Monday, December 10, 2012

Church in the Round

St. John's Memorial Chapel
Sermon preached at St. John's Memorial Chapel, December 6, 2012

St. John’s Memorial Chapel at the Episcopal Divinity School was built in the nineteenth century. I asked historian David Sigenthaler what chapel and worship was like when he was a student at the school in the 1950s.

At that time the altar was set against the east wall, the faculty sat up in the chancel, and the students sat in the pews facing each other. Each would have an assigned seat and chapel during that time was compulsory. The design of sacred space mirrored the hierarchical setup of the community. In the 1960s when Christopher Durasingh and Ed Rodman were students, the pews were removed and replaced with chairs.

In 1992 when I joined the school, the altar was brought forward to the crossing and the ambo was placed on the west side near the entrance. The students sat facing each other.

To honor Brett Donham who renovated St. Paul’s at Brookline after the fire in 1976 and our presider Rev. Jeffrey Mello, the rector of St. Paul’s, we have created a worshipping space modeling after St. Paul’s in which the congregation and the choir sit surrounding the altar. Donham talked about the rationale of why he designed the church in such a way:

“The traditional forms of church buildings, with everyone facing in the same direction and with the ‘expert’; the intermediary or interpreter, on a raised stage addressing an audience is the antithesis of gathering in community.”

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Brookline, MA
Today many churches are recovering the early roots of Christianity. Donham continues, “In these places people gather in community to offer praise and thanksgiving, to reflect on scripture, to share stories about Jesus Christ and his impact on their lives, to share a commemorative meal, and through this to come into communion with Christ, and with one another. These are communal activities, with many players, several centers of action and movement, and require the ability to see one another and feel as a gathered body.”

We have shifted the feast days and celebrate today the feast of Macrina, theologian, teacher, and monastic. I would like to invite you to reflect for a moment on the image of the church in the round.

Several things in Macrina’s life lead me to think that she will be open to the church in the round. Her brothers Basil and Gregory of Nyssa were bishops and renowned theologians in Cappadocia in modern day Turkey. Macrina as their elder sister admonished them to lead a life of simplicity and not to depend on their knowledge and rhetorical skills, their wealth, and their high positions in church and society.

In the Life of St. Macrina, Gregory said Macrina persuaded her mother to give up all showy style of living and the services of domestics. She urged her mother to share the life of the maids and to treat all her slave girls and menials as if they were sisters and belonged to the same rank as herself.

During her life, Macrina embodied what Philippians said, “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord” (3:8).  When we think of the church in the round, we imagine a more egalitarian model in which social status and hierarchal structure both in the church and society can be transgressed.

Most Holy Redeemer Church, San Francisco, CA
(Catholic)

 
Although we don’t have any writings from Macrina about the religious community she has formed, her brother Basil has written a Rule of Life, which preserved some of her ideals. The Rule of Life describes a community living together for worship, prayers, mutual help, exercise of virtue, and assisting others. Though the Rule prescribes obedience to the superior, it also exhorts the superior to reprove offenders with meekness and gentleness. In such a way, power within the community can be more shared and not restricted to the top.

The church in the round exists not for itself but for others. One of the hallmarks of the church in the round, as theologian Letty Russell has described in her book with the same title is hospitality to those on the margins. Macrina demonstrated her hospitality by feeding the hungry, providing for the needy, and taking care of young women. The two aspects of gathering for worship and sending out to service are inseparable.

Sometimes we are disheartened because we find the church more like the form of a triangle, in which power is concentrated at the top, instead of in the round. The church design and liturgy reinforce the separation between the clergy and the laity. Worship is often separated from ordinary life and from a sense of mission. It fails to give the sustenance that we need or meet the deepest longing we have for God.

In the season of Advent, a time of anticipation and expectation, let us renew our hope and work for a church in the round. One of my students Lucretia Mann brought to my attention an Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas, who has said that church is not an institution, but a way of being, that is deeply bound to the being of human, the being of the world, and the being of God.*

We can each bring something new to rejuvenate and enliven our community and way of being. We do not need to abolish the old church in order to create something new. We can redesign and reoccupy sacred space within traditional buildings so that we can experiment with different ways of being with God. In this semester, we have seen several creative expressions of using sacred space, particularly in the Eucharist led by Stephen Burns and Christopher Duraisingh. In the course of doing so, we experienced new centers and movements as people of God.

As a teacher of spirituality, I believe that external space also shapes and nurtures our internal space. The change of external space gives us a new sense of our own place in the world. It is no coincidence that many sacred traditions embrace the circle in their holiest sites, such as the prehistoric Stonehenge in England and the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, and in their religious imagination, such as the Tibetan Mandala (a sanskrit word meaning circle), the Native American dreamcatcher, and the labyrinth found in many cultures.

The reading from Sirach 51:13-22 talks about Ben Sira setting out on a journey to find Wisdom. Sometimes he is delighted for having found her and listened to her. Other times he spreads out his hands to heaven and laments his ignorance of her. The spiritual path is never straightforward, but winds back and forth, and sometimes we will get lost on our way.

The church in the round is also a process and not a perfect circle. Sometimes we move two steps forward and one step back. All we are asked to do is to transform the triangle or the rectangular form in our chapel to make it rounder each day to the glory of God. Amen.
 
* John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion (Crestwood, NY:  St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985), 15.



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Race Matters in Political Theology

Race plays important roles in political theology, whether implicitly or explicitly. Its invisibility simply signifies the whitewashing or Eurocentric nature of political theology.

Many people begin with Carl Schmitt when they discuss political theology. What would it mean if Wu Yaozong (1893-1979) of China had inaugurated discussions of political theology instead of Carl Schmitt?

To ask this question is to contest a Eurocentric trajectory of political theology and a notion of race constructed primarily out of Western experience. It underscores the importance of using a comparative lens to look at racial construction in the modern world and the complexities it poses to political theology.

When Schmitt was working on his treatise Political Theology, published in 1922, Chinese students and workers were demonstrating in the streets against the results of the Treaty of Versailles signed after the First World War. The Treaty awarded the German rights in China’s Shandong Province to Japan, even though China had entered the war on the side of the Allies.

