Lenten February

Dar Williams, “February”

First we forgot where we’d planted those bulbs last year
And then we forgot that we’d planted at all
Then we forgot what plants are altogether
And I blamed you for my freezing and forgetting
And the nights were long and cold and scary, can we live through February?

Somewhere in the middle of February, Lent began.  I don’t know when, exactly; I’d have to look it up.  Ash Wednesday passed me by barely noticed; I felt like Lent had already begun.  My Mardi Gras was the last weekend of January, when I went to my art studio and painted two full days in a row, a luxury I have not had in two years.  It was a time to celebrate: my studio is a cooperative one with many artists, and we had found a new space just in the nick of time before our old lease ended.

And then the snow, and then the snow came
We were always out shoveling and we dropped to sleep exhausted
Then we wake up, and it’s snowing

I live in Massachusetts.  We had the snowiest winter on record compressed into a 6 week span.  I stopped checking the weather; I just assumed it would snow every third day.  Watch snow.  Wait for plows. Buy groceries. Watch snow. Wait for plows. Buy groceries.  Repeat. Repeat.  When the schools are canceled, most of the playgroups are too.  I am home with a one-and-a-half year old.  At least he loves watching the plows.

It snowed almost every Sunday.  Church was cancelled two weeks in a row; most of the other weeks we were still waiting for the plows to get to us, or the roads were too bad to drive.  I find God many places, but the liturgy and the Eucharist are my grounding place.  “Source and summit” the Church says of the Eucharist; I have never felt this truth so keenly. I wasn’t able to make it to Mass for a month.  I don’t know if I’ve ever gone that long without it before.

Isolated, but not completely: the calls can still come through.  Friends in crisis.  A sister in the hospital. I watched the snow and waited and worried.

And February was so long that it lasted into March
And found us walking a path alone together
You stopped and pointed and you said, “That’s a crocus”
And I said, “What’s a crocus?”, And you said, “It’s a flower”
I tried to remember, but I said, “What’s a flower?”
You said, “I still love you”

The snow is melting now.  I’ve been to church three weeks in a row.  My loved ones are healing.  We are getting out; the isolation is lifted.  I am coming out of the fog.  I pray now and I feel rusty, unsure.  Six rough weeks: is that all it takes for me to lose touch with God? I feel as though I forgot how to pray, forgot how to serve, forgot how to be Church, forgot how to do anything but go through the daily motions of physically living.  Yet I am grateful, because as the fog lifts, I see God, still right there as always, saying, “I still love you.”

Lent may not be officially over yet, but I’m ready for Easter.

“How God loves us through our bad theology”: A guest post

14051_10206246260419240_3924350429838097717_nCults are on my mind lately. For one thing, I’ve developed an addiction to the new Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It’s a Tina Fey/Robert Carlock comedy about an Indiana woman who escapes a doomsday cult and remakes her life in New York City. Much wackiness ensues.

But also, and more seriously, one of my college friends recently shared a reflection on Facebook. Theresa related how she was “raised with antiquated theology in a pre-Vatican II cult,” and the term “cult” was no exaggeration. I thought her analysis of that experience, and what it means to her today, was remarkable.

Therefore, I am doing something unusual. I am hosting a guest post, and the guest post is Theresa’s reflection. I share it below, and use Theresa’s real name, with her express permission. Read more of this post

Fix Society, Please

Earlier this semester we organized a Rally for Trans and Queer Justice in response to the violence that many in the trans and queer communities are experiencing.  It was inspired by rallies calling for justice following the aftermath of ongoing events at Ferguson and the tragic death of Eric Gardner.   As I read articles about the rallies and participated in some of the rallies here in Athens, I became aware that the lives of trans and queer people were not receiving attention despite the many alarming (but overlooked) reports involving trans women of color being murdered in the United States.  I do not want to undermine the #blacklivesmatter movement or the conversations connected to how the black community is treated and mistreated by systems of oppression that permeate all levels of society; however, I do not want these conversations to overshadow the lives lost due to violence in all its forms targeted towards trans and queer communities.  In our chanting and call for justice we must also include #translivesmatter … it is not about replacing or undermining or getting caught up in who is more oppressed, but coming together to ensure that #ALLlivesmatter in our rallying and ranting and writing.

