A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Propositions of the Proverbialist Manifesto I

Though my previous post on the Proverbs 31 woman didn't actually list the sorts of statements a "Proverbialist" woman might make about gender, family, and work, I want to do a little of this here. I suspect this will be an ongoing project, as I'm certainly not going to think of everything right now, and my wording is highly unlikely to be right the first time. Feel free to add your own propositions in the combox. Maybe someday I'll put it all together into an actual "manifesto." Then we shall take over the world. Yeah, baby!

1. Proverbialist women are committed, first and foremost, to be being molded into the image of Christ. This means that their relationship to God, in Christ, as members of His body the Church, is to be their first priority.

2. Proverbialist women are committed to the spiritual, emotional, physical,
[fill in the blank with adjectives I'm missing] and economic well-being of their household. This means that in general, the good of the household holds priority over individual goals, except when those individual goals are necessary for fulfilling Proposition #1.

3. Proverbialist women and the men who love them
(ah, I love that I get to use that phrase) believe that the good of the household is one which rightly belongs to both spouses, though that responsibility may be exercised in different ways, due to the Scriptural ordering of families (Ephesians 5), divine gifting of individual talents and abilities, and specific personal or cultural circumstances.

Thus, questions such as "How do I balance work and home life?" must be asked of husbands and fathers as well as wives and mothers. Husbands may be equally guilty of failure to prioritize the good of the houshold.

4. Proverbialist women believe that the Biblical call for women to work for the good of the household, as demonstrated in Proverbs 31, includes economically productive labor (making cloth), business transactions (buying or selling land), and the work of managing and maintaining the household. All of these types of work are thus appropriate and may be fitting for a married woman. Neither wives nor husbands have a monopoly over any of these types of work.

5. Proverbialist women and their counterpart husbands recognize that the division of labor has shifted over the last few centuries. In the past, men and women might both be able to work from the home, and children were incorporated into the household workforce, rather than undergoing educatation outside the work force until (or after) adulthood. Today's situation, in which work and education generally are separated from each other and both take place "outside of the home," presents new complications. Divisions of labor which worked in the past may require revision. This change influences' mens' labor as much as it does women: it is no more natural or desirable for men to be gone from the home 40-60 hours a week than it is for women to do so.

6. Keeping in mind both Proposition 4 and 5, Proverbialist women would argue that it does not follow that a married, Christian women must necessarily dedicate her life primarily to the maintenance of the home or the education of her children. The assignment of these duties as the sole or primary work of married women is a historical construct, not a divine mandate. At the same time, Proverbialist women agree that any economically productive labor must be undertaken for the good of the household. Pursuit of work in a way which causes serious injury to children, spouses, or the Proverbialist woman herself is to be avoided.

Thus, although historical and Biblical examples suggest that it is normative for married women to care for their households through economically productive labor (producing goods or services which might be either used by the household or exchanged for wages), Proverbialist women understand that this is not always possible or ideal in individual cases today.

At the same time, though it may be preferable for both men and women to work with the household, rather than away from it, it is understood that this is often not possible.

7. Male and female equality in terms of responsibility and rights is not understood by the Proverbialist woman to indicate sameness or likeness in all aspects of behavior. A woman's unique role in pregnancy, breastfeeding, for example, may require special consideration, as may the strong emotional need for provision of their families which many men experience. At the same time, care must be taken to distinguish between culturally-constructed stereotypes and an individual's own preferences and abilities. Not all women are gifted with the desire to care for their homes; not all men are gifted with a greater capacity to provide for their families.

8. Taking all of that into account, Proverbialist women do not condemn women's involvement in such possible lifestyles as these: "staying at home" to care for children and maintain the household, working for financial gain from the home, involvement in a family business, or work "outside the home" for wages. They do, however, condemn any view which limits women's roles in an unbiblical and historically misinformed way.

