I’ve long thought that public writing can help contribute to radical social change. I’ve recently been gifted with three opportunities to participate in public discourse on progressive politics, progressive religion, and issues related to gender & sexuality! These are regular gigs! I’m excited about the potential these three very different writing gigs have. I’m also aware that I’ve been trained as an academic & learning to translate ideas into consumable strands of digestible information is very important! I often think about myself as being a translator of theory & philosophy–ideas that can radically disrupt normative ways of thinking!!
So, I made my first post over at Emerging Voices blog. I also posted it here. You can read it, if you want. I’ll also be writing over at the Tikkun Daily blog! I’ll still post thoughts & ramblings here, and likely post links to these other places, helping folks access these other sites.
This blog has gone through s variety of changes, since I created it in Chicago! Lately, I’ve remained quite busy in my doctoral program that I’ve not had a ton of time to blog. Now, though, nearing the end if my program, I’m looking forward to participating in public discourse!
This is the post that I created for Emergent Voices. You can find the original link here.
Several years ago, after what I thought was a horrible ordination process, I decided to leave the church. It was a weekday when I decided that I would never step back into the church. The only problem was that I was serving as a chaplain in a level II trauma center outside of Chicago, IL, so I had to be confronted with normative Christian discourse and theologies that I found to be hugely problematic. But, nonetheless, I decided to leave. I had completed my undergraduate degree in religion/theology at a Texas baptist university, studied both Greek and Hebrew (but I don’t remember much of the languages), and had decided in 2002 to attend Seminary at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (a United Methodist Seminary) and study with a Latin American Liberation Theologian, and baptist, like me!
Fast forward to 2005 when the horrendous ordination experience took place, I was serving as a trauma chaplain and completing my master’s thesis on a feminist liberation theologian, and I decided to leave the church. But! The theology and the theoretical frameworks continued to breathe life into me; there was a spirit (or something like a spirit) that flourished within me as I read and wrote my master’s thesis. It was also during this time that I found agnosticism–this disposition of a radical unknowing!
Serving as a chaplain created room for me to not know, or unknow, or disidentify with the tradition that had kept me down as a gender non-conforming mixed-raced person. I slowly peeled the Christian identity off–out of my brain, out of my mind, disposing of memories that were traumatic, and radically repositioning myself as something other. I didn’t become a nonbeliever, per se, because much of what I was reading and writing I believed in! I just didn’t believe or trust the institution that men had created (largely). I no longer believed in this tradition called Christian.
So, I gave it up! I stopped attending church.
I stopped participating in religious circles, in rituals, and I stopped reading the very thing that had guided me: the BIBLE! I became a skeptic and rooted myself in the practices of not-knowing anything for certain. What I knew at that time in the mid-2000s was that people were hungry, dying because of their hunger, had inadequate housing, little access to healthcare, and the LGBTQ communities, especially those of color, were being radically disenfranchised by systems that reified white privilege. I saw the devastation around me, and I saw how the institution that I once devoted myself to was not paying any attention to these ‘others.’ I no longer believed that Christian dogma could do anything in the world, because the church was not living into what I thought was its prophetic reality. That’s when my theology unraveled.
I started reading continental philosophy, written mostly by Europeans, specifically French thinkers. The existentialism of Sartre and De Beauvoir moved me, and I saw how their questions helped put flesh on some of my struggles and dilemmas. My doubt came alive, and I was no longer afraid of asking questions that had no answers. Then I discovered queer theory and radical feminist theories. I saw how these theoretical frameworks could really help some of our communities address the systemic injustices and multiple oppressions that was plaguing them, plaguing me!
I still didn’t want to have anything to do with the church. I was happy to leave it all behind me, but then I discovered that I continued to have a real love for thinking theologically and constructive liberative theologies that not only talked about social change but work to enact radical social change. In fact, I went on to enroll in a doctoral program in theology and philosophy, no less! It seemed that I just couldn’t give it all up!
As I have worked toward the Ph.D., I have continued to grow in my doubt, in my agnosticism, in (some might say) a new contour of atheism, but constructive theologies and queer theologies continue to move me! I keep returning to the very story that captured me when I attended Catholic school in Longview, TX. It’s the stories of Jesus, these patterns and remnants thatwe have that helped to start a first century revolution.
So, is it that I can’t give it up, or is it that it can’t give me up?
