About Kate Childs Graham

Kate Braggs has recently completed her graduate studies in Gender and Peacebuilding at the University for Peace in San Jose, Costa Rica. In her graduate studies, she focused on the intersection of gender, sexuality, and religion in a human rights context. Currently, Kate is working as Justice Advocate for a community of women religious. She is also member of the Call to Action Next Generation Leadership Team, the Women's Ordination Conference Board, and a small faithsharing community in the Washington DC metro area.

Going Home

This past weekend, after the Next Gen Leadership Team meeting, I had the opportunity to visit my friends and family in my hometown, Crown Point, Indiana.  Crown Point is an “exurb” of Chicago and depending on the day, we claim to be Chicagoans or Hoosiers.  Lately, with the Blago scandal, folks are definitely leaning toward the Hoosier side, but as soon as baseball season comes around we will return to cheering for the Cubs or the Sox. 

 

It’s a small town – Crown Point – with a very particular culture.  Everyone knows everyone’s business; at parties grown men and women sit at opposite sides of the room; and racism, while often frowned upon, is more than prevalent.  Ever since I moved to Washington DC in 2003, I have looked forward to these hometown visits with equal parts of excitement and trepidation. 

 

Visiting my hometown, I always feel the pull of these two very different worlds that I have lived in.  I feel more than comfortable at my somewhat progressive hometown parish – the non-gender inclusive language they use doesn’t make me cringe the way it does when I attend Mass in DC.  However, during the social hour (or two) after Mass, as some of the older folks in the parish tease me about being so liberal, I am reminded that while this is where I grew up, I no longer quite fit. 

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Pyramids, Cones and Circles

At the Call to Action conference back in November, the Next Gen crowd had the opportunity to hear Bishop Remi de Roo speak a few times.  While he gave us many wise words, one particular sentence has struck me as off.  He said something to the effect of “Vatican II brought the Catholic parish from the structure of a pyramid to a circle.”  Now, I am about to lay out why exactly I take issue with this sentence.  I know you are probably thinking, “Who is this 24 year-old to dispute a man who wears a ring given to him by Pope John XXIII?”  Please understand that I mean no disrespect to Bishop de Roo and I was inspired by many of his words, but this phrase just didn’t sit well. 

 

I hope that was enough of a disclaimer.  Here goes.

 

Perhaps the intention of Vatican II (for some) was to transform the hierarchal structure at the parish level from a top-down approach to a circular model.  However, in the end, I believe we ended up with more of a cone.  Sure, some parishes have parish councils and involved parishioners who take great stake in the decisions of the parish.  Ultimately, though, the priest, the bishops, and the pope have the final say in the inner workings of the parish. 

 

Take, for instance, my hometown parish in Indiana.  Our priest – quite progressive for our area – is very eager to listen to the needs and desires of the parishioners.  However, if one day the parish council decided that women should be able to say Mass – even if Father Joe agreed – surely our bishop would put the kibosh on any such decision. 

 

Outside of the parish, I have witnessed and been a part of several groups attempting to use a circular model.  And I must say that this model has been difficult and even impossible to pull off for even the most progressive and well-intentioned groups.  Either the group struggles because, in seeing leadership as equal to hierarchy, no one will step up to take a leadership role or a hierarchy emerges and one person or group of persons takes control of the decision-making processes of the group or some combination of both. 

 

Is a circular model impossible?  Are we so socialized to live with hierarchy that we don’t know what to do when there is no hierarchy?  Will we always end up with a cone?

 

Structuring a group, a parish, a community, an organization as a circle is difficult but not impossible.  In my opinion, one crucial step for groups working towards a circular model is to know and recognize the talents and strengths of each individual member.  By doing so, leadership can emerge based on the individual’s gifts, not power dynamics.  As for the other steps, I am still figuring those out.  I assume they have to do with putting community above individuality, selflessness, and other such virtues. 