A Proverbialist Manifesto

Joe Carter has drawn some flak in his combox for a post called "Don't Marry a Proverbs 31 Woman," in which he points out that what modern conservative Christians hold up as ideal in a wife is not actually what Proverbs 31 holds up as the wifely ideal. So before I launch off on my own rantings, let me say: Joe Carter, I salute you! Thanks for pointing out the inconsistancy between the Proverbs 31 woman and the model of femininity found in certain conservative Christian circles.

This is an issue that concerns me deeply, as a woman, a wife, a potential mother, and a wannabe scholar. Though the jumper-wearing homeschooling SuperMother may be a stereotype common among evangelical Christians, she can also be found in conservative Catholic communities. The "Piously Papist" model of the SuperMom can be identified by the scapular or Miraculous Medal around her neck and the lives of the saints books on her bookshelf, but she often shares with her Protestant sister the idea that women are ideally intended to stay at home and take care of their children. She may even believe that even childless women fulfill their feminine role best by staying home and maintaining the household.

Sometimes SuperMom's actions are motivated by necessity, current family situations, a strong vocational call to homemaking, or by a well-considered, prayerfully- made decision that this is what's best for her family, right now. In that case, I have no quarrel with her, though I might wish she'd come over and make brownies for me. However, sometimes I get the sense that certain SuperMoms are motivated primarily by the belief that this is what God wants women to do: that women are inherently supposed to stay home and care for the household, because, darn it, that's what the Bible says, and that's what Christian women have always been called to do. In other words, their view of the good wife stems from a theology based more on "50’s-era faux nostalgia" than on a Biblically or historically informed view of women's work.

The truth is that in the past, women did often stay at home- but they did not spend all of their time teaching their children, playing with their children, or monitoring their children. Nor was all of their effort devoted to the task of cleaning and shopping. Instead, they raised livestock, grew vegetables, made butter, spun and wove cloth, and produced handcrafts. If they lived in the city, they may have worked behind the counter of their husband's shop, handled simpler tasks of his trade, helped managed his workers if he employed them, or even worked beside him, along with the rest of the family. SuperMom of the past was, in other words, a vital part of the family business, and if her husband died, she might very well take over his job for him and keep running the family workshop or store.

In other words, SuperMoms of the past were economically productive. They produced goods or services which were often bartered for other necessities or exchanged for money. Yes, they did shop and cook and bake, care for and teach their children, but that was only part of their working lives. After the industrial revolution, however, a strange shift began to occur. Suddenly, the ideal SuperMom became a woman who was primarily an economic consumer. She bought groceries and home furnishings. She made sure meals were prepared well, and she maintained the attractiveness of her home. Often she managed her husband's money, and helped maintain the family budget. But unlike the SuperMom of the past, she did not contribute to the budget by earning money or producing raw goods.

Initially, Consumer SuperMom was a class-based ideal. Only upper- or middle-class women could aspire to be economically unproductive. Lower-class women still worked for wages, as they always had, and they often worked outside the home. By the nineteenth century, however, this view of the ideal woman as a maintainer of the home rather than a producer of goods and services was being touted as the ideal for all classes. In the 20th centuy, she was given a face on '50s television: she was June Clever or Donna Reed, the pearl-clad mother who makes the house run well. In the 1960s, her image exploded. Many women abandoned the '50s model of Ideal Woman as a consumer-maintainer rather than a producer. As Joe Carter points out, sadly, these women also abandoned character traits such as chastity, trustyworthiness, etc. Endorsing feminism often meant endorsing sexual immorality.

Perhaps more tragic yet, some conservative Christians decided that traditional Christian morality was somehow bound up in the image of the Mother as Homemaintainer and Childrearer. If "feminism" meant immorality, then anything opposed to the traditional values must be dangerous, maybe even unChristian. And because cultural memory is short, people looking for "traditional values" looked back over their shoulder only as far as the nineteenth century (more often, only as far as the first half of the 20th century), ignoring the work that women had done for centuries as craftspersons, gardeners, weavers, tailers, shopkeepers. (Those models are still there in Dickens, by the way: but they are lurking in the lower classes. Haven't you noticed how often the good publican in the novel has a jolly wife in the kitchen who helps him run his business?)

