About Theodora Ranelli

I'm interested in progress. Contact me at movingworms@gmail.com

Good Friday is Not Just a Day, It’s a State of Mind

It’s hard for me to be happy again around Easter.  Jesus just got done being dead, we just got done mourning!  And now we are supposed to be happy?  I wrote about this before, but I see Jesus continuing to die and be resurrected — continuous births and deaths of Christ.

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Don’t You Get Me Wrong Now

I went to see a local production of Jesus Christ Superstar last night.  There are many things that have informed my Catholicism  — you know, the Bible.  Church services.  My priest.  Saint Books.  Those Catholic picture books.  Mariology.  Ornate Cathedrals.

But especially, Jesus Christ Superstar.  I would ride my bike down the sidewalk singing “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”  My sisters and I did beanie baby throw shoes (in which you dance while throwing the beanie babies up in the air).  I did productions of Jesus Christ Superstar with my paper dolls in an all-girl cast.  I’ve talked about this before, but it was one Lent, after listening to Jesus Christ Superstar, that I realized Jesus’ pain relating to his death, even if it was willing.  “Gethsemane” gave me a soundtrack to experience Holy Thursday and become better involved in my Church services.  I would spend countless hours arranging spools of thread like the angels in Heaven and practicing “Heaven on Their Minds.”  Listen Jesus to the warning I give…. Imagining the 39 lashes given to Jesus, marring his body is embodied through song.  (The scenes with Pilate and the crowd gave me a very real depiction of hurt and anger, more than what I was getting in my stale Catholic school.  But it made me pay attention in Church.  The rituals during Lent and Holy Week became alive for me.)

Now that I reflect on my Catholic beliefs:  low-Christology, political, melodramatic, belief in the real resurrection as when people remember — came from my religion, but it also came from Jesus Christ Superstar.

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Last-Minute Call for Submissions

Unruly Catholic Women Writers, Vol. II extends its deadline for submissions to March 31, 2009.

The editors of The Catholic Church and Unruly Women Writers: Critical Essays (Palgrave 2007) invite submissions for a second anthology, this time of creative pieces—short stories, poems, personal essays—on the topic of unruly Catholic women, following a spirit of inquiry regarding the extent to which the Roman Catholic Church enables or restricts female unruliness. Also in keeping with the first volume, the editors wish to cover varied geographic and ethnic points of view. All submissions must be written in or translated into English.

Please send your submission, as an MS Word document of no longer than 5000 words (shorter pieces gladly accepted), by March 31, 2009, to all three editors: Jeana DelRosso (jdelrosso@ndm.edu); Leigh Eicke (eickel@gvsu.edu); and Ana Kothe (akothe@uprm.edu).

In Sickness and Health

I was not ready to begin Lent this year.  I was already thinking, too much mourning.  On top of everything, I got sick for about a month.  I wasn’t able to be a part of Mardi Gras or attend an Ash Wednesday mass.  In fact, I haven’t been able to go to a Lenten mass this year until today.  This is all bumming me out because I am a Lenten person.  My priest says that I can take on the Lenten practice without recieving the ashes or going to Church, but I’m starting to feel that I’m missing out on Lent.  Besides, I’ve been doing a lot of lament.  I know I should have the grace to be close to God through hard times.  I remember other times when the first thing I wanted to do when things got rough was to go to a holy place.  I know that prayer should happen when you’re up and when you’re down — it’s a conversation with God.

Don’t worry, I have been a lot better physically and now the drs and I are working on managing everything.

I can’t help but think about the medieval saints who wished for an illness to get closer to God.  I wish I could say that I’m subsisting on the Eucharist alone.  But it’s more like all the visible outward signs of religion have disappeared, and then it’s just God and me…and we have to figure out what to do.  With this bare physicality of God.  I was expecting to do more ritual mourning this Lent, that’s all.  But since I’m already there, in a state of grief, what do I do with the pieces?