Wu Yaozong was radicalized and began to ask the fundamental question if Christianity could save China from foreign aggression. He was a YWCA secretary, author of many books, and one of the most prominent leaders of the Chinese Christian Church after 1949.

If Wu had inaugurated the discourse of political theology, the discussion on race would not have focused simply on the difference between the Caucasians and Asians, because of Japan’s imperial aggression in the first half of the twentieth century.

As Nami Kim has shown, Japan was able to use racial and cultural affinities between the Japanese and other Asian peoples to construct a pan-Asian identity to argue for Japan’s commitment to “liberate” Asia from Western aggression. In this particular case, racial similarity has been deployed as propaganda to serve political gains and to obfuscate differences.

I have always been surprised by how the national histories and identities of Asians are conveniently obscured under the racial label “Asian and Pacific Islander” in the US. Even the 1.5 or second-generation Asian Americans still carry memories of their national origins, sometimes through the actions of their parents.

Wonhee Anne Joh uses the term “haunting” to describe this nagging feeling of one’s past. She asks, “How do our still-present pasts continue to haunt us? How is it that the place one has left continues to haunt even as one tries with every effort to belong to a new place, despite its latent and sometimes overt hostility?”

Asian Americans and the Asia Pacific religion seldom feature in anthologies of political theology. Race and Political Theology, edited by Vincent W. Lloyd, contains several chapters from the Jewish experience, which are important given Schmidt’s anti-Semitism, while adding a few chapters that touch on African Americans. The 800-page volume Political Theologies: PublicReligions in a Post-Secular World edited by Hent de Vries and Lawrence Sullivan contains no single Asian or Asian American author, as far as I can tell.      

This oversight continues to amaze me. I can’t help but ask: “Are we dealing with political theology in the twentieth century or the twenty-first century?” During the American presidential campaign, I did not hear EU mentioned as many times as China. At the present moment, there is really no excuses for American political theologians not to take the Asia Pacific region, especially China, seriously, no matter to which race you happen to belong.

If it were Wu Yaozong and not Carl Schmidt who had inaugurated the discourse on political theology, how would political theology in the U.S. look different? Let me offer three observations.

First, it would be quite obvious that we would pay much more attention to the overlapping histories between the US and the Asia Pacific region. As I have written, “before [Asia] emerged as a market for U.S. capital, Asia was seen as a war zone. Beginning with the Spanish American War over the destiny of the Philippines, the United States has fought successive wars in Asia. During the Cold War the United States pursued a containment policy against China and the former Soviet Union.”

Today, Asia Pacific has become a strategically important military theatre for the U.S., especially during the disputes among Asian countries over the control of islands and resource-rich waters in the South China Sea.

We will be curious to know during the lengthy political and military engagements with Asia Pacific, what American theologians have said or written about the region. American theologians’ perceptions of Communism and China, for example, have changed over time. As is well known, Reinhold Niebuhr’s Christian Realism led him to be suspicious of the promise of Communist revolution and its belief in human agency.

But the Chinese revolution has inspired supporters of the Black Panther Party and black intellectuals, such as W.E. B DuBois, Malcolm X and Manning Marable, to name a few. During the 1960s and 1970s, some in the New Left were fascinated by the Chinese communes and the new egalitarian society that was allegedly being created in China.

Today, quite a number of seminaries in the US have organized trips and travel seminars to China. For Lamin Sanneh of Yale and Richard J. Mouw of Fuller, the phenomenal church growth in China is worth paying attention to, since it is changing the shape of world Christianity.     

Second, Wu Yaozong would have pushed for a much more robust class analysis in American political theology. The encroachment of the West, the Japanese invasion, the corruption of the Nationalist Party, and China’s dire poverty led him to embrace Marxism gradually. He challenged the capitalist powers for their aggression, which had resulted in wars and conflicts in China and elsewhere. Similar to other Chinese radical intellectuals of his time, he advocated social revolution to save China and condemned the exploitation of the bourgeois class. 

In the current discussion on race and political theology, class seldom surfaces or is touched on only tangentially. Meanwhile, the wealth gaps between the different races in the US have grown to their widest levels since the government began tabulating them a quarter-century ago. New census data shows that the net worth of white people, on average, is 20 times that of the blacks, and 18 times that of Hispanics.  

If political theology is concerned about the common good, it cannot be oblivious to the growing disparity between the races in the US and between the have and have-nots worldwide.           

Wu would also be very suspicious of the so-called Beijing consensus and the kinds of state capitalism practiced in China or Russia. He would be right to suspect that Mao and other Chinese revolutionaries would be turning in their graves to see the capitalist transformation that is happening in China. He would urge public intellectuals and political theorists and theologians to find a more sustainable system of economic and political development.           

Third, Wu Yaozong would be allergic to the rhetoric of freedom, democracy, and human rights used by Western politicians and often endorsed by liberal political theologians. He would point out, as other postcolonial thinkers have said, that in the name of the promotion of democracy and human rights, wars and invasions have been justified by President George W. Bush and his neocon advisors.  

It is futile and often self-serving for the West to impose their political systems or governmental structures on the religious other or racial other. The recent presidential election in the US shows the weakness of the democratic process, when a few billionaires could exert so much influence.           

For Wu, the freedom of the individual must be balanced by the collective commitment for the common good. His vision of political and economic liberation predated that of Latin American liberation theology by several decades. If Latin American theologians have used the Exodus as their biblical paradigm, the Sermon on the Mount was fundamental for Wu.  

For him, the central Christian message is God’s love. “Love does not condone evil, instead it is the enemy of evil.” Political theology influenced by Wu will not just champion individual rights, but will focus on the evil nature of interactive oppressions, based on race, gender, class, sexuality, and so forth.           

The constructions of race and racial identity in the modern world should be investigated with a comparative perspective. With the shifting geopolitics, the Asia Pacific region should receive greater attention, and Western political values must be scrutinized through a global and transnational lens.
 
* Paper presented at the panel “Race Matters in Political Theology” at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Chicago, November 18, 2012.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Teacher Gordon D. Kaufman

Those of us who had the privilege of visiting Professor Kaufman’s home on Longfellow Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, would never forget Gordon’s hospitality and his wife Dorothy’s great cooking. Many of us would remember the blue carpet in the living room, which the couple bought in Hong Kong.