 

To pull a circular model off in a parish of 100 or 5000 is beyond me but I hope that it is possible.  It is much easier to envision freedom from hierarchy in small groups. That is why small faithsharing communities offer a great opportunity to work towards a circular model.  Our community is certainly working towards this model – not without our struggles, I admit.   However, in getting to know each other at such a personal and spiritual level, it helps us to let go of the individualism of our daily lives and come one step closer to a discipleship of equals. 

 

 

In the end, I must thank Bishop de Roo for his challenging words, and I hope that we will all continue to work towards that circle.

Where were you?

November 4, 2008 – no matter what side of the aisle you land – was a historic day.  Surely, it meant something different for our generation(s) as we did not live through the Civil Rights movement, but it was historic nonetheless.  In case you were under a rock, Barack Obama was elected president. 

In chatting with folks at this weekend’s CTA conference, I realized that November 4 could be for us what November 22, 1963 was for our parents.  Or even, what September 11, 2001 or April 2, 2005 has been for our generation.  It is a day that we will always remember where we were at when we heard the news. 

For instance, on April 2, 2005 when Pope John Paul II died I was surfing the web while listening to some history lecture at Catholic university.  I can feel myself sitting in that uncomfortable chair in the student union, dying to interrupt the lecturer with the news that flashed across my computer screen.  I did, in the end, restrain myself.  I will always remember that day.

So, I thought it might be interesting – in a totally non-partisan way, as historic events like this tend to distract us from the polarization of our society – to hear everyone’s November 4 stories. 

Where were you when you heard?

Here’s my story:

I was at a small, surprisingly uncrowded bar in DC with my partner, two of our faithsharing pals, and fifteen of our best friends (having only become best friends in bonding over CNN for the past five hours).  At 11 pm, when they announced that Obama had won, there was a silence that went over the place followed by tears, applause, and blueberry vodka shots.  After McCain and Obama’s speeches, we took a group picture – the whole bar, that is – and went on our way.  The metro was closed and no cab was in sight – which meant a 20 block walk home.  The streets were filled with people cheering and honking their horns (94% of DC voters happened to vote for Obama – though our vote doesn’t matter much).   It was slightly drizzling on our walk back but fun nonetheless.  When we made it home, I checked – of all things – folks’ Facebook status updates. Some of my friends expressed their joy, while other friends felt disappointed in California, Florida, Arizona, and Arkansas, and still other friends felt that Obama’s election was a threat to the causes they hold dear.  I went to bed with that feeling that something incredible just happened.  Fireworks were still going off in the distance. 

So, now it’s your turn.  Where were you?  I challenge you to stay away from slander against one candidate or another because – like I said before – this was a historic occasion no matter what your politics might be.  

Lessons from the Right

There is something to learn from the movements of the Right – the anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, anti-LGBT, etc. movements.   The people heading these movements are masters of messaging.  They are able to distill their message, craft brilliant sound bytes and play them repeatedly until they are ingrained in people’s minds.  The other side of these debates, for the most part, has not been able to produce the same kind of messaging.  Somehow, it is harder to explain comprehensive immigration reform in three to five words.  However, in trying to maintain integrity and take holistic approaches to different issues, those speaking out against the Right are losing these debates.  We need to learn how to speak in sound bytes at times and explain the larger vision at other times.  

 

After these masterminds have crafted their messages, they have managed gotten their message into the pews of many Christian churches. They have managed to convince churchgoers that you can’t be a Christian and be pro-choice, pro-LGBT rights, pro-immigrant, etc. In some cases, there is not even any logic – or they really have to stretch to find logic – to make this connection.  Nevertheless, they do and people believe them.  One can even hear irregular churchgoers stating, “The Bible denounces homosexuality and therefore it is wrong.”  They may not be able to tell you where it says that in the Bible, but they believe it is there.  And now, even if a preacher tries to focus on other issues such as global warming or war, the emotive response pales in comparison to that of the anti-abortion or anti-LGBT response.  We need to learn how to glean that emotive response from the pews.