Last Friday night, my partner and I invited two of my close colleagues over for dinner. I had agreed to cook a nice, fancy meal, full of garlic and mushrooms and everything else that sounded good to me! The dinner included shrimp and a homemade pomegranate arugla salad, with a homemade dressing! Dinner materialized without any issues. The food was great, we opened wine from Napa, and we were just about to finish our dinner and pour a glass of rye bourbon when THE conversation emerged. Granted, my two colleagues are also theologian/philosopher types, and we talk a lot about religion, the church, what is wrong with the church, how we think we can fix it, and so forth. I took my last bite of the homemade spiced cake, and exclaimed to my colleagues (two white guys!): “the progressives have found me!” Donnie, quipped back and said in a critically affirming voice: “you can’t give it up, can you?” He was referring to the church–to the culture that has formed me into a radical queer constructive philosophical theologian. I replied to Donnie by saying, “well, it is not the institution that I cannot give up! I gave that up a long time ago. It’s the people who are trying to enact radical social change. That’s what I can’t give up!” A conversation ensued from that point, because for Donnie (who occasionally attends a Mennonite church in the Denver Metro Area with his wife), he also can’t give ‘it’ up!
So, where do we go from here, I wonder? Is belief in dogma or doctrine really that necessary to help a movement flourish? Is it enough to embrace the ways of Jesus as a framework for living? Can we construct theologies out of questioning our own doubt and disbelief? I think we can! But, still, it’s not that I can’t give ‘it’ up, it’s that ‘it’ can’t give me up!
When I texted my good friend, Tripp Hudgins, and told him the progressives had found me, all he could say was Hotel California! If you don’t know that song, let me insert the last part of the song here! In 1976, the Eagles produced it! Give it a listen here.
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax, ” said the night man,
“We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave! “
I’ve not been blogging as of late, largely because I’ve been working on the dissertation. There’s always something grabbing my attention, though, and Sarah Lund’s new Book Blessed Are The Crazy was it! As we raise awareness to National Mental Illness week, I’ve decided to break the silence about the reality of mental illness existing in my family!
I have had a long relationship with mental illness existing in my family, but it was like a distant relative; it never affected me. My Mexican mother raised me with loose connections to her family, I think in part due to the history of mental illness and addiction existing in her family. These features of life remain taboo, and folks are stereotyped as being crazy! In fact, following a brain aneurism that I had when I was 16 years old while living in San Antonio, TX, my paternal grandfather called me ‘crazy!’ Just because I had brain surgery! How naïve I thought as a 16 year old, recovering from two craniotomies. My father’s family, too, had mental illness; my great aunt was living in a facility and she was being treated for her paranoid schizophrenia. Again, my family would call her ‘crazy’ for thinking that the TV wires were talking to her. I remember feeling sad for the folks that my family would call ‘crazy,’ and even would get upset that they (meaning my paternal grandfather) would call me ‘crazy’ for having to have brain surgery. Mental illness always has a way of finding us, whether it’s depression, anxiety, or something more taboo. We need to find ways of talking about these illnesses so as to create a safer place in our communities and supporting those who are in need. I’m writing to break the silence around mental illness–to suggest that we all have the potential of living with masked mental illnesses and that we all can thrive in this world, but we must be willing to accept the differences that other’s enflesh. So, I say, Blessed Are The Crazy, in a crazy good way!
Consider the following course that the Global Center for Advanced Studies is offering!
Professors Beatriz Preciado (Testo Junkie) and J. Jack Halberstam (Gaga Feminism) will be teaching a seminar entitled, “We Have Never Been Queer: The Highs and Lows of Theories of Bodies, Subjects and Desire” (PARIS, France–September, 2014) [This seminar can also be taken live and on-line in our fully interactive classroom] DESCRIPTION: “Queerness is not yet here. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer. We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. We have never been queer, yet queerness exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future.” José Ésteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, 2009 In this seminar, Beatriz Preciado and Jack Halberstam take Jose’s Munoz provocative idea of “Queerness as something that is not yet here,” and his queer formulation of time and space—“the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality”—to expand upon contemporary forms of resistance to somatic, sexual and colonial normalization. Thinking with and through contemporary body regimes that locate both resistance and compliance at the level of the molecular, the pharmaceutical and the fleshly, Preciado and Halberstam explore the highs and lows of an understanding of embodiment that is simultaneously emergent, already here and still to come. Leading discussions, debates and inquiries of both high and low theory, political histories of the body and social constructions of subjectivities, Halberstam and Preciado will cruise the utopian, the subaltern and the subjugated for insights into the queerness that has never arrived and that spins possibility out of the art worlds and fantasies given over to calling it into being. Rather than respecting the binary of a high/low split, this seminar will soar and cruise, crash and burn, fly and fail while investigating contemporary relations between bodies and power, pleasure and pharmaceuticals, pain and aesthetics. Building on Susan Buck Morss’s rereading of Benjamin in “Aesthetics and Anaesthetics” where she characterizes the realm of the “anaesthetic” as a buffer to contemporary shock and awe, we will discuss the function of the aesthetic in what Preciado calls the “pharmacopornographic” era. If, as Buck Morss proposes, “drug addiction is characteristic of modernity,” and reality itself becomes a “phantasmagoria” in the 20th century, what are the functions of drugs, art, intoxication within this project of rehearsing a queerness of some future world and time? What understandings of self, life, death and pleasure lace new combinations of drugs, spectacle and performance? This seminar asks students to suspend their understandings of queerness, time and space on behalf of the project of newly imagining the future that Muñoz implied lies buried in our collective blasted, ruined, abject past.
