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.

Theater Reflection: Spring Awakening

A few weeks ago, my partner and I went to see the Tony-Award winning musical, Spring Awakening, on Broadway. Based on the controversial, German play written in 1891 by Frank Wedekind, the musical is about teenagers discovering their sexuality. Through its exhilarating alt-rock score, Spring Awakening deals with the topics of individuality, education, masturbation, homosexuality, abortion, rape, sexual abuse, and suicide. Click here for a full synopsis without too many spoilers.

I left the musical physically and emotionally shaken with the resonance I felt. Discovering my sexuality in utter ignorance was all too familiar. Not that my mom did not give me the books – I shudder as I remember the day she handed me Where Did I Come From? . However, even with the books, I still felt as if sex was something bad and puberty was a dirty word and homosexuality was a sin akin to murder.

Now, I don’t want to put the blame 100% on Catholicism– maybe just 98%. Sexuality education in the Catholic tradition focuses solely on abstinence, neglecting to teach young adults how to make informed and responsible decisions about their bodies. Catholic teaching condemns contraception, denounces sexual pleasure, and rules out masturbation and homosexuality as “intrinsically disordered” – even though decades of research prove the opposite. Spring Awakening eloquently depicts how this miseducation adversely affects young adults.

I find that even among progressive Catholics, we still have trouble talking about our sexuality. I attribute this mostly to years of this miseducation on sexuality which Catholicism provides us – it is hard to erase those misnomers from our heads! Not that all Catholic teaching on sexuality is awful. If you can get past the antiquated, hetero-normative language of the teachings, there is some good stuff on what it means to be in relationship.

Comprehensive sexuality education, on the other hand, gives young people the tools they need to make responsible, value-based decisions. It provides young adults with accurate information about sexuality and helps them to develop their values and beliefs about sexuality. Had the characters in Spring Awakening had comp. sex ed. at school or church, the plot would certainly have ended differently.

To wrap this all up: Spring Awakening was fantastic – the best and most honest musical I have seen in years! It is going on tour starting in August. I encourage everyone to go and see it! Here is a music video of one the hit songs in the production, The Bitch of Living. Enjoy!

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Book Reflection: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

So, I just finished reading this great book entitled Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson.  The basic (very basic) plot – It is about a young girl named Jeanette, who is adopted by evangelists who want her to become a missionary.  As Jeanette realizes her sexuality as a lesbian, her mother’s friends subject her to exorcisms.  

The richness of this book’s exploration of religion and love is overwhelming.  I have to admit that it took me a while to get into but once I did I could not put it down.  I want to share with you two quotes that speak poignantly to my faith as a Catholic woman and to my dedication to the reform of the Catholic Church.  Perhaps they will resonate with you as well.

“It is not possible to change anything until you understand the substance you wish to change.  Of course people mutilate and modify, but these are fallen powers, and to change something you do not understand is the true nature of evil.”

 I think this is a (if not the) great strength of the Church reform movement.  The leaders of the movement – generally speaking – know their stuff backwards and forwards.  They understand Canon Law and Church doctrine as well, if not better, than some leaders of the patriarchal Church.  However, this understanding does not just include mind-knowledge, it also includes heart-knowledge – being able to feel and know in your heart the depth of the Church. 

 As young people, I believe we are called to obtain this intimate understanding of the Church so that we can create substantive, long-term change in our Church.  I think the number of young adult Catholics – women and men – in Divinity schools, faith-sharing communities, and other settings show that we want to understand, to know in our minds and hearts the Church that we love so much. The Church we love enough to want to change. 

“I could have been a priest instead of a prophet.  The priest has a book with the words set out.  Old words, known words, words of power.  Words that are always on the surface.  Words for every occasion.  The words work.  They do what they’re supposed to do; comfort and discipline.  The prophet has no book.  The prophet is a voice that cries in the wilderness, full of sounds that do not always set into meaning.  The prophets cry out because they are troubled by demons.”

I am honestly still trying to put into words the reason why this passage pulls me in so deeply.  I know for me it relates to both the debate within the Church reform movement about the reform of the priestly ministry/office and my own calling to ministry.   These questions came up:  Can one be both a priest within the institutional Church and a prophet within the Church reform movement?  Do we need priests to be the keepers of knowledge?  What does it mean to be priest? What does it mean to be a prophet?  Are they different? Should they be? What am I called to be?

I think I will leave you with those thoughts and questions.  I look forward to hearing your reactions.  Oh, and I highly recommend the book!

 

CRS and Father’s Day

A few weeks ago I wrote about my thoughts on a letter Catholic Relief Services (CRS) sent out on Mother’s Day.  In that post, I posed the question: “Would someone ever write on Father’s Day: “It is clear that if we do not help men, real change can’t happen?”’  Well, they did not exactly write that, but CRS did send out an email connecting their work to Father’s Day.  It stated:  

“Throughout the world, fathers are the ones who teach us lessons about generosity, responsibility and selflessness. Fathers reveal to us the loving image of what a dad should be—and Father’s Day is the perfect opportunity to show your dad that you were listening all those years.” 

Now, this email did not go as deep as the letter on Mother’s Day.  It basically was asking readers to make a donation to CRS on behalf of their fathers for Father’s Day.   However, I felt uneasy about the wording of the email – in the same way that I did about the Mother’s Day message.   

After reading some of your comments, mulling them over since Mother’s Day, and receiving this message on the role of Fatherhood as expressed by CRS, I think I may be able to pinpoint more clearly what rubs me the wrong way about these messages.  Or, at least, I’ll try.  I am bothered by the language that confines each gender to certain roles.  That is, this whole idea that fathers teach us about generosity (because they have the money) and responsibility (because they have the jobs) and selflessness (because they go to work) while mothers care for the children and keep families intact.  Maybe I am reading too much into it, but I don’t think that it does justice to either men or women to be confined to these roles. 