 

Finally, they use Dr. Seuss to back them up.  Every time I see “A person’s a person, no matter how small” on a bumper sticker, I question whether Dr.Seuss, a progressive thinker, would have liked to see his work used to support such a cause.  In fact, Dr.Suess’ widow, Audrey Giesel is said to be against the anti-abortion movement using this message as well.  Dr. Seuss’ books contain other messages that other movements could capatalize on.  The Butter Battle Book pronounces the destruction of the nuclear arms race.  The Sneetches is a call to end racism and discrimination.  Yertle the Turtle is about the danger of the quest for power.  The list goes on.  We need to get the true messages of folks like Dr. Seuss out there and not let the Right co-opt and twist these messages.

 

So, there is something to learn from the Right.  While they may not always maintain integrity when getting out their message, they are successful in disseminating their message to every level of society. One can even hear these messages on playgrounds when one third grader tells another to “learn to speak English” or to “stop being so gay.”  Wouldn’t it be grand to hear a third grader spout the message of the other side of these debates so easily?  All we need are the messages.  

 

* Everyone looking for some interesting online reading should check out http://www.religiondispatches.org. A. Because it is a great online magazine with fantastic articles and B. Because I blog for them twice a week! 

Books, Movies, and Television, Oh My!

As the brisk fall weather begins to creep into Washington, DC, I wanted to take time to reflect on some of my summer favorites in terms of entertainment…some were a true pleasure, some were of the guiltier sort.

Book:  The Night of the Gun by David Carr

So, I admit I originally started reading this book because I heard that David Carr was the brother of John Carr, who heads up the office of Justice, Peace, and Human Development at the Bishops’ Conference.  I thought that perhaps I could find some interesting comparison/contrast between David, a former-addict turned New York Times writer, and his brother.  

However, instead of discovering fodder for yet another post about the USCCB, I found a brilliantly crafted memoir of a man who struggled through addiction, cancer and worse.  Carr (David, that is) writes like a spoken word artist.  He seeks to find truth in memory as he interviews people from his past and present about his own life and reports on his findings.  It is most definitely a book worth reading. 

Incidentally, John Carr of the USCCB is mentioned several times throughout the book as are the bishops themselves – but only in the best of light.

Movie: Hamlet 2

My partner and I went to see this movie at 10:20 am in order to pay a semi-reasonable rate.  What a spectacular way to start a day! Not only was it hilarious and have terrific music, but it also puts a comical spin on the not-so comical scenario that denies freedom of speech and expression.  Click here to view a trailer.

The USCCB – I knew I’d get them in here somewhere –  do not recommend seeing this film.  Their Office of Film and Broadcasting considers it a film for “limited adult audience… whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.”  Troubling – or side-splitting?  Their reasoning? “Fleeting frontal male and brief rear nudity, much sexual and some irreverent humor, frequent rough and crude language, a few uses of profanity, child molestation, adultery and fertility themes, and drug references.”  That description definitely does not do justice to the film. Go see it!

Television: The Secret Life of an American Teenager

My ultimate guilty pleasure this summer.  The ads for this show described it as a cross between 7th Heaven and Juno – and so, in full doubt, I tuned in.  What I found was a dumb-downed version of Juno that played out the overt-stereotyping one would expect.   It follows the life of a young, innocent woman who gets pregnant after having sex with the school stud.  Side stories include one about the popular cheerleader who is determined – as a result of her faith, or maybe more accurately, her parent’s faith – to “save herself for marriage” and another about another young woman portrayed as the godless, school slut.   Basically, it gives a very narrow-minded picture of teenage life.

But this narrow-mindedness is not surprising at all considering that the show has worked in close collaboration with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.  This organization promotes abstinence above all else.  While it does make a step in the right direction by at least mentioning contraception in its materials, it is definitely not a sex-positive organization. 

This show I wouldn’t recommend – unless you want to see how U.S. youth are imbibed with the messages of the Right.  

So, two out of three ain’t bad…

Prophets or Fanatics?

I live in Washington, DC, and I work in Maryland.  Every day I spend a good long hour on the bus to travel a mere 30 miles (traffic is awesome).   And every once in a while – probably once a week or so – we have a preacher on the bus.  Sometimes it is a man.  Sometimes a woman.  Sometimes they preach in Spanish. Sometimes in English.   Sometimes they stand up front and command the attention of the whole bus. Sometimes they sit in the back so you can only hear them – because no one would dare to look back to see them.

