Thuribles, Faculty Meetings, and Classes…OH MY!

My lack of posts recently has everything to do with the season of life in which I’ve found myself over the last 3 months.  As many of my readers already know, this year, I’m externing as a visiting lecturer at the School of Theology at Sewanee: The University of the South, while I finish my PhD at Vanderbilt.  In other words, I’m living on top of a beautiful and remote mountain, serving as a faculty member for seminarians who, by and large, are preparing for priesthood in the Episcopal Church.

Gabby happy scream
Gabby has really grown up during our time in Sewanee!  Photo by Erin Cassell Photography.

This shift from grad school living in Nashville (easy by comparison) has brought big changes. I’m essentially teaching a full load of classes. Debbie and Gabby are going to preschool/daycare three days a week, which has been wonderful for both of them.  After pickup time, though, I’m invested in letting them know that Mommy is still Mommy, even when I wear nice clothes that they aren’t supposed to smear applesauce on.  In addition to teaching, I’m deep into dissertation revision and plan to submit the darn thing (ahem, my magnum opus…) by Christmas.  At the same time, I’m applying for faculty positions for after May, when I will graduate from Vanderbilt with my PhD (bye-bye, stipend) and my time in Sewanee end.  I’ve been doing a lot of teaching and preaching at regional churches, which never fails to inspire my academic work. Add in publishing some projects, and, well…Blogging hasn’t happened.

Gabby and me.jpg
In search of the ever-elusive “work/life balance”…  Photo by Erin Cassell Photography

Excuses aside, I’ve loved many aspects of my experience at the School of Theology.  Among these:

  • Faculty meetings and committee work:  I think I may be the only academic I know who loves going to faculty meetings and serving on an academic committee.  I am fascinated to learn about the inner workings of the School of Theology. Hearing discussions about the future building plans for the seminary, the admissions strategies of the university as a whole, and curriculum revisions for the seminary really gets me excited.  Strangely enough, it has been this aspect of my experience that has confirmed for me that I was born to do this.  I have no idea whether I’ll end up teaching in a seminary or a liberal arts college, but regardless, I love this work.
  • Patterns of community worship and preaching: This aspect of my experience at Sewanee was initially a source of much confusion and anxiety for me.  My early days attending chapel at Sewanee were filled with seminarians frantically whispering advice in my ear about how I was doing everything wrong, from their learned liturgical perspectives. In fact, one well-meaning male seminarian let me know that the way I was sitting when preaching in chapel (cross-legged), would be considered “immodest.”  Before coming to Sewanee, I’d never received communion from a shared chalice, and, despite the health advisory information helpfully printed in the worship bulletin, was a little horrified by the prospect.  However, I’ve come to love the shared worship, and I treasure the chance to help facilitate the experience for the students, faculty, and staff in attendance through preaching.
  • Teaching: My favorite teaching experience this year has been a directed study on Feminist Theology and Biblical Interpretation.  We are an odd bunch in this class–a man in his 40s, a woman in her 60s, and myself (very fleetingly still in my 20s).  The gentleman in the class initiated the study because he “wanted to know and understand more” about feminist thought, as he realized that he, like each of us, was running into the blind spots of his own social location.  Each class session, the students greet me with challenging questions about the reading, having carefully digested the material, and then we disagree and share to our hearts’ content.  It’s been one of those magical teaching experiences I know I’ll always remember. Joshua, if you’re reading this…I still think you’re selling Phyllis Trible short. 😉
  • Impact on the girls: Debbie, my 2-year-old, proudly proclaims that she is a “professor at the School of Theology” and that she has to go to work “to teach [her] students about God.”  Even little Gabby (14 months) has started grabbing my work bag and announcing, “Bye-bye! Go, go, go!” I have struggled mightily over the tension between my professional calling and my maternal one, feeling, at times, that I am letting my girls down by having them in child care instead of staying at home with them full-time, as my mom did with my siblings and me. However, I believe that seeing me in this role also offers unique empowerment to my daughters.  They know that they can go and be anything…even a professor at the School of Theology.
Girls and mommy
Women belong in the academy. Photo by Erin Cassell Photography.

There’s a lot more that I could say about our time on the mountain. In particular, being an interracial family here has been difficult and painful at times.  (Let me tell you about Debbie’s response to the woman who called her “cinnamon colored,” or the hospital administrator who asked, knowing that the girls are biracial, if she could write down Gabby’s race as “oriental”…the list goes on.). But even these difficulties haven’t taken away what’s been great about our time here.  

Surprised Debbie
Debbie’s “astonished” face. She uses it often in response to silly questions about race. Photo by Erin Cassell Photography.