What’s In a Name? Diving into Semiotics and Patriarchy

Today I posted a Facebook status that got a number of friends upset with me. That’s fair, the original status carried a bit of shock value (on purpose), but due to the status upsetting a handful of people, I decided to edited my status to say this:

I’d like to take this opportunity to remind all my Facebook friends that due to my feminist beliefs, no, I will not be taking Peter’s last name. A-thankyou.

Statistically I am in the minority when it comes to keeping my maiden name. Most women in the United State continue to take their partners last name after marriage. I get it, it helps create a succinct family unit, and there is a sense of tradition there. If you plan on having kids, I can understand why one might consider merging names. However, what I still don’t understand is why is it always the husband’s name that is taken?

Now, we all know the reasons for this: patriarchy. We are all still born-and-bred into patriarchal societies, whether we like to admit it or not. The fact that men make one dollar to every $0.77 cents women make in the grand ‘ol US of A is proof enough, right?  So when I choose to keep my maiden name, I am in a sense allowing myself a small amount of empowerment. Now, it’s not very much empowerment. I still will carry my paternal name (Kocka is from my father’s side), so the problem still exists in its more overarching form.

All of this name stuff got me thinking about semiotics, it has me asking, “what’s in a name?” This is an interesting question because if we think of names as words, isolated from their historical context, then names are just like any other signifier out there. Kocka in English is just K-O-C-K-A, but it doesn’t hold any specific meaning in particular. Only when we think about a name in context, with its agreed upon meaning does it become a sign, something that makes clear sense to all of us in terms of representative meaning. Kocka becomes the name you associate with me, with my family, or, if this was 200 years ago, with the family of the man I was married into. If we lived in a vacuum, then this name would be meaningless, just a signifier representing the signified. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a vacuum, and no matter what I do as a woman, I will always bear the name of a man, because in reality, all names, whether maiden names or married names, are paternal.

Now having a paternal family name isn’t all bad. These family names allow us to recognize and trace our family heritage, which gives us identity, meaning and a sense of history. I find my family lineage very interesting, so I will be the first to say that having a traceable unit that is represented by the name Kocka has been helpful in learning about where I come from, which in turn helps me better understand my place in the world.

So, what do you think is a fair way to view name changes in relation to marriage? Do you think that both partners should create a new family name that signifies their new unit and avoids any association with either side of their families? Do you believe that in a hetero-relationship men should take their female partners name? And speaking of straight partnerships, how do we apply these rules to non-hetero relationships? Weigh in the comments section.

My Interview with Pat on The Guest List

A few weeks ago I was approached by acquaintance and fellow musician Pat Dougherty (Fairfax, AK). He asked me if I’d like to pop into the KFAI studio and talk about CAETANI, Sun Gods to Gamma Rays, and whatever else we could think up. It sounded like a fun way to spend a Monday night, so I agreed. I’m happy I did.

Today the episode of CAETANI on The Guest List aired. Pat and I cover a lot of ground in the 40 minute interview: from little things like growing up in suburban Minnesota to big ideas surrounding mental health and spirituality in North America. I can honestly say that this was not only one of the most fun interviews I’ve been a part of, but maybe one of the best heart-to-hearts I’ve had with another person in a while.

So Pat, thanks for having me!

The 100 Mile Wedding Blog

Hey friends, I’ve started a new blog. To be honest, I never thought the day would come when I would start a wedding blog, but it makes sense for me now, and I hope it does for you, too! Go check it out here!

Happy reading!

On Sun Gods to Gamma Rays, CAETANI and Minneapolis Music

Sun Gods to Gamma Rays

In the summer of 2011 my first non-folk music project took form with a group of really talented musicians. With the help of Matt Uttech, Levi Stugelmeyer and Steve Bosmans we produced and recorded “The Black EP” and I created for myself an alter-ego: CAETANI. We played a lot of shows from the fall of 2011 through the fall of 2012, our last show as a full band in October as we opened for one of my favorite Canadian bands Wintersleep.