But the most memorable item in their home for me was the silk scroll that Gordon’s parents brought back from their days as Mennonite missionaries in China. It was dedicated to his father and has the Chinese transliteration of his last name Kaufman, which means, “overflowed with blessings” in Chinese.

My life has been overflowed with blessings since meeting Kaufman and having him as co-director of my dissertation. Kaufman had shown great interest in my work and told me that he was conceived in China, though he was born in the United States. He had a deep curiosity about Asia and had visited or taught in India, Hong Kong, China, and Japan.

The most important legacy of Kaufman for theology is his theological method, and particularly his understanding of theology as “imaginative construction.” And Kaufman has offered us a very capacious imagination indeed. Kaufman’s theological thinking had changed over time. While his philosophical thinking has been much shaped by Kant, he has continued to dialogue with different cultures and sciences.

One of Kaufman’s dialogical partners and friends at Harvard was Edward Wilson, an expert on sociobiological and the life of ants. Wilson sent him his illustrated 700-page exhaustive tome on ants when it was published, and Kaufman proudly displayed it in his room.

In Creating Minds, Howard Gardner said that creative people are distinctive in their abilities in bringing different bodies of knowledge and thought together into fresh synthesis. Kaufman demonstrated his abilities in navigating through theology, philosophy, natural sciences, and the study of cultures and religions.

To develop a capacious imagination, one must be willing to be self-conscious and self-critical. Kaufman’s constructivist method is not satisfied with staying safely within theology formulated in the past, including his own. His several books on God testify to his remarkable ability to challenge his own thinking and move onto new horizons.

Over the years he continued to learn from his female colleagues in the academy and his female students, who help him to understand the limitations of anthropomorphic and andocentric images for God, such as creator, Lord, king and father. His understanding of God as “serendipitous-creativity” opens new avenues for dialogue with the natural sciences and with ecofeminism.

His imagination was also nurtured by his sustained interest and participation in Buddhist-Christian dialogue. His moves toward a naturalistic Christianity open new possibilities for dialogue with Buddhism and other traditions that have a more wholistic understanding of nature and the interrelation of all beings. His biohistorical notion of humanity, for example, may find resonance in Thich Nhat Hanh’s concept of interbeing. Kaufman has written a fascinating comparison between the Christian concept of God and the Buddhist notion of emptiness.

The fecund imagination continued in his old age. His major work In Face of Mystery was published in 1993, when he was sixty-eight. As his students, we know that he had worked on it for many years, for we heard it in lectures and saw him drawing the trajectories on the blackboard. He last book Jesus and Creativity came out in 2006, when he was eighty-one years old.

In the book On Late Style, the postcolonial critic Edward W. Said discussed two different styles in the late works of musical and literary artists. Some would continue to do what they are used to do since their younger days. But there is a group of artists, including Beethoven, who have produced works of such creativity that they stand in contrast with what is popular at the time and becomes forerunners of what is to come. I would characterize Kaufman’s late style in that category.

Kaufman has also used his imagination to directly address particular social or ecological issues, such as Nonresistance and Responsibility, Theology for an Nuclear Age, and his essays on ecological consciousness and the human niche in the ecological order. In these books and articles, he followed his teacher H. Richard Niebuhr’s example of treading between theology and ethics to offer pragmatic wisdom and moral guidance.

Kaufman has not created a particular school of thought. It is hard to generalize what his students are doing for they are so different in their theological trajectories. Many of his students have continued his legacy of posing radical questions to the theological tradition and breaking new grounds.

I would like to illustrate this by citing the works by some of his students of color and international students. For example, Anthony Pinn finds Kaufman’s definition of theology as a self-conscious human construction useful for broadening the nature and tasks of Black theology. He has just published a new volume on an African American humanist theology, entitled The End of God-talk.

Several of his Indian students, such as Christopher Duraisingh, M. Thomas Thangarai, and Sathianathan Clarke have used what they have learned from Kaufman to engage Indian cultures and religions. In fact, Kaufman delivered his famous essay on “Christian Theology as Imaginative Construction” in Bangalore, India, in 1976. Sathianathan Clarke has developed a Dalit theology, using the drum as a metaphor for Christ in Dalits and Christianity.

I have worked on postcolonial feminist theology for many years. With Joerg Rieger, I co-authored the newly-released book Occupy Religion, which presents a theology of the multitude.

Kaufman was a past President of the American Academy of Religion. He was a mentor, wise counselor, and friend to many colleagues in the academy.

As we remember his legacy, I want to tell you the story of the last time that I have seen him. I went to his office in order to send him a copy of the book Empire and the Christian Tradition, which I have co-edited. The book was dedicated with gratitude to our teachers. He was one of the persons to whom I wanted to dedicate the book. He was delighted to receive the book. In the course of our discussion, he said that theology should expand people’s horizons and not erects a fence to protect a narrow tradition. This was the Kaufman I would always cherish and remember because from him, I have received “overflowed blessings.”

* From remarks given at the panel “In Face of Gordon D. Kaufman: A Legacy for Theology,” at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Chicago, November 17, 2012.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Asian Americans and Presidential Election

Four years ago, during Barack Obama’s first run for president, the Asian American community was very excited. After all, Obama has an Indonesian stepfather and has spent part of his childhood in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Obama’s half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng married a Chinese Canadian Konrad Ng (吴加儒). She was instrumental in galvanizing the Asian American community leaders and soliciting their support in 2008.

This time around, there are far less reports of Soetoro-Ng or others in the Obama camp organizing the Asian American community and courting their votes.

According to a recent survey of Asian Americans, roughly 43% of them will vote for Obama, 24% will vote for Mitt Romney, and 33% are undecided. Asian Americans are predominantly Democratic (43% as opposed to 17% Republican).

Asian Americans, a fast-growing racial group, are very diverse. Among them the Chinese are the largest group (22%), followed by Indians (20%), Filipinos (18%), Vietnamese (11%), Koreans (10%), Japanese (5%), and Pakstanis and Cambodians (6%).

Wei Bizhou, a columnist of the World Journal Magazine, said that both the Democratic and Republic Party have not campaigned hard among Asian Americans. Wei offered several reasons for this. Asian Americans make up only about 4% of the population and most of them are first-generation immigrants. Their low levels of political participation hinder their political influence.

