Reflection for the End of the Year by Sara Frykenberg


At my school, a religious institution, we start every faculty meeting with a reflection, meant to inspire us, make us think, help us to connect, etc.  I am admittedly, sometimes very uncomfortable with these reflections. I don’t always like corporate ‘prayer’ because of my  past experiences in an abusive faith. They make me uncomfortable, defensive; even though I understand the value of collective ritual. Challenging me to face these feelings, my department chair asked me to give a reflection for our faculty assembly. So I did so by sharing the way I know how to share (in a collective way) best: in a blog. And here I present these reflections, my blog, with all of you as well. My thoughts about taking the year apart, and putting ourselves back together again at the end of the year:

(Reflection has been edited slightly in terms of length and clarification for presentation to this online audience.)

Faculty Assembly Reflection: Sara Frykenberg, April 2018

Hello: I’m Sara Frykenberg—a member of the Religious Studies Department. As some of you know, I am also a blogger for FAR, feminismandreligion.com […] So today, I decided to write a blog for you—It’s a little bit theological, a little personal, and a lot for or about our community.

But as I begin, I want admit right up front—and my department can confirm this for you, that I’m not always the most positive person. I came of age in the era of Trent Reznor and Kurt Kobain (And yes, I still prefer Reznor’s version of “Hurt,” to Cash’s – just saying).  Grunge and this kind of music somehow how worked well with my Premillennialist Evangelical up-bringing. In church I learned to expect to live in a dying world and hope for rapture. “Things will get worse before they are all destroyed and get better.” So, I’m pretty good at looking for apocalypse. I’m an ex-Christian, agnostic scholar of theology, and I have been trained, primarily, to take ideas apart—a bit of the deconstructionist backdrop of my graduate education.

But since I’ve been working here at the Mount, I have been continually challenged by my colleagues’ whose ability it is to put things back together again—a gift so many in our community have. They ask us: How can we bring people together? How can we move forward? What can we give? What can we create?

 I take this challenge very seriously. So when one of these colleagues asked me to consider doing this reflection, I agreed, for better or for worse. ;)

So, today is the LAST FACULTY ASSEMBLY of the year.  I want to reflect on where we have been: but to what end? To take the burden, responsibility and obligation of the year apart, and open a way towards summer and hopefully some rest? Or at least, less commuting? Or, to entertain thoughts that will help us to put ourselves back together again for the fall? How should we understand this end?

Facing an end, I often turn to the work of relational theologian Catherine Keller. She asks us to remember that apocalypse, the end with a capital E, actually means to reveal, not to destroy. Playing on the idea that revelation is also disclosure, Keller calls us to challenge our self-an/nihil/lating apocalyptic habits by dis/closing the end. Dis/close: reveal the apocalypse by opening it back up again. So if a reflection is like a mirror that shows us who we are at a particular moment in time, in a particular location, dis/closure can be like a refraction of that same image. Giving the mirror a quarter-turn, we can see the end while tracing a new path. Keller’s “Counter-apocalypse,” is about resisting alienation from apocalypse, what it means and the identity we may have invested in it, individually, socio-politically, and religiously, while moving towards something new.

In other words, I can be the somewhat pessimistic pragmatist, while entertaining and creating the optimism that might help me unlearn my expectation for “the trials and tribulations.”

So- where have we been?

Let me start with my inclination to take everything apart. This has been a tough, hard fought year for me. A tough year for many people I know here at the Mount. And I want to track my year through the questions it has left me with:

  1. How does diversity and inclusion really happen? And I mean really happen? Because whether intentionally or not, it is resisted. What does it mean, for a person of privilege like me, to make room? What does it mean practically, physically, in terms of power and sharing, and in terms of risk?
    • How do we make room for people and leaders? Make room without adding undue burden on these leaders?
    • How do we make room scholarship and innovation, particularly when this too, is a financial risk?
    • What do we do when turning forward, can also mean turning away?
  2. What’s really involved in making LACE? [LACE is the name for our new General Education plan. Lacemaking is also significant for our school’s history and founding.]
    • How can we hold what we need to quantify: the yards of thread, number of stitches, intricate design, and marketable product, together with what is unquantifiable: the moment when we can see that she thinks differently, that she feels differently?
    • Did those women, so long ago in France, have the same expression? Did the change in countenance correlate to a changing level of subsistence? And if their lace helped them to survive, did it also help them thrive?
    • What are the number of stitches required for survival, for the student, the institution, and those serving the institution—all of those serving the institution? Because numbers are so critical for survival. And how can we hold this tension—what can be a fearful tension—together with the imperative to teach, to learn, and to become more? What are the numbers required to thrive?
  1. How do we define our power?
    • What kind of power do we as ‘The Faculty,’ he as an adjunct, she as an FTE, NTR, lecturer or whatever, have?
    • Is our power a lure, like Charles Hartshorn’s process god? Drawing students, ourselves, each other towards love…. Is it the alienated power that Carter Heyward warns us we think is normal? The alienation that Catholic theology taught me is another word for sin? Is our power advisory? Is it in caring?
    • Because teaching isn’t supposed to be controlling…I was taught that teaching isn’t supposed to be controlling in classrooms where we asked: how is teaching related to control? How can we practice continuing to ask this question? Where is our teaching still about control?
    • How do I teach on days when I feel so out of control?
    • What does power look like when one of our own comes to us in pain—faculty reaching out to faculty, students reaching out to faculty, staff reaching out to faculty—the professorate, so loaded with cultural capital—and we realize that we too, as individuals, as a committee, as 75% less than our true number, have trouble consistently characterizing our power?
    • And…
  2. How do we deal the wild fires?

I am sobered by the fact that I am not the only one asking these questions.
Many, many of us here are at the Mount are working to answer these questions.

So, now, I will refract with a matter of kindness.

At the last faculty assembly, I was attending the regional conference of the American Academy of Religion. The conference theme was “Religion and Kindness.”  [Moderating a panel at the conference, I heard a paper which challenged me to think about what kindness really means, and how it relates to the spirit of the divine. For this blog, I will omit my discussion of this paper, in deference to the integrity of the student’s unpublished research.]

So, what is our spirit?

I feel I can answer this question with some certainty: Our spirit it the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet:

Unifying love
Love of neighbor as love of God.

To an outsider this sounds really nice. Our school looks really nice. Our students seem like really nice people. But I think our spirit is more than nice. It is kind though. And it is a challenge. Its praxis is a risk—which is why so many of us are here.

I tend to think of unifying love in terms of what some feminists call remembering and re-membering: putting body back together, a body, a body of knowledge, the human body,  bodies of those made monstrous by normalized bodies, a planetary body—but not towards illusory wholeness or harmony, because as disability theologian Nancy Eiesland asserts: Christianity imagines the vehicle of grace as a broken body.

So I return to my questions:

How can we—how can I—refract?
How do we (en)counter the tension we might prefer to destroy?
And how can we continue to help each other do this work?

Thank you.

 

Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.: Graduate of the Women’s Studies in Religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Sara’s research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence. In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.

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Categories: Academics, Academy, Christianity, Community, General, U. S. Catholic Sisters

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5 replies

  1. Thank you for sharing your provocative and thought-provoking blog Sara. You have unpacked so much concern and wisdom in a succinct manner. I appreciate you raising more questions rather than providing simple answers at the end of this difficult school year. You have given much to contemplate. I hope you have an amazing summer.

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  2. You ask such important questions – and like you I am not the most optimistic person these days. I was never brought up with the apocalypse as a reality – but I have lost hope as I have lived through the course of my life. As a naturalist I am up against a reality that I can’t escape. We ARE destroying the planet – the only “Mother” we have and we are doing this with vengeance or indifference raging in our hearts. I won’t lie. I spend as much time in the present as I can, continue to advocate for women and all species – but hope? well it’s no longer real. Accepting what is is my present challenge.

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  3. Thanks for this, Sara. You raise important enduring questions – good reminders of what we must always contend with in our university and classroom settings. You capture well the tensions between institutional goals and visions, and the complexities of everyday practical reality. Did you all have a discussion after your reflection? How did your colleagues respond?

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  4. A very provocative piece, thank you. Even though my theological learnings may come from a different POV, I love your questions. After years of questioning, I have found following the mystics of all traditions is my religion. At the core of all traditions is Love, which you capture in your piece.

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  5. Interesting and poignant. I love exploring power. You might appreciate French & Raven’s bases of power. I, too, am Gen-X, and I tend to be quite pessimistic in my outlook for our planet and our species… however, I continually choose to believe in hope and healing, not because they make sense, but because otherwise, I’d go mad. I find the natural world to be my greatest spiritual teacher, and I appreciate the Christian tradition for its rich basis in nature… I see restoration as like resurrection – we see spring follow winter, day follow night, life follow death… weeds take over that abandoned parking lot, and that is restoration. Blessings on. your work in your community – I hope it continues to bring you opportunities to be a vessel of restoration, even as you dwell in the mystery of unknowing.

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