Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Bible Rarely has One Answer: Susannah Larry on "Is the Bible Sexist?"

On the first of February, Susannah Larry, Hebrew Bible scholar from Vanderbilt University, joined us for a discussion on the existence of biblical sexism. Larry began our conversation by saying that “the Bible rarely has one answer”. She used this logic to combat traditional biblical views of men, women, and the relationship between them.
First, we asked the question “what is a biblical woman?” Many different answers came from our biblical knowledge including: a seductress, a man’s property, an obedient wife and mother, a warrior. As Larry told us at the beginning, there is no one answer to this question. Certainly, examples of all these types of women can be found in the Bible. However, in order to compile some more concrete answer, Larry took us through a few examples more thoroughly.   
Of course, it makes most sense to begin with Eve, mother of all women. Part of the argument that women are to be submissive and even inferior to me lays with the creation of Eve as the second human. In the original, Hebrew the name Adam merely means “dirt being” and has no association with gender. In fact, the words for man and woman are not used until after Eve was created. This suggests that there was no gender in place until both man and woman were created.
With the most basic claims to superiority addressed, we moved on to the first sin. Eve is consistently blamed for the fall of man. The traditional story of the serpent and the tree of knowledge suggests that Eve was alone with the snake and, therefore,was solely responsible for the Fall. However, if we read Genesis 3:6 carefully, we see a small phrase that refutes this idea. In several translations, the verse reads “she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate”. Once we take notice of this phrase “who was with her”, we can say that Adam was subject to the serpent’s persuasion and, therefore, equally responsible for the Fall of humanity.
As Adam and Eve were cast from paradise, God heaped judgement upon them. One such judgement is often used in the argument that a husband should be the head of the household. God spoke to Eve “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (NRSV Gen. 3:16). The fact that this was one of God’s judgements as he cast Adam and Eve from the garden suggests that God never intended for man to rule over woman. Inequality, then, is perhaps a sign of the falleness of the world.
Next, we should take a look at the concept of warrior womanhood. The Bible gives us a couple examples of female warriors. Deborah, as the judge of Israel, was a leader in her community. Jael caught the opposing general during war by wooing him drawing him into the false security of a bedchamber. She took this opportunity to kill him. In these two stories, the Bible gives us excellent examples of women who were able to lead and protect their people.
So now that we have some idea of biblical womanhood, what is biblical manhood? We could answer this multiple ways including: a macho warrior, a tender-hearted friend/lover, a sex-crazed hooligan, a devoted spouse. Most would agree that the Bible is ripe with examples of macho warrior men and that this particular type of man is widely celebrated. Devoted spouses and tender-hearted lovers exist and receive similar celebration. It’s safe to say that the warrior man is often more preferred by both men and women. However, it’s important to acknowledge examples of strong men that are also tender-hearted friends. The best example is the friendship between David and Jonathan. The two were very close friends and often “wept with each other” (NRSV 1 Sam. 20:41). When Jonathan died, David lamented the loss of his friend greatly, “greatly beloved were you to me” (NRSV 2 Sam. 1:26). The friendship between David and Jonathan provides a good example for men to know that it’s okay to be emotional towards other men.
With an idea of a biblical woman and a biblical man, we moved on to the idea of the ultimate relationship between two people: marriage. In our western society, we often view marriage as something to do when you are in love. In the Bible, there are examples of love matches; however, there are also examples of business marriages. In Genesis, we see Jacob fall in love with Rachel and work for her father so that he can marry her (Gen. 29:18). In Deuteronomy 22, we see an example of the terms upon which a woman may be given in marriage. The man who wants to marry will “give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife” (NRSV Deut. 22:29). We can see that marriage can be defined in a couple different ways. How we view it today depends on our own personal translation.
Let’s talk about a topic potentially more interesting to a modern audience than marriage: sex. So, does the Bible say that sex is reserved only for marriage? Not exactly. In Song of Songs, we have two lovers exploring their sexuality together quite plainly; however, there is no marriage mentioned. While certain translations choose to render the sex PG, others make the sex clear. In Ruth, Naomi (Ruth’s mother-in-law) instructs her to “go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do” (NRSV Ruth 3:4). Here Naomi is attempting to gain security and protection for her daughter-in-law by having her sleep with a man. Why uncover his feet though? In the original Hebrew, feet is a euphemism for male genitalia. So we see that sex does happen outside of marriage in the Bible.  
After Larry brought us through these numerous questions, we still wanted to know “is the Bible sexist?” Well, it was written by men for men in a different time and a different culture. So, maybe. The book is comprised of many discordant voices. So, maybe. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the interpreter to determine the context and how to apply the scripture to individual lives.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Vagina Monologues