I suppose what I am getting at is that “equality through complementarity” is not really equality.  Until we get past this way of thinking, we will not be able to reach true equality.  To me – and it became even more obvious after the Father’s Day message – CRS seems to back up this ideology of “equality through complementarity” and the nuclear family and other ideologies that have been catalysts for gender inequality.

Surely, CRS is noble in treating some of the symptoms of this inequality through providing women with microcredit and different types of aid.  And there is no doubt that this work needs to be done.  However, it seems to me that – at the same time – we need to look closely at the root causes of this inequality to find a more sustaining solution.  If we don’t, then we are just putting band-aids on the real problem of gender inequality.  

The Papal Rock Concert

As some of you may have heard, the Pope was in town a few weeks ago. I live in Washington, DC, and I have to admit I followed his visit closely – partially because my faithsharing group was doing an action around his visit (a story that might be worth a future post) and partially because I was absolutely fascinated with the Papal-mania that was springing up around me.

As an alum of Catholic University, I received email after email detailing CUA’s involvement in the visit. One email contained a video reel of students expressing their (only positive, of course) thoughts on the Pope coming to campus. One student said this, “…He is like descending from Peter and he is like God’s right hand man – right here – and so him coming to CUA is gonna change us so much…”

I only mention this statement because I think that this is what many people believe – especially many students at CUA. As Catholic Christians, every week at Mass we reaffirm our belief that Jesus is at the right hand of God and through Communion we are all the body of Christ and through that ritual we are changed. It certainly does not take one man on a three hour visit to CUA to create that change. On another note, we may need to do an education campaign at CUA about the lineage from Peter.

In an article in the Guardian, Jo-Ellen Can Nostrand from Long Island was quoted as saying “He’s the closest thing to God!” In many articles I read or conversations I overheard throughout his visit, this sentiment of the Pope being the embodiment of God was overwhelmingly disturbing. Each time I heard or read this, the song “This Little Light of Mine” popped into my head. I kept thinking don’t they remember that everyone – from the Pope to their neighbor to themselves – has the Spirit of Life within them.

I attended the Mass at Nationals Stadium. At first I didn’t want to go, but then I thought of it as an opportunity to pray with those with whom I both agree and disagree. I sat in the “Nun Section.” There were many young sisters in full habit in the section. When the Pope circled the outfield in his Mercedes-Benz, many of the young sisters ran up to the first row. One young woman came back in tears. Another looked as if she was about to faint. My co-worker leaned over to me and said, “I guess to them – this is like their rock concert.”

Certainly the Papal visit was an exciting time for Catholic Christians in the United States. However, I was left wondering why – to many – the presence of God is easier seen in an 81 year-old man in red Prada shoes than in the person sitting next to them. Really, every time anyone in the world walks out into the street, we should be throwing a parade and swooning in awe because we are all the embodiment of God.

CRS: Using Mother’s Day to Confine Women to the Private Sphere

Each time an email update from Catholic Relief Services (CRS) pops up in my inbox I feel a little uneasy. I know that on one hand CRS has been able to provide a great deal of assistance (with substantial funding from the U.S. government and backing from the U.S. bishops) to those who need it most. However, I am also aware that CRS often “toes the party line” in that, for example, CRS refuses to provide comprehensive sexuality education as a means to prevent HIV/AIDS. So, when I saw this email with the subject line “Celebrating Women,” I was particularly intrigued and concerned.

The email started with a letter from CRS President, Ken Hackett, which was entitled “Empowering Women to Fight Poverty.” You can access a copy of the letter here: https://crs.org/about/letter/. The letter begins with a salute to Mother’s Day and then states:

Around the world, women play an important role in providing for their families and doing much of the work that sustains them. In so many societies and cultures, much of the daily burden falls to women, as they work in the fields, do domestic chores and care for children. Many women do not just care for their own children, but often take on responsibility for relatives’ or even neighbors’ children who need loving care to survive.

It is women who keep families intact through the trials of poverty, civil conflict and natural disaster. And it is to women that a disproportionate burden of poverty falls. It is estimated that 70 percent of the 1 billion people living in extreme poverty are women. It is clear that if we do not help women, real change can’t happen.”

I read these paragraphs aloud – incredulous that someone actually wrote this, someone else probably edited it and someone else sent it to the thousands of people that receive the CRS briefings. A thousand questions came to mind. Why is it that the “daily burden” of caring for the family, doing domestic chores and working in the fields falls on women? Why is it the responsibility of the women to keep families intact in times of poverty and conflict? Why is it that on Mother’s Day we are celebrating women when not all women are mothers? Would someone ever write on Father’s Day: “It is clear that if we do not help men, real change can’t happen”? Do women really need “help” of a male-centric organization like CRS, or do we need to end discrimination against women so that women have an equal say in decision-making processes at all levels of life? And lastly, why would an organization like CRS send out a letter that reinforces unequal gender roles and yet again confines women to the private sphere? Did not one person raise a red flag before they pressed “send”?

Ken goes on to explain the different ways CRS has been “empowering” women through programs that “improved their health, increase their access to education and offer them better opportunities to make a living.” It seems to me that his sentiments in paragraphs which explain the work CRS has done in terms of women and microfinance are dwarfed by the prevailing attitude that reduces women to helpless caregivers who need to be rescued. However, perhaps my vision was blurred after reading the introductory paragraphs.

After reflecting on the letter and my visceral reaction to it, I realized that I should not have been that surprised. Afterall, CRS is strongly connected to the institutional Church – a Church that has consistently reinforced these unequal gender roles. However, I still cannot mask my utter disappointment that CRS, our Church, and our world has yet to raise above gender discrimination and still confines women to the private sphere.