Monday, March 7, 2011

Elizabeth Drescher, Interview #118

Your Name:
Elizabeth Drescher, PhD

Where you live:
San Jose, CA; originally from Western Pennsylvania

What you do as a vocation or avocation?

I write about the spiritual lives of ordinary Christians today and in the past. I am a regular contributor to the online magazine Religion Dispatches and other popular and academic publications. My most recent work has focused on how new digital social media like Facebook and Twitter are impacting spiritual practice as ordinary believers have new abilities to access resources that were previously available mainly to religious and academic elites, to collaborate with one another, and to distribute their ideas globally. My new book Tweet If You ♥ Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation 
(Morehouse, 2011) explores new digital technologies from a cultural perspective, linking the practices they inspire to ancient and medieval Church traditions.

I’m currently researching a book on the spiritualities so-called “religious Nones”—people who answer “none” when asked with what denomination they identify but who nonetheless think of themselves as believers or seekers.

I teach religion and pastoral ministries at Santa Clara University, and also deliver talks and workshops on everyday spirituality for churches, colleges, and community organizations around the country. You can learn more about what I’m up to at

Your two favorite books:

I could never limit it to just two, but I have an abiding love of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse with it’s stream-of-consciousness dialogue that exposes the personal and relational perceptions of the shift from Victorian to fully modern ideals. I also rarely lose my interest in The Book of Margery Kempethe first autobiography in English that was dictated to scribes by a married mother of 14 children who had mystical visions of Christ and the saints that inspired her to negotiate a chaste marriage from her husband, travel Christendom on pilgrimages, and speak of her faith despite constant harassment from Church authorities and disapproval from many of her neighbors.

Love these two though I do, I’m not sure I could last long on a dessert island without a little bit of Emerson and a good helping of Alice Walker. (And, I’d probably have Maggie Anderson’s Years That Answer or John Ashberry’s A Wave hidden somewhere in my gear!)

Your two favorite songs:

Again, two is hardly enough. But I have long taken Dar Williams’ “My Friends” as something of a personal anthem ( The final lines—“I act like I have faith, and like that faith never ends, but I really just have friends,” expresses so much of my experience of God.

Ani DiFranco’s “Up Up Up Up Up Up” 
( has always served as a deeply meaningful expression of my understanding of spirituality as practice.

Why you are interested in spirituality?

I’m not sure if I can say “why,” but I can say that what interests me is how people make use of what’s around them throughout their lives—as friends, as partners and spouses, as parents, as workers—to make sense of who they are in relation to the Big Questions of meaning and value that have, I think, defined humanness since the beginning of (human) time. You know, when I started studying theology while I was still working fulltime in a corporate job, people came to me all the time to talk about their own struggles to reconcile sincere faith with the demands of their workaday lives. That everyday spiritual struggle and the telling of it has always been more interesting to me than the loftiest of theological treatises. To the extent that my own research and writing helps to give voice to how ordinary believers today and in the past have tried to make sense of their relationship to God, their neighbors, and creation in the context of challenging life circumstances, I am deeply awed and humbled.
Your favorite quote:

Since I already quoted Dar Williams above, I’ll go with my most recent favorite: “I have come to believe that 'believing in God' is not a description that helps us know much about what it means to be a Christian.” ~Stanley Hauerwas, Hannah’s Child

Your favorite web sites:

Religion Dispatches (
Experimental Theology (

Your hero?

I know it sounds hokey, but my friends are all heroes to me. My friend Wanda Guthrie, for instance, has done social justice work through the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh, PA ( for years and years with a generosity I cannot fathom. My friend Ellen McGrath Smith ( inspires me with her commitment to her poetry and her teaching almost every time I visit Facebook. My cousin, Bruce Harter (, has lived a life defined by joy and hope that I wish I could half emulate. I could go on and on, but I guess the thing is that I really try to recognize the heroic in all the people around me rather than valorizing someone who maybe has better press than most of the rest of us.

A spiritual lesson you hope to learn?

How to recognize the abundance God makes available to us in the simplest ways—“God’s oath to sparrows,” Emily Dickenson called it, recalling Matthew 6: 25-34.

A place in the world where you feel spiritually "connected?"

My partner and I have a little enclave in the backyard framed by trees where we sit in the hot tub at night and watch the stars. Our good old dog curls herself up on a chair and a statue of the Hindu goddess of abundance, Padma, pours water into a small pool. Most nights, we hang out there, talking about how the day went, what’s ahead, and whatever else comes to mind. Or, we just sit together in silence, listening to the sounds of the neighborhood floating around us. It all seems to come together there.

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