The presidential contest has focused on a handful of swing states. Asian Americans tend to live in metropolitan areas, such as New York and San Francisco, and the population of Asian Americans in these swing states is rather small.

Wei reported that Indian Americans are most supportive of Obama (68%), followed by Koreans and Japanese (both 49%), and Chinese (43%). In comparison, 38% of Filipinos support Romney, 29% Japanese, 21% Chinese, and 20 % Koreans.

Indian Americans have much less language barriers compared with other Asian ethnic groups. They have increased their influences and visibilities in American politics. The two Indian-American governors, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Nikki Haley of South Carolina are considered Republican rising stars. Jindal has even been suggested as a vice-presidential contender.

Very little is known about how religion has influenced Asian Americans’ political preferences. In her chapter on “Asian Americans, Religion, and the American Presidency” in the book Religion, Race, and the American Presidency, Professor So Young Kim offers some interesting observations. She notes that Asian Americans are highly diverse in terms of religious beliefs and associations. They are also the most secular racial group in American society (20% compared to 4% for the whites, 2% for blacks, and 12% for Hispanics).

She notes that there is a high degree of correlation between the lack of political party identification and secularism among Asian Americans. “For Asian Americans, 37% of those who profess no religion are political nonidentifiers,” she writes.

In the 2000 presidential election, the voting rate for Asian Americans was 45%. The highest turnout rate was found among Christians (49%) and the highest nonvoting rate was found among Muslims (78%). The support for Al Gore, Kim says, was generally high among those with non-Christian religious beliefs (Hindus and Buddhists), while George W. Bush won the biggest support from evangelical Christians.

Another variable is that those who identify themselves as Asian Americans rather than a specific Asian ethnic group (say Korean American) show a significantly higher level of interest in American politics and activism.

In this current presidential election, Asian Americans can still affect the outcome if they turn out to vote, especially in the swing states of Nevada where Asian Americans make up 9% of the population, Florida (3%), and Virginia (7%). After all, in 2008, Obama won Florida by only 2.5%.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Intersex and Transgender Theology

The Episcopal Church took the courageous step to approve same-sex blessing service at the General Convention last July. At the same time, the Church voted to amend church laws to include that no one would be discriminated based on “gender identity and expression.” The church affirms “gender identity (one’s inner sense of being male or female) and expression (the way in which one manifests that gender identity in the world) should not be bases for exclusion, in and of themselves, from consideration for participation in the ministries of the Church.” 

The Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge, an Episcopal priest and chaplain at Boston University, has worked with others for a number of years for the passage of the amendment. He was one of the panelists to speak about intersex and transgender theology at the Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) on September 7. Other panelists include Dr. Susannah Cornwall from University of Manchester, Dr. Megan K. DeFranza of Gordon College, and Iain Stanford, a doctoral student at Harvard Divinity School.

Professor Patrick S. Cheng of EDS moderated the panel and said in his opening remarks that the Christian community has talked more about lesbian and gay issues than transgender and intersex concerns. He welcomed Dr. Cornwall, an expert on intersex theology and ministry from England, to EDS to have a dialogue with other scholars in Boston.

Intersex people are those persons whose biological sex cannot be classified as clearly male or female, because they have combinations of physical features of both. Intersex people have also been called “hermaphrodite” or people with “disorder of sex development” (DSD), although these terms are contested.

Cornwall’s book, Sex and Uncertainty in the Body of Christ: Intersex Conditions and Christian Theology, is the first full-length examination of the theological implications pf intersex conditions and their medical treatment. Currently she is interviewing intersex Christians to deepen her study. She said that the Church of England has begun to discuss ministry to intersex and transgender persons, which is a step forward.

Cornwall emphasized that intersex persons challenge a binary construction of gender, which has dominated Christian theology for centuries. The acceptance of a non-pathological understanding of the intersexed necessitates the re-examination of some of the Christian images and teachings, such as the church as a feminine bride to a masculine god, the maleness of Christ, body and perfection, and marriage based on complementarities of the male and the female sexes.

In her intriguing remarks, DeFranza pointed out that the Bible offers material to discuss intersex issues. As someone who has grown up in a fundamentalist church in which women were not allowed to even pass the offering plate, she was surprised to find discussion of “atypical” bodies in the Bible. For example, in his discussion of divorce in Matthew 19:1-12, Jesus refers to different types of eunuchs, including those who have been so from birth (as different from those who have been castrated). DeFranza argues that intersex persons would have been included in this group. In Isaiah 56:3-5, the eunuchs who hold fast to God’s covenant are blessed. DeFranza said that instead of “an icon of shame,” the eunuch is raised up as “a model of discipleship.” The Bible also refers numerous times to barren women and some among them might have been intersex.

Just as intersex persons disrupt our ways of constructing gender, transgender people challenge us to see gender identity and expression not as fixed, but in a continuum. Partridge and Stanford reminded us that transgender theology concerns the whole church, because it affects how we see theological anthropology, the nature of creation, and the Body of Christ.

Partridge said that the feast he liked most is the Feast of Transfiguration. It marks the liminal space that life is not static and Christians are called to grow to be like God, as in the doctrine of theosis in the Eastern Church. He invited us to see creation as variegated and always changing and to have an expansive notion of the collective embodiment of the Body of Christ. With such an inclusive understanding of creation and the church, each person will be free to discern who God has called him or her to be and to embody the vocation that God has given.

Stanford was at the General Convention when the Episcopal Church passed the amendment not to discriminate transgender people. He noted that in church politics, the blessing of same-sex union is considered a “sexuality” issue, while the inclusion of transgender persons is seen as a “gender” issue. But the two are much related and often overlap with each other. He reminded us that homosexuals were called “inverts” by nineteenth-century sexologists such as Havelock Ellis. For them, the problem had more to do with gender non-conformity than what these people did in their bedrooms. He, too, exhorted the church to transform its understanding of sex, gender, and sexuality in its theology and ministry.

The panel provides much food for thought at the beginning of the semester. To continue the conversation, Professor Cheng is organizing a group to further discuss lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer issues and theology. The video of the panel will be available later at the Episcopal Divinity School website.

