Baaalderdash! We’re All Just Sheep Here: A Response to Fr. John Parker’s LGBTQ Fearmongering

Orthodoxy Today, that bastion of theological internet civility, recently published an excerpt of a presentation Fr. John Parker gave at a conference on pastoral care in a digital age. In it he accused the editors and writers of Public Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy in Dialogueand The Wheel of prowling around like wolves in sheep’s clothing, preying on an unsuspecting catechumenate to sow division, discord, and confusion. They pretend to promote dialog, when really they have diabolical motives, mostly having to do with making the church more welcoming to LGBTQ people. It is a tired and thus boring accusation, a thesis plagiarized from a myriad of internet blog comments and coffee hour conversations with like-minded people. More importantly, it is a hypocritical thesis. Fr. Parker accuses the above sites of trying to sow confusion, when in fact he seems to do precisely the same thing.

I know in some way the editors of Orthodoxy in DialogueThe Wheeland Public Orthodoxy. I myself have contributed a couple of articles to the latter. The blanket accusation of a general, almost conspiratorial intent to sow confusion is both offensive and false. It is offensive because, speaking for myself at least, that is not the case. It is false because there are contributors to those sites who share his same views on gender and sexuality and because the active solicitation and publication of authors who share those views bellies the any supposedly nefarious intent on the part of those who run the sites.

(I should say here that I am speaking from my experience with Orthodoxy in Dialogue and Public Orthodoxy. I am less read in The Wheel.)

The problem with accusations like Fr. Parker’s is that they assume a great deal about the inner motives of those who have taken the time, effort, money, not to mention loads of personal abuse, to start and keep those sites running. To write and publish something even remotely affirming of LGBTQ individuals is to douse oneself in troll pheromone. That is a whole lot of work for something so nefarious.

A more charitable, dare I say “Christian,” presumption would be that those who seek to engage in dialog over controversial issues really do want nothing more than dialog. Perhaps they do not seek confusion but understanding. They have studied enough history to know that Orthodoxy today is a lot more reactionary than it used to be. We have lost political power (thanks be to God) and cultural influence, and so out of fear, like caged animals, we lash out at those who seem to represent that which we falsely perceive to threaten us.

Those whom Fr. Parker derisively accuses of considering themselves to be “teachers” of the faith would be more inclined to call themselves “students” of it. They have questions, and the church has provided no answers, or at best bad ones. We have had too many conversations with people that have gone something like this:

Person 1: The Orthodox Church has always opposed homosexuality. 

Person 2: Yes, but to what extend do–

Person 1: ALWAYS OPPOSED!

Conversations with those not interested in dialog are both frustrating and at times infuriating. The other party provides a scripted answer and gets frustrated with the person who keeps having more questions. Perhaps if an answer does not satisfy the person asking the question, then the answer is not a very good one.

It is not as if those who draw the ire of the Orthodoxy Today crowd are any less committed to the church’s survival. They perceive the threats differently. For the one, the main threat to Orthodoxy is modernity; for the other, it is failing to take modernity seriously. Modernity has questions, and the Orthodox Church must have the courage to provide good answers. And good answers, as any moderately competent teacher knows, requires the willingness to question oneself—the courage to be challenged. For some people, far too many actually, that prospect is absolutely terrifying.

That is why I call “hypocrisy” on Fr. Parker’s accusations of diabolical intent on the part of his online bogeymen. He says their intent is to sew confusion, but that is the very thing Fr. Parker is doing. People are not asking questions Fr. Parker does not like because they want to cause confusion. They ask questions because they are confused. They do not seek discord but conversation and eventually clarity. What Fr. Parker would like is for people not to have questions to begin with, to stay in darkness, or to argue themselves into disingenuous belief, faith that is more an act of stubbornness than a gift of God’s grace and love.

Fr. Parker is sowing confusion because he is sowing fear. “Be afraid of the wolves!” Get the adrenaline pumping. Make people react emotionally, even violently (if not in real life then in words, thoughts, and tweets). A priest should do his best to avoid stirring up people’s passions. A priest should not encourage the trolls.

