Who I am, where I’ve been, what I’ve learned

July 21, 2005 | 40 comments
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I’m honored by Julie’s invitation to blog on this venerable site, amid such esteemed company. I thought I’d begin my introduction by mentioning my connection to several more regular T&S-ers. Julie Smith and I were housemates for two years at UT-Austin. She witnessed my courtship to my husband and attended my wedding. I’ve been grateful to continue my friendship with her in the meantime. I admire her tremendously on many levels, not least because she is probably the most organized, disciplined scholar I know.

I also had the great privilege of being in the South Bend ward with both Adam Greenwood and his family and Ben Huff. I feel privileged to know them both and continue to learn from their faith and intellect. As they can both attest, the South Bend ward is a remarkable community in many ways. Gatherings to eat and talk with other faithful and curious saints sustained me during our years there.

Finally, fellow guest-blogger Jonathan Green and I and our new spouses shared a Fulbright year in Bonn, Germany in 1995-96. The fact that two newlywed Mormon Germanist medievalists would end up on Fulbrights in the same town in the same year struck us as reason enough to be friends for life. And we also hit it off for so many other reasons–mostly Jonathan and Rose’s homemade pizza and Jonathan’s cakes and tortes. Have him bake for you sometime.

I don’t know what’s normal for guest bloggers, but I’d like to introduce myself and my family in this first post so that my subsequent posts have a little context. After Julie’s statement that my husband, Ted Warren, has “the most interesting job of anyone [she] know[s],” it is tempting to let people speculate wildly on his professional activities, but I suppose I should just fill in the details. Ted is a photojournalist for Associated Press based in their Seattle bureau. He covers local Washington news as well as national and international news on assignment. He just returned, for example, from Scotland, where he covered the G8 Summit and the British Open. He loves his job, as do our sons and most of our friends. Since my profession (“Hi, I’m a German professor,” or “Hi, I’m a medievalist. . . “) is usually a conversation killer, it’s always nice to have Ted around to spur interesting discussion.

I grew up in Tempe, Arizona, the oldest daughter and second child of eight. I have six brothers and one sister. (My siblings, incidentally, also have careers that generate far better chats than mine–one is a forensic pathologist, another is an aspiring actor, who was on an episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent earlier this year). I graduated from Arizona State University with a B.A. in German in 1984 and then served in the Germany Frankfurt Mission from 1985-1987. Victor Ludlow and Christian Vikari were my presidents.

Upon returning I began an M.A. program in Language Acquisition and my German teaching career at BYU in fall 1987. After one year in the program I spent 18 months at the U.S. Embassy in then East Berlin as a State Dept. fellow. During that amazing time I had the opportunity to watch East Germany transition from hard-core Communism to an independent democracy. Few people remember that East Germany actually had a few months of democratic independence prior to unification with the west. I treasure my time there, especially because of the friendships I developed with members of the East Berlin ward. I learned so much about faith and questioning and perseverance from them.

I completed my M.A. when I returned from Berlin and then taught German at BYU for another year while I tried to figure out what to do with two relatively useless degrees. One of the activities I valued the most during this time was participating in BYU’s feminist group VOICE. My small part in VOICE’s activities that year was gave me the courage to acknowledge and act on my own feminism.

This growing involvement with feminism, along with my encounters with friends of all faiths and no faiths during my Berlin year, contributed to a major crisis of faith for me. I never doubted God’s existence–I had felt his presence too powerfully too often; nor did I doubt the reality of Christ’s atonement–I had felt the balm of its grace too intensely. Rather, the core of my crisis was trying to figure out whether I could maintain my integrity while staying connected to a church whose teachings–and more often policies and practices–contradicted other things I believed or felt. The result of my struggle, to severely abridge a long and painful process, was the recognition that I could not imagine a life without church, nor could I imagine a life in any other church. I had found Christ in the LDS church and decided that I would continue to seek him here. I also realized that I was an ‘ethnic’ Mormon on many levels and could no more easily remove myself from that community than I could from my family or nationality, or, as Cecilia Konchar Farr put it once, Mormons are “my people.” It has remained crucial for me to recognize my indebtedness to my people and my desire to stay among them as I seek answers.