While these preachers preach, the other riders have mixed reactions: frustration, embarrassment, fear, apathy, humor, etc.  However, generally they share one common thought: “This person is crazy.”  I have to admit, I have shared that though on more than one occasion when one woman went on and on about how television had ruined her life.  But after observing these weekly sermons, I began to wonder if they really were giving us messages of the truth.  I mean, throughout our Christian tradition, we have people who were regarded as wacko in their time but who we now revere as saints and prophets. Like St. Catherine of Siena – in today’s lingo, St. Catherine would have been considered as anorexic and a self-mutilator.  Surely, that would have warranted at least a long hospital stay.

There are tons of folks who are regarded as crazy for their ideas in today’s world – Jimmy Carter, the woman who has slept in front of the White House for over 20 years to promote a free Palestine, Ralph Nader, Dorothy Day…the list goes on and on.  Are these people modern day prophets?  Could the bus ride preachers be prophets?  Learning from history, I suppose it will only be after long their life on Earth has ended that the wider world will recognize them as prophets. However, wouldn’t be great if those true prophets were honored during their lifetime?

My Weekend on the Church Reform Cruise Ship

I spent this weekend at the Inclusive Ministry and Renewal in a Complex Age Conference in Boston.  This joint conference was co-sponsored by Roman Catholic Womanpriests, Federation of Christian Ministries, CORPUS, and Women’s Ordination Conference. 

 

From the moment I arrived at the conference I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was on a cruise ship.  Maybe it was because the conference was held at a fancy hotel right on the Boston Harbor.  Or perhaps it was because 99% of the attendees were white people in their 60s and 70s donned in floral prints and khaki shorts.  Or it might have been because of the numerous cocktail hours held overlooking the water.  Nonetheless, as I sat in an adirondack chair watching one older heterosexual couple practice Tai Chi as another clinked wine glasses – I couldn’t help but think – I am on the Church Reform Cruise Ship.

 

Now, the thing about cruise ships is that people board at one port.  They eat.  They drink.  They relax.  They may stop off at a few other ports, but they always come back to the exact place from where they started.  I think this may be the problem with this part of the Church Reform movement.  (By “this part of the movement” I mean folks  – mostly older, white, upper-middle class folks – who stand ardently behind the Roman Catholic Womanpriest movement, see it as the most radical form of change the Church has ever seen, and further the ideology which puts folks who have been “legitimately” ordained in a position of superiority.  While not everyone at the conference took this position, it was clear that this ideology was steering the ship).  These women and men sail off with the best of intentions, but they end up right back where they started – patriarchy, white privilege, heterosexism, classism, elitism…

 

I witnessed this several times at my weekend on the Church Reform Cruise Ship.  I watched in wonder as folks at the first cocktail hour rushed around the reception room to get to shake the hand of the newest womanbishop.  I listened in terror as the man giving a presentation on pre-marriage told me about the difficulties that couples face in preparing for marriage especially when “one is a man and one is a woman.”  I tried to understand with compassion as one person in the workshop entitled “Addressing Racism in Inclusive Ministry” discussed celebrating Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month as key ways to be an inclusive Church.  I cringed as I heard that when each of the sponsoring organizations was having a breakout meeting, the RCWP meeting was only open to those ordained and the candidates for ordination.  And I laughed when one man tried to claim that women are “just more programmed to like chocolate than men – it is something in their genetic makeup,” and I wanted to cry when the women around the table agreed with him.

 

This Church Reform Cruise Ship was definitely going back to the port from which it started.  And maybe it is good that these folks do take this cruise, see what is out there, and come back to tell us what they’ve seen and show us what it means to come back.  But I am convinced that we, as the next generation of this movement, need to be sailing to a different place entirely.  We need to chart our own course to a place where all people are considered priestly.  To a place where there is a true discipleship of equals.  To a place where we can create a genuine inclusive community.  And the ship I was on this weekend – well intentioned as it was – is just not going there.  So, let us set sail.