I have a candle on my desk that is a picture of the bloodied Jesus, but he looks like Imam Husayn.  Imam Husayn was killed at Karbala, Iraq along with 72 other family and friends.  There were many survivors, mostly women and children.  It is said that he went to his death by choice, as a sacrifice.  And for people to remember.  And I think about flesh.  There’s always pressure:  Am I remembering enough? Am I doing this right?  Am I talking to God? And I remember what a mentor said when I was younger:  “If you do things truly for you, it’s not a competition.”  I wanted to do more ritualisitic memory of Jesus this Lent, but I think, in my heart, I am remembering Jesus in deep ways.  And Jesus keeps turning into Imam Husayn, which turns into Joan of Arc, which turns into Abbas and Zaynab.  And I think this memory, this mourning turns into blood and bits.  But it also turns into images that show up on this blog quite often.  In 1970, there was a play about Imam Husayn that was written.  And I swear, when I read a part of the closing lines, I saw Jesus, too:

…Remember me as you struggle in order that justice may reign over you, remember me in your struggle . . . . remember me in your tears;  when the meek and lowly are oppressed. ..  Remember me when the singing of nightengales in your lives would be overcome by howls of pain and when the sound of clinking glasses drowns the cries of the weepers . . . Remember me when all these things take place and rise up in the name of life to lift up high the emblem of justice and truth.  Remember my revenge so that you may exact it from tyrants.   . . .But if you hold your peace against deception and accept humilation, then I would be slain anew.  I would be killed every day a thousand times.  I would be killed every time a zealous person is silent . . .. I would be killed whenever people are subjugated and humiliated. . . . then would the wound of the martyr forever curse you because you did not avenge the blood of the martyr.  Avenge the blood of the martyr.

And what I’m learning, experientially, is that memory flows over you.  And even if I’d like it to be part of a ritual, it doesn’t have to be.  You can remember God with the breath in, and Jesus and Imam Husayn on the breath out.  What I’ve learned is that I’m living this memory, even if I haven’t been as much a part of Lent as I would like.  I am a ritual and what I am doing is ritual.  I am remembering.  I am Lent.

Questions, Questions, Questions

(Lacey’s post inspired me to post this!)


progressives, well-meaning progressives, usually ask me a version of this question:  how do you reconcile your progressive, female-bodied, transgender, queer, feminist, [insert pet] identity with the rigid, oppressive structure of Catholicism?

not calling names here, but double points if this is person who practices a non-oppressive Eastern religion as opposed to a Western one, or a person who goes to i heart Dutch Wax Print fabric as well as Alice Walker sacred snuggle nights and calls it a spiritual practice.

anyway, what kinda question is that?

well, let’s see. you might think i’m a radical Catholic, i know, because that’s the only way I fit in your paradigm.

some of my best friends are radical catholics.

but a radical, well-meaning catholic made the comment to my friend who wears a scarf over her head at Mass – a long scarf, wrapped around her neck – that she’s glad Brooke doesn’t wear the Mantilla. The Mantilla represents colonization and women’s oppression, while the brown scarf around Brooke’s neck looks freer, “it looks more Palestinian! That’s so nice!”

Brooke likes the mantillas, but she’s young, younger than me, and wanted some sort of on fire for God youth movement to catch on, and figured more people would be into wrapping Archibald Sisters scarves around their heads than the mantillas, the only person who wears a mantilla is Mrs. Duncan and she’s crabby. Brooke wanted something to catch on for young people, and yes, Middle Eastern fetish is saucy right now.

Never mind the play at pretending that we’re all happy Catholics and interfaith and pro-Palestine – after all, there are Catholic women in long skirts and shirts and scarves in the vicinity – thank you, Archibald Sisters, for catering to the Middle Eastern look, and Brooke just nods and says ‘thank you.’

Or my, well, you can’t really label them Catholic friends who laugh at the well-meaning radicals donating things to the mission in Tijuana when they don’t need like fluffy pillows and stuffed animals, they need money. “Do you know what the Hell it means to be that poor?” she asked.

And I was in a study group with these radical Catholics all fall and we had this intense discussion about how we must sing Kumbaya in the face of racism and we’re all one in Jesus, oh God, help us rise above! And maybe, just maybe, if we started apologizing to people of color, they’d douse our palm branches with holy water and absolve us. I guess I’m not a radical Catholic under those terms, anyway.

But anyway, I’m not trying to make you understand me or create a sacred healing space, that bubble where we all breathe on each other – can you feel the sacred healing?

Yes, in a non-oppressive way, I feel like you have made up for all of your wrongs, in, out,

I can’t talk to you about the pain, because there is pain that comes with organized religion.