As Julie mentioned in her intro, I earned a PhD in Germanic Studies at UT-Austin. While in Austin I met my husband in the university ward. Our first son, Grayson, was also born there just before we left in 1998. Our second son, Hal, was born, two months premature, in 2001 in Indiana. I have always worked full time since having children, loving what I do, and yet always wondering if I’m making the best choices. I take it year- to-year, even day-to-day when things are hardest. My husband stayed home with Grayson for a year during my first job at Mt. Holyoke College. Our kids have been in wonderful home daycares since then. (I’ll share some thoughts later on the impossibility of balancing work and family.) I taught for five years at the University of Notre Dame. My husband commuted 200 miles a day to Chicago for four of those years, then was transferred to Seattle. There was no job for me in Washington state the year he was transferred, so we made the excruciating, and probably wrong decision that the boys and I would stay in Indiana for a year while I waited for the next round of job ads. I was fortunate to get the one job in my field in the entire state of Washington the following year and now teach German language and literature at Pacific Lutheran University.

Although I have few opportunities to teach it because I am now at a small undergrad institution, my research specialty is medieval religious literature, especially the writings of women mystics. My interest in this topic is profoundly connected to my life in the church and my belief in and experience with God’s manifestations to his children. The visions and revelations recorded by the women I study intrigue and move me, as do their interactions with and frequent struggles against the male hierarchy of the church in their day. I’ve had just a few chances to talk about medieval mystics to LDS listeners, but I believe we can learn a lot–about seeking God, in particular–from these women and men.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to learning from the women and men at Times and Seasons.

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40 Responses to Who I am, where I’ve been, what I’ve learned

  1. danithew on July 21, 2005 at 4:52 pm

    During that amazing time I had the opportunity to watch East Germany transition from hard-core Communism to an independent democracy. Few people remember that East Germany actually had a few months of democratic independence prior to unification with the west. I treasure my time there, especially because of the friendships I developed with members of the East Berlin ward. I learned so much about faith and questioning and perseverance from them.

    Just reading that got me interested in reading the unique insights you have to offer from your experiences. Welcome to the ‘Nacle.

  2. A. Greenwood on July 21, 2005 at 4:54 pm

    We invite all these interesting people and they never tell us anything about themselves. Finally!

  3. Ben H on July 21, 2005 at 7:34 pm

    Argh! This just reminds me of all the conversations we haven’t been able to have, as much for being too busy when we were in the same town as for being on opposite sides of the country now. Well, not just that! It also reminds me how much I’m looking forward to your next post, and to seeing you for a bit in August.

    Thanks, Kirsten : )

  4. JKS on July 21, 2005 at 8:46 pm

    These introduction posts are hard to keep going. We can all say “welcome” or “wow, cool life story” about Kirsten. But if we start really discussing things we may end up sounding critical of Kirsten herself. She’s given us her life story, but no “issue” or “question” that makes it ok to respond to, to agree with or to disagree with.
    So, welcome, Kirsten. I’m JKS. I’m married, a SAHM, 3 kids, and I have never before contemplated medieval religious female mystics.

  5. Ann on July 21, 2005 at 10:44 pm

    You do read/post on Feminist Mormon Housewives? Right? Right?!

  6. annegb on July 21, 2005 at 11:25 pm

    I appreciated your description of your inner struggles and your decision. I’ve had a similar struggle and made the same decision. It isn’t always easy.

  7. Wilfried on July 22, 2005 at 2:54 am

    Welcome, Kirsten. That was a fascinating intro. It’s helpful to get to know our writers. I sure hope you’ll post something on medieval women mystics! In my home country Flanders some of them are part of the literary curriculum, even in senior high, part of our cultural heritage. Hadewych of Antwerp, of course, precursor of Mechthild von Magdeburg, and other Beguines… But we never looked at them from a Mormon perspective. Looking forward to your insights.

  8. Jonathan Green on July 22, 2005 at 3:06 am

    And Kirsten, you’ve got to say something about Anna Lamanit–her purported feat of surviving by eathing nothing besides the sacrament is something that millions of Mormons around the world repeat every Fast Sunday.

  9. JKS on July 22, 2005 at 3:58 am

    LOL, Jonathan.

