Friday, May 27, 2011

Speech Therapy (Week One)

Before I begin to write about the past week, I need to offer a few disclaimers and apologies. First, I intend to write part two of "Knowledge of God and Holiness" sometime in the next week. I have not had a lot of free time in the past week and any time I might have had left over has been spent sleeping (exhaustion isn't even an appropriate word for my continual state this week!). Second, I apologize to the few people who commented on my blog this week to whom I have yet to reply. I hope to do so this weekend. Finally, this post is part of my assignment for my speech therapy program. It promises to be incredibly honest so I hope you bear with me as I adjust to this new degree of transparency.

Let's start at the beginning. My name is Kait and I stutter. That is what I have been trained to say this week in my speech therapy program. We call this "advertising." See, I started a speech therapy program this week and it has quite dramatically changed my life. When I began this program, I thought I would simply learn the skills to speak more fluently. Little did I know it would transform how I see myself. Even though most people can't even tell that I stutter, my speech plagues me. I have tremendous difficulty reading in front of people. I am usually unable to say names that begin with vowels. This becomes all the more burdensome when I can't even say the name of my best friend on most days without a tremendous amount of "pushing" and anxious-filled struggling. When I walked through the doors of the speech fluency program in Boston on Monday morning, I was confident that I would be the one person for whom the program would not work. I was the only female in the program out of six males. Throughout the day, my speech therapist pointed out my stutters in places I didn't even notice. Let's just say there were a lot. Would the average person notice them? No. I don't usually repeat the beginning of words but rather use short or long pauses. But my speech therapist can hear and see everything. In her presence, I am totally exposed. It was one of the most difficult days of my life. I left speech therapy that afternoon, called my Mom, and just started weeping. Is this what my parents sacrificed thousands of dollars for, so I could be crushed and feel more hopeless than I already did about my speech? My Mom offered her usual words of encouragement. I calmed down, drove home, and did my homework in hopes that perhaps I wouldn't be the total lost cause that I believed myself to be.

I returned the next day. Little did I know that this day would change my life. My speech therapist told us that morning that it is not a question of if a word will come out, but when. She told us that the difference between a "severe" stutterer and a "mild" stutterer is the amount of time it takes to recover from a moment of disfluency. But you see, this was news to me. My greatest obstacles are vowels. I can remember times in the past where I tried to push out vowels for up to twenty seconds with no success. These moments of failure eventually made me believe that every time I spoke, there was always the possibility that I would not physically be able to say a particular word. But my speech therapist told us that we do have the physical ability to say any word; it is all about minimizing the moment of disfluency. To me, this was like gospel. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. nAt this point, I didn't care HOW long it took me to say any particular word; I realized that I had the ability to say any word at all! It was just a matter of getting there. With her one sentence, one of the greatest lies in my head that made me feel hopeless and helpless was overturned. This is why I am here.

But to be honest, that wasn't even enough for me. While this was a huge moment of breakthrough for me, I still had what seemed like endless fears, questions, and insecurities. At times, it took every ounce of self-control to keep from bursting into tears (I never did, thankfully). Following this life-changing Tuesday morning, I walked to the elevator to go to lunch by myself. Waiting for the elevator, my speech therapist walked up to me and said, "do you want to eat lunch with me?" What I wanted to do was cry and tell her that I would buy her caviar if she would agree to talk to me one-on-one at lunch, but thankfully I just offered a short "yes." As we stepped into the elevator she said to me, "I want you to tell me every fear you have, every question you have, and anything else that is on your mind. I can tell you have so much going on inside your head." There are moments in your life that you can feel the tangible grace of the Lord. This moment might have been in my top three. In that hour, my speech therapist felt like my priest. I confessed everything to her. I told her every fear, question, and insecurity I had about my speech. She answered everything. She encouraged me. She was honest with me. And that hour left a mark on me.

The rest of the week included so many details and events that I don't have the time to tell you about. But day by day, these six other students and myself are slowly learning to accept ourselves as stutterers. As much as I want to change myself, I can't. All the speech therapy in the world is not a cure for the fact that I stutter. But this week has taught me that I am not a victim. This does not have to control me. With patience, perseverance, and a tremendous amount of hard work, I can manage my stutter.

