Archive for December, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I’m done with the blasted GRE forever! We celebrated by going to view an amazing Picasso exhibit at Nasher Art Museum today. It was incredible. We are really excited to be coming back to Texas for the holidays, and are hoping to see as many of you Texans as possible. For now, enjoy viewing our Christmas card (photos by Rebecca Kline).


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Overall, I’d say I had a successful first semester here at Duke. I survived all of my classes, settled into some areas of interest that I plan to pursue further, and learned, learned, learned. The last two weeks were certainly intense, but I made it out alive and even did fairly well on my finals.

Perhaps the class that impacted me most this semester was Sexuality: Bible, Church, and Controversy with Mary McClintock Fulkerson and Sam Wells.  I had to write a final paper outlining how a congregation might move forward in debates over sexuality. Here is an excerpt:

Particularly for an issue like sexuality, it is crucial that arguments and debates happen within a language of grace that keeps love of the other at the center of how disagreements are worked out. Conservatives must learn to love the liberal as a fellow member of the Body of Christ and vice versa. Both perspectives, moreover, must learn to love the homosexual person as a person—not as an issue to be resolved. It is imperative that persons and their convictions are not made into abstractions, as often is the case with debates about homosexuality. Homosexual persons are not puzzles to be cracked; they are creatures made in God’s image and therefore made for communion with God and neighbor. Whether one falls on a conservative side or a liberal side, there is still the reality that the objects of the debate are actual persons that exist as creatures of God and as members of the Body of Christ.

With this in mind, perhaps bringing the poles slightly closer together in the debate over homosexuality is an understanding of what it means for all people to be made in the image of the Triune God. When all persons involved—heterosexual and homosexual—are recognized as creatures made in God’s image, and therefore persons esteemed as infinitely valued and infinitely desired by God, the possibility of love and reconciliation towards the other who’s convictions seem incompatible with particular theological points becomes the foundation for having an argument. God’s image is manifested in the relational life of the Christian community, which is to mirror the life of the Trinity as it lives out its life of reconciliation between all people.

Being made in God’s image, human being are invited to be caught up in the life of love, mystery, and desire that is the life of the Triune God. In his essay “The Body’s Grace,” Rowan Williams describes the Church’s life as it exists in relationship with the Trinity as he says,

The whole story of creation, incarnation, and our incorporation into the fellowship of Christ’s body tells us that God desires us, as if we were God, as if we were that unconditional response to God’s giving that God’s self makes in the life of the Trinity. We are created so that we may be caught up in this, so that we may grow into the wholehearted love of God by learning that God loves us as God loves God (Williams 2002, 312).

As creatures of the Triune God, human beings have been given an invitation and a capacity to mirror the relational characteristics of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By being caught up in reality of God’s harmonious relationship with God, persons in disagreement discover what it means to love the other, even when the other represents a conflict of convictions.

The Triune life illumines human sexuality as a sort of parable to God’s own desire for God and, indeed, God’s desire for humanity. It is that “unconditional response to God’s giving that God’s self makes in the life of the Trinity” that informs what it means for human beings—heterosexual and homosexual—to desire one another, and to live in communion with one another. It also opens up the possibility that homosexual love can be a parable to the desire of God’s love toward God, even if such love is incompatible with one’s view of sexuality. In this regard Williams observes, “same-sex love annoyingly poses the question of what the meaning of desire is—in itself, not considered as instrumental to some other process, such as the peopling of the world” (Williams 318). Regardless whether one determines homosexuality as being against God’s will or part of it, desire, in itself and analogous to God’s own desire, witnesses to the beauty and the love made possible by the Triune life. Sexual desire becomes analogous to God’s own desire and becomes manifested in human relationships. As Rogers notes, “In the Trinity, creation, God enables distant but appropriate correlates to the trinitarian love-in-freedom also for human love, structured by space and time. ” (Rogers, 202). Whether or not homosexuality is understood as a positive aspect of creation or God’s intention, this idea certainly makes the debate around the human body and sexuality more closely tied to God’s image and God’s grace.

A word of caution, however, for moving forward with such analogous descriptions of the Trinity and human relationships. The “distant but appropriate” clause is essential. Particularly with an issue like sexuality, one cannot simply make an ontological jump from the complete otherness of God to human relationships. Because God has revealed himself specifically and definitively in the life of Jesus, it is important that the analogy “Trinitarian persons in communion” to “human persons in communion” not be understood outside of the concrete event of the Gospel. For an epistemology that does not have the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as its hermeneutical center misses the very way in which God has revealed God to humanity. Moreover, understanding the historical act of God in the incarnation as an event of God’s free relation to God’s creation prevents the imitation of God’s Triune relationships from being sentimentalized down to an appeal to “love in general.” Being invited into the life of the Triune God is not merely an invitation to love the other as love is understood empirically; it is also a judgment on any creaturely understanding of love outside of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a task of the Christian community to seek the sort of love that it sees in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in complete submission to the work of the Spirit. Therefore Oliver O’Donovan is right as he says, “The gay Christian thus faces in a particular way the choice that constitutes the human situation universally: whether to follow the route of self-justification or to cast oneself hopefully on the creative justification that God himself will work within a community of shared belief” (O’Donovan 2008, 116). Both the conservative and liberal perspectives should heed this with all seriousness, for it demands that the arguments be christologically grounded and captive to the reality of God revealed in Jesus Christ and sustained by the Spirit.