  10. Emma Marsh on July 22, 2005 at 4:35 am

    Kirsten –

    Your statement resonates with me…”Rather, the core of my crisis was trying to figure out whether I could maintain my integrity while staying connected to a church whose teachings–and more often policies and practices–contradicted other things I believed or felt.”
    My issue isn’t feminism, but I have many, many others…and I often feel stiffled within the mormon community, and have to remove myself from it to ‘remain whole/intact/true to myself’ before I can regain my confidence/energy to reembark.

    You say, “I’ll share some thoughts later on the impossibility of balancing work and family”…I would love to glean from your experience? I just finished my Master’s degree and am imparting on a long-term, part-time career, in hopes that I can find that balance.
    Have you reached the point where you quit justifying your situation to others? Do you have a one-liner which keeps folks from asking questions? Have you accepted that no one really needs to understand your reasoning except you? If so, how do you interact with the stay-at-home-moms in your ward in a way that doesn’t demean their chioce?

    I’ve made the realization the while some people choose a career which fits wonderfully with raising a family (e.g., elementary education), and thus fulfill all their ‘intellectual’ amibitions and career ambitions in one, others of us simply have ambitions that cannot be fulfilled within the context of the day-to-day ‘duties’ of being a wife and mother…and that does not mean that we should give up those ambitions…but, it does make life more complicated. Insights?

  11. Jud on July 22, 2005 at 10:44 am

    Ah, relativism rears its ugly head again.

    Agreeing with JKS(#4), I realize this is just an introductory post and one not meant to spur a great deal of discussion, but I simply cannot resist.

    Implicit in Kirsten’s post as well as being echoed by at least one respondent (#10) are refutations of counsel from prophets of God. I am curious how this is rationalized? (Specifically, working out of the home and placing your children in the care of others when it is financially not essential.) I am assuming there was not a financial necessity for our current players here.

    I’m truly not bringing this up to make anyone feel bad or cause guilt trips, but I don’t think things thoughts like these should go unscrutinized. They are powerful and persuasive. At the heart of my question is how does one rationalize rejecting counsel from a prophet and still sustain him as a prophet? I am certainly not without mistakes, myself. As a lover of films, I have struggled through the years with not watching movies that have an ‘R’ rating. “Struggled” means that I watched them without much care or concern for the rating. At no point, however, did I say that the prophet was wrong for counseling against viewing such movies. He was right, and I always knew that. Those movies adversely affected my spirit and I have been on the wagon for several years now. I was clearly being disobedient. But to me, there seems to be an immense gulf between “I know the prophet’s right, but I really want to do this…” and “The prophet is dead wrong”. Of course, anyone can counter with the tired argument, “How can you say one thing is worse than another?” Well, there’s a difference.

    So, I am curious.

  12. Kristine on July 22, 2005 at 11:25 am

    Jud, the short answer to your question is that every bit of counsel ever given to women to stay home with their children has been qualified by the possibility of personal revelation that dictates otherwise. The Proclamation on the Family also uses strongly qualified, even ambiguous, language to express a preference for mothers at home, saying only that mothers are “primarily” responsible for nurture, and that “individual circumstances” (*not* otherwise specified, *not* limited to financial necessity) may necessitate exceptions to the broad, general counsel. Moreover, “mothers and fathers are obligated to help each other as equal partners” is as nifty an elastic clause as one could hope for.

    In short, there’s no conflict between believing that prophets are right to privilege the relationship between mother and child as something precious and worth sacrificing for, and also believing that a woman has a relationship with Deity that makes it possible for her to work out her salvation in an individually appropriate way.

  13. Frank McIntyre on July 22, 2005 at 11:52 am

    Kirsten, thanks so much for giving us a glimpse into where you are coming from.

    All, Since Kirsten has hinted that she will later be writing a hot and contentious thread on Mothers in Zion, perhaps everybody could retire the pitchforks at least until then.

    Discussing such issues on a thread about Kristen’s personal life and history seems like a remarkably bad idea.

  14. Jud on July 22, 2005 at 12:30 pm

    Frank, it’s actually not that bad of an idea, but it must have slipped my mind that there is an upcoming post on the very topic and so I will put my pitchfork back in the shed for now. But, for the record, it has been my experience that dangerous ideas are often delivered in sacrosanct packages. Offensive as it may be to some (perhaps many, maybe most), it’s better to call a spade a spade.