This post first appeared at the 99 Brattle blog of the Episcopal Divinity School.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Bev Harrison at 80

Bev Harrison sat on a comfortable Queen Anne chair with her dog Pom Pom sitting on her lap. Wearing a light blue T-shirt and a dark blue skirt with floral design, she looked great and energetic, greeting and talking to people who have come from near and afar to celebrate her 80th birthday.

I have come to pay tribute to this pioneering Christian social ethicist. But more than that, I have come to say thank you to a friend and mentor. In 1989 I came back to the U.S. to defend my dissertation in May and was looking for a place to stay till my commencement in early June. Bev was so kind to allow my daughter and I to stay in her apartment at Union Theological Seminary.

Bev’s huge apartment had bookshelves full of books in social ethics, sexuality, and moral philosophy. It was great to have access to a library while you were a guest. I read Randy Shilts’s And the Band Played On and other works on AIDS and sexual ethics at her apartment. I also followed intensely what was happening at Tiananmen Square by watching TV coverage in her living room.

Bev is a rare public intellectual who pays equal attention to sexuality and economic justice. Many social ethicists focus on one of these topics, but not both. Bev has written on procreative choice, reproductive rights, and misogyny. I have read many works by Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr before I knew Bev and I always admire her astute analyses about these American ethicists. She has expanded social and economic theory to make sure that women’s equality and rights are protected.

Her most well known essay “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love” was mentioned frequently at the birthday party. She writes, anger is “a sign of some resistance in ourselves to the moral quality of the social relations in which we are immersed.” Furthermore, she says, “where feeling is evaded, where anger is hidden or goes unattended, masking itself, there the power of love, the power to act, to deepen relation, atrophies and dies.”*

Kudos to Bev. The essay must have liberated many middle-class women from their coerced gentility, passivity, and faked femininity. Several students of hers, both women and men, told stories that they had come to Union to study with her after reading this essay.

More than ten former students came to Brevard, North Carolina, to celebrate her birthday, from Marvin Ellison, her first doctoral student (graduated in 1981) to the last one Rebecca Todd Peters (graduated in 2001). For more than three decades, Bev has mentored students both at Union and at other schools, as they tried to develop their own voices as scholars. The discourse on social ethics in America would be much diminished without the contributions of Pamela Brubaker, Daniel Spencer, Elizabeth Bounds, Mary Hobgood, Marilyn Legge, and Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, just to name a few.

As Bev’s students and friends, we have all enjoyed Bev’s hospitality and cooking. Since Bev has moved into assistance living, she invited those attending her birthday party to take away her books, jewelry, pottery, and other household items.

I became sentimental when I visited the house she used to live after she moved into the retirement community that she and her friends have built. It has a large living room surrounded by windows on three sides. The beautiful blue and brown pottery she has collected was on the tables. Her students and I reminisced that we had dined and wined using these utensils in her home in New York.

It was very generous for Bev to give away her belongings so that we can have a piece from her home to remember our friendship. I took a small brown vase home, with gratitude.

On the morning when we left, she brought pictures of her friends and relatives. There was one sent by Dan Spencer when his children were teenagers in 2001. Another picture showed the teenagers have grown into adults. This is typical of Bev. She treasures her friends and students and maintains long relationship with them.

Bev needs to use a walker to help with her balance. Carter Heyward, her longtime companion, takes good care of her and arranges for the birthday party with friends living in the community. I was so surprised to see Carter taking up the fiddle after retirement and playing music with a group during Bev’s birthday party.

Dear Bev, happy 80th and many more.

*The essay can be found in Beverly Wildung Harrison, Making the Connections (Boston: Beacon, 1985), 3-21.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Nurturing Cultures of Just-Peace

Just-peace in the title of this panel is not one word, but linked by a hyphen. The in-between space and the interconnection between justice and peace is the subject for our discussion this afternoon. Can we have peace that is not just? Can we demand justice and justice alone without peace? And who is to decide what is justice and justice to whom? Is peace a utopian state without war, conflicts, and tears?

We are reminded of the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when he said that he was “gravely disappointed with the white moderate … who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that there is no cheap grace in his resistance to the Nazi regime. Today Christians must come to realize that there is no cheap peace. In the Gospels, Jesus confronted the power of the Roman Empire and the religious elites of his time. He proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God, as a counternarrative to the imperial rule of Caesar. Instead of glorifying military might and fanfare of war, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9). He was tortured and died a political prisoner on the cross, an instrument to instill suffering and fear for anyone who dared to challenge imperial rule.

Yet throughout the age, the message of Jesus has been domesticated and coopted to serve the status quo. Time and time again, Christian doctrines and beliefs have been misused and misappropriated to justify the Crusades, the conquest of the Americas, and colonization of the world’s majority. The Christian Right and those advocating the Gospel of Prosperity have used the Gospel to bolster the 1% and to discriminate against the 99%, especially women and children, the working class, racial minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Middle-class churches proclaim peace, where there is really no peace.

Just-peace requires nothing less than a collective metanoia (repentence) of our own complicity in supporting the violence of an unjust system. Our economic system that condemns one out of four young children to live in poverty is both violent and unjust. Without recognizing the terror and violence inflicted in the name of national security, bailing out the big banks, and protecting corporate interests, we as Christians will never fully understand the cost of just-peace and the cost of discipleship.

The pursuit of just-peace requires us to begin to speak divine power in radically new ways. Christian images of God are commonly shaped by dominant images of power and might. In the past, God was often envisioned as a heavenly patriarch or monarch. Divine power understood as hierarchical, patriarchal, and one-sided has been used to reinforce the powers and principalities on earth.

Just-peace requires us to see divine power in relations, in the interstices, in the spaces between us. We need to see beyond the false dichotomies of black and white and to embrace the pregnant potentialities in the gray areas. At the Episcopal Divinity School, we encourage students to say both-and and not either-or.

The question in interfaith dialogue and engagement is not to draw a simple line between Christians and non-Christians. The issue at hand is not whether people profess belief in God or not; the question is what kind of ultimate reality and what kind of power people affirm. Those who affirm power as a top-down process and those who see God or ultimate reality upholding it are closer to each other, no matter whether they are Christian nor not, than those who affirm alternative forms of power that move from the bottom up.

