Thesis writing as Activism

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For now, writing my thesis is my activism.

These words slipped out of my fingers as I was replying to what I had thought was a simple-enough Facebook post turned comment war, and I don’t know that I really believed them at first. Writing for a blog for Call to Action, and being the post following one on Standing Rock, I suppose I don’t really need to explain why I’m talking about activism on a Catholic blog. But let me just say that it’s in my DNA. I grew up with parents who write letters to political leaders and take part in protests out of a sincere desire to live out the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church. Much has been made of the debate between Catholics and Lutherans over whether one is saved by works or by faith alone, but whatever the answer, the good side of it is the motivation to get out and do something.

But what if you find yourself so busy that you really can’t fathom doing another thing? Certainly sometimes this is a sure sign that you’ve over-extended yourself in unimportant areas and need to refocus on what is important. For me right now, however, I have all I can do to focus on work, thesis writing, and being a good boyfriend. In that case, it helps to turn to these words attributed to Oscar Romero:

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing this.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

If I can’t add to my plate right now, perhaps I can see this plate in a new light – as doing something. I remind myself that I chose to work at the library because I was genuinely excited about being able to serve everyone. I know that my interactions with my boyfriend, on their best days, bring Christ into the world both for him and for others who see us.

And I warm up to the idea that perhaps writing my thesis is activism. I’m writing about different Catholic responses to the transgender community, and I hope to spur some healthy dialogue. If just one person reads my thesis and starts on the path of being a voice for transgender people, I will have at least done something. And yet, even without this outcome, my research is changing me. While I consider myself an imperfect but decent trans ally, I’ve realized that I had never taken the time to really look at the Church’s thoughts on being trans and pull them apart. If we agree that the Church needs a radical transformation on its stance, knowing that stance precisely is the first step toward an effective counterargument. At the same time, my understanding of the liberal Catholic response has evolved from “they think the official teaching is wrong” to an appreciation of the beautiful, creative theology being written by these groups to carve out a well-deserved place in the Church for trans people. When my thesis is finally signed off on, hopefully I’ll go back to the traditional forms of activism, but for now – and I now say this with conviction – my thesis is my activism!

About the author: Francis Beaumier is on the leadership team for the Dignity Young Adult Caucus and an active member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Family as well as Angels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church. He currently works for Brown County Library as an IT Specialist and is pursuing a Master’s in Liberal Studies at St. Norbert College.

Staying Active in the Holy Spirit

493px-peace_dove-svgWe learn in high school English class the significance of the birth metaphor: something important has taken place, our hero has crossed the threshold to a new level, and they will never again be the person that they used to be. The feast of Pentecost is full of birth imagery. It’s no accident that it’s referred to as the birthday of the church, for it represents the moment when Jesus’s disciples were transformed from scared followers asking “now what” to bold preachers willing to spread the good news at all costs. The description of Pentecost in John (“After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy spirit.’” 20:22, The Inclusive Bible) echoes the second creation story, the birth of humanity, where “YHWH fashioned an earth creature out of the clay of the earth, and blew into its nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7, The Inclusive Bible). Recall, too, the presence of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’s baptism, his spiritual rebirth: “the Holy Spirit descended on the Anointed One in visible form, like a dove” (Luke 3:22, The Inclusive Bible).

The birth metaphor, with its images of life and breath, reveals another fact about the Holy Spirit: she is associated with action and movement. The appearance of the Holy Spirit in the Acts reading for Pentecost is accompanied by “what sounded like a violent, rushing wind” (Acts 2:2, The Inclusive Bible). The disciples present act on the spirit’s urgings by preaching in a multitude of different languages. The breath mentioned in the John passage above is an image of movement, too – we can feel the rush of air! In modern English, I only have to use the phrase “spirited debate” for your brain to be filled with images of animated people gesturing wildly and perhaps moving about the room in order to make their point. The word spirit carries energy.

Unfortunately, the feast of Pentecost shares a fatal flaw with the other major appearance of the Holy Spirit: the Sacrament of Confirmation. With both celebrations, the story too often ends right then and there. For some, the Sacrament of Confirmation marks the end of regular visits to Church for the foreseeable future.  In the case of Pentecost, it can feel like the last stop before our brains kick into summer mode. (This is culturally reinforced: school lets out, vacations begin, and the church choir is on hiatus.) We may still be there physically for the summer months, but our spiritual development stagnates.

How do we face spiritual stagnation head on? At the MCC church, one way we do this is to declare the season after Pentecost to be Pridetide: in this time of gay pride parades and festivals, we take time to reflect on our place in the celebration and show up, claiming our own place among the groups. In this active spirit of Pentecost and Pridetide, my summer goal is to continue my spiritual growth. During Lent, I developed the habit of asking, “What do you want me to hear?” Now I’m asking, “What do you want me to do?” If I am successful, Advent will not only mean beginning again; it will be a new beginning.

