Five Questions with Amy Laura Hall

By

January 24, 2011

Amy Laura Hall is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at Duke University.

She has written a number of books including the soon to be classic, Conceiving Parenthood: American Protestantism and The Spirit of Reproduction. She also raises holy hell like nobody’s business. For this reason, it’s time for “Five Questions” with Amy Laura Hall.

1) What’s it like having double x chromosomes?

Tricky, scary, and fun. I learned during my first months in the ministry that people aren’t scared of me. People would talk to me about the mess of their lives, maybe because it was really obvious that my life wasn’t all picture princess perfect. I think also it is because I am not only XX, but short. So, God seems sometimes to use me to help people be honest with themselves about their problems — their fears, vices, desires — and this somehow can, with pastoral wisdom (which sometimes God throws my way) help lead to a bit more self-awareness and even, eventually, healing for others. Given our past, dear Tripp, I should admit that, when I first arrived at Duke, I found myself thinking “Wow, if I were a man, I would be doing much better here.” Stanley really likes men. He loves my colleague from Yale days, Eric Gregory for instance, and Sam, my beloved colleague here now. It was and sometimes still is painful to appreciate someone’s work so much and to be the outsider, in part because I am XX. It was the first time in my life that I found myself wondering what it would be like *not* to be female. I had never had that thought cross my mind once, not once, before that first year teaching at Duke. Now, as scholars look to “the next generation” in their field, at least around here, they look for men who look like they did, or who look like they *wish* they did, when they were starting out. We hear all sorts of nonsense, like “Who will fill these great shoes,” or “He has a really big motor,” or, my favorite, “Who has the gravitas to carry this post.” Stephen Colbert could have a field day around this place. But things will change. More of the men around me need to watch that fabulous movie “Whale Rider” and realize that a XX scholar can be somehow used by God to teach the next generation, even the next generation of pacifist holy warriors, or whatever. By the way, Kelly Johnson and Therese Lysaught are totally holy XX warriors. You need to interview both of them. And, by the way, I could write many paragraphs about how messed up this place can be in regards to race. I love my colleagues, but a few of them are really, really confused about how much baptism must re-form us as blood kin, especially as we teach together in the South.

2) You’re trapped on an island with the complete works of two authors: Slavoj Zizek and John Milbank. Whose books are the first to be turned into toilet paper?

Who? Can I just have some toilet paper? Books are scratchy.

3) If you could, genuinely, solve just one problem with North American Christianity, what would it be?

I would beg God to scramble our churches for a year. Acts 29 people would get all jumbled up with Unitarian Universalists, or maybe UCC. AMEZ churches would get all mixed up with PCA people. Baptists of all the various types would have to enter a blender and then get poured into different buildings, so that all of those who’ve been divided are stuck with one another for a year. (That image sounds violent, I realize. Not sure how to say it better.) And, God bless them, working class Roman Catholic parishioners would have to worship and plan potlucks alongside Episcopalians (not the Anglicans, that is another story). Focus on the Family types would have to figure out how the heck to communicate with Planned Parenthood/Stuff White People Like sorts of Christians. Anyway, you get the idea. My crazy sense of the Holy Spirit is that we are up to much more messiness with one another, as people who love Jesus, than we give ourselves credit for. We segregate ourselves in all sorts of ways because we don’t really believe that the Holy Spirit is up to dealing with how much we hate one another. I think the Spirit is stronger than that. But, let me be clear, this would require a Mao-style re-education campaign. And that is why this question is crazy, and scary, and the answer must be eschatological. No forced blending, folks. I am not for that.

4) If you had to choose a spouse for me, and your only options were Sarah Palin, Camille Paglia or Kim Kardashian, who would it be?

Don’t know who Kim Kardashian is. Sarah is a bit old for you, isn’t she? And isn’t Camille a lesbian? Well, I guess I’d say Sarah, because then you’d have to wash dishes and clean toilets, I mean, with all those cute kids to take care of. That would be good for you. But you’d have to talk to her about all that moose shooting stuff.

5) Who is, currently, the most important person we should all be listening to and/or reading?

Ick. This is a leadery leading leader who leads question. A proto-fascist question. “The most important person.” Tripp, you are better than that. But, if this is the way you are thinking, then read yourself some early Barth, again and again and again. He saw what the desire for a “most important person” “currently” can get you in the modern era. Bad news. Very bad news. Habermas wrote on this for a New York Times op-ed recently. (Can you link that?) What struck me, after reading it and being scared, was that I could have knocked on Rev. Dr. William Turner’s door and heard the same thing, only with much more Jesus-centered language. But many of us were struck by a big name, very old German philosopher getting out his walker to get to the computer to type a warning to us all — “I have seen this before. Wake the Freaking Heck up!” (That is a paraphrase, of course.) Some friends in Germany were really worried over the Obama scene prior to his election. They kept saying that they had seen this before. Some of that desperate desire for a redemptive leader has backfired, if that is the right image, as people are angry that the redemptive leader has not saved us from our misery and depression and impotence. The scenes of thousands of people cheering to rhetoric did beg for analysis, but the only people I heard over here giving that analysis were right-wing folks who were tools of big oil and such, big men with very much to lose if Obama had actually pushed through the reforms some of us thought he might push through. Now that I write this, I am guessing that some of the Jesus Radicals were writing on this. Damn, should’ve been reading them. (Turns out the big oil dudes needn’t have been terribly scared, or that they are now threatening his children or something, to keep him from doing what, for God’s sake, needs to happen in regards to oil.) Anyway, the desire for a “one person to read/listen to/heed/follow” in our “current” climate is horribly dangerous. Repent.