Weekend Links 9.22.17

News briefs with a heavy dose of Christian feminism.

Hildegard of Bingen

Crisis

When the hurricane hits. Yes, that is how life feels. I have asked the same questions. This writer’s journey gave me help and consolation in my own.

God be with them in Mexico following this earthquake! The numbers of lives lost is devastating.

Managing Life

Sound advice on managing time when the to-do list is overwhelming.

Take note of this increase in drinking among women.

An antidote? Mindful drinking. Make more with less.

For the love of God and neighbor

The question of how the liturgy develops is a strand of news I will follow closely. I experience endless frustration with the question, “why can’t we just make it more beautiful?” “Send down your spirit like the dewfall” makes me a little breathless at God’s beauty each time. The hymns sung at parishes in my area are bland and have terrible, terrible poetry. I ache for more and have witnessed actual resistance to it? Why? The best understanding I can gather is that bland and plain is of the people while lofty and beautiful is most elite. As a friend points out, it is the financial elite often calling the shots for the bland, feeling they can speak for the lowly masses. Well, friend, the lowly masses can learn to sing an old Irish hymn just fine. They do not need your “Mass of Christ the Savior” (aka, Missa de My Little Pony) or your “Gift of Finest Wheat.”

Whatever conversation we want to have about faith and morals. Keep it clean, people.

The Apple store wants to be your town square. It’s like Target to me, trying to capitalize on movements within society by being what they’re not! It actually became a primary third place of our society, then our culture will become even more defined by consumerism, rather than God and country. It’s filling in the cultural vacuum. Unfortunately, it is for profit and will lead people to even more loneliness because their time together will be about spending and consumerism. At the same time, corner “Bodegas” are being set up by the same Silicon Valley experts replaced read third places for New Yorkers.

Yes! There but by the grace of God, go I. We need to see the poor as Christ among us, even those we don’t think deserve our compassion.

The Arts

I love haiku poetry. I hope you will too.

Feminism

September 17 is the Feast of St. Hildegard of Bingen. Do you know about this remarkable and wild woman?

There are such riches in our Church history. Modern hymnaries barely scratch the surface. Dr. John Boyle instilled a love of St. Hildegard of Bingen in me. Read here about her music and to listen to some recent renderings.

I liked St. Hildegard so much in part because of how uncomfortable she made some of my more conservative male classmates. This was a woman not afraid to write about women’s sexuality and address sexual temptation in women. It happens. Here is more about her life (not so much about her admonitions regarding sex). For that, you will have to read about her visions.

Looking for a feminist model? When so many women could neither read nor write, in these so-called dark ages, this woman was “a Benedictine nun, a mystic, theologian, foundress, writer, expert in pharmacology, cosmologist, composer, botanist, doctor … and she maintained correspondence with popes, bishops, kings, and emperors….She was, without a doubt, the most powerful woman of the late Middle Ages.”

Feels like the Emmys are the new Oscars. Television is giving us the things we’ve wanted from movies for a long time: a voice.

It should be said though that we are not living in The Handmaid’s Tale, not even close. I love the point this commentator makes, the liberal side fails to acknowledge they have won the culture war. They can relax.

I am catching a feminist theme this week. I am a feminist who believes in equal footing for women and men. The domination of men over women and the willingness of women to be dominated by men is a fallout of original sin. It is not a prescription of what ought to be. Too many times, femininity is mistaken as a subordination that makes the woman passive and at the mercy of the man’s decisiveness. Here is an article highlighting how stereotypical feminine traits are not healthy dating decisions.

Still gasping over Kate Middleton’s high heels?

Why such attitude against Kate Middleton? I think she is lovely. That she appeared shortly after delivering a baby, dressed and in heels, only speaks to her fulfilling what she and/or her family feels is her duty. As part of the royal family, they belong to the public so to speak, and so, just as she would have her intimate family view the baby, they chose to appear in public to show the baby with their family, England.