Below is the reflection I shared at the rally.

Saludos a todas y todos…My name is delfin and I am trans and queer person of color.  On behalf of the center and all involved in making today happen, thank your for your presence!

Today, we rally, rant, rave, and chant NOT ONE MORE!  Today, we rally, rant, rave, and chant to break the silence.

As trans people our lives, voices, bodies, and experiences have been forgotten, neglected, and silenced. Today we roar…NOT ONE MORE!

Queer and Trans people are victims and survivors of all forms of violence. We have experienced and we are surviving…

  • Violence such as living in Ohio, one of 29 states where we can be fired for being and/or being perceived as LGBT
  • Violence such as having to navigate a campus segregated by gender, where our pronouns and names are misused and abused … a campus and community where finding a safe restroom to use is an everyday challenge
  • Violence such as suicide…40-50% of suicides are attempted and/or completed by LGB youth with rates being higher for trans youth
  • The violence of conversion therapy and reparative therapy
  • The violence that erases the lives and experiences of Asexuals due to misunderstandings of romantic and emotional attraction
  • Violence reflected in that trans women are at higher risk of sexual assault than cisgender women…the rates being much higher for trans women of color
  • The violence of having to be diagnosed with a disorder in order to live into and be who we are
  • The violence of our lives, bodies, experiences, and voices being silenced, erased, and pushed to the side

In December, 17 year old Leelah Alcorn completed suicide.  In her note she challenged us to fix society…It is in her honor and in the honor of many many many more that we gather today to fix society and to fix society now!

Just this month, 3 black trans women were murdered:  Ms Edwards, Lamia Beard, and Ty Underwood.  In Colorado a queer identified youth, Jessie, was the victim of homicide perpetrated by the police force.  In our own state of Ohio, 4 trans women of color have been murdered…these are story the stories that we’ve heard through the media…there are many more that go unreported and untold.

Research shows that 67% of victims of anti-LGBT violence are trans women of color…research shows that 30 to possible 70% of homeless youth identify as LGBT.  Many of the names read at Trans Day of Remembrance last November were of Latina women.

Where is our national outcry?  Where are the occupies and the national organizing?  Where are the programs ensuring that those silenced are not forgotten?  We here today, we are breaking this silence…We roar NOT ONE MORE!

Yes we want equality, yes we want legal protections, yes we want healthcare…more importantly, we want the simple yet radical act of being recognized and affirmed as people.  We want to know at our core that our lives, bodies, voices, and experiences are affirmed…we want to know that we matter.

Today, people will share their stories of struggle and resilience.  We have folks who have volunteered to share and we also welcome for folks gathered here to share.

Today, tomorrow, and every day, we will break the silence…we will rally, rant, rave, and chant until the violence stops!

Not one more murder…Not one more suicide…Not one more silencing…Not one more, period!

¡Muchas gracias!  ¡Viva la revolucion!

Some chants shared at the rally shared here for your use at other rallies…

The People United Will Never Be Defeated

Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Transphobia’s Got To Go

This is What Democracy looks Like

Trans lives taken – shut it down!  Not one more life – shut it down!  The whole damn system – shut it down!

We’re here, we’re trans, we’re fabulous, don’t fuck with us

When trans people are under attack, what do we do, stand up, fight back

Whose streets? Our streets! Trans rights now

images

delfin bautista is a member of the CTA National Board of Directors; delfin is also a member of Dignity’s Young Adult Caucus and is co-chair for Dignity’s Trans Caucus.  delfin currently serves as the Director of the LGBT Center at Ohio University.  delfin “preaches” on their own blog “Mi Lucha, Mi Pulpito” and  is a contributor to the Young Adult Catholic Blog and to Believe Out Loud.

