Saturday, July 08, 2006

Katharine Jefferts Schori on OPB's Oregon Territory

Just found out about another radio interview Katharine Jefferts Schori did. It's shorter, and covers some different ground. This is from the second half...

Christy George: You came to religion as a scientist--you came to your calling in the church as a scientist. What do you think are the underlying issues feeding things like the fight over evolution?

Katharine Jefferts Schori: I think part of it is a shift in cultural, moral views. Do we live in an Enlightenment world view, or do we live out of a postmodern understanding. Are we willing to live with a variety of faces of truth, or do we insist that there is only one possible understanding of truth and that any human being can possess that understanding.

Christy George: When you were at Oregon State University, and you worked with squid and octopusses, what was your research? What were you doing?

Katharine Jefferts Schori: I worked on systematics, which was describing species, and zoogeography, which describes where they live, in the whole northeastern Pacific. Sort of from southern California north to Alaska, and west of the Hawaiian islands, some distance out into the Aleutians. I looked at evolutionary theory for one particular family of squids, and I worked on a variety of fisheries problems.

Christy George: I've read that you said that your work gave you a taste of life on the margins. Because of the creatures, or because of your role in science?

Katharine Jefferts Schori: Well, I think you could probably see both of those in there. I was a woman--one of few. The first year I started graduate school was I think the first year that women could go to sea overnight on the vessels there. The first time I was chief scientist on a research cruise, the captain wouldn't talk to me because I was a woman. And I worked in an area that is on the margins of human experience. How many of us get to go stick our heads under the water, even near shore and how many of us get to see the strange and wonderful creatures that live a thousand meters down in the north Pacific.

Christy George: And what did you take of that experience to religion, and again, both parts of it, the scientific explorations and wonders that saw, but also the difficulty of being a woman blazing a trail in science?

Katharine Jefferts Schori: Well, the part about how I fit as a woman is almost nonconsequential. I've lived my whole adult life in environments like that, and it's unfortunately almost normal. There are beginning to be more and more women in ordained leadership, including as bishops, but we still have a long way to go to find parity.

The other half of that...I think I have brought a sense of delight in the diversity and wonders of creation. I think I've brought a willingness to look carefully at what's out there, and to come to situations without prejudging them. To come willing to learn from what I discover.

Christy George: And what led to your decision to seek ordaination when you were at OSU?

Katharine Jefferts Schori: Well, there came a time in the mid-80s when the federal research priorities changed, and it became clear that if I wanted to continue as an oceanographer, it wasn't going to be as a going-to-sea scientist, it was going to be writing grants. And that part of it did not really appeal to me. I love the lab work and going to sea, and pushing paper was not my favorite activity.

And at the same time, three people at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church in Corvalis, which was my congregation, asked me if I'd ever thought about being a priest. And it was an odd and strange enough encounter that I spent some significant time in discernment with the priest there, and we came to the conclusion that at the very least the time wasn't right, so I went off and did other things in the community for about five years.

And right before the first war in the Gulf, another priest in that congregation asked me to preach on Sunday morning. And that experience and the response I heard afterward finally let me say yes, and I was in seminary the next fall.

Christy George mentioned that all religions in Oregon are dwarfed by the number of people who say they have no religion, and asked if Katharine remembered enountering people like that when she lived in Oregon.

Katharine Jefferts Schori: Oh, absolutely! The whole northwest is like that, and Nevada shares in that, especially the northern parts of Nevada. Southeastern Nevada's got a significant Mormon presence because of its proximity to Utah. That's part of our culture out here--the great wide spaces around us, the beauty of the physical environment in which we live, I think invites people to see the holy in their surroundings. And the gifts of the faith community have to do with seeing the holy in other human beings, and I think that's the part that people might miss if they're worshiping in the cathedral of the forest.

Christy George asks about a way to connect with people on issues of science and the environment in thechurch at a time of climate change and other serious environmental challenges.

Katharine Jefferts Schori: Absolutely. One of the strengths of the tradition from which I come is its willingness to engage issues that have to do with human life. We understand the most important parts of our faith is having to do with the Incarnation--God became human--and therefore all of human experience is fodder, or is a possible vehicle for understanding the Divine. We have to put our historical and theological and intellectual gifts to work in examining the issues in the current world. Environmental issue are major. We need not to sit in our sanctuaries and ignore what's going on in the world around us. And I think that's been one of the eternal struggles of all religions: are we going to focus inward, or are we going to focus outward on the needs of the world around us? And especially in this day and age, we need to be looking outward.

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