I cannot speak for all people, of course, but I have yet to come across any wolves. We are all just sheep here, doing our best to follow our Shepherd. Our pastors would do well to lead us toward him without fear, not to bark at us like border collies, nipping at our backsides to get us to fall in line.

Getting Hired with a “Useless” PhD

This post is a followup to a previous one in which I talked about the skills people with “useless” PhDs have in work outside the academy. But how do you get a job outside the academy? That is trickier. There is no secret formula. Mostly a lot of persistence and luck. Still, there are some things academics can do to make themselves more attractive to a potential employer.

Write a Resume

Academics have things called a curriculum vitae. The vitae is sometimes described as a resume for academics, which is sort of like saying that the Easter bunny is like Santa for the crucifixion. It maybe makes sense if you think about it sideways for a bit.

The fact is that a resume and a vitae serve two completely different functions. They are two different genres. One is slam poetry. The other is supernatural romance. The audiences for each tend to have rather different expectations.

  • Vitae: A comprehensive list of all intellectual accomplishments.
  • Resume: A selective list of skills and experiences.

Think of a resume as a selected bibliography of the elevator pitch of your life. So to know how to organize it, you need to start with your story.

Tell Your Story

“Tell me about yourself” is going to be one of the first questions you are asked at interview, and it is one you must anticipate in your resume and cover letter if you even want to get there. Your story should have three parts.

  1. Where are you from? Keep it simple. Identify two or three dominoes that knocked you into the present moment.
  2. Where are you now? Keep the focus on your skills and personality. This is a story about you, not your research.
  3. Where are you going? End your story in the future. In 5-10 years, why will “future you” be happy they had this job?

Be careful not to belabor the last point. Employers want to know there is something at stake for you beyond the paycheck, but you don’t want to come across as too self-interested.

Be Relatable

Nobody is hiring your brain. They are hiring you. Academics, especially junior ones, spend a lot of time trying to prove to others (and themselves) that they really are pretty smart. Avoid that. Your employer knows you are smart. If anything, you need to overcome the stereotype of an aloof intellectual. Be yourself (use words like “aloof” if they are part of your vocabulary), but resist the urge to posture. And avoid the temptation to geek out once conversation turns to your research, which it will.

Pivot

At interview, you will be asked about your research, either what it is or why you got into it. Again, do not geek out. I mean, you can geek out a little bit. Passion can be compelling. But keep the focus on you and your skills. For example, I study religion, which means I have spent the better part of my adult life trying to understand one of the predominate forces that shape human behavior. (See what I did there?)

You can also talk about the skills your research gave you. If your current job is “grad student,” then you read several hundred pages of difficult text a week, write and present at conferences, teach and mentor new students, and work across departments to bring your dissertation to committee.

Watch Your Face

This is just an observation that may turn out to be rather controversial, but I have found that academics tend to have more transparent faces than others. They spend a lot of time looking away as they think, furrowing their brows, or demonstrating obvious incredulity at the asinine observation of a peer.

Either way, though, be mindful of what your face and body may be communicating. That is just good advice in general. All I am saying is that, if you are an academic, you may need to be especially mindful of that. The academy is a place of often friendly combativeness, but that culture does not translate well to other contexts.

Be Persistent

The trick to getting an interview is like the trick to publishing: overwhelming volume! Apply everywhere for as much as you can get. Employers (not unlike Reviewer 2), are sometimes fickle and distracted. Apply again. And again. And again.

Getting a job is as much about timing and luck as it is skills and qualifications. For my current job, I happened to be the right individual at the right time for a position that was very high need. Yes, I was qualified. But I was also lucky. Employment is half-serendipity.

When it comes to job sites, I have found personal success with ZipRecruiter. Your main goal is not to get the job. It is to get to interview. So any site with screener questions is going to work in your favor, especially if you are a half-decent writer.