I do not believe that the '50s model of woman as Consumer-Maintainer is at all supported by the Bible. Certainly, the Proverbs 31 woman was economically productive. I think that she -not '50s SuperMom, or her Conservative Christian disciple- is the ideal, what God desires for women in general: for them to support their household economies with their skill and their labour, as they always have. In some cases, or at some stages of family life, that may not be possible. Still, I believe that the economically-productive wife is the true historical and Biblical norm. And that's why I sometimes dare to call myself a Catholic feminist, though I do so with fear and trembling, knowing that my co-religionists will think this means I support women's ordination, "abortion rights," pre-marital sex, or homosexual marriage. I don't support any of those things- as my readers know, I don't even support the use of contraception. But I also don't support those aspects of "traditional gender roles" which were invented after the Industrial Revolution. In the eyes of the conservative Christian world, that makes me something of a feminist.

Perhaps a name change is in order. If the Proverbs 31 woman is, as I believe she is, the Biblical spokeswoman for a model of womanhood as economically productive, maybe from now on I should simply call myself a Proverbialist. It's much less threatening a word than "feminist," and it's more specfic than the phrase "Christian feminist," which is often used to describe any number of heresies about sexual ethics. Plus, calling myself a Proverbialist allows me to use a very catchy title for today's blog. What do you think?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Curse Ye, Zwingli?

I don't normally go out of my way to pick on foundational theologians from other people's traditions, but in this case, someone from the Reformed community has done it for me. Peter Leithart has written a very intriguing article on why there is no great evangelical literature. The answer: because modern-day evangelicals see symbols as separate from reality. Whereas a sacramental imagination sees symbols as things which act on the world -sacraments being ways grace acts in our lives- a Reformed perspective sees symbols as something which only point to or gesture towards something else which acts. The result is that characters and plot elements in Protestant fiction merely stand in for something: they aren't things which act in and of themselves, as they are in the works of Flannery O'Connor, who serves as Leithart's example of a great Catholic author.

Of course, there's a catch. I'd love to claim that O'Connor is a fair representative of Catholic literature, but that's just not so. To compare O'Connor to someone like Frank Peretti or Janet Oke would be vastly unfair. It would be like comparing Gerard Manley Hopkins to . . . well, pretty much anyone. Felicia Hemans, maybe? But even that comparison would not be allowable, because Hemans (to the best of my recollection) was a Church of England author, and in Leithart's view, Church of England writers don't count as evangelical, because they are influenced by the very sacramental Book of Common Prayer. But wait! Hemans wrote before the Tractarian Movement forever changed the landscape of the Anglican Communion. . . so perhaps she does count as evangelical? Are you confused yet? So am I!
Suffice to say that Leithart may be forgetting that the Church of England was not always as Catholic-lite as it is today. It may not be fair to assume that whatever good has come from writers raised in the Church of England came from their sacramental sensibilities, given that those sacramental sensibilities didn't really crystalize on a wide scale until the second half of the nineteenth-century.

Still, even with that caveat, it seems that many of the best (or most prominent) religious writers from the Church of England have leaned in the High Church direction- Christina Rossetti and T.S. Eliot both come to mind. As a proud proponant of the sacramental worldview myself, I can't deny that I think that there is a connection between artistry and sacramentality. I do think, therefore, that Leithart is on to something. But is it the case that a strong view of the sacraments must precede good religious writing? Or is it, rather, that a good writer will naturally gravitate towards a more sacramental theology, simply because he/she comes to understand better the role of symbols? Hopkins and Eliot were, after all, both converts to High Churchism. Did they write well because they had embraced a sacramental view, or did they embrace a sacramental theology because, as good writers, they already saw the world a sacramental way?