On our first week back at Wake-Up Wednesday, we were visited by three cast members of The Vagina Monologues. The play, written by Eve Ensler, will return for its 10th production at Tennessee Tech on February 15th, 16th, and 17th (for more information, see the link at the end of this blog). The proceeds from the performances will benefit a number of national and local organizations including Genesis House, Planned Parenthood, and The Tennessee Coalition for Women.
Holly Mills, librarian at Tech, began our conversation with her experience as a cast member of The Vagina Monologues. Fairly new to acting, Mills told us that she was, “not always good at standing up and shouting loudly enough to be heard.” She’s finding her footing, though, as she rehearses her monologue about a woman who had a good experience with a man and came to love herself as a result. While the concept of learning to love yourself through an experience with a man may seem foreign to young women today, it’s certainly something worth talking about. Self-love should evolve from a woman’s own being; however, sometimes we need a little help to see ourselves in a flattering light. Considering the sensitive material in The Vagina Monologues, we asked Mills if she was worried about performing the play in conservative Cookeville. She replied, “The older I get and the more polarized the country gets, I just say what I need to.” Good advice for all.

Robin Ridley, 1998 graduate of Tech, shared her unique experience as a transgender woman. As a member of a group often excluded from female-only activities, Ridley said “It’s particularly important to be included as a woman.” She is performing the trans monologue that was added to the play in 2005. Ridley told us that she entered activism through her transgender identity and serves as the face for transgender identities in the Cookeville area. We asked her what it was like to not be accepted among female feminists. The early waves of feminists were extremely anti-trans insisting that the transgender community were only men attempting to infiltrate the movement and often banning them from activities. Ridley offered us a scientific perspective on transgender people. Transgender people’s brain structure is more similar to their identified gender than their assigned gender. This is due to a complication during pregnancy. The hormones responsible for brain structures went awry while the hormones responsible for genital development worked correctly creating a disruption (for more information, see http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2016/gender-lines-science-transgender-identity/). These scientific explanations are important and incredibly enlightening; however, the thing to remember is the inclusion of transgender women in the fight against violence and oppression. One of the ideas of The Vagina Monologues is to bring together women from all walks of life. Ridley’s inclusion in the Cookeville production accomplishes this goal wonderfully.

Our last guest is a veteran of Wake-Up Wednesday. Jenn Ulschak, local ASL interpreter, gave us a more in-depth history of The Vagina Monologues and its activism work. Eve Ensler uses all the money raised through the performances of the play to fund events to stop violence against women. For example, she has built a safe-house in Kenya to protect nearly 200 girls from genital mutilation, a common practice in the area. Ulschak was honored to interpret at the Nashville Women’s March recently. She told us that she had learned of lateral violence at the march. Lateral violence happens when people on the same level (i.e. women) turn on each other rather than joining forces. Ulschak said that, “It really matters that we stand up against oppression.” I’d have to agree. She told us that she saw The Vagina Monologues in 2015 and it changed her life. Now, she has the chance to not only get back on the stage for the first time since high school but perform the play that changed her life. Ulschak’s monologue is about birth. She herself has had two natural births and recommends it to other women. The right to give birth to your children naturally is sometimes a tricky one. While I have no children of my own, I’ve run across this issue many times in my short life. When my little sister was born, I remember being horribly frustrated that I wasn’t allowed to see her or stay with my mom in the hospital. More recently, I came across a disturbing recollection of Diane di Prima’s first birth in the 1950s. She wanted a natural birth but was forcibly put out and not allowed to witness the birth of her daughter.

These issues are only three of the many that will be covered in The Vagina Monologues. Please join these incredible women and many more in Derryberry Auditorium for this year’s production. This week at Wake-Up Wednesday join us with Susannah Leary for a conversation about sexism in the Hebrew Bible.