God is Good (We Hope)

coffee bibleMy husband and I bring our laptops to our favorite coffee shop twice a week to work. We’ve noticed something about the coffee shops in our city: they are full of evangelists of all ages. You can scarcely enter one without finding a Christian mentor meeting with a mentee, a Bible study group, or a pastor writing a sermon. Based on this clientèle, I guess it isn’t surprising that the free-for-all chalkboard in the hallway to the bathroom has become a site for evangelization.

Last week, someone had chalked in large letters: GOD IS GOOD.

As I walked by it, I thought, “We hope.”

When my husband walked by, he added, “at checkers” (GOD IS GOOD at checkers).

The next time I saw it, someone had added, “& life!” (GOD IS GOOD at checkers & life!). Two separate people had written “All the time!!!” underneath the statement, with arrows pointing back to the initial statement. (GOD IS GOOD all the time!!!, or GOD IS GOOD at checkers & life all the time!!!)

Yesterday, I could resist no longer. I added the parenthetical (we hope) in the general vicinity of all the “Yay, God!” enthusiasm. Today, my statement of doubt was still on the chalkboard.

About ten years ago, my faith was shaken after a correspondence with a woman who worked for Kirk Cameron’s The Way of the Master. I had written a letter critiquing the site’s hate speech against GLBTQ people and Catholics (specifically the practice of praying the rosary). In the letter, I came out as both bisexual and Catholic. After a few emails back and forth, I was starting to feel that perhaps God really did despise me. That’s when I dropped the correspondence, because it was convincing me God was someone I did not want to know better. I curled up on my bed with my journal and wrote a list of the things I was sure I knew about God.

I don’t remember exactly what was on that list, but I think one of the statements was, “God is good.”

I do still believe that — my relentless search for meaning almost depends upon it. But I think the only thing about God I am really certain about these days is that I’m full of uncertainty. And this vulnerability is the only thing, I think, that can open me up to an authentic pursuit of God.

So I didn’t feel the need to take the proselytizing down a notch because I disagreed with the statement. Instead, I defaced it so the other doubters know they are not alone. So that those whose life experiences have led them to a very different perception of God or a loss of faith don’t suddenly feel as if they’ve stumbled into an unsafe space. To try to bring a little bit more neutrality to the table. To tamp down the arrogance that any of us can know definitively what the nature of God is, and push that definition on strangers without any inkling about their personal stories.

I was just the sort of pretentious college student who would have made such a proclamation to strangers on a coffee shop chalkboard.

Now, I can’t see statements like that without thinking about how they might read to someone who has just lost a child. Or to someone going through a divorce. To someone who doesn’t make enough money to feed her family. Or any of the thousands of other things that can happen to make someone feel that God has forsaken them.

I object to “God is Good” not because God is NOT good, but because it invites no room for dialog. Because it closes a discussion rather than opens one. Because it reflects the world view of the speaker, not the recipient. And because there’s not very much you can say to question it without looking like you are a terrible person, a “lost sheep,” or someone who wants to attack “freedom of religion.”

“We hope” might be the escape route a stranger needs; it might be the escape route I need; it might inject the distance needed to make it possible to approach the weighty and scary subject of God at all.

I believe that whoever wrote about God’s goodness did it as an act of love.

So, too, my words of doubt.

Of Habits and Hobbits

“I was expecting, you know…hobbits.” My friend Valerie said this to me with surprise and perhaps a touch of disappointment after she spent time with Catholic Sisters.

Hobbits?” I asked, immediately imagining Bilbo Baggins and his ilk running through the chapel and dining hall of the motherhouse. “Wait, do you mean habits?”

She caught herself and realized that she had inadvertently confused the term for the traditional dress of women religious with the humanoid Middle-Earth residents of Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. (In Valerie’s defense, she made this slip before her morning cup of coffee!)