    Kirsten, my question wasn’t as rhetorical and smug as it sounded. I appreciate you treating it as the question I intended.

  15. Emma Marsh on July 22, 2005 at 12:43 pm

    Bummer, stiffled again. I agree with Frank that we probably don’t won’t to delve into this because the forum for discussion hasn’t been layed down by a specific question. But, I do think the issue of ‘mothers who choose to fulfill career-related ambitions’ for personal reasons (not purely financial ones) is a *huge* issue and hits very close to home for lots of us, and I hope we can discuss how we can reconcile our personal need with our prophetic counsel and learn from each other in the process.

  16. Frank McIntyre on July 22, 2005 at 1:05 pm

    Thanks to both of you. I promise that, without a doubt, the issue will come up around here on a regular basis. It always does. Just check out the archives!

  17. Kirsten M. Christensen on July 22, 2005 at 1:55 pm

    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that my brief comments about working full time and having children should have sparked interest and concern. Since I do intend to write a more thoughtful post on balancing work, family, and faith, at this point let me just say that Kristine’s comment elegantly expresses how I would have hoped to respond. I do believe that the church has always been led by prophets. I read or listen to and try to apply their counsel. I also know that I have made choices in my life–on my own and together with my husband– including the decision to work full-time now and over the past few years, based on divine guidance. The Lord wants us to have happy families, and there are many models, even within the church, for striving for that happiness righteously. Although our life is not without its struggles, I believe that my husband and I have found one such model for our family at least for now. I always leave room for the fact that the needs of my family, and thus the guidance I receive from above, could change.

    I do wish to comment here on the fact that church discussions of mothering and working usually bring up only two possible factors that would motivate a mother to work–money and personal fulfilment, and both are generally discussed as inherently bad in this context. The desire to have a positive influence on the world outside the home and to contribute specific gifts through professional activities is crucial for me and for many working women, I imagine, but it is rarely, if ever, discussed or valued as a legitimate motivation for work. We also are mostly unwilling to discuss the fact that there might actually be good things (beyond money!) that come to a family when a mother is working, probably because discussing them could too easily be construed as a dismissal of women who have made the choice to stay at home with their children, or worse, a dismissal of the prophet. I’ll save more for later, but I hope it goes without saying that anything I say here or there will be reflections on my experiences and choices, not judgments of anyone else’s.

  18. Jud on July 22, 2005 at 2:05 pm

    I do believe I have mistaken Kristine for Kirsten.

    My apologies.

  19. Elisabeth on July 22, 2005 at 2:10 pm

    “The desire to have a positive influence on the world outside the home and to contribute specific gifts through professional activities is crucial for me and for many working women, I imagine, but it is rarely, if ever, discussed or valued as a legitimate motivation for work.”

    Kirsten, thank you so much for articulating something that I’ve been thinking about for the last few months. I read an article in the NY Times a few months ago about the woman who headed up Pres. Bush’s security advisory team, and I was struck by the thought that few LDS women seem to be making similar important contributions to society. Of course, raising righteous, well-adjusted children is arguably more important than most professional pursuits, but what if your professional contribution was essential to finding the cure for cancer, or developing security strategies to prevent terrorists from bombing government buildings?

    Luckily, I’m not grappling with this dilemma myself, but I wish more people would recognize that women are currently making extremely important contributions to society, and that selfish personal fulfilment or financial rewards don’t always enter into the equation in a woman’s decision to work outside the home. Thank you so much for your comment – it helped me to clarify my thoughts and come to a better understanding of my own motivations and the motivations of other women in the workforce.

  20. Melissa on July 22, 2005 at 2:21 pm

    Kirsten,

    We met briefly a couple of years ago when I was in Indiana giving a paper at Notre Dame. You hosted a fabulous all-night party at your house and even graciously let me crash on your bed so I could try to sleep for a couple of hours before my 6:00 am flight.

    I’m thrilled that you would agree to guest blog for us and look forward to reading your posts.