Information about the Vagina Monologues can be found at: https://www.tntech.edu/cas/english/bdph/seasons            

Thursday, September 22, 2016

"You can't argue with me about my love" : Peace between Muslim Americans and Christian Americans

Last night at Wake-Up Wednesday we were joined by Jenn Ulschak who gave us a perspective on Muslims few of us have ever had the chance to see.

With all of the unrest in America related to Islamic terrorism, it’s difficult for the public to see past the fear and hatred of radical Islam to the peaceful religion that the majority of Muslims follow. Jenn, as an ASL interpreter for the convention held for the Islamic Society of North America, was able to give us a personal account of her relationship with Muslims. Even more than her interpreting work, Jenn has been able to connect to the Muslim community through her best friend since she was a freshman in college, who is Muslim. She spoke about how during that time she loved spending time at her friend’s house because she and her family were so loving, kind, and accepting of her.

What may be surprising to most Americans is the similarities between Islam and Christianity. Muslims believe in all of the same prophets Christians do plus one more--Muhammad. Of course one of the main differences lies in how the different groups view Jesus. Christians believe Jesus to be the Messiah, the Savior. Muslims believe that Jesus was a great prophet and revere him greatly. In fact, in the Islamic tradition, every time the name of a prophet is said--including Jesus, Moses, and Muhammad--it is followed with the phrase “Peace be upon him”. This is done as a sign of respect for the prophets.

With the fear of Islamic terrorism and ignorance, comes hate crimes against Muslim Americans particularly Muslim women because they are so easily recognizable with their hijabs. Jenn urged us to remember that when Americans commit hate crimes against Muslims, it only gives terrorist groups more fuel. She said, “Every time I put on a hijab I am afraid.” She told us how much she admires Muslim women who wear hijabs in public every day.

Despite this fear and real danger, Jenn says she wears a hijab at times as an act of embodied solidarity. This concept of embodied solidarity comes from Dr. Larycia Hawkins. Dr. Hawkins was a professor at the Christian institution Wheaton College when in an act of embodied solidarity she wore a hijab to work. She was suspended from her job and although Wheaton College’s official statement says they did not fire Dr. Hawkins, she was ultimately let go. So what is embodied solidarity? Jenn told us that embodied solidarity is using your body, putting your body at risk, to be in solidarity with others. According to Jenn, by wearing a hijab she is becoming an accomplice rather than an ally. She argues that embodied solidarity requires you to risk and therefore strengthens you solidarity.

At the end of the night, Jenn was asked if she feels called to lead her Muslim friends to Christ. She said no. She told us that she and her Muslim friends do not try to convert each other; they simply exist in peace, love, and harmony. Personally, I was pleased to hear Jenn speak so fondly of her Muslim friends and the sisterhood she feels a part of when she is with other Muslim women. I think this is a message of peace that all Americans need to hear right now.

Wake-Up Wednesday will take a break this week. On October 5, Wake-Up Wednesday will join Cardboard City.
Please like our Facebook page for updates:  https://www.facebook.com/events/526437980887477/

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Rabbi, Reverend, Mullah, & Monk are My Traveling Companions

Last week at Wake-Up Wednesday, Reverend Mark Pafford of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cookeville joined us for the second time. Rev. Pafford brought us a talk about the many different religions he carries around with him as teachers.

He grew up in the United Methodist tradition and was a Methodist minister for some time.  Following his time as a minister, Rev. Pafford became a chaplain for the Veterans Association where he worked specifically with those dealing with addiction.  Right after high school, he joined the army and went to South Korea where he was introduced to Zen Buddhism.  This was the first step towards his interfaith journey.

Rev. Pafford described his interfaith lifestyle as looking through many different lenses.  He said that some days he may pick up the lenses from his Christian heritage while other days he may pick up the lenses of his Islamic faith and still other days he may pick up the lenses for the Buddhism he discovered at a young age.

Today, he serves as pastor to the Unitarian Universalist church in Cookeville.  The Unitarian Universalist church is a safe haven for those of many different religions, sexual orientations, and other backgrounds. Rev. Pafford is also expecting to graduate with a Master’s degree in counseling this December.