I will be in speech therapy for the next two weeks. I hope to write a blog post at the end of each week of therapy. After that, I will undergo two months of at-home follow-up therapy. I can't say that there won't be days where I will feel defeated. Motor training is one of the most difficult things I have ever done. But one thing I do know: it has to come out. And it will. One word at a time.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Knowledge of God and Holiness (Part 1)

A few weeks ago, I was conversing with Jeremy about the relationship between one's personal piety and their ability to engage in the theological task. Since college, I have often wondered about the connection between the words and deeds of the individual and the ability to think properly about any given subject (I blame this on reading Paul Johnson's Intellectuals in college). My intention is not to put forth one giant ad hominem against any particular philosopher or theologian. Rather, I genuinely wonder if anyone, especially myself, can possess the ability to think properly and rightly about an object of inquiry if these same persons are engaged in habitual and intentional immoral behavior. Let's break it down: can you have repeated affairs on your spouse and do theology? What bearing does your affair have upon your cognitive faculties and your ability to understand the object of theology, Jesus Christ?

If there is no connection whatsoever between proper knowledge of God and personal behavior, what keeps the theologian from engaging in any type of corrupt behavior that shares no identity with the message of the Gospel? And if there is a connection between proper knowledge of God and personal behavior, what hope is there for any creature? Romans 3:23 never seems to go away, no matter how much you try to forget it.

Throughout the past few weeks, in between watching more episodes of The Wire than I'd care to admit, I have been reading T.F. Torrance. In an earlier post, I mentioned that I have been reading The Mediation of Christ. The following excerpt verbalized nearly everything that I have wondered and considered concerning the connection between knowledge and behavior for the task of theology (though Torrance notes that some argue for the necessary connection in all disciplines). It is quite powerful:
"All genuine knowledge involves a cognitive union of the mind with its object, and calls for the removal of any estrangement or alienation that may obstruct or distort it. This is a principle that applies to all spheres of knowledge, and not simply to our knowledge of God. I have sometimes argued that a person can be a good scientist or mathematician without being morally upright. All of us, I suppose, are aware of scientists or mathematicians who are not morally good people, and perhaps of some who are quite immoral or depraved. A number of years ago, when I ventured to say to a group of scientists, mathematicians and theologians that while an immoral person could be a good mathematician he could not be a good theologian, an eminent mathematician, Professor Gonseth, objected. He insisted that a good mathematician had to be dedicated to integrity and rigour which could not but affect his whole character. In fact he claimed that mathematics induces what he called 'a sanctity of mind'. That was certainly true in his case, and in the case of many others to whom we might refer, not to speak of outstanding people like Pascal, Clerk Maxwell, or Einstein.

Nevertheless, it is largely true that mathematics, where we are concerned with impersonal or abstract truth, our personal being is relatively unaffected. That is not the case in our relations with other persons which are mutually modifying. In fact we are not really able to know other people except in so far as we enter into reciprocal relations with them through which we ourselves are affected, that is, in friendship. If it is a fundamental principle that we may know something only in accordance with its nature, then we may know it only as we allow its nature to prescribe to us the mode of knowing appropriate to it and to determine or us the way in which we must consciously behave toward it. Personal beings require from us, therefore, personal modes of knowledge and behaviour, that is, the kind of knowledge that comes through a rapproachement or communication of minds characterised by mutual respect, trust and love. It cannot be otherwise with our knowledge of God. If we are really to know God in accordance with his nature as he discloses himself to us, we require to be adapted in our knowing and personal relations toward him - that is why we cannot know God without love, and if we are estranged without being reconciled to him. Knowing God requires cognitive union with him in which our whole being is affected by his love and holiness. It is the pure in heart who see God.

That God may be known only in a godly way, in accordance with his nature as God, is an emphasis that one finds in whole areas of Christian theology, especially in ancient times. I have in mind what is sometimes called the tradition of ascetic theology in the patristic period, where stress was laid upon the need for askesis or spiritual discipline in mind and life promoting a way of understanding of God that is worthy of him. To know God and be holy, to know God and worship, to know God and be cleansed in mind and soul from anything that may come between people and God, to know God and be committed to him in consecration, love and obedience, go inseparably together. That is to say, ascetic theology sought to put into serious effect the fact that the knowledge and vision of God involve cognitive union with him in accordance with his nature as holy love, in which reconciliation and communion with God through Christ and under the purifying impact of the Holy Spirit are progressively actualised in the renewal and transformation of human patterns of life and thought. The closer people draw near to God, the more integrated their spiritual and physical existence becomes, and the more integrated their spiritual and physical existence becomes, the closer they may draw near to God in mind and being in ways that are worthy of him."

