Friday, July 18, 2014

GFU & transgender

This week, a fairly public news item emerged, regarding George Fox University's win in a case with the Department of Education, allowing Title IX religious exemption for the university's housing policy and a transgender student, Jayce, who wanted to live in a male dorm. Here's a Register Guard article about the court decision, and here's an Oregon Public Broadcasting news spot on the issue, featuring Wess Daniels and my grandpa, Ralph Beebe. Both are supportive of Jayce and desire to make him feel welcome and like he can be himself at Fox. Here is GFU's statement about the case. I want to just write a brief post on this issue, what's going on, and my thoughts.

First, I wanted to note that there has been some misrepresentation of GFU's policy. Some news reports are stating that the transgender student was "denied housing," which isn't true: he was offered housing on campus housing in a single apartment. One issue is that he hasn't yet undergone sex reassignment surgery, it sounds like, making it a little bit difficult for the university to give him housing in one of the single-sex housing options. Fox cites similar difficulties deciding what to do at Smith College, an all women's college. Do they admit male-to-female transitioning transgender students? Such questions of sex and gender are far from resolved in society at large, let alone in a Christian context such as Fox.

Second, luckily it sounds like Jayce has been fairly happy with the way he's been treated by other students, staff, and faculty, besides this issue of housing, so that's good.

Third, GFU cited Northwest Yearly Meeting's policy to shore up its claim that this was a religious belief. As far as I can tell, NWYM doesn't have a real policy about transgender identity.

This coming week, Northwest Yearly Meeting will be discussing a revision to the Faith & Practice statement on human sexuality (p. 80 of that document). The major question really pertains to what sexual acts are consider "sinful," especially including homosexuality. There is quite a range of opinions about what should happen with the current statement, although the fact that we're discussing it this week probably means that a majority of NWYM Friends believe that it should be changed and does not represent current belief. I don't know if we'll even have time to talk about transgender issues this week in the limited time we'll have in meetings for worship for business.

Fourth, a few queries: Why is it so troubling to us when people don't want to remain within traditionally-defined gender boundaries?

Every culture has different opinions, practices, and beliefs about what it means to be "feminine" or "masculine," what roles and behaviors go along with each, and which attributes are considered "good" or "bad." There are different traditions and beliefs about what men and women wear, how they behave toward one another and toward their own gender, and what occupations or tasks belong to each. We can't really define, once for all, what it looks like to be "female" or "male." We can't even describe this physically, for many people, since many are born with secondary sex characteristics for both sexes, chromosomal differences from their "normal" sex, or other differences that make sex more of a spectrum rather than a duality. Moreover, due to both "nature" and "nurture," I'd expect, each individual displays traits that are more or less "feminine" or "masculine" in different areas. Very few individuals fall in furthest end of each category on all of the things we use to measure our own culture's understanding of what it means to be "feminine" or "masculine."

What does it mean to YOU to feel "male" or "female"?

Why is it more culturally acceptable, on the whole, for women to be relatively "masculine" (wearing clothes designed for men, or at least similar to those designed for men, portraying "masculine" traits like assertiveness, etc.), and less culturally acceptable for men to act "feminine"? What does it say about us as a culture and what we value?

What would it look like for us to not really care about who's male and who's female, and just to love one another for who we are, regardless of how we dress and which body parts we have? Would this not be more congruent with our understanding of who we are as part of the Body of Christ, in whom there is no male or female, because we are all one as children of God?

Hold us in the Light this week as we have our annual sessions. Pray for unity and that we will listen to the Spirit, that we will be slow to anger, and that the love of Christ will abound in our midst.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

mason the frog & other stories

As you may have read in my last post, I just started a new PhD program in Environmental Studies. For one of the first two classes, Ecological Thought, I was supposed to create a visual essay that shared something about my sense of place. One of the other assignments for the course was to work on a sense of place journal, where I observed the same outdoor location every day for three weeks. I observed my back yard, and generally my two sons accompanied me. I took quite a few pictures. What came out of me for my visual sense of place essay was a children's story, starring my kids and a tadpole we caught. Most of the photos were taken during the three weeks I observed my yard. I thought I'd share the story with you. (My boys loved it, by the way!)

Friday, July 04, 2014

back to school

I wanted to let you all know about the newest development in my life, and the life of my family!

For quite a while I've felt drawn toward seeking a PhD in order to a) gain more knowledge and b) be able to pursue full time teaching or other job opportunities. This last year I applied to programs in theological ethics, and I got in to a few of them, but I still felt a check in my spirit about the whole thing. As a Quaker, I didn't want to get a degree that was based solely on theory. I want my scholarly work to have practical application, and to flow out of lived experience. Also, religion and theology programs are extremely competitive, based mainly on the theories and systems that you know with head knowledge and can rationally explain. While I find all of this incredibly intriguing and interesting, I also find it absolutely useless if it can't be put into action for the good of the world. I recognized that doing this sort of degree, even if I was studying ecological theology, would be 5 years of intellectualizing and head-work that I would be slogging through with no time for any practical action.

At the last minute, I decided to look into PhD programs in environmental studies and sustainability education, and got accepted into them as well. I felt peace and joy about the program at Antioch University of New England, and decided to go there! It's a PhD in Environmental Studies. Last week I had my first intensive session, where I had the classroom time for two courses, Introduction to Research Design and Ecological Thought. Both classes were excellent, and I enjoyed the creative and practical information and pedagogy employed by each professor.

Added to the fact that I get to do a degree that combines the practical and theoretical, I also have a Quaker advisor! That's something I wouldn't have had in any of the PhD programs I applied to in theological ethics. My advisor will be Steve Chase, Friend from New England Yearly Meeting, who has written several books and articles on Quaker topics, including Letters to a Fellow Seeker: A Short Introduction to the Quaker Way, and a recent chapter in the Friends Association for Higher Education's 2014 book, Quakers Perspectives in Higher Education, entitled "Educating for Beloved Community." I'm excited to work with him on issues pertaining to Quakerism and care for the Earth.

I also have an excellent cohort of about a dozen students, all from different types of backgrounds, including the sciences, social sciences, literature, and various government agencies dealing with environmental issues. It's exciting to look at this issue from so many different angles, with experts from different fields as my colleagues.

In about a month, we'll be moving to New Hampshire! Here we come, New England Yearly Meeting...

Thursday, July 03, 2014

published: christ & cascadia

Photo by Joel Bock
I have a lot of updating to do on this blog and I will soon be posting a bunch of thoughts and an update on life, but first I wanted to share that I've recently published a piece on the online journal Christ & Cascadia. The piece is called "Sister Willamette: Co-Lamenting with My River." I wrote it after participating in a sort of stations of the cross meets ecotheology experience called "River's Lament," created by the group EcoFaith Recovery. I participated in this for a seminary class I'm co-teaching called Poverty & Restorative Earthkeeping.

I'd encourage you to read Christ & Cascadia, especially if you're a Northwesterner! They're doing good work embedding theology in our particular time and location by asking what faith looks like in the context of a person from our bioregion, Cascadia.