After that October show I told the guys that I was going to start working on a new music project with a different set of players and give CAETANI some time to rest. At the end of October Peter Bregman, Paul Flynn, Brian Gollnick and I went into the studio to work on a cover song for the Minnesota music project 69 Love Songs. Out of that project Sun Gods to Gamma Rays was born, though we didn’t call ourselves by our cosmic name until a number of months later.

With the aforementioned players plus the addition of Mitch Miller on drums, we are a full outfit and have finally released our first single. The song “Burn Me Through” will be featured on our upcoming EP, a record we are working hard on right now with plans to be released in the fall of 2013.

With that I invite you all to give it a listen, and keep your eyes on us as we continue to finish up our first EP.

On Fresh Food, Debt and Buying American Made and Grown

I’m sitting here in my $200 dollar American made jeans entrenched in a Facebook and WordPress debate about the importance of the labeling transparency that the anti-Monsanto folks are pushing for, and it has me thinking about power, structure and fairness. Leave it to me to take a debate about a literal food reality and turn it philosophical, right?

You’re probably wondering why I mentioned my expensive jeans? “What does that have to do with the local-organic food debate” you ask? Well, I have a point.

Access to healthy, fresh food is for the bourgeoisie class. “American made” or “American grown” is for the bourgeoisie class. Shopping fresh at your local coop often times is more expensive than buying preserved and frozen at a conventional grocer. Buying grass-fed beef is more expensive than hormone pumped crap at your local Cub Foods.

Kai Ryssdal of the syndicated radio show “Marketplace” reported this week on a Whole Foods grocery store which opened in the heart of a low-income section of Detroit, MI. This WF opening started a much-needed conversation about how healthy and fresh food should not be for the upper class, but for everyone, despite income. CEO of WF Walter Robb even said in his interview that they signed a 25 year lease for the store front, and have adjusted prices according to those in the geographic region. Talk about progressive, right? Reasonably fresh food for at least a little cheaper.

Here is the thing: I am massively in debt. Well, maybe not by other 26-year-old university grad standards, but the 40k+ that I owe in student loans weighs pretty heavy on me. I also work a job where I make, well, less that 30k gross. However, I choose to shop a Co-Op, to pay more for my food because I know that my Co-Op pays a living wage to their workers and brings in food from local farmers and artisans. I also am trying to teach myself to buy clothing that is well made and sourced at best locally, at worst via fair trade because I believe it helps our economy while also promoting ethics and high quality goods.

But I pay a price for my life style. I often run out of money just over halfway through my bi-weekly pay period because I choose to spend my earned-cash on fresh, local produce, meats and dairy (and not so local fair trade coffee) along with all of my necessary bills like rent, electricity, etc. Because of this there is no way to save money. Goodbye personal home ownership, goodbye feeling economically free. Goodbye having money to even pay for my recent car troubles. Hello to being enslaved for what might feel like forever because of high interest debt-robbery.

Our system is broken, is it not? But until all of us start to vote with our dollars nothing is going to change. How can we make healthy, fresh food—an essential need for everyone—accessible to all, instead of it being a luxury item for middle to upper class North Americans? How can we emphasis that quality clothing is worth spending a bit more on because it will last three times as long as something you buy at a Forever 21? (Sorry to pick on you F21, I’ve shopped in you in the past, and we all now why your prices are so cheap.) And, how do we remove the disparity between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, so that power and fairness is leveled and equalized? Must we continue to climb on top of one another? Or can we all stand side by side in equality, health and fairness?

We Will Not Be Perfect

We will not be perfect
We are not the trees and flowers and fields,
Born into beauty and grace,
Born into peaceful aging.

We will struggle and fight to be right
And wrong and right again.
With each other—
With our planet—
With it all.

But our beauty is in the small graces and quiet spaces
And peace of mind we give to one another.

Our beauty is in the understanding of imperfection
but loving each other
Despite it.