From understanding dialogue as service to mission in the first half of the twentieth century to the discussion of multiple religious belonging, Christian churches have changed quite drastically in their attitudes toward other religious traditions. As we face the future, interfaith dialogue must address some of the burning issues in our world, such as the rise of fundamentalisms of all kinds, the assertion of religious identity and fragmentation of community, the exploitation of religious passion for violence, the widespread suspicion of political and religious leaders, and cynicism about possible social change. Interfaith dialogue must be a force for peacekeeping. In contemporary politics there are the dual forces of politicization of religion and the theologization of politics.

In the past several years, a group of theologians have begun to explore the concept of polydoxy in order to describe the multiplicity and relationality of God and of our world. Polydoxy, as its prefix “poly” suggests, acknowledges both the internal diversity of the Christian tradition and the plurality of the world’s religious and spiritual traditions. Colleen Hartung has said, “Polydoxy, a space for many opinions about belief within a body of belief, or alternatively a place of many faiths within a circle of faith, implies an openness to diversity, difference, challenge, and multiplicity.”

Polydoxy foregrounds the diversity of cultural and religious traditions of the world, and sees such diversity as a blessing and not a curse. Polydoxy debunks the myth of the superiority of one God, one creed, and one Church, and holds multiple traditions and perspectives together when looking at God and reality. A theology of multiplicity seeks company, and does not reduce the Other into the Same.

* Remarks at a panel discussion on "Nurturing a Culture of Just-Peace: Opening Local Communities for Interfaith Engagement" at the Episcopal Divinity School on May 2, 2012. The videos of this panel are available on the School's website.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Free Community Church in Singapore

With Dr. and Mrs. Yap Kim Hao
and members of the church
I was invited to speak to a Christian lesbian and gay community in Singapore in June. Singapore is known as a “fine” city, because you have to pay a fine if you throw garbage on the street or take too much and waste food when eating a buffet. I could hardly imagine how such a government would allow a vibrant lesbian and gay community to exist. 

Homosexual sex is still punishable by prison time in Singapore, but the government has promised not to enforce the law. The Singaporean lesbian and gay community formed a group called Safehaven in 1998 to offer support and fellowship for Christians to discuss issues about faith and sexuality. The Free Community Church was subsequently formed, whose mission is “to create sacred space and give voice to the lives and experiences of minority communities, recognising their potential to transform lives and the wider church for the common good and glory of God.” 

I was invited by Dr. Yap Kim Hao, former General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), to visit Singapore. I have known Dr. Yap since my college days when I was introduced to the Asian ecumenical movement. Through meeting other young people at the CCA assembly in 1973 in Singapore, I was conscientized to the social issues of Asia and became aware of our collective identity as “Asian.” 

Since his retirement from full-time ministry, Dr. Yap serves as pastoral advisor to the Free Community Church. I was very impressed that at 83, Dr. Yap has taken on a new cause and has committed himself to helping this fledgling community. 

The Free Community Church rents space at a commercial building. Its members come from all walks of life and they are both gay and straight. The core members who welcomed me include the pastor Miak Siew and a teacher, a psychiatrist, and a business school administrator. Most of the members seem to be professionals. 

I delivered a lecture on “Loving the Body, Loving God.” I discussed the dualism of mind and body in Christian theology and introduced resources in the Bible and in the mystic tradition to envision a more positive approach to the body. I encouraged the audience to recover an expansive view about the body, pleasure, and Eros.  

Some of the things I have said were quite “radical” for the audience, as some of them have come from conservative religious background, as churches in Singapore are generally quite conservative. After the lecture, some were interested in exploring further sexual ethics and morality. One asked how could we love and respect the body when the Bible says that our body is God’s and God is the potter and we are the clay (Isa. 64:8)? 

In my response, I said that it is very customary for those of us who have grown up in Chinese families to think about sex in terms of right and wrong. Sex has been understood primarily in moralistic terms, and is often associated with danger, risk, and taboo. Love, however, is often beyond right and wrong, black and white.  

Why can’t we think of sex in terms of aesthetics—of beauty, communion, excitement, desire, and ecstasy? I encouraged the Free Community Church to practice the ministry of accompaniment with all those who sexualities are questionable or even “indecent,” to borrow theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid's language. 

I am very encouraged to know that in addition to the Free Community Church, there is a small Metropolitan Community Church in KualaLumpur as well as the Blessed Minority Christian Fellowship in Hong Kong, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. 

An all Asia “open and affirming” church and life conference called “Amplify 2012” was held from June 22-24 in Hong Kong. With the theme “Transcending Boundaries—Restoring Hope,” the conference brought together participants from nine Asian countries. Bishop Yvette Flunder, Presiding bishop of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries in San Francisco and Bishop Gene Robinson, bishop of New Hampshire of the Episcopal Church USA were the plenary speakers. 

At the end of my lecture, a woman came up to ask if I have spoken to other lesbian and gay groups in Asia. I said that while I have met with individual lesbians and gay men in Asia, I have not given a theological lecture in a predominantly lesbian and gay group. I was very grateful to have the opportunity to speak at the Free Community Church and meet Asian lesbian and gay Christians. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Occupy Religion

One Spirit Interfaith Seminary Altar@ Occupy Wall Street
Joerg Rieger and I are coauthoring a book entitled Occupy Religion: Theology of the Multitude to be published in the fall.

It began as a conversation we had at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) in San Francisco last November. As the protesters established their camps in different American cities last fall, some students in the divinity schools began to plan for “Occupy @ AAR/SBL.”

The students organized two panels and asked scholars and activists who have participated in the Occupy movement to share their experiences and to reflect on the significance of the movement. Rita Nakashima Brock, a leading Asian American theologian and director of Faith Voices for the Common Good, helped to organize a public demonstration in support of the local Occupy movement.

Joerg Rieger was invited to speak at one of the panels and we decided to collaborate on a book on the Occupy movement. We are two theologians from different cultural backgrounds, who have participated in social movements in Asia, Europe, and the U.S. Rieger grew up in the southern part of Germany and I was born and raised in the former British colony of Hong Kong.

The term “occupy” has many meanings in the Occupy movement. Occupy religion does not mean the use of force or other means to take over religious institutions, holy sites, worshipping spaces, or religious goods. It is the envisioning of a democratic and participatory space for religious life and the engagement of concrete actions to make this a reality.