About the author: Francis Beaumier is on the leadership team for the Dignity Young Adult Caucus and an active member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Family as well as Angels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church. He currently works for Brown County Library as an IT Specialist and is pursuing a Master’s in Liberal Studies at St. Norbert College.

The Seven Last Words of Christ: Singing the Passion

n-s-dos-passos-19St. Norbert College hosts the Dudley Birder Chorale, a 150-voice choir under the direction of 89-year-old Mr. Birder himself for over 40 years.  While I am a member, I haven’t been able to participate in recent years because I’ve been pursuing a Masters degree.  But this semester, finding myself without a class, I seized the opportunity to sing once again, if only for a two-performance run.  Thus, on the 13th of March, I found myself back in my tux performing The Seven Last Words of Christ by Theodore Dubois, a musical setting of the last moments before Jesus’s crucifixion.  You can find many performances of this work on YouTube, in both English and Latin.

We performed the piece in Latin but offered reflections before each movement, allowing everyone to understand each section.  These reflections, Dudley’s insistence on singing the musical phrases and not the notes, and my own need to decode the Latin, forced me to really consider what I was singing, which ultimately lead to this being one of the most meaningful concerts I’ve ever sung.  Here are some of the thoughts I had as we sang this.  I hope they aid your Triduum reflection.

First Word: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do

The power of this movement comes from the juxtaposition of Jesus’s prayer of forgiveness (sung by a soloist) with the chanting of the crowd (sung by the choir).  Here we are, a huge mob of people, insisting that Jesus is guilty and deserves crucifixion, even welcoming the blood that will be on our hands, while Jesus is asking God to forgive us.  It caused me to think of all the times when someone merely frustrates me and the best prayer I can seem to offer is not that they are forgiven but that I can keep my cool.

Second Word: Verily, thou shalt be in Paradise to-day with me.

Smarter minds than me have pointed out that only Luke’s Gospel has Jesus promising the repentant criminal that he will get to be with him in Paradise.  The words of the criminal — not a plea for forgiveness, but only desiring the gift of a passing thought — remind us to be humble.  Jesus’s response reminds us that God’s justice is not our justice and that God’s mercy is tremendous.

Fifth Word: I am athirst!

Jesus’s desire for something to quench his thirst, a most basic human need, goes up against a crowd of people taunting him to come down from the cross so that they might believe in him.  In singing this movement, the scorn of the crowd flows through me in a real way; I am faced with, and scared by, my own capacity for cruelty.  I don’t completely comprehend all this evil, but I can offer Jesus my thanks for having endured it.

Seventh Word: It is finished!

Jesus’s final words are echoed by the entire choir in a whisper, accentuating how used up Jesus’s earthly body is.  Then the organ takes over and you can just picture the curtain being torn in the chaos that comes out of the pipes.  Finally, the movement transitions into Adoramus Te, Christe.  After yelling at Jesus for so much of the work, it is a welcome relief to end with a song of praise.  Augustine was right when he said, “Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”

About the author: Francis Beaumier is on the leadership team for the Dignity Young Adult Caucus and an active member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Family as well as Angels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church. He currently works for Brown County Library as an IT Specialist and is pursuing a Master’s in Liberal Studies at St. Norbert College.

 

“We like it here”

I’ve always had an interest in architectural oddities, so when news of the Metrodome roof collapse hit the airwaves in 2010, I became obsessed with finding out all about this unusual building.  One of the articles that I stumbled across, part of an old ESPN review of every stadium in baseball, mentioned a sign that used to hang there that said “METRODOME – Minneapolis ‘We like it here.'”  The article goes on to express the true meaning:

Yeah, you people from New York, California and Florida might think our weather is cold and miserable and that our stadium sucks, but we don’t care — WE like it and that’s all that matters. And is it loud enough in here for you, then?

metrodome_with_new_roofIn thinking about why I stay Catholic, I think some of the same logic applies.  Those who have left the church or who are proud of their own faith tradition will see the “cold and miserable weather” that we’ve gone through as Catholics (the sexual abuse scandal, bishops and Cardinals getting in the news for being unwilling to welcome LGBTQ Catholics, etc.) and ask us, “why stay Catholic?”  And the best answer I can give them is that “we like it here.”  If that’s the case, I thought, I’d better seek to understand why I like it here.  This lead me to decide that what I should “give up” for Lent this year was negativity.  In other words, I sought to focus on the positive this Lent.  And it turned out that my pastor was right there with me — part of his prescription for Lent was to spend ten minutes a day counting our blessings.

I consider myself to be a fairly positive person, but I found that the goal of “giving up” negativity demanded effort.  It is easy to get sucked in with others when they talk about shortcomings of religious leaders or the undeniable mess that is politics in the United States.  I kept coming back to the question of “What good can I say?”  What good can I say of Pope Francis when my progressive Catholic friends point out that he doesn’t seem to be acknowledging LGBT Catholics as much as we had hoped?  What good can I say of President Obama when I am confronted with a list of things that he has failed to accomplish?