Settle, But Don’t Settle

You may need to take a “gig” that is short-term and pays less than you are worth. You should definitely negotiate for the highest wage you can get, and you must be willing to walk away from bad deals. On the other hand, know that an employer is taking a risk when hiring you. There are people above me looking at how much I am paying the people below me. I prefer to hire for potential and train for competence. Most employers are going to be conservative if they have any reservations about you, but a reasonably competent boss is always looking for people to mentor into leadership roles they know they will eventually need to fill.

If you decide to take a job for less money than you would like, be upfront about that. It will not hurt your chances. If you want to move into leadership, be upfront about that too. Small opportunities can lead to bigger opportunities. You may have to start from the bottom, but the more work you do the more possibilities you create for yourself to gain meaningful, long-term employment outside the world of academe.

Five Reasons Why Mike Pence is the Author of the NYT Letter

A number of individuals have speculated that Mike Pence authored the anonymous New York Times letter about a dysfunctional White House and president because of the use of the word “lodestar,” a favorite of the VP’s. But I thought it might be Pence before that was ever pointed out to me.

Reason One: The letter is gutless, and so is Mike Pence. He has shown himself more than willing to back away from his own deep moral convictions in the face of public pressure. Mike Pence is a coward. Anonymous whistle blowers are not cowards by default because they incur risk to themselves and their family’s livelihood, but in this case we are dealing with a rich and powerful person who worries about becoming less rich and powerful. That is cowardice.

Reason Two: The letter depicts a cabal of the righteous, which is basically how Pence’s Christian Dominionist political philosophy operates. (If you are not familiar with this philosophy, it is basically the backstory to the Handmaid’s Tale.) The author of this letter says he wanted to avoid a Constitutional crisis, but are clearly already in one. Stealing things from the President’s desk is not how democracy works.

Reason Three: The letter is written by an ambitious machiavellian, and that is more or less how those who have worked with Pence describe him. Pence’s political career was over before Trump plucked him out of the Hoosier state to make his campaign more palatable to the Evangelicals. And Pence has been fine whoring out those bona fides to launch into power a man he, in all likelihood, knows is unfit to lead. Why? Because it gets Pence closer to power too.

Reason Four: The letter is written by someone who is morally compromised, and Mike Pence is morally compromised. Again, the fact that he has to defend a scoundrel, and indeed not only defend but sell him to the American people is proof enough of this fact. The letter reads in part like an individual trying to convince himself that he really is doing the right thing, which of course means the author knows he really isn’t. We do not have to convince ourselves of what we already know ourselves to be doing.

Reason Five: This letter is self-righteous, and so is Mike Pence. The anonymous author depicts himself as a quiet hero for the American people. “Don’t worry, America. Trump is a morally bankrupt person. But there are moral people working behind the scenes. Moral people like me, Mike Pence.” #PresidentPence2020.

 

Getting a Job with a “Useless” PhD

If you have an advanced degree in a field everyone else questioned, like theology, philosophy, or literature to name a few, then you are an individual who is passionate, reasonably intelligent, and above all else determined! What you may not be is employed. Tenure tracks are out! Adjuncts are in! Those fortunate enough to do a lot of teaching still need side gigs to pay the bills. The good news is that you have some pretty valuable skills to offer an employer outside the academy.

I am writing this from my experience as a man who earned his PhD in theological studies from a top-tier university in 2011. I was an adjunct for a bit at a small college and a program administrator at a big university. Now I am the director of a local learning services organization. Each path is unique, but my own path has taught me a thing or two about skills my professors never knew they were giving me. I am going to extrapolate some of those skills from my own experience and offer a few “success stories” of their use. I apologize if it sounds like I am boasting sometimes. My purpose is only to make the theoretical or hypothetical a little bit more concrete.

You Are a Creative Problem Solver

You have spent the better part of your adult life learning to see subtle things, things that most people miss. You can digest the finer points of complex arguments, see where things do not quite fit together, and propose more consistent and desirable alternatives. A PhD in the humanities is a PhD in problem solving.

