Writing About Theology and Culture as a Parent

One of the things I've learned over the last couple years of writing blog posts is how frequently I must pause to ask myself how I, as a parent, am going to present a certain issue. My hesitations are almost always around the ways I will present, in word and image, matters about women and sexuality in theological and musical cultures.

I have been on the Internet since September of 1988 (or what we called "bitnet" back then), and am aware that some of my posts from the late 80s and early 90s can still be found floating around on the Internet. In other words, I know well that once something is posted online, it rarely completely disappears. And I imagine that however long this America magazine blog (or my presence on it) endures, that these posts will be somehow accessible years or decades from now, for anyone including my daughter, when she is old enough, who would like to read them and can figure how out to do so. (She is not yet five years old, so I have a little time before she's hunting around for Dad's past lives in cyberspace.)

Most parents can sympathize with the quandaries before me as I seek to write online and in print, as directly as possible, if even in necessarily indirect language, about what is at stake theologically regarding life in contemporary culture. In the first hours after my daughter was born, I had the immediate and conclusive sense, which has only solidified in the years since, that her vitality and future had already, in an "eschatological" way, eclipsed mine, and that almost every important decision my wife and I would make, even about our "personal" lives and work, would somehow shift, sometimes irreversibly, the ecology of our family's life together and our daughter's future in particular. This is more than profound because it involves upending an entire way of being in the world into something completely unanticipatable, but it is also banal because almost every capable parent, especially in our day, feels this way very quickly, thoroughly, viscerally. What are the theologically realistic and subtle ways that we parents of young children can think about how we will justify to our adult children how we spent these years when they were young?

My impression is that many radical religion scholars in sexuality and gender, whose work I respect, do not have children; or children's concerns do not seem to enter notably into their writings and their calculations about what and how to write. What will this new era, when more theologians-as-parents than ever are able to write about the most delicate and important issues, portend for the content of theology and the processes by which theology is written?

And so I have to think about what I post online now in a different way, but this does not often give me any easy answers. As I mentioned, I am probably most concerned about how I care for the presentation of women and matters of sexuality in music and theology, even though there are lots of other values and practices that are important in parenting a girl in a white middle-class family like ours. Why femaleness/femininity and sexuality? My thinking is very simple: in the present, intentional and creative attention to gender and sexuality seem crucial in the healthy raising of children, and in the recent past, gender and sexuality have been deeply problematic parts of life, in religion and music, not to mention Western culture in general, for young people. (I am of course bracketing religion and spirituality, since for me a rich awareness of those dimensions of life are (I hope) givens for my parenting.) But race, social class, place, it goes without saying how crucial these too are -- and there are so many overlays that are worth noticing about childhood and parenting, not to mention of course the imperative to have as much fun, and more deeply, as much joy, as our capacities and situations allow, to be as fair and just as possible, and most of all, I think, to discover one's own courage and "legitimate strangeness." I have a lot of this in the back of my mind when I cook up posts online now, and even when I write pieces for print publication. I have no "objective" norm for how I make these decisions. Perhaps the best way I can summarize my overriding sense of how to make decisions about what to write, is to hope that whatever my daughter learns of my work in the future, she will think that it adds up to something worthy of the better parts of the father she's known me to be.

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, United States


Cross-posted to Rock and Theology

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we vnornm
8 years 8 months ago
I suspect your presence and acts of goodness in your daughter's life will be vastly more important than what she reads what you have written on the Internet.
Where i teach, one of the wiser professors tells us, "The students may forget some of what we say or teach, but they will always remember how we treat them."
At present my children are more enamored with Facebook, etc. than what I am writing.
I like the imperative about having fun!
best, bill


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