Inertia, Broken Windshields, and the Boundaries of “Religion”

By Craig R. Prentiss

A decade ago, I was driving with my family on a highway in Tennessee when our windshield was hit by a stone. My focus soon shifted from the fresh crack in the glass to the signs on the back of each vehicle in a convoy of gravel trucks reading: “Stay Back 300 Feet: Not Responsible for Broken Windshields.”

Furious, I wailed, “How is it possible that they’re not responsible?!” I searched the trucks for a telephone number as I passed, to no avail. Reaching for an (absurd) analogy, I yelled, “What’s next? Serial killers wearing t-shirts saying ‘not responsible for accumulating corpses’?” I was quite proud of the analogy, but my family was more concerned about my rage than the $200 it would eventually cost to replace the windshield.

I thought about that windshield this fall when a former student shared an invitation she received from the Governor of Missouri to “The Thirtieth Annual Governor’s Student Leadership Forum: Faith and Values in Leadership.” Only the top students in the state receive the invitation, so she was rightly honored to have been selected. A description of the three-day event in Jefferson City was enclosed. It explained: “Each January, student leaders across the state gather with leaders in politics and business to discuss the servant leadership philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth . . . . The forum is not religious. We seek participants of all faiths . . . .” The forum is subsidized by the annual Governor’s Prayer Breakfast. Selected students pay a fee of $350 to attend, and no tax dollars directly fund the forum. Continue reading “Inertia, Broken Windshields, and the Boundaries of “Religion””

Who Are You? I’m a Feminist

Jesus Was a FeministPhoto credit: stoptalk.wordpress.com

  “Who Are You?” is an ongoing series that asks members of Culture on the Edge to reflect on one of their own many identities (whether national, gendered, racial, familial, etc.), theorizing at the same time the self-identification that they each chose to discuss.

I received a touching note from one of my graduating seniors this past week, who said, among other things, that I taught her that she didn’t have to fear calling herself a feminist.   Every time I have a student tell me this, I consider the irony of my own response when, as an undergraduate, one of my Religious Studies professors handed me a photocopied article entitled something like “Jesus Was a Feminist.” I don’t really remember the details of what the author said, except for the basic thesis (now considered quite tame) that the Bible depicts Jesus as a person who cared about gender equity in a society that didn’t. I freely admit that, at the time, I had no academic exposure to gender theory, and even though I was acutely aware of sexism, I had never heard the term “feminist” used in a positive light. In short, I remember being appalled at the article. Continue reading “Who Are You? I’m a Feminist”

Jesus Isn’t “White” but “Light”

Jesus is Light PicBy now we’ve all heard about and perhaps even participated in the debate sparked by FOX news correspondent Megyn Kelly that Santa Claus is white and Jesus is too. Edge member Leslie Smith’s post about this recent tug-of-war of identity claims demonstrated how such conversations are made possible by some highly inventive—even outrageous—ideas. This past week, another assertion that foregrounds the difficulty of taking such outrageous claims seriously posited something curious about what the public outrage reveals or uncovers and what steps we should take next.

Both sides of the debate ultimately rely upon the same tactics and mechanisms that assist Kelly in making such preposterous assertions possible in the first place, suggesting that as much as things have “changed in America,” they also stay the same. Continue reading “Jesus Isn’t “White” but “Light””

Santa, Jesus, and All Those Other White Guys: Why “Reality” is No Barrier to Identity

santa and jesus

If you haven’t already heard, the latest news from FOX news correspondent Megyn Kelly is that Santa Claus must be a white man.  Kelly’s remark was prompted by an article written by Slate journalist Aisha Harris, wherein Harris pointed out how Santa’s constant depiction as a white man is a particularly powerful and, to many children in particular, damaging example of white normativity.  After speaking to a group of panelists about various facets of the issue, Kelly reassured the children of America that Santa (and Jesus, too) are white.  How do we know these things?  One of Kelly’s panelists remarked that Santa is based on none other than St. Nicholas, a white,Greek bishop.  In a equally problematic characterization, Jesus’ whiteness was claimed as a self-evident fact of history. Continue reading “Santa, Jesus, and All Those Other White Guys: Why “Reality” is No Barrier to Identity”