I’m lecturing at the University of San Francisco next month and I’ve been thinking about preparing my lecture–what things should be a part of it, what things shouldn’t, and what method the lecture should be delivered. I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about presentation and delivery before I actually sit down to write. I like to write at a bar or coffee shop and have a pint of my favorite IPA on hand when I’m writing and tweezing out ideas. Today, I’m at my favorite coffee shop in Denver (Hooked on Colfax) and am drinking a Macadamia French Soda (an Italian soda w/ the cream).
As I think about the intersection of philosophy and poetry, my mind is drawn to several different thinkers: Deleuze, Heidegger, Gadamer, and Gloria Anzaldúa. The lecturing I’m preparing targets Anzaldúa’s philosophy-poetry/poetry-philosophy. I love working at this intersection of the critical “I” and the creation of theories that are mobilized through difference. I also think about the issue of becoming different, and the event of difference that takes place as poetry becomes philosophy–see, even there in that sentence, there is an event of becoming. I’m eager to deliver this lecture, and excited about being in conversation with both students and faculty next month.
Back to thinking…
Here’s my Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquium paper as a Wordle. I present the paper next month at Drew Theological School. I’m very excited about this opportunity to be a part of the TTC, the papers I will hear, and the new collegial relationships that will be formed! I am also grateful that I have continued to become a theological nomad, materializing along the plane of borderlands.
Call for Papers| 19-20 November 2014, Pitzer College, Claremont, CA
EXPLAINING NONRELIGION AND SECULARITY IN THE U.S. AND BEYOND
Professor Darren Sherkat (Sociology, Southern Illinois University)
Professor Lori Beaman (Classics and Religious Studies, University of Ottowa)
The study of nonreligion and secularity, long neglected by religion researchers, has recently become a growing field of inquiry. The NSRN is an international, interdisciplinary association of scholars from various fields (religious studies, sociology, anthropology, political science, psychology, history, etc.) who are interested in nonreligion, atheism, secularity, secularism, secularization – and related issues. Since the NSRN convened its first international conference in 2009 at the University of Oxford, UK, research and publications dealing with nonreligion and secularity have continued to increase and diversify. The third NSRN conference will reflect upon accumulated and newly emerging empirical work and focus attention on how these diverse phenomena can be explained. To what extent do they fit into existing theoretical frameworks, such as secularization theories, ‘desecularization’ theories and pluralist or ‘postsecular’ models? Do we need to refine these models, or even generate new theories altogether in order to understand the occurrence and nature of contemporary secular populations and nonreligious cultures?
The conference welcomes papers that further expand our understanding of nonreligion and secularity, including topics such as:
- Theoretical development in the study of secularity and nonreligion
- The explosion of the so-called “Nones” in the United States in the last two decades
- Nonreligion and secularity in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East
- Cross-cultural comparisons/contrasts of nonreligion and secularity
- Secularism and politics in the USA and around the world
- Intersections of non-religion and secularity with race, class, and gender
- The varieties of nonreligious experience
- Typological development in the analysis of secular people and secular movements
- Neurological and emotional aspects of secularity
- Secularity and sexuality
- Prospects for the further development of secular studies
- Ritual and community within secular culture
- Secular-religious conflict and cooperation
- Apostasy and religious rejection
Abstracts for panels and presentations should be submitted to Ryan Cragun at firstname.lastname@example.org by 1 June 2014. Abstracts should be 250 words long and accompanied by a short biographical note.
Registration will open in April 2014. Full conference (includes all meals, does not include accommodations) is $155.
For hotel options, go to: https://www.pitzer.edu/about/visiting/lodging.asp