The writings of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri popularize the concept of “multitude,” a political subject who rises up against the decentralized and all-pervasive Empire of our time. The idea also finds resonances in the biblical term ochlos, the Greek term that means the crowd or mass of people. In the Gospels and Acts, this term appears numerous times. The crowd followed Jesus from place to place. They gathered around him, listened to his parables and teaching, and witnessed his miracles and healing.

I had the opportunity to share the methodologies and ideas of the book with the students at the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, and the Academy of Religion. The students were particularly interested in the crowdsourcing method we use in the book. In addition to literature review, interviews, participant observation, we have turned to the Internet and social networks to solicit ideas, concepts, and useful Web resources for our book. We heard from international friends, former students, and colleagues from different parts of the world.

At Wooster, the international students asked questions about how the idea of “occupy religion” can be applicable to different religious traditions in cross-cultural contexts. A Myanmar student noted that religion has not always been a source of compassion and justice, but has been a major cause of intolerance and conflicts. These questions prompted me to think more deeply about interreligious dialogue and relations from a global perspective.

I am very grateful to have had the opportunities to speak to college students and hear their concerns. As the Net generation, they are the most globally aware generation in history. For as digital natives, they have not known a world without the Internet, instant messaging, MP3, etc. when they grew up. They can access information and knowledge about the world instantaneously using their mobile devices, which many carry all the time.

They will live in an increasingly multipolar world, in which the U.S. has to negotiate power with other nations and peoples, and will not be able to exert unilateral, hegemonic power as before. The Occupy movement has captured the imagination of young people across the globe. The future belongs to them. They give us hope for they have helped to create a space for the multitude to gather and imagine that another world is possible.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Being a Christian and Linsane


Yao and Lin in Taiwan

Last Thursday I did not know Jeremy Lin. Since then I can’t have enough of him. I watched the Knicks games online, check out Jeremylin.net, searched YouTube for his replays, and read the extensive coverage of this Chinese American phenom in the Chinese newspaper World News and news websites.

Even his grandmother in Taiwan was interviewed for the New York Times. President Barack Obama, an avid basketball fan, talked about Linsanity with his staff. The Big Apple becomes Lin-city—all in just ten day!
 
Why this craziness? The cover of Sports Illustrated says it all. The cover photo is Jeremy Lin guarded by five Lakers players, with Kobe Bryant coming behind him. Lin scored a career-high 38 points and outdueling Bryant. The caption on the cover reads, “Against all odds: The sudden and spectacular ascent of Jeremy Lin.”

Watching Lin is fun. He is like a spinning top. His last-second 3-pointer beating Raptors was mesmerizing. He smiles after his spectacular shots and pumps his fists. We smile with him and enjoy the ride.

Onto his 6’ 3” and 200-pound body, many scripts have been projected, since we can look at his unexpected rise from so many angles at the intersections of race, gender, nation, sports, and faith.

The fact that he is the first American of Taiwanese or Chinese descent to excel at the NBA is no small matter.

China won 51 gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics. The men won shooting, weightlifting, diving, gymnastics, table tennis, badminton, canoeing, and swimming. They excelled in events that the bodies don’t even touch each other’s.

Nation and manhood are often intertwined in popular imagination. Chinese men have been called “the sick men of East Asia” for a long time. China’s national soccer team has become a laughing stock and a disgrace. Can Chinese men compete in physical games in which bodies collide and crush into each other?

Before Lin, we had Yao. But Yao Ming is exceptional. He is 7’ 6”. He was groomed nationally to be a basketball star.

Lin is Linderella. No one gave him a chance, even though he captained his Palo Alto High School team to a state title and led his Harvard team to the best records in the team’s history.

Now, everyone wants to claim a piece of Linsane. Asian Americans and Canadians wore T-shirts with his name to the games and rooted for him instead of for the home teams. Some Asian American women in New York went to sport bars to watch Lincredible even though they seldom watch basketball. His family underscores his Taiwanese background since both his parents came from Taiwan. But China claims him too since his maternal grandmother grew up in Zhejiang.

David Brooks in today’s New York Times looks at competitiveness in sports not through the national narrative, but through the lens of religion. Lin was brought up in a Christian home and became a Christian when he was a freshman in high school. He founded and led a Bible study group when he was at Harvard.

Brooks writes, “The moral ethos of sports is in tension with the moral ethos of faith, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim.” He says that modern sports emphasize assertion, competitiveness, and the display of prowess. Religion teaches humility, self-abnegation, and serving as an instrument for a larger cause.

So Brooks has not heard about a muscular Christianity that has been promoted in some circles. Jesus was depicted as a muscular, tattooed biker and boxer, ready to take on the world. This muscular Christianity has been bolstered by books such as No More Christian Nice Guy and The Church Impotent—Feminization of Christianity. This brand of Christianity is gaining grounds not only in American South but also in England to give Christian men a macho model.

If Brooks has simply googled Bible and sports, he would find that there are many Bible verses that tell us about how to become good athletes, touching on competition, preparation, winning, losing, and sportsmanship. “Do you know that in a race that the runners all compete, but only one receives a prize? Run in such a way that you may win it” (I Cor. 9:24). “Fight the good fight of faith” (I Tim 6:12). “And in the case of an athlete, no one is crowned without competing according to the rules” (II Tim 2:5).

Brooks has also misunderstood sports. Humility, unselfishness, and caring for the team rather than focusing on the self are essential winning qualities for team sports. Shaquille O’Neal had to humbly admit that his free throw shooting was one of his major weaknesses and improved on it over his career. Michael Jordan became great not simply because of his great athleticism and talent. He reached a mythical status when in his mature years, he knew how to be a team leader and made everybody around him play better.

In a 2010 interview in which Lin talked about his faith, he said, “For me to put more of an emphasis on my attitude and the way that I play, rather than my stats or whether we win a championship. I learned more about a godly work ethic and a godly attitude, in terms of being humble, putting others above yourself, being respectful to refs and opponents.” Such an attitude will serve him well and Linsanity will continue to spark and linspire.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Romney Doesn’t Get It

Mitt Romney used to live in my town—Belmont, Massachusetts—but I am not rooting for the hometown boy.