You have a proven track record of creativity. Indeed, novelty is one requirement of your dissertation. You would not have passed your defense if your work had not been new. Such creativity is all the more impressive when you consider all the thousands of people in your field competing for a limited number of opportunities for publication.

Back in 2012, I had noticed that our organization was still doing manual data entry and spending loads of money on paper catalogs and applications. So I asked if I could investigate getting an online application system. My executive director gave her approval, but she added, “We looked into that a few years ago and were quoted an initial startup cost of $50,000, not to mention yearly upkeep in the tens of thousands, minimum.” But within a month, I had constructed a system out of resources nobody had known about and thought to put together. There is nothing quite like telling a potential employer, “I increased productivity and customer service while saving our organization about $200,000 over the long term.”

You Are a Skilled Reader

Exegesis refers to the art understanding, interpreting, and explaining a text. It is generally used in the context of holy writ but applies equally well to Shakespeare, credit card terms of service, tax law, and institutional policies. As someone with a doctorate in the humanities, you have honed the ability to decipher the arcane, the obtuse, and the poorly written. You can understand text and subtext, find fallacies, and leverage reasonable ambiguities to the benefit of your organization. Your skills as an exegete go beyond your own field. The intellectual “muscles” you have strengthened over the years have given you powers to interpret a wide variety of texts.

For example, a number of years ago my supervisor came into the office with a document in hand stating that, from now one, there must be one adult supervisor for every ten minors on campus. She was upset because, while it is a good policy for younger kids in a day program (it was our policy for younger kids in our day programs), it would not work for teenagers in residence. (For instance, it would require an adult to be stationed outside the showers every morning; and it meant a kid who got sick in class could not go see the nurse.) It was a dumb CYA (cover your ass) policy written by lawyers who cared more about not getting sued than protecting kids. I asked to see the wording of the text, then ran some quick numbers. Overall, our student:staff ratio was around 7:1. I pointed out that the wording of the policy left enough room for interpretation so that we could reasonably argue we were already in compliance. My supervisor read the policy and saw the probable intent of the drafters (none of whom worked with kids). I looked at the policy and saw the loophole.

You Are a Shrewd Negotiator

Chances are, your advisor was a mentor to you in more than just the subject of your dissertation. She also helped you learn about people and the internal politics that can get in the way of your success. The fact of the matter is that diplomacy is just as important to getting your degree as a strong dissertation. Over the years, you have learned that your best ideas are the ones people in charge think they came up with and that getting things done requires giving the right people “cover.”

Professional environments are not that different than universities when it comes to the politics of the people in charge. The higher up the organizational ladder you climb, the bigger are the egos of the people you encounter, and the more delicate the relationships you need to maintain. Getting things done requires moving laterally without seeming to go outside the system or going over the heads of superiors without seeming to be insubordinate. You need to clear roadblocks without rolling over others, and you need to convince the people in charge that your best ideas are the ones they helped you come up with. Every academic needs to be just a little bit Machiavellian.

Somewhere around 2013 my program tried to hire a professor to teach a literature class for a weekend event, but we found ourselves blocked by a dean who said that she could not teach for us because 100% of her “effort” came from her own department. So we could not hire her. But I noticed a loophole. This person worked for another program that involved mentoring new students. The reason for that inconsistency, the dean explained, was that the provost considered that program to be a “priority program.” Within a couple of months, our own dean (who was quite powerful) had gotten us declared a priority program as well. Problem solved! We were able to be right while allowing the dean who had stood in our way to save face by enlisting him to become part of the solution to the problem he had initially created.