This is one of many conversations I have had since moving in with a community of women religious. I’ve fielded questions from friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues, taxi drivers, bank tellers, and near-strangers. Some questions are funny and off-the-wall – often related to portrayals of sisters in pop culture like the movie “Sister Act” or the reality TV show “The Sisterhood.” Other questions are poignant and thoughtful; they lead to great explorations of big topics like community, justice, feminism, spirituality, ministry, human sexuality, and everything in between.

One question I have been asked more than once is: “Do you live with real nuns?”

At first, the question was confusing. What did this mean? Do people think I live with “imposter” nuns? What would render a sister fake? I wondered. I’ve come to realize the question they are really posing is if I live with habited sisters. The Sisters of the Humility of Mary modified their dress in response to the Vatican II document Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life (Perfectae Caritatis).  They moved to a simple blue suit without a veil. Now they wear contemporary dress with a ring and a medal as a sign of their vowed commitment and membership in the community.

There are women religious – from postulants to jubilarians – who are attracted to the habit and I don’t challenge their desire for distinctive dress. Some believe the habit gives a powerful, visible public witness to a sister’s identity as a consecrated woman in the world and opens the door to ministry. Others find that the habit separates women religious and leads people to put them on a pedestal which negatively impacts their ability to do ministry. Sister Susan Rose Francois’ Habits of Love or Sister Sophia Park’s Beyond Habits and No Habits (both on the Global Sisters Report website) explore the habit question. There are valid reasons for both sides of the habit argument and it’s not something I seek to hash out here.

What I do challenge is the idea that what women religious wear marks the authenticity of their identity as consecrated women. A nun or sister is not more or less committed, faithful, or prophetic based on her choice of dress. From the full habit to a simple pin or cross there are many ways that women religious today choose to externally present themselves. What dress will allow women to best serve the people they seek to serve? What will facilitate their ministries? What will communicate the message they seek to communicate about their way of being in the world? These are the questions that guide individual sisters and congregations. Especially during this Year of Consecrated Life, it seems more relevant than ever to stress that religious life is not a fashion statement.

As a keen observer of contemporary women’s religious life and a guest in many convents and motherhouses, I have concluded that what women religious wear is the least interesting thing about them. The sisters of Giving Voice, a national organization of younger women religious, echo this observation in their February 2010 letter in which they state “our clothing is the least significant part of our lives, yet receives so much attention.”

The preoccupation with the habit question seems to me an application of the ubiquitous sexist rule that what matters for men is the substance of what they do, whereas for women it is how we look while doing it. It’s clearly present in the entertainment industry where singers, actresses, and other performers are subjected to constant and intense scrutiny about their dress, weight, hair and makeup – just glance at the covers of the magazines in the checkout line. Commentators are more likely to focus on female politician’s pantsuit collection, hair accessories, and makeup than they are on her policies and ideas.

Is our hang-up with habits just a religious application of this same principle? If so, the response should be a strong, unequivocal emphasis on the full human dignity of all women whose identity is infinitely more than their physical appearance and wardrobe and whose gifts must be named and celebrated.

What women wear – whether we are nuns or world leaders, nurses or grandmothers, CEOs or gardeners – does not define us. I have been blessed to meet and develop relationships with women religious who have spent decades as teachers, spiritual directors, police chaplains, counselors, pastoral ministers, academics, artists, activists, administrators and more. Their fidelity to God, commitment to mission, and passion for service would make them “real” sisters in anyone’s book – whether they are wear a coif or a cardigan.

So if you come to the motherhouse where I live – or to many other motherhouses around the United States – expecting to see habits (or hobbits, for that matter!) you won’t find them. But if you come to find “real sisters” – that is, consecrated women striving to live lives of service and prayer in community, animated by their charism and vision of God’s kin-dom, committed to God and to one another – you will not be disappointed.