    I already knew you were brilliant and accomplished and a wonderful mother, but I didn’t know that you were married to such an amazing man. You write, “My husband commuted 200 miles a day to Chicago for four of those years.” This strikes me as one of the most important pieces of information in your post. I think there are very few Mormon men who would be willing to make this sort of sacrifice for their wives to pursue professional goals. I think this speaks volumes about the strength of your relationship, but also about his character and devotion to you. Without this sort of support, I think even very talented women would find it difficult to achieve what you have.

    I hope you address this point in your future posts.

  21. Kirsten M. Christensen on July 22, 2005 at 2:30 pm

    Thanks for your kind comment, Elisabeth. The sorts of contributions I and most women and men make to the world through our professional activities are far less visible or dramatic than the examples you give, but of course they don’t need to be to still be highly motivating. Like most scholars, I add _very_ small pieces to the great puzzle of knowledge through my research, and I like to think that I occasionally make a difference in the life of a student or colleague. Still, these things matter to me, however small they are in the bigger world picture. And I’ve come to believe that they matter to the Lord, and that they, along with loving my husband and raising my precious boys with him, are part of my current mission in life.

  22. alamojag on July 22, 2005 at 2:34 pm

    Elisabeth, I think you make an important point. There is always a cost to excellence in the workplace–it takes time away from other noble, worthy pursuits. The admonition that “no success can compensate for failure in the home” applies equally to men as to women, yet somehow men get a pass for leaving work before the kids get up and arriving home at or after bedtime.

    We have a family in our branch whose 17-year-old son has been told he is unwelcome to attend. The boy is troubled enough without this, but I think the heart of his problem is his father is never at home. The father works full time, is going to school, and has had at least one major calling (most recently a counselor in the branch presidency) for as long as I have known him. Yet I am the only person I know who looks at the troubled kid and says that a lot of his problems come because his dad is never home.

    Don’t think I’m judging anybody for choosing excellence. It just seems like a double standard to criticize women for taking time from the home to do so and to praise men for doing the same.

  23. Jud on July 22, 2005 at 2:44 pm

    I guess I’ll take the high road here even though it was agreed we were going to leave this topic for another day.

  24. Kirsten M. Christensen on July 22, 2005 at 2:46 pm

    Hello, Melissa! Of course I remember you, and meant to include you in my litany of T&Sers with whom I’ve rubbed shoulders over the years. It was a delight to have you in my home, esp. to have you as part of one of the wonderful late-night discussions with other members of the South Bend ward. I’ll also never forget the splash you made at that academic conference at Notre Dame by starting your presentation with a marvelous rendition of “When I Grow Up I’m Going to be a Mother.” The audience was riveted by the song and your powerful paper.

    Thanks for your comments about my supportive husband. I also mentioned in my intro, I think, that he quit work and stayed home for a year when our first son was a baby. He had previously quit work to follow me to Germany while I was on a Fulbright doing dissertation research, so you are absolutely right that his support has been phenomenal, and it remains central to my ability to do what I do. I don’t express my appreciation to him for it nearly enough, probably because we have both had to make professional sacrifices, and these often loom larger than the benefits they’ve brought. It is always a delicate and tortured endeavor to make two careers work, including when one of those careers is as a stay-at-home parent. These difficulties have been compounded in our case because both of our careers have severe geographic restraints, meaning that neither of us can just show up in a city and expect to find a job. So we are very fortunate to have found jobs more or less in the same place. (We live and I teach in Tacoma, he commutes and hour to Seattle.)

    I’ll say again that you’re absolutely right. The support of a spouse makes all the difference– professionally, and at home.

  25. john fowles on July 22, 2005 at 4:18 pm

    Melissa wrote I think there are very few Mormon men who would be willing to make this sort of sacrifice for their wives to pursue professional goals.

    Why this gratuitous swipe at “Mormon men”? Are you willing to stand by that assertion?

  26. Elisabeth on July 22, 2005 at 4:29 pm

    I’ll stand by Melissa’s assertion, but I think it should be broadened to include most men, not just Mormon men.

    I know we’re supposed to be waiting to have this discussion, but I think the problem may be that many Mormon women wouldn’t even think about asking their husbands to make this kind of sacrifice for them. I think many Mormon men would probably make the sacrifice, but since Mormon women are not encouraged to explore professional careers and are told to stay at home with children, the men don’t have many opportunities to support their wives in professional pursuits.