If I had an answer to such questions, I might have a topic for the hypothetical book I'll write after my dissertation is hypothetically finished. But alas, I do not. Perhaps we'll find out in Heaven. . . unless it turns out that Janet Oke was the greatest Christian author to walk the planet.

Thanks to People of the Book for the link to this article. And thanks to Dorian Speed for linking to People of The Book. And thanks to all the kittens of the world for being so cute. This one's for the kittens! View them here.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

On the Veneration of Chocolate

Those who've taken the time to read the description of this blog may have noticed that although I claim that "literature cum chocolate is the order of the day here at the The Crockery," I seldom do talk about chocolate. (What you may not realize is that that blurb actually means simply that I will be consuming chocolate whilst I consume literature. You should try it, too.)

Chocolate is indeed a most important substance, but I've not had the chance to talk about it, until now. Gaze on the object to the right. What does it resemble to you? I'll go first: to me, it resembles a statue of a bald eagle, with its head turned over its shoulder to look back. Or it looks a bit like one of the Maltese Falcon statuettes, but without the beak. The curve on the left resembles a wing to me, and the general shape of the object resembles the outline ascribed in popular artwork to birds of prey.

Other people think this delectable morsel resembles the Blessed Virgin Mary. According to an Associated Press writer, "Since the discovery Monday. . . employees [at the chocolatier's] have spent much of their time hovering over the tiny figure, praying and placing rose petals and candles around it."

Now, I'm all in favor of giving honor where honor is due, and I think honor is indeed due to chocolate, as a tasty food substance with unexpected health benefits. And I am definitely in favor of giving honor to the Mother of our Lord, whom all generations will call blessed. I'm not convinced, however, that honoring the piece of chocolate pictured above is really the most reasonable way of honoring Our Lady. Oh, I think she understands what her venerators are trying to do, and I think she appreciates their gestures. I don't believe that those rose petals and candles are wasted: I think that they are ultimately offered for the glory of God, through Our Lady's intercesion. No theological problem there for me.

It's just that I also think that at some point, Mary must be shaking her head and smiling wryly and saying "but that's not a miracle, and it's not an apparition of me! It's just a piece of chocolate twisted in an unusual way!" I don't believe that every burn in a piece of toast or every stain in a window which someone imagines resembles Mary really is a divine gift, unless it be the gift of an active imagination. And this image in particular is a good example: it doesn't actually resemble Mary. It has no face, no details, none of the symbols associated with Marian images. It resembles, rather, the general shape of a particular genre of religious statuary. I think if Our Lady were really going to appear in chococlate (and how more feminine can you get than that?), she'd do better than that.

Does it hurt people to see the image of Mary in chocolate, and offer respect? In most cases, no, probably not. Anything that points people back to the divine (and Mary always points us back to her son) is good for them. I, however, wince at the reports of these apparations, thinking, "Oh, yeah, that'll help the Catholic Church's image!" But perhaps that's just my pride. . . we are, after all, called to be fools for Christ.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Presenting the Newest Member of The Crockery

As some of you may recall, a tragic accident in recent weeks lost us the culinary company of our dear friend "Chippy" and his wife, otherwise known as my medium-sized slow cooker and lid. Today I'd like to introduce the newest member of The Crockery team, a 3-quart Hamilton Beach slow cooker, which I like to call "Hammy." (Pay no attention to the Proctor Silex label on the model in this picture: the two companies are in cahoots somehow, and I'm pretty sure that this is the same as the model I have, except for the label.) The new cooker comes with a removeable liner, a lid handle which is cool to the touch, and four settings: Off, Keep Warm, Low, and High. The Keep Warm setting is a particular blessing, as it means that one can maintain food temperature without overcooking the meal. At least, I hope that's what it means.

I've already tried out the new pot, and am happy to report that it passes muster. True, the liner is still too big to comfortably fit in the dishwasher without blocking the spray, but that's our dishwasher's fault, and we'll not be holding it against our friend Hammy. Come on, everybody, give a warm welcome to the newest member of the team!