 

About the author: Rhonda Miska (rhonda.youngadultcatholics@gmail.com) is a former Jesuit Volunteer (Nicaragua, 2002-2004) and a graduate of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Originally from Wisconsin, her past ministries include accompaniment of the Spanish-speaking immigrant community, Muslim-Christian dialogue, social justice education, direct outreach to people who are homeless, congregation-based community organizing, and coordination of a community with adults with intellectual disabilities. She is currently a Partner in Mission with the Sisters of the Humility of Mary (real nuns!) at the Villa Maria Education and Spirituality Center in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania.

Cookie Monster and the limits of the theological enterprise

Via BoingBoing.net.

Via BoingBoing.net.

In my Facebook feed this week, I found something that warms my brought-up-on-Sesame-Street heart: “Cookie Monster ponders the mysteries of the universe.”

“Are you ready for some mind-altering, existential truth?” writes Boing Boing’s Maggie Tokuda-Hall. “Then by all means, behold: Cookie Monster. Not afraid to ask the difficult questions, his inquiring mind is like a tour guide for the hungry.”

Cookie Monster, lost in deep thought, wanders the corridors of the Guggenheim in New York. He gazes through the windows. He contemplates Van Gogh’s Starry Night. He meditates on a painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware. At each station, he turns to the camera and utters an insight:

“Onion rings are vegetable donuts.”

“Your stomach thinks all potatoes are mashed.”

“Lobsters are mermaids to scorpions.”

“Lasagna is just spaghetti-flavored cake!”  Read more of this post

Time for a Change

church-304637_1280Here we are back in Lent, the season when I first took the plunge to write for this blog.  Last year, I focused on mindfulness. A year later, I want to focus on change.  Lent is a time of change — you need look no further than songs such as Change Our Hearts and calls from the readings to repent (i.e., change your ways) to see it.  As Christians, we have a unique take on change.  I was reminded of this during a brown bag session on making changes in your life that I attended at work.  In general, it was a good session with useful information.  But one thing rubbed me the wrong way: the presenter’s reminder of the old adage that the only person we can change is ourselves.  I just smiled and nodded at the time (I certainly wasn’t going to change the presenter), but upon reflection, I disagree wholeheartedly.  (I suppose this audacity to believe that I can change others is part of what keeps me Catholic, even when I think that the Church’s imperfections are not all my fault!)  Allow me to cite some examples showing that Christians believe in changing others:

  • In the early history of Catholicism, the drastic change in Augustine’s lifestyle (from partying to piety) is attributed to his mother Monica’s constant prayers
  • A more modern story in Catholicism is that of Sr. Helen Prejean, who was able to convince Pope John Paul II not to allow for any exceptions in his condemnation of the death penalty.
  • In the Quaker faith tradition, John Woolman is credited with changing the hearts of companions in faith on the issue of slavery, years before the United States got around to abolishing it.
  • Couples heading into marriage often talk about their partner as “bringing out the best version of me” or “challenging me to be the best version of myself.”

Changing others is possible, but misguided notions of change are all too prevalent.  As a gay man, I know that there are people who want me to change my sexuality; it’s not going to happen.  How do the examples cited above avoid this pitfall?  With patience and humility.

  • Monica’s constant prayers took years to take effect, during which time, she undoubtedly had to let go and let God do the work
  • Sr. Helen had no formal authority over Pope John Paul II, and yet somehow through patient dialogue, her truth won out
  • Woolman’s efforts to convince the Quakers to condemn slavery took years of heart-felt dialogue before they won out.
  • Evidence that healthy couples use the same techniques is in the results: through loving dialogue over the course of their years together, a change for the better can come about.

As a choir boy, I’ve heard enough of They’ll Know We Are Christians to last me the rest of my life, but isn’t it talking about this type of change?  Our love for others should be so sincere that it actually makes a difference — it changes something!

May your Lent be full of change for you, and through you, for others as well.

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