  27. Jud on July 22, 2005 at 4:37 pm

    Oh, this lofty high road.

  28. Frank McIntyre on July 22, 2005 at 4:42 pm

    Elisabeth and John,

    Having been down this road, I’d appreciate your help in not letting this thread be used for such a discussion. We have no lack of such threads on which to comment. We will no doubt have plenty more. Jud, Emma, and Kristine are all keeping their powder dry, I bet you guys can too.

    Thanks!

  29. Kristine on July 22, 2005 at 4:52 pm

    Well, I guess if anyone was needing more proof of the old feminist aphorism that the personal is political…

    For those so inclined, we can probably just continue the discussion of whether or not women can righteously pursue non-maternal ambitions here

  30. Elisabeth on July 22, 2005 at 4:58 pm

    Sorry, Frank (and John or anyone else I offended). I think I might have to sit the next round out, since I’m obviously biased and I don’t really have anything new to add to the debate. I’m very much looking forward to reading Kirsten’s posts, however.

  31. john fowles on July 22, 2005 at 4:59 pm

    Alrighty Frank.

    But Kristine, my incredulity at Melissa’s comment had nothing to do with a “discussion of whether or not women can righteously pursue non-maternal ambitions.” It had to do with what seemed like an unduly negative and critical view of Mormon men that did not, in my view, merit a free pass as to critical evaluation.

  32. Kristine on July 22, 2005 at 5:03 pm

    John–the thread I referenced had plenty of discussion of that question, too. (Heck, with 350 comments, it probably had discussion of kitchen sinks, too :))

  33. B Bell on July 22, 2005 at 5:16 pm

    its not fair to take shots at either Mormon men or women.

    I would argue that children can be harmed by either an always absent career driven father or a full time working Mom. We should avoid both

  34. A danithew impersonator on July 22, 2005 at 5:40 pm

    It’s also not fair to take shots at . . . THE CHUPACABRA!

    (dance dance dance)

    There was once a CHUPACABRA whose dear spouse had to commute over three villages in order to suck blood from the goats over there, because that CHUPACABRA was going to dental school. But never once did that spouse complain. It goes to show the pressing need for a Perpetual Chupacabra Fund that will intervene when such exigencies arise.

  35. Kevin Barney on July 22, 2005 at 5:49 pm

    Commuting to Chicago from South Bend? Whoa! Very impressive. I commute by train from my home in Hoffman Estates, IL to the City, about 35 miles (or 1 hr 15 min. door-to-door) each way, so I think I have some small understanding of what your husband did for four years. That is really something.

  36. JKS on July 23, 2005 at 6:25 pm

    Anyone else here think 200 miles a day spent commuting puts a big crunch on family time? I would think it was a sacrifice the entire family made, not just him.
    Unless it was 200 miles in open highway with a high speed limit. Then we’re just talking gas money.

  37. JKS on July 23, 2005 at 6:25 pm

    ….and speeding tickets.

  38. Lisa B. on July 23, 2005 at 8:02 pm

    I hope you will say more about your crisis of faith–perhaps in another post. Hearing other people’s experiences helps me feel not so alone in the journey.

  39. Lisa B. on July 23, 2005 at 9:40 pm

    Let me amend that. Rather than about the crisis of faith itself, I hope you can share a bit about recognizing that you had found Christ in the Church, and more about staying “in” as you continue to search and find. (annegb also)

  40. Melissa on July 26, 2005 at 2:45 am

    I have been without a computer for the last several days until tonight so I’m late in responding to your comment.

    Melissa, ” I think there are very few Mormon men who would be willing to make this sort of sacrifice for their wives to pursue professional goals.”

    John Fowles: Why this gratuitous swipe at “Mormon men”? Are you willing to stand by that assertion?

    While I agree that this is not the thread to have this conversation, I want to make it clear, for the record, that I do stand by this comment. Second, it was not a gratuitous swipe at Mormon men. Why would I want to take such a swipe? I do not have a “negative” or “critical” view of Mormon men. In fact, many of my favorite people in the world are Mormon men. I’m actually surprised that you, of all people, would be upset by this comment. More than anything else, it was an observation of cultural patterns, one I would have thought you would embrace. There may be perfectly justifiable reasons why a man wouldn’t want to make this sort of sacrifice.