You Are an Effective Communicator

People with advanced degrees in the humanities spend a great deal of time arguing with their peers. Sometimes these arguments are little more than “pissing contests” (a crude colloquialism with masculine implications because it is often male academics doing it), but more often than not these are arguments among friends. There is a genuine interest in understanding the point the other person is making, if for no other reason that that it informs your own counterpoint (hopefully, though, the willingness to change your own mind is also involved). The complexity of the topics discussed, and their multifaceted implications, require avoiding distractions and red herrings, maintaining an even temper, and keeping your attention focused on the fundamental issues under discussion. This skill will serve you well in all sorts of meetings.

Meetings are the mainstay of the professional world. People get together and disagree with one another. Meetings are also a place where feelings get hurt, leading to gossip, long-term frustration, and a toxic work environment. As an academic, you are well-practiced in the art of maintaining harmony while moving discussion forward to the main goal. When two people start to disagree, you can keep the peace by pointing out how each different view subtly affirms the other. You can help create distance between the issues discussed and the personal stakes people have in them. You know how to “bracket” what does not matter to keep the objective in sight.

I was recently involved in a meeting involving the implementation of a new technology. The people who worked hard on the technology had opinions about the way it should be implemented. Those of us who were more on the operational end of things had some concerns. One individual said, “Shouldn’t the people who are teachers be able to do this if they are so smart!” I agreed that they should, but the fact was that they wouldn’t. They would be distracted, busy, and cause errors. When I was talking through one scenario, a colleague said, “Well what happens when [X].” I replied, “Good point. Let’s hold onto that for a second because we are trying to figure out [Y] first.” After 90 minutes of this, we had a plan in place, and we all still liked each other after it was over.

***

Of course, these skills only come into play after you have a job. Getting a job is another matter. I will offer some practical tips for that in another post. In the meantime, I recognize that, because I am drawing on my own experience, there is a lot I may be missing. For other humanities academics who have found success outside the standard (and rare) path of the tenured professor, what skills have you found you possess for a job outside academe?

The Failure of the Pope’s ‘Letter To the People of God’

In response to a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing decades of abuse and coverup in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis wrote a recent pastoral letter “to the people of God” in which he again acknowledges the sins of the church and asks all the faithful to take part in “the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need.” It is a response that few have found adequate.

Not a year has gone by in my entire adult life when I have not been involved in some way with the care and supervision of young people. I have been a youth pastor, a classroom teacher, a pre-collegiate program coordinator, and a private school administrator. I have been a witness at the deposition of an individual accused of sexual abuse, and I have been involved at every level with crafting policies and procedures to keep anything like that from ever happening to any child under my care. At every point along the way it has been my job to communicate to my volunteers and staff the importance of protecting the safety and integrity of children, and to make sure parents were assured of the same.

Reading the letter of His Holiness, I think I understand why it landed so weakly and pathetically, like a slab of beef hitting a linoleum floor. It fails to communicate that the church understands the seriousness of the situation and thus that the children it takes into its care are protected. Consider how it opens:

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26).  These words of Saint Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons.

Continue reading “The Failure of the Pope’s ‘Letter To the People of God’”

Sorry for Being A**holes, Mom

A Mother’s Day letter in the form of a dialog co-authored by David Dunn and Joan Dark (a.k.a. Toni Carr). David writes in plain text. Joan in italics.

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There comes a time in every parent’s life when they will say to themselves, “Oh! This is why that one time Mom lost her shit.” Our mother lost her shit many times. She lost it because there were many times when we were pretty shitty children. What is remarkable is how many times she managed to hold it together.

I feel sick to my stomach every time I think of the hard times I gave Mom. Every time I said “I hate you” or “Okay LINDA!” because of course, calling Mom anything other than Mom was a smack in the face.

Especially when I remember the sacrifices. I have vivid memory of eating those cheap, frozen pot pies for dinner. You and I had one, Mom did not. I asked her why she wasn’t eating and she said she wasn’t hungry. But of course she was hungry! She just didn’t have the money to feed all three of us. As a Mom now I get that. I would give my kid my last scrap of food. Hell, I would claw my heart out of my chest with my bare hands if she needed it!