Fr. Tim’s wish that I count my blessings didn’t prove as easy as I would have thought, either.  My thought process often went something like family, good weather … gotta finish that report at work, gotta talk to my boyfriend about Easter plans … people that love me ….  I couldn’t even list 10 things without being distracted by everything I “needed” to get done.

But if I can count one big blessing, it’s that I feel that this Lent really has been different.  I have made progress in my Lenten goals, if imperfect.  And I have gotten to take advantage of three Sacraments: Eucharist, of course, but also Healing and Confession.  I didn’t get the opportunity to go to much of our parish mission in person, but I’m taking advantage of the YouTube recordings to slowly experience it on my own.

As you head into Holy week, I invite you to consider the blessing that this week and this season is for you.

About the author: Francis Beaumier is on the leadership team for the Dignity Young Adult Caucus and an active member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Family as well as Angels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church.  He currently works for Brown County Library as an IT Specialist and is pursuing a Master’s in Liberal Studies at St. Norbert College.

“A Bruised Reed He Shall not Break”

Who was I to blog about peace?  All the peace that I sought seemed to disappear on Friday as I learned that a good friend of mine (my first college voice teacher, an important mentor, and an all around inspiration) had a terrible car accident between Green Bay and Milwaukee and is now lying unconscious and on a breathing machine at the hospital.  “The whole world was at peace”?  Certainly not here, not in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  This situation has haunted me this weekend as I struggled to go about my business.  “And what about my blog post?  How can I think of anything else?”, I thought.  Thus, I’ve decided to share with you honestly my journey this weekend, hoping that it will be of some help to you and me.

Upon hearing the news on Friday, I asked my parents to pray with me and then I prayed with my boyfriend.  My contributions both times were not very elegant — I’m not so good at praying extemporaneously with others — but I needed to do something, anything.  Eventually, I had to sleep — the general busyness of the week and the emotions of the moment caught up with me and left me drained.

Yesterday, I turned to the readings for today for inspiration.  One of the advantages of being a member of both the MCC and Catholic churches is that I often get two sets of readings for Sunday.  Today’s first reading in the Revised Common Lectionary is Isaiah 43:1-7.  Verse 5 jumped out at me:

Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. (The Inclusive Bible)

This reading is obviously what David Haas used as a basis of “You Are Mine.”  Here’s the chorus:

Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine

Being a church choir nerd, I must have sung this a million times, many of those being funerals.  Thus, the song filled me with a mix of emotions.  It’s beautiful music.  And yet we often sing it when someone passes away.  It speaks of bringing someone home.  “Oh dear Lord, are you going to bring my friend home?”

At Mass at my Catholic parish this morning, Fr. Tim unlocked for me the power in the first reading in the Roman Catholic lectionary.  In this reading, a chapter earlier in Isaiah, we find:

A bruised reed he will not break (42:3, NAB)

Fr. Tim used the image of a broken stem on a poinsettia, which instead of being chopped off and thrown out, is propped up with a stick and given the best chance at healing.  So my friend is lying in the hospital incredibly broken, and God, through the ministry of the doctors and nurses, is doing everything possible to heal this “bruised reed.”  Wow.

I don’t know what happens next, but it won’t be easy.  I’ve learned not to ask why; I still need to learn how to deal with the feeling of powerlessness.  I’m grateful for my virtual and physical communities that are willing to set aside religious differences and come together in prayer.

About the author: Francis Beaumier is on the leadership team for the Dignity Young Adult Caucus and an active member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Family as well as Angels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church.  He currently works for Brown County Library as an IT Specialist and is pursuing a Master’s in Liberal Studies at St. Norbert College.

My Advent in Review

Wichern_Adventskranz_originated_from_GermanyAs someone who writes for this blog once per liturgical season, I’m always on the lookout for an overarching theme for the current season. Sometimes finding this theme (or understanding what I’m taking away from a given chunk of the year) feels like hard work, and sometimes it just stares you right in the face. Guess which one this Advent has been! Let’s take a look at a few examples:

  • I was leader for the second week of Advent at the MCC church. Our keyboard player kindly pointed out to us that that week’s theme, according to our Advent song, was “peace.”
  • One of my choir directors at my Catholic church picked this year to dust off “Peace, Peace”
  • Fast forward to the third Sunday of Advent, and I can’t get the line from Paul’s letter to the Philippians out of my head that talks about “God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding” (4:7, The Inclusive Bible)
  • One of the Norbertines asks if I’d be willing to do the Christmas proclamation for Christmas eve at a rural Wisconsin parish, and I shoot back to him the only line I can remember: “Is that that ‘the whole world was at peace’ chant?”