Rev. Pafford filled us in about the “Standing on the Side of Love” movement that is going on in the Unitarian Universalist and LGBT communities right now. The movement was mobilized after the shooting in a Knoxville church where LGBT believers were welcome.  They are working to continue to fight for the rights of the people of the LGBT community.

Join us next week with guest Jenn Ulschak with a talk titled “A Christian Woman Wears a Hijab”.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Fear Through the Years: The 2016 Election in Historical Context

Last week at Wake-Up Wednesday Dr. Troy Smith of the history department at TTU joined us to speak about the upcoming election in a historical context.
It seems like all the media can talk about is Hillary vs Trump. We wanted to know how this campaign compares to those in the past. The first election that seems to come to mind is 1884 for the sole reason that no one liked either candidate then either. It makes me wonder why this is the first issue that comes to mind. Perhaps it speaks to what Americans (or at least those who are unversed in politics and only watch the evening news for the latest football scores) value most in their leaders: appearances.

Dr. Smith, however, argues that there are other elections that provide us with a better comparison. The two elections that compare the best to the 2016 election are 1856 and 1920. The first comparison is immigration.  Today’s candidates are constantly arguing about immigration policies.  But even more than policies, the issue of hatred and fear towards immigration is huge in this election.  This was also the case in the 1856 election when the issue wasn’t Latino immigrants but Irish and German Catholic immigrants. In 1920, it was Jewish immigrants. Today, we aren’t as bothered by European immigrants (Trump’s wife is a European immigrant), but Latino immigrants strike a chord in many Americans; our candidates have caught on.

In the 1920 election, people feared immigrants because of their ideas revolving around socialism and anarchy among other things. Today, people fear immigrants, especially Middle Eastern immigrants, because of the terrorism we’ve faced in the last 15 years from a small radical faction of Islam.  Regardless of what people are fearing it is certainly a throwback.

There are some unique qualities about the 2016 election, though. One of the main unique factors is the Democratic candidate herself. Despite her gender (she is the first female candidate to win the nomination of a major party), Hillary Clinton is the first candidate who is a former First Lady, a former Senator, and the Secretary of State. While the Republican candidate seems to be lacking any political experience, he has certainly gained the backing of many Americans. 2016 will certainly be a historical race that could go either way. Remember to stay tuned into the election and VOTE. Here is a link to the Putnam County Election Commission: http://www.putnamcountytn.gov/?p=departments&s=electioncomm

Join us tomorrow night with Rev. Mark Pafford from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cookeville for a talk titled “A Rabbi, Reverend, Mullah, & Monk are My Traveling Companions”.    

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Purple Goes Green

We opened Wake-Up Wednesday for the semester with a visit from DeLayne Miller, Carolyn Huppman, and Allie Ricketts from Tech’s new Office of Sustainability created in January of 2016.

In 2005, Tech began its sustainability efforts with the “Green Fee” which is an $8 fee that students pay every semester. These funds go to projects such as our Bike Share program, the hydration stations that enable students to use reusable bottles, the green fitness room in the Fit that harnesses human energy to help power the building, the recycling program, solar charging tables, and much more.

Additionally, with the creation of the “Green Fee,” came the creation of the Sustainable Campus Committee which is in charge of deciding how the money will be spent. The committee consists of eight students and ten faculty or staff. The Sustainable Campus Committee is the only organization on campus where the students control where their fee money goes. For this reason, only six of the faculty members on the committee are voting members.

The Office of Sustainability is currently working on plans for Earth Week and Sustainability month.  Miller told us that they are also in the process of attaining a LEED Certification for the new science building which will be the first building on campus to have this sustainable certification.

One of the main goals of the Office of Sustainability is student outreach.  To achieve this goal, they are holding “Think Tanks” and maintaining a presence on social media. They are constantly looking for innovative ideas from students and the community. If you have any ideas or questions you can contact DeLayne Miller at dlmiller@tntech.edu or visit the Office of Sustainability on campus.

Join us tonight at Wake-Up Wednesday with Dr. Troy Smith from the History Department to find out what you need to know about the historical context for the upcoming presidential election.   

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

We're All Artists (featuring Troy Bronsink)

On September 30, we had the privilege of hosting singer-songwriter and creative design leader Troy Bronsink. Troy travelled to Tech from Cincinnati where he lives with his wife and two children to teach us how to live our lives as art.

