trust that this God lives up to these expectations, but we do not claim to believe in God’s omnipotence or think that we have no role in doing God’s work. We are mediators of this hope and have the blessed opportunity and responsibility to speak this into the lives of others around us.

Remember too that people of faith are not exempt from this kind of suffering. According to the Pew Forum, roughly 54 percent of United States inhabitants attend religious gatherings regularly.[2] [3] When combined with the previously mentioned 26.2 percent of the population with diagnosable mental illnesses, basic statistics informs us that around 14 percent of people in this country are regularly attending religious services and have a diagnosable mental illness. This is not an “us and them” situation; this affects all of us without exception.

Therefore, this is not a “mission” or “evangelism.” We are not talking about something those of us in this building have and those outside it do not. This is, however, a way of living—we are called to live as people of hope. It is our responsibility to point to the intrinsic beauty in the broken pieces of our lives, whatever those pieces might be. We are to live as artists, creating mosaics with a zealous fervor that the attention of others might be drawn from the brokenness to the beauty being created from them. We point to the “something new” that hope inspires in a situation and try to show how the difficult and sometimes terrifying parts of our histories can tell a new story.

As we leave this place, let us be people of hope for those who are suffering, and speak new life into even the bleakest of situations. Amen.


[1] “NIMH: Statistics: Any Disorder Among Adults,” National Institute of Mental Health, accessed January 21, 2014, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/Statistics/1ANYDIS_ADULT.shtml.

[2] Information adapted from “Portrait and Demographics of United States Religious Affiliation,” Pew Research Religions & Public Life Project, accessed January 22, 2014, http://religions.pewforum.org/portraits.

[3] “Regularly” is here defined as attending religious gatherings at least once per month.