- T.F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 34-36.

This leaves me with a few thoughts:

1. If Barth is correct and revelation is the reconciling event of the personal encounter with the Triune God, what necessary consequences should the Church expect in terms of one's behavior and morality? To be clear, I am not arguing that the subjective aspects of one's response to the Gospel or any other subjective element within the person should determine the objective reality of their election in Christ. I don't think I have to explain how dangerous it can be to allow this to happen and to let the noetic factors determine the ontic reality of election in Jesus Christ.

2. What hope is there for anyone, especially myself, if there is such a necessary connection between knowledge of God and morality (i.e. sanctification)? There is no degree of false humility when I confess that sometimes I feel like the chief of sinners. How can anyone faithfully witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ unless they truly know and encounter the object of faith in Jesus Christ? And how can anyone confess that they have truly known and encountered Jesus Christ if their lives are marked by any degree of sin, rebellion, corruption, and intentional depravity?

Stay tuned . . .

Of Gods and Men*

If ever I doubted the power of film, I was proven terribly wrong on Tuesday evening. Of Gods and Men left so many impressions and the deep theological issues addressed seemed overwhelming at times. But oddly enough, the one thing that I took away from this film more than any other is the profound urgency and necessity for intentional Christian communities.

*My apologies for the false posting a few days ago. I realized too late that it is nearly impossible to blog from an iPad and my computer was in the shop. The iPad was returned.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Page One Documentary

If you adore the New York Times as much as I do (and that is a lot), you must go see this new documentary which hits theaters on June 24th. I am one of those diehards who believes that thriving journalism (as well as photojournalism) is essential to a free and healthy society. But even more than that, I continually worry about the negative impact of digital media upon our lives (so she says on her blog). More and more, everything seems to be disappearing from the physical to the digital (books, invitations, education, interviews, church services, newspapers, cards, romantic relationships, etc.). What does this mean for our sense of presence and genuine relationships? Can we truly know someone or learn something if we, they, or it are not physically present, but rather mediated through a machine?

In my quiet and tiny rebellion against this gnostic trend, I subscribe to the New York Times home delivery. But every time I pick up my newspaper in front of my house, I wonder if I will be doing so in ten years. For me, this documentary offers a chance to ask questions that not only influence the greatest news agency in the entire country, but also the future of our entire society. Go see it!

[P.S. A two-part theology post is coming soon enough.]

Friday, May 6, 2011

Helplessness Blues

I interrupt your regularly scheduled reading to announce my long-anticipated purchase today: the Fleet Foxes new album, Helplessness Blues. To be honest, I wouldn't consider myself as someone who keeps up with the new music scene. Sadly, my music collection has taken a back seat since beginning graduate school. These days, I keep playing Radiohead, The Allman Brothers, and The Beatles on repeat. But every now and then, you hear some dear friends continuously raving about a certain band. It isn't the fleeting type of rave (not pun intended), but the one that keeps coming up again and again by anyone you know with great taste in music. This is what happened with the Fleet Foxes. The first song I heard from the new album was "Grown Ocean." It is one of those songs which reinforces the romantic in you and reminds you that hope and redemption really do exist, at least in song.

Since I intentionally tried to do nothing but take time off this week after wrapping up graduate school on Friday, I completely missed the release of their new album on Tuesday. But I finally bought it this afternoon. After marveling at the intricate and fantastic album artwork and design, I popped the new CD into my car stereo system to listen to pure gold. The vocals are stunningly similar to Crosby, Stills, and Nash, which couldn't be a better precedent to set. In short, you should go out and buy it. No, like immediately. And just skip to track two, entitled "Bedouin Dress."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Torrance and Theosis