Bronsink introduced us to tools to enhance the creative design process. This process is circular in nature and contains six components. It can be used for everything from writing a short story to designing a cell phone to planning an event to living your life.

The starting point of the design process is dreaming. We have to open our minds to what is possible. This may seem like a simple step, but we all have roadblocks to our dreams. We may not realize that we stand in our own way. Not knowing our own roadblocks can become our biggest roadblock of all. In order to learn and let go of our roadblocks, Troy led us through a meditation process. Once we are able to fully open our minds to all possibilities, we can truly dream. Without a dream, the entire process is impossible.

Following the discovery of a dream, we must enter the next step of hovering. Here, we focus on a particular aspect of the dream. As this may be difficult for some of us, particularly those of us who often get caught up in the dreaming phase, Troy led us through a meditative focusing exercise. He instructed us to focus a warm energy flowing from the top of our heads to our ankles. This taught us to focus our creative energies. It can be difficult to let go of a part of our dreams as they often become a part of who we are; however, it is necessary to let go of certain aspects of our dreams in order to make the entire dream come true.

Once we are able to focus our dream, we need to risk it. We have to put our baby out into the world and sit back, waiting for success or failure. We have to test how our creation will function in the world. Risk isn’t something we only do with a project. We risk things in our lives every time we make a major decision. Troy encouraged us to ask ourselves what the “no” or “yes” is in our lives that we are postponing. What is the crossroads in our lives? The reason we often stand at a crossroads and postpone saying no or yes lies in our fear of risk. It is, however, a critical part of the design process that is our lives.
The results of our risk will come whether we like it or not. In order to gain insight from our risk, we must listen, truly listen, to our audience, or in the events of our life design, to ourselves. We must listen to understand what our user’s experience is. Feedback is crucial to the creative design process. As a writer, I go through a feedback process every time one of my pieces is read and workshopped by my peers. It’s a tough process, but without it, I’ll never grow as a writer. As a leader, I go through a feedback process every time an event or idea I worked hard on plays out.

Sometimes my risk resulted in success and sometimes it didn’t. Either way, I always learn something through truly listening to feedback. This is the only way I grow as a leader. One of the exercises Troy led us through for the listening process was meditating over our day. We began from the morning and worked our way through the day reflecting on what our body was telling us at each part of our day. Listening to our bodies daily allows us to discover the question that lingers inside of us all day every day.
So what do we do with our feedback? The next step of the design process is to reintegrate our feedback into our design. We make changes and improvements to our design based on our listening. This may involve going back to any one of the previous stages of the process. We may have to scrap everything and begin dreaming again.
Following whatever reintegrating means for our particular creative endeavor, we must rest. We must, as artists, take a step away from our creation giving it and ourselves room to breathe and rest. Many of us forget or refuse to take this step. Many of us, myself included, feel guilty for taking this step always feeling like we could do more. However, rest is key to a successful creative design. It may be a cliché, but if you love something, you must let it go. The same thing goes for your creation.
While a useful tool to shaping our projects and lives, the creative design process can only go so far. We must be mindful of our use of it particularly in the listening stage. We must go through the day stopping to integrate our meditative processes into our everyday lives. As citizens of a sleepless nation, we often get swept up in the business of the day and miss out on the opportunities to listen that happen all around us. Troy suggests carrying a token of some sort—something small such as a stone or prayer beads—around with you to remind you to meditate throughout the day. Or for the more techy people, put a reminder on your phone.
It was a great pleasure to meet and get to know Troy Bronsink. I’m very grateful for the things he was able to teach us during his time in the Tree House. He helped us create a peaceful open energy the entire night through music and meditation. As my friend and colleague Brett Meeks said, “These meditations created amazing unity and energy in the room.” The unity and atmosphere Troy was able to help us create was a true gift that we will be able to use for the rest of our lives. I’ll leave you with this thought that Troy borrowed from Frederick Buechner and that really spoke to me: your calling is where your deepest passion meets the world’s deepest need. - Chelsea Mathes 

Wake-Up Wednesday has been hiatus due to midterms but resumes this Wednesday, October 21, with Rev. Mark Pafford on “What is Unitarian Universalism?”