Romney and his wife Ann raised their five sons in a big mansion on Marsh Street on Belmont Hill, which they sold in April 2009 for $3.5 million. The house has 6,434 square feet of luxury living space with 7 bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms, situated on 2.44 acres. I live down the Hill in a middle-class neighborhood and take the bus to go to work.

I have passed by Belmont Hill many times and I always marvel at the huge mansions. Needless to say I have never stepped inside the Belmont Hill Club for the super rich.

Before last Monday, almost all forecast said that Romney was poised to win South Carolina and cruise to nomination.

Yet a few hiccups on the way have upset his game. I am betting the Patriots beating the Ravens in the AFC Championship football game this Sunday. Will the hometown Mitt beat the surging Newt Gingrich? It is too close to tell, according to the many polls I have seen.

So what happens to Romney? You have to understand that for people who live in humongous mansions (his New Hampshire mansion worths $10 million and the one at La Jolla, CA worths $12 million) and frequent exclusive country clubs, $374,000 is a very small sum. That’s why he said, “I get speaker’s fees from time to time, but not very much.”

It is outrageous that Romney’s tax rate was about 15 percent because most of his income came from investments, while I paid tax at a higher rate. Romney’s wealth is estimated at about $250 million. He will be the richest presidential candidate if nominated.

Last night, when Romney was asked in the debate when he would release his tax returns, he was very awkward and seemed annoyed. Did he have something to hide? When his father George Romney ran for president in 1968, he released his past 12 years’ tax returns.

His failure to release his tax returns has spawned many rumors: he has parked his money in tax havens such as Cayman Islands and he has put millions in the IRA retirement account, which he is not supposed to. Much more damaging is that he might have invested in companies that outsource their jobs to other countries.

He said people who criticize him are simply envious of his success. He has earned it through hard work. He might be implying that we are just too lazy if we have not achieved his level of success.

He criticized President Obama for inciting “class warfare” and said it is divisive to speak of the one percent versus the 99 percent. Well, Mitt, we did not start the warfare. For three decades, the super rich has waged a war against the poor and the middle class. Between 1979 and 2007, incomes in the U.S. grew by 275 percent for the wealthiest 1 percent of households, 37 percent for the middle 60 percent of households, and 18 percent for the poorest 20 percent of households. Today the top 1 percent of Americans holds 39 percent of the nation’s wealth and takes in 25 percent of its annual income.

Talking about economic justice is different from creating class warfare. Buying and selling companies for personal profits is not the same as creating jobs. We still have to know more about his business practices at Bain Capital.

But one thing is clear. Romney only cares about those who live up the Hill in Belmont. He speaks for them and to them. He has tin ears to those who live down the Hill. For the first time living in Belmont for the last 16 years, I received a paper bag left on my foyer last November soliciting for donations for the Belmont foodbank. Even in middle-class suburban towns like Belmont some people have to choose between paying mortgage and buying food.

Romney just doesn’t get it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How Blogging Has Changed My Thinking and Writing

I wish I could say I start blogging to change the world. No, I started blogging with a very modest aim.

On January 23, 2011, I posted my first blog on this site. My aim was rather simple. I would ask students in the Spirituality of Contemporary World class to create a blog and post their journals there. Since I did not have the habit of blogging, I wanted to see how this worked. I created this blog and posted regularly in January and February. I posted 26 blogs in February alone. Then the number of blogs tapered off.

Many students in the course did not continue blogging after the class was over. But I carried on and had great fun writing it. In the year 2011, I posted 66 blogs. The number of words amounted almost to that of half a book.

Now with a year of blogging under my belt, I wish to look back to see how blogging has changed my thinking and writing.

First, blogging is thinking on the fly. You don’t have to do all the research in order to write a blog. If you do, it will be more like a research paper and not something instant. In the blogosphere, time is of essence. When Rick Perry drops out from the presidential race today, you can’t wait till tomorrow to write if you are a serious blogger. I sometimes wonder how Andrew Sullivan and other bloggers can comment so fast. This means you have to attend to current news and affairs if you want your blog to be fresh and relevant.

Second, blogging means writing fast. Although I consider myself a fast writer, blogging makes me type and write even faster. Sometimes it takes me less than an hour to write a blog. My colleagues and students are surprised that I have found time to do this, and they do not know that I sometimes blog at the end of day before I go to sleep. Since I don’t have much time, I just write what is in my mind to share with my readers. It may be the book I have just finished reading, the concert I attended, or anything I have read on the Internet. A blog is about 700 words. It's no big deal.

Third, I begin to pay attention to the craft of blogging. This is not a genre I was familiar with, since I write primarily for an academic audience. I look at how other popular bloggers start their first sentence, develop their narrative arc, and end on a high note. I learn to write in simple sentences and use simple words. I imagine my readers are from all over the world and may not know the U.S. context as well as I do. Indeed I was surprised to find that I have readers from Inner Mongolia, Iraq, Egypt, and so forth. I know not a single soul from these countries and am delighted to know that they have found me on the vast Internet.

Fourth, I learn that blogging can reach far more people than my books. For example, my most popular blog to date is “How to Read a Theological Book,” which has 4,179 pageviews, and the second most popular “Architecture of the Mind” has 2,330 pageviews. Many people have sent the links to their friends on Facebook, Twitter, and other networking sites. I encourage other academics to start blogging to popularize their ideas and to reach a much broader international audience.

Fifth, I cannot explain why some blogs are more popular than others. “Architecture of the Mind” is not a “popular” title and I was amazed to find that during one particular week 240 Russian readers read this and my other blog posts. I guessed a Russian professor might have found this interesting and assigned it to his or her students.

Sixth, even though I have written and edited numerous books, I am still intrigued by responses of my readers. Blogging allows me to gauge readers’ responses—number of pageviews and readers’ comments. After I post a blog, I check periodically to see how many people have read it and delight in seeing the number of pageviews grow. Blogging creates a virtual community. I envy bloggers who can post everyday and have many longtime readers who constantly give feedback.

Seventh, blogging changes my way of looking at the world. I become more alert to what is happening around me because I now have a medium that can capture snapshots in my life. It takes years to write a book and perhaps months to write an academic article. Blogging distills the moment.

Seven is good number and perhaps I should end here. How long does it take for me to write this? 34 minutes.