Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical (hermionesviolin) wrote,
Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical
hermionesviolin

Lenten study counts as homework

I knew the value of anger from my activist work, but Loomer was the first professor who had responded supportively to my anger, who believed it carried an emotional passion that led to good intellectual work.

None of the readings in Loomer's seminar addressed my questions about power, violence, and abuse, and none of them explained the life and death of Jesus in a way that made sense to me. The liberal theologians rejected the substitutionary atonement because it depicted God as less moral than human beings at our best. Their concern was with the picture of God that the atonement presented. Mine was with the victims of misused power, a perspective absent in liberal work. My intuitions about the problems with doctrines of Jesus weren't clear enough to venture for scrutinty, so I couldn'tsay what was wrong with what I read. Loomer aggravated my frustration by treating my feminist questions as if they were mildly irrelevant---all our readings were by white men. I struggled to stay engaged because I liked Loomer's teaching style, but I fumed inside about the lack of feminist ideas in our class discussion.

When the semester was over, I asked Loomer for an extension to write my paper. I was too angry and frustrated to write, though that was not the reason I gave him. I said I needed time to digest the material and reflect on it. Loomer said papers from incompletes were rarely any good because the material went cold. I explained that if he wanted a paper at all, it would have to be in a couple of months. He agreed.

I worried about what to write. Finally, I gave in to my anger about the semester and wrote a feminist critique of most of the material in the class. My thirty pages of criticism concluded with feminist reflections about christology, power, and love. By the time I submitted the paper, I was taking another course from Loomer, an advanced seminar in process theology. I wondered what impact my paper would have on my grade in this second class, since I was sure I had failed the assignment. I had been too angry to care, but I was worried about my academic future if I did badly in another course with him.

Two weeks after I submitted the paper, Loomer made a two-hour appointment to talk to me about it. I braced myself for the worst. He had the paper on the table in front of him. I could see the first page had comments in the margins---a lot of them. He went through the paper, which he'd marked page by page. He told me where I had mentioned a good point and noted the places I had contradicted myself. It was the most thorough critique of my work I had ever received. I felt humiliated that I'd been so inconsistent and incoherent.

Toward the end, where I had put my own conclusions, he engaed me in a discussion of how I was using the concept of power and encouraged me to give more nuance to my analysis. Ninety minutes later, we reached the last page and on it was written an "A." I was astonished.

Loomer took his pipe out of his pocket, lit it, and said it was an excellent, provocative paper. Then he pushed it aside, looked directly at me and said, "What are you writing your dissertation on?"

"Interfaith dialogie, Chrisian-Buddhist," I answered.

"Why?" was his response.

"Because, my Japanese family is Buddhist, my American family is Christian, and I am interested in how the two might interact. It seems a more respectful approach to world religions than Christian missions, and John Cobb here at Claremont pioneered the dialogue approach. I am working with Cobb.

Loomer pointed to my paper with the stem of his pipe, tapping it as he spoke. "You need to do your dissertation on this topic."

"Why?" was my surprised reply.

"Because what you have to say is important. It has never been said before, and it is important you say it."

"But if I do a feminist dissertation, I won't be able to get a job. Hardly any of the professors take my feminist work seriously. I get graded down if I put anything feminist in my papers. I get told I can't think clearly because I am too angry or too polemical. All the advice I've gotten is to do the feminist work later, after my degree. Besides there aren't any experts on the faculty in feminist theology. It would be hard to put together a committee sympathetic to my work.

"It doesn't matter," Loomer looked directly at me, his blue eyes flashing. "What you have to say is important. It must be said. If you stay with that other topic, you'll get bored and not finish your degree." He tapped the paper with his pipe stem again. "You have enough emotional investment in this topic to carry you through the difficult writing process. You will finish, and it will be important work you do. This is the topic you must write on. Forget all that bad advice. Figure out how to do it. You need to do it."

I knew the value of anger from my activist work, but Loomer was the first professor who had responded supportively to my anger, who believed it carried an emotional passion that led to good intellectual work.

from Chapter 4 of Proverbs of Ashes
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