You might wonder why most of the targets of my work are non-practicing or lapsed or religion hating people when, you know, You “should not be ganging up on the progressives because we all agree with each other more than the oppressiveness of your structure and the conservatives we’re not like them” (shudder, shudder, shudder at the word conservative)

Wanna bet? I can’t talk about the pain because you try to talk over it – oh, yes, organized religion is anti-woman, especially Catholicism, I don’t understand how you could do it – I start to say – I can’t tell you about how bad it felt to go to a sermon on Palm Sunday and hear the priest describe how many times, we complain too much. We complain about many things, including the church. Now Jesus didn’t complain. He followed orders.

But then you go on an on about the whole structure of organized religion and how its mind control for the masses and good for sheep who like to follow orders and Then pretty soon talk would turn to all of the so-called oppressive things being done in the name of religion, maybe yes, maybe no, everything bad in the world,

And it will circle, it would be an exorcism of sorts for all those recovering, so I can’t talk about the pain – you have it mapped out, honey – you know what you’re going to say, you have the book tour and Be Here now and now, you’re here.

a traditionalist woman told me, when I bought medals, holy cards, and holy water, that I was never going to Hell, ever.

I had all of the protection in the world to guard against the repellant forces of Evil.

my priest said, when I left the church – how many of you seen The Laramie Project? He’s the priest in The Laramie Project – anyway, he told me that there are good reasons for leaving the Church, but the only reform in the church is going to come from people who stay. In short, any blabbering about the rigidity of religion if you’re not an active part of one, particularly the one you are criticizing, an organized one with rules and such, is not gonna do squat. There are religious people already doing much more work than your talking will ever do.

so I am happy for you, in your notreligionbutspirituality life. But keep in mind that you’ve probably asked this annoying question to quite a few people who practice organized religion, particularly one that is ‘different’ from ‘yours’ with lots of ‘hard-to-understand-rules,’ how do you reconcile your progressive, female-bodied, transgender, queer, feminist, [insert pet] identity with the rigid, oppressive structure of insert religion here? I don’t reconcile it, I submit, I resign, I surrender. Which in turn promises gentle caresses and a new way to break down barriers, because Jesus didn’t follow orders, he wasn’t obedient. And hopefully those others you annoyed have taken you into another dimension with their answer, if it dignified one. Or maybe they forgave you and became your friend. Because as much as you might hate religious rhetoric, you still love it when someone forgives you.

Racism in Liberal Communities

At the 2008 Call to Action conference, I was blown away by all of the community I felt. I was also blown away by the pervasive racism in progressive communities. I live in a progressive community, so I see the well-meaning racist thing all of the time. I pull it all of the time. It doesn’t make me a better white person. There’s a great article at New Demographic about whether it’s better to call someone out for being racist or admit that you’re racist yourself. While admitting that I’m racist, I am going to call out. This is old news, but it is better than nothing.

I’m tired of the idea that Kathleen Kennedy Townsend discussed in her plenary at the conference – that racism is dead now that Barack Obama is president. I’m tired of hearing that the “black man” stole from “the woman.” I’m tired of hearing that black churches have more sexism. See Townsend’s comment about “trying to talk about the female God in an African American church” and the audience laughing. Continue reading

Being Authentic

I spent the weekend at the Creating Change conference, put on by the National Gay and Lesbian task force. Most of my work there was focused on faith, spirituality, sexuality, and queerness. The theme came up of ascent/descent. I found that even though I am on the outskirts of my religious community, I am also on the outskirts of my queer community because I am religious and enjoy so much of my religious traditions. A secular Muslim colleague calls it “spiritual violence” when you are not able to practice your religion in secular settings. This is hard for people of any religion, but especially for folks who are Muslim. Most secular people want to hear the sob stories about religion, especially Islam. It makes it harder to tell stories about hard things that happened, because then the speaker is viewed as not being comfortable with their faith.

There was a lot of talk at this conference about what it meant to be “authentically Catholic” and “authentically queer.” I feel my Catholicism comes out in ways where I don’t need to be authentically queer. If God is boundless, the earth is the place that created boundaries and binaries. And that wasn’t a queer theorist who says these things, it’s religious scholars. Granted, there have been lots of horrible things that I have experienced in the name of religion, but I prefer to float between ascending and descending – to just be authentic.