You know the worst memory? We were up late and Mom was passed out exhausted. She had scraped together money to buy us new pants. We decided, in our amazing wisdom, to cut up the pants and tape bits of them to the wall as a surprise party for Mom. She woke up and sobbed because we had ruined the clothes she had saved up to buy for us. (I think I tried to tell her a mouse did it)

No Mom is perfect (She chanted to herself as she takes the baby in public and realizes it’s cold and baby has no socks on) but our Mom tried as hard as any Mom could. As an adult I can appreciate that a lot more than I could as a kid. It’s because of Mom that I can be a mother myself. Not only did she help me with the grueling IVF process, she showed me what sacrifice is and how you can and will do everything for your kid.

I don’t remember putting the scraps of pants on the wall. But I do remember you saying something about a mouse. What I definitely remember is the Christmas when she bought us lots and lots of clothes. I think it was our first Christmas in the new house. There are photos of me throwing a box across the room as I opened yet another package of underwear or socks or something. I don’t like to think of it.

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We were super!

My kids are older, and there are plenty of times when I got them a gift that was sub-par. We have had some tough financial times ourselves. One Christmas, I got everything from the Dollar Store. It worked out okay. You can buy a lot of things at the Dollar Store, but I could also tell the kids were disappointed. They were trying to put on a brave face. Still, I felt awful.

I feel awful every time I get them a small gift they don’t like. I cannot imagine how mom felt after getting a divorce, having the first Christmas in the new home, and then seeing her children rage against the injustice of getting socks and underwear. I think the worst part of it is that she sort of blames herself a bit. She tells me that she read somewhere in a magazine that you should wrap up a lot of presents for kids under the tree, and that she should have just given us the clothes and let us open the few toys there were. I can see why she takes responsibility for it. I do that all the time for all sorts of things. As a dad, I am always doing the best I can, with what I have, and for who I am in that moment. Mom did too, and she had even less. When I think about it now—when I picture that photograph of me chucking a box—I say to my younger self, “You were a real dick, kid!” Of course, we were kids, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about it.

Oh man, I’m so nervous about presents. I want my kid to be cool and not care about material crap, but I also remember the SHAME of having the payless birkenstocks and not the real ones in school. You could tell because the buckles were smaller, and everyone made fun of the kids that didn’t have the real ones!

Mom worked hard for those knockoffs! They were the best knockoffs that the almost total absence of money could buy!

At the same time, how much stuff does a kid need?

Clearly not as much as we thought when we were kids.

I have a friend that takes her kids on a big family trip every year instead of Christmas presents. I like that idea way better, but then will my kid not be cool for not getting a ton of gifts? Will she care? Will I be able to raise her to not care about material things?

We are both fighting an uphill battle there, but I would like to think you and I grew up not to care about material things. You should ask Mom for advice about that.

I get to see how good of a mom our mom was when I see her be a grandma. She is an awesome grandmother. I wish we lived up near you sometimes so that she could see her grandkids more. I am jealous of you for that.

Mom is an awesome Grandma. You should be jealous. You should be so jealous that you move back.

Find me a job, and I’ll get the U-Haul! For now, Mom has been coming down to help in the summers. I am glad my kids get to spend time with her. In July, she took Kyla with her to the Virgin Islands for a fencing tournament. Kyla was initially very upset when she learned that she could not take any of the seashells she collected back home her. So mom had her pick out her favorite and said, “I say we smuggle it!”

And that’s what they did. Toni, our mom is a smuggler!

I am glad now that we’re older we realize Mom is cool enough to be a sword fighting smuggler.

…who is willing to risk prosecution for customs violations for the sake of her granddaughter’s favorite seashell.

Is this our mothers day letter? Is it enough to just tell her that we regret being assholes and wish we could go back in time and appreciate her?

I think that is the best we can do. Sorry, Mom for being assholes and not appreciating you enough when we were kids. We appreciate you now!

Also we promise to put you in the good home.

All our love,

D.J. & Toni