"Since in Jesus Christ there became incarnate the very Son of God whose life and being are eternally grounded in the mutual relation between the Father and the Son, in the communion of love which God himself is in his Being as God, then the mediation of divine reconciliation to mankind in and through Christ means much more than the reconstituting of holy relations between man and God, though it certainly means that. Mediation of reconciliation which takes place within the Person of the Mediator himself means that men and women are savingly reconciled to God by being taken up in and through Christ to share in the inner relations of God's own life and love. It means that the eternal communion of love in God overflows through Jesus Christ into our union with Christ and gathers us up to dwell with God and in God. This is another way of saying that the Incarnation, and the reconciliation that took place within it, fall within the life of God. That is what is implied in the Pauline teaching that Christ, in whom the complete Being of God dwells, dwells in us, so that through a relation of mutual indwelling between Christ and us, we are enfolded within the infinite dimensions of the love of God. The Greek Fathers used to speak of that experience as 'theopoiesis' or 'theosis' which does not mean 'divinisation'. as it is so often supposed, but refers to the utterly staggering act of God in which he gives himself to us and adopts us into the communion of his divine life and love through Jesus Christ and in his one Spirit, yet in such a way that we are not made divine but are preserved in our humanity. That is what constitutes the sustaining inner cohesion of our cognitive union with Christ through faith and the very substance of our personal and corporate union with Christ through the Word and Sacraments, for in Christ our human relations with God, far from being allowed to remain on a merely external basis, are embraced within the Trinitarian relations of God's own Being as Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

- T.F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 74-75, emphasis added.

My issues with this small excerpt are so numerous that I don't quite know where to begin. Therefore, I will outline them:

1. Setting aside Torrance's controversial reading of the Fathers and his reinterpretation of the word theosis, I am unconvinced that the adoption of which Torrance speaks preserves our humanity when this process includes "being taken up in and through Christ to share in the inner relations of God's own life and love. It means that the eternal communion of love in God overflows through Jesus Christ into our union with Christ and gathers us up to dwell with God and in God." How can the human creature share in the inner life of God Himself without becoming divine? How does this not collapse the very Creator/creature distinction which Torrance seems committed to maintain?

2. When the human creature is "being taken up in and through Christ", are we talking about Christ's humanity or divinity? Does it not make a difference?

3. I am often hesitant to read or speak about the subjective reality of revelation that occurs within the individual and made possible through the work of the Holy Spirit. This is mostly due to the fact that I have no idea what individuals mean, Torrance included, when they make statements such as the individual undergoes a "relation of mutual indwelling between Christ and us, we are enfolded within the infinite dimensions of the love of God." What necessary consequences flow from this objective and subjective reality made possible within the individual through salvation? Do I simply cognitively assent that this is truth, do I have an experience that this has actually occurred (such as Christoph Blumhardt's charismatic experiences that radically influenced Barth - the breaking in of the Kingdom of God here and now), or does it simply mean that I slowly and continually seek first the Kingdom of God through self-sacrifice? I continually wonder how the reality of these statements concerning the doctrine of adoption fleshes itself out within the life of the individual.

That seems like enough for now!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Vulnerability and Glory

In the midst of all the noise that came through every media outlet since late last night, I found this excerpt as a welcomed respite:
"The purpose of life before God is not to surpass vulnerability, but, in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, to glorify and enjoy God.* That, in turn, requires receiving and sharing life as a vulnerable yet glorious gift of God and bearing it toward the full glory of God. Life before God is a field of multiple transformations, a moving space of tensions and conversions, that involves both ongoing resistance and ongoing affirmation. Testimonies to and collective participation in the grace and glory of God are received, shaped, and shared as vulnerable creatures live with and for others and before God. This account of vulnerability and glory contrasts with both sectarian and triumphalist options: the call and testimony of resistance and the itinerary of delight and gratitude are not lived solely within Christian communities and traditions - although they ought to be shaped and exemplified there - but also in everyday ways and in the whole of life.

Vulnerability is part of being creatures who are interdependent with other persons, living creatures, and the cosmos. The complexity of vulnerability is indicated in the story of Jacob at the ford of the river Jabbock, wrestling through the night with a mysterious stranger, who leaves Jacob both limping and transformed. It is found at the very heart of the Christian gospel in the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Persons and communities remain susceptible to harm and therefore are almost inevitably marked by suffering and wrong, sometimes by unfathomable tragedy or brutality. And yet, even at the depths of suffering and devastation, human creatures and communities are always also vulnerable to transformation. Vulnerability is the situation in which earthly existence may be harmed and degraded; it is also the situation in which persons and communities may receive and bear the glory of God."

- Kristine Culp, Vulnerability and Glory, 181.

*I believe that this first line of the Westminster Catechism is problematic for a variety of reasons. The theistic language offers no witness to the particularity of God's self-revelation as Triune. Moreover, I find various aspects of reformed speech in relation to the doctrine of God to be incredibly patriarchal in terms of elevating the glory of God at the expense of speech about His love. But nonetheless, this excerpt was beautiful.