A New Ritual, An Old Worldview: The Jesus of History vs. The Jesus of the Story

There were a few comments on yesterday’s blog that made me want to unpack some ideas a bit more. If you didn’t read the blog, I wrote about how maybe we need to get away from viewing the Bible as a trusted source in our spiritual lives due to the large number of tracked changes that have been made to Scripture over the years. One such statement that I want to response to is from friend and regular commenter, Nathan:

“I think the language of “lies” here is – with all kindness, friendship and respect – disingenuous. It implies a willful deception, for which we have no historical evidence – in fact quite the opposite. These changes have been studied and tracked very extensively over countless years. We do have an extensive body of data that gives us a very good indication of what has taken place and even why. The changes present certainly aren’t insidious as it seems is implied. There are very practical and agreeable reasons for many of the changes.”

Let’s get into, shall we?

I don’t disagree that we’ve tracked such changes for a very long time, and that trained historians and theologians can point out the how’s and why’s as they relate to these textual changes in scripture. Simply said, I understand why textual changes happened. People in powerful positions wanted a little more control (I have a memory of professor Ed Gentry telling me about the addition of an anti-women in ministry verse while attending his New Testament class a few years ago), to the less malicious “he who is without sin cast the first stone” verse that yesterday’s article talked about, or maybe a translator wrote down the wrong letter or word, thus changing the meaning of a verse or story. There are a myriad of reasons why these changes happened, some good reasons, but some bad, too.

Because of this I’m uncomfortable embracing a religious worldview that includes reliance on writing with obvious textual changes that are viewed as “real” or “honest” only. I am also uncomfortable with the lack of accountability from the pulpit when it comes to exegeting these verses for a group of believers.

I’m not afraid to say I’m a purist. I want to get to a ground level spirituality, or have none at all. I’m skeptical that Biblical scripture has any more to do with getting to “real-ness” than say, a piece of fiction. Both can show us grace and mystery, sacrifice and adventure, but fiction knows what it is, a narrative story that allows the rise of mystery and wonder inside ourselves (which, by the way, is pretty real to me). A piece of fiction that does this is valuable unto itself, for the thing which we want to exists in fiction intrinsically does.

Scripture, or better yet an orthodox view of Scripture asks us to embrace the Bible as something we can trust historically, even when we contextualize it and understand that say, Song of Songs is poetry, or Revelation is apocalyptic fantasy. I cannot trust the Bible as history. All I can trust is that people changed it to suit their needs, whether intentionally or unintentionally, whether for the worse or the better.

I am not skeptical of the religious text itself when viewing it anthropologically, I’m just skeptical of thinking it can be anything more than that: a piece of writing that shows us how humans use narrative to explain the hard to answer questions, that we use narrative to bring meaning to our lives.

This worldview, one that says Scripture is a collection of stories from people trying to make sense of the world around them is something I am unafraid of. However, I am sure that upon hearing this, people will accuse me of trying to live out a story that is based in fiction, as if something based in fiction is less valuable than something based in “reality.”

The subjective feelings that rise in each of us from interacting with narrative bring a certain real-ness, for we have a visceral reaction to the story. It represents a whole slew of things we feel or want to feel, things we can explain, but most often things we cannot explain. Some people upon understanding this are happy to continue to embrace the ritual of their religious tradition, viewing it as simply one of the many ways to encounter the divine which is found in our subjective, emotional experience when living out the Jesus story. Others cannot abide this.

The Jesus story is an amazingly important one that has shaped and touched most every part of the world, whether for the worse or better. It is obvious that there is power in the story, whether or not it is “real” by our 21st century standards of real-ness (standards that by the way, I don’t fully embrace). Do I believe that, for example, the resurrection literally happened? No. I don’t. But that people wrote it down, that people enact it throughout their religious rituals regularly, that people embrace this story, whether or not the story is portrayed as it literally happened doesn’t remove the story of meaning.

I assert that however such textual changes have occurred in scripture, embracing the story despite them is more than an okay thing to do. But we must hold the story loosely, and throw out the pieces that just don’t make sense culturally any longer. The difference here is embracing the Jesus of History, someone we know very little about, versus embracing the Jesus of the Story, someone portrayed to fit our need for meaning and resurrection-hope.