Blackeyed Chicken: More Experiments in Chili

Perhaps some of you are wondering: where has Teresa been this summer? The answer is that I've been travelling to visit relatives, go to retreats, etc. In a couple of weeks I'll be travelling to my first conference of the year. What larks! Guess I'll have to write that conference paper, eh? All of this travelling isn't bad (though it has made us sick a couple of times), but it has kept me from blogging much.

Now I'm back, with another "what's in the pot today?" post. What that means is that I'm going to tell you about the recipe before it's even done cooking; before, in fact, I know whether it's any good. A bold move? A stupid move? Perhaps, perhaps. The reason I do this is that I have more time for things like blogging in the mornings or around lunchtime. In the afternoons, I have to do "real work." In the evenings, by which time I will have actually sampled today's recipe, I am often either doing more work (as befits a night owl) or spending time with my husband (as befits a married woman). Since the mornings are my official goof-off time, that's what you'all get.

So, all that aside, what's in the pot today? Answer: My very first pot of white chili! This is indeed an historic day. I have made basic red chili -complete with tomatos and lots of chili powder- in the past, but I've never tried white chili. Here's how it all went down:

I've been longing to try white chili for some time. . . ever since the fatal day when I noticed the recipe on the back of a can of Great Northern Beans. Those beans have been sitting in our pantry for weeks, months even. We don't really use them for anything. We tried using them as a substitute for white kidney beans in our beloved kielbasa and beans dish, but it didn't work. They just don't have the right texture or taste. But they'd be perfect for white chili. . . or so I hope. Today's experiment will either fulfill all my hopes, or crush them, like so many invading ants in the catfood.

With white chili on my mind during my last grocery story run, I bought the second, and perhaps most vital bean: blackeyed peas. Now, people don't often put these in chili, but I think they should. Black eyed peas, with their contrasting markings, look good in chili, and they taste good, too. Or so I think. They make a good color contrast in "red" chilis or black bean chilis, but they also look good paired with plain white beans, such as Great Northern Beans or White Kidney beans. With black-eyed peas in hand, my plan was ready: we already had all of the other ingredients necessary. Here's the line-up:

Ingredient Line-up
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thawed
1 can of Great Northern Beans (or substitute white kidney beans)
1 can of unseasoned black-eyed peas (Remember, they're good luck, in some American subcultures. Or is that only on New Years' Eve?)
1 can of chicken broth
1 (4 oz.) can of diced green chilis
1 can of corn (optional; may also use 1 cup frozen corn)
1 small zucchini, diced (optional: I am probably not going to add this today, since I don't keep zucchini on hand, but I wanted you to consider all the vegetable possibilities)
about 1/2 cup diced onion
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
salt to taste

Your Secret Instructions
1. Spray the liner of your medium-sized slow cooker with Pam or other cooking spray. Please, you'll be glad if you do!

2. Chop the chicken breast into roughly bite-sized pieces. Panfry in a tablespoon of olive oil until white on all sides. You may fry some of the onion with the chicken at this point.

3. Drain and rinse both cans of beans. Add to cooker.

4. Add all ingredients EXCEPT corn, zucchini and salt. Mix together as desired.

5. Cook on low for 6-7 hours. (Since the beans are canned, they do not need to be cooked longer than the other ingredients, nor do they need to be prepped by cooking on high.)

6. When there is still one hour to go (in other words, after about 5 hours), add the salt and optional corn and/or zucchini.

Will it be good? Only time will tell. In the meantime, credit goes to Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufman for their white chili recipe. Although I had already determined which main ingredients I was going to use before consulting the Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, I turned to this slow cooker Bible to find out what spices go in white chili. Without Julie and Beth's help, I might still have known not to use much chili powder, but I'd never have known to put in that much oregano. Julie and Beth, I salute you! (Even though I rarely follow your recipes to the letter.)