This is good news for the community that finds itself split over questions about homosexuality in the church. When all arguments are framed by a language of grace that is defined by the reality of God’s free relation to God’s creation revealed in Jesus Christ, then all arguments are seen as possible avenues for the Spirit’s work. The Spirit’s work can happen through the church member who is homosexually oriented or it can happen through the member that is opposed to homosexuality. When both sides are attentive to the grace that happens as the community becomes caught up in the movement and life of the Trinity, both sides are open to the work of the Spirit that is oftentimes counter to the best judgments of both sides. In this sense, grace, as enacted by the life of the community, cannot be separated from the work of the Spirit. It also cannot be separated from the life and acts of Jesus Christ that are told over and over again in the Christian community. As Rogers, commenting on Williams’ “The Body’s Grace,” says,

if God defines what grace is, then grace […] is simply an impersonal name for the Holy Spirit. […] That Spirit is identified in the Christian community and as the Spirit of the Christ identified in turn by the biblical stories. Without saying so, Williams makes the word ‘grace’ an analogy in the strict theological sense, where the body only makes sense by reference to the grace of God identified in a community that tells certain stories of God’s creation and redemption (Rogers, 240).

When the community yields to the (usually surprising!) work of the Spirit grace becomes the mark of truthful debate, and both sides become open to the possibility that the other has something to teach. Thus, the liberal’s understanding of baptism opens up to the conservative’s understanding of holiness, and vice versa.

The homosexual person, moreover, is given the esteem of offering a perspective that is not available to the rest of the community. There are some questions in the homosexuality debate that can only be answered by the homosexual Christian, who has the particular privilege and position of telling his or her story for the rest of the community’s understanding. As O’Donovan suggests,

What if the challenge gays present the church with is not emancipatory but hermeneutic? Supposes that at the heart of the problem there is the magna quaestio, the question about the gay experience, its sources and its character, that gays must answer for themselves: how this form of sensibility and feeling is shaped by its social context, how it can be clothed in an appropriate pattern of life for the service of God and discipleship of Christ? (O’Donovan, 116).

The homosexual Christian included and understood in the community as a potential source of grace and conduit of the Spirit is allowed to tell his or her story as a positive contribution to the community; as a way in which stigmas and stereotypes are broken down and mutual respect and attentiveness is cultivated. As Larry Kent Graham notes, “‘discovery’ of vital Christian ‘gifts and graces’ in the lives of lesbian and gay persons [challenges] many negative cultural and religious stereotypes and [brings] new experiential data to the theological table” (Kent Graham 1997, 3). The community embodies a trinitarian grace when it allows the other, the minority, and the outcast the time and space to offer insights and experience; all perspectives are worked out under the guidance and movement of the Spirit, who “raises up from among us human beings witnesses and sharers and concelebrators of the love it celebrates between the Father and the Son” (Rogers, 253).

By seeing all people through the lens of a trinitarian grace that is caught up in the perfect love shown between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, disagreements in the church become opportunities of both love and reconciliation grounded in the Gospel. In this sense, the conservative perspective and the liberal perspective work together in mutual love and with the goal of building up the Church in reconciliation and imitation of the life of God. This is the theological rational that enables the Church to live peacefully despite disagreements.

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Giving Thanks.

We had a lovely Thanksgiving in Charlotte, North Carolina. We spent it with Dave’s family; immediate and extended! On thursday we had thanksgiving lunch at Plantation Estates, where Grandmother and Granddaddy live, in the private dining room.

Then the girls went to see New Moon while the boys went home and watched football. The movie was awesome! I can’t wait to read Eclipse. Then on friday night we had a big meal at Aunt Celeste’s house complete with two deep fried turkeys!

This Thanksgiving I am VERY thankful for both of our families and how supportive they have been through the transitions of this last year. Many people ask me how we celebrate this holiday being a British family who didn’t grow up doing so, and I tell them that you don’t have to be an American to be thankful : ) We have a tradition of looking back on the previous year and talking about the highs and lows and what we are thankful for. I wasn’t there this year to partake, but I still thought about it. I’m thankful for each and every person in my family. Both the Watson’s and the Klines. I’m thankful for the love and concern you’ve shown Dave and I, and the unfailing support. I realize that we are incredably blessed to have people like you in our lives (Mum, Dad, Andrew, Laura, Jess, Kate, Jack, Karen, Bill, Elizabeth, Ryan, Peter, Megan, Matthew, and Rebecca). We love you all dearly.  

I made a plethora of baked goods to take for the festivite including pumpkin apple bread, banana bread, pumpkin white chocolate cookies, and thanksgiving-themed sugar cookies.

     I start a part-time tutoring job next week where I will be tutoring a group of 6 elementary students in math and reading a few afternoons a week. Who knows, maybe it will help me with the blasted GRE which I will be taking on December 16th! 

Hope you all had a joyful time of giving thanks! We are very much looking forward to coming to Texas in two weeks : )

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Not dead…just living-dead as I prepare for exams.

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