Clearly Advent is trying to tell me something! Admittedly, I never seem to have much time for Advent – it always comes at the end of the semester, when there’s a big rush to turn everything in before it’s too late. And just when I’m done with that, it’s time to make sure that everything is in order for Christmas. Therefore, I’m grateful for the reminder to slow down and experience some peace.

Thinking about it some more, searching for peace is quite an appropriate Advent thing. Every Mass, we are reminded that we need to be at peace with those around us before we can receive Jesus – that’s why there’s the sign of peace immediately before communion. As a precursor to Christmas, Advent should function the same way.

In an effort to “let peace begin with me,” as the famous song says, I’ve been more observant of my own inner peace. There have been a couple times when I’ve done well: I’ve had a few days at work where things that would normally get to me just haven’t bothered me, and I’ve been able to take a couple moments when I’m not singing during my choir rehearsals to simply sit back, relax, and enjoy the music. Yet at other times, I’ve still let stress and frustration get the better of me. (I’m still not any good at Mondays!) I am certainly open to your suggestions for finding inner peace. In any event, I am grateful to have not completely missed Advent this year. And since half of my examples were Christmas songs anyway, maybe Christmas can be about peace, too. As we wrap up Advent and move into Christmas, I pray that the peace “beyond all understanding” is with us all during this season and beyond.

About the author: Francis Beaumier is on the leadership team for the Dignity Young Adult Caucus and an active member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Family as well as Angels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church.  He currently works for Brown County Library as an IT Specialist and is pursuing a Master’s in Liberal Studies at St. Norbert College.

Why I needed a retreat (and you might too!)

pause-303651_640Chalk it up to nature or nurture, but I tend to rejoice in what I have rather than lament what I don’t.  In the Catholic world, I celebrate that I’ve been given access to the Sacrament of the Sick before being at death’s door and that I’ve been on plenty of retreats, rather than believing that “retreats are for really holy people.”  Before college, retreats were just built in to my education.  There was 8th Grade Retreat, Freshman Retreat, Sophomore Retreat, Kairos, and yes even Les Miserables Cast and Crew Retreat.  While retreats didn’t force their way into my life in college, they were readily available, and I took advantage of two that I can remember.  Then I spent a year in the Norbertine Volunteer Community and was on no less than 6 retreats.  My time in the NVC wrapped up in July 2010 and then … Nothing.  For five years I went without the beloved retreat.  How did this happen?  I’ve got no good excuse.  But I finally broke my streak on September 18th when I went on my parish’s men’s retreat.

Where’s the power in a retreat?  It’s simple … or rather simplicity.  Life is stripped down to its essence.  There was a whole list of don’ts for me that weekend in September, each one empowering:

  • Don’t worry about a thing (your parents or your boyfriend will call the emergency phone if something happens in the world that you really need to know about)
  • Don’t check your email (good luck getting Internet anyway)
  • Don’t worry about a daily routine
  • Don’t worry about getting anything done
  • Don’t worry about food (one weekend without your diet won’t kill you)
  • Don’t hesitate to take some alone time
  • Don’t cut yourself off from the group
  • Don’t worry about what time it is

Even without the talks, this “stripping down” should help you to disassemble and reconstruct your life.  Even if all the pieces go back in, at least you know that they really needed to be there.  Ideally the talks supplement this.  One thing that Fr. Tim said that really stuck in my mind is the acronym T.U.B.E.D. – tired, used, bored, envious, depressed.  The point, of course, is to recognize the signs of this in your life (one telltale sign: going through the motions of life events, like Sunday Mass, and not really getting anything out of them) and take steps to combat it.  I was definitely feeling pretty tired and maybe a little used up, and so I found a scrap of paper and wrote “Anti-TUBED plan” across the top and reflected:

  • What’s taking up all my time?
  • What has to happen first?
  • Can I have one day a week where I’m not trying to just get as much done as possible?

I had already been splitting up my homework among the days between classes on my calendar; now I decided that I should probably get my homework done for the day and then clear out email rather than clear out email and then get to my homework.  I resolved to stop trying to use the computer and eat meals at the same time. I chose Saturday as a day to just do one thing at a time rather than always trying to get two things done at once.  I can’t say that I’m doing a great job sticking to this plan or that I became an expert time manager — I’m squeezing in this post about a September retreat (described at spiritplantjourneys.org) more than a little after the fact, for example!  But on the good days, my busy scurrying seems more meaningful.  And I’ve become less afraid to turn down invites to good things that just don’t fit in right now.

I’m looking forward to my next retreat!

About the author: Francis Beaumier is on the leadership team for the Dignity Young Adult Caucus and an active member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Family as well as Angels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church.  He currently works for Brown County Library as an IT Specialist and is pursuing a Master’s in Liberal Studies at St. Norbert College.