Heels? Beautiful hair? An actual dress? Kate Middleton is very slender and the dress is flattering, no doubt made intentionally or carefully selected for her. It may have been very expensive because great design usually is. You want to critisize her footwear? I know women who wear heels throughout their third trimester because it is easier on their lower back. As a public figure she wears heels, a lot. You think its unthinkable to wear heels after delivery? Do you wear them every day? Some women are so used to them they actually find them comfortable. Relax. You don’t have to be here, so don’t be in shock that you wouldn’t make the same choices.

Yes, she looked amazing. I keep thinking, a team of stylists will do that. It’s nothing against her and nothing against the average, non-royal woman. But I have no doubt a hair stylist, a makeup artist, and someone from wardrobe helped her prepare for that short moment.

If as a married woman, part of my way of loving my husband is to dress in a way that makes him happy (he is so visual after all) then why wouldn’t the Duchess of Cambridge have a responsibility to dress with care, showing the dignity, strength and joy of the future leader of their country?

Some women are still in a tizzy over it, as if the Duchess’s appearance sets a new standard. It doesn’t, unless you are also delivering babies who may rule a country. You may focus on your family. Perhaps it simply means smiling. Perhaps, God forbid, it means choosing a simple hairstyle and getting dressed postpartum so you don’t look quite as awful as you feel. Then rather than inciting others to pity you, you will inspire them to be joyful for you. It isn’t a matter of hiding how you feel, but sublimating it.

Smile even when you don’t feel like it, they told me when I was in youth group. Fake it till you make it. You don’t have to wear heels, you don’t even have to wear make-up, but it might feel good to tidy up a little, shower, look in the mirror and know that you did this, you accomplished something amazing and you look incredible doing it. This is my Duchess of Cambridge moment when my first was born. I braided my hair! The second time I put on pajamas. The third time I wore a little make-up.

Baby 009It’s all subjective. The right level of self-care at the particular time under the particular circumstances. Maybe it means wearing real pajamas instead of a hospital gown that second day and that is your Duchess moment. Maybe it means make-up. It doesn’t have to. None of this is a have-to. It isn’t the Duchess’s job to teach you how to be a mother of however many you have or a wife or a woman in the United States. She is doing her thing. Now you go do yours.

The Church hates women according to Frank Bruni

Let’s play a game called find the errors. This should be fun. For fodder we’ll use Frank Bruni’s opinion piece in the New York Times, May 6, 2015, “Catholicism Undervalues Women.”

I do recommend reading the article, but I probably only left out a handful of sentences.

Now let’s begin. I found 19, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll comment on 15.

  1. “[Pope Francis] left out the part about women in the Roman Catholic Church not even getting a shot at equal work”
    1. Conflating vocation with job status. The Catholic Church also doesn’t allow men to be mothers.
  2. “When the symbolism, rituals and vocabulary of an institution exalt men over women”
    1. Google titles for the Virgin Mary, She’s a woman, and I’m pretty sure she’s exalted over all human beings.
  3. “When challenges to that imbalance are met with the insistence that what was must always be”
    1. Challenges to the imbalance like educating women or giving them positions of power when it was not allowed publicly? That would be during the monastic era in the so-called Dark Ages. See Hildegard of Bingen, Doctor of the Church.
  4. “—that habit trumps enlightenment and good sense.”
    1. Conflating the role of tradition with habit. Tradition is one of the three ways God reveals himself to us: Scripture, Tradition, Magesterium.
  5. “For women to get a fair shake in the work force, they need at least some measure of reproductive freedom”
    1. Sexist! Sexist! Sexist! I don’t need to stop being a women and not have babies in order to be equal to men. If women can’t be equal in the workplace because they have babies maybe the problem is the workplace.
  6. “Some Catholic leaders don’t merely cling to that hoary stricture; they promote it, despite its disproportionate effect on women’s autonomy.”
    1. God willed us for own own sake. Christianity is the thing that taught us about this whole human dignity thing.
    2. In Africa, women are grateful for the influence of the Church because they have more rights, since the Church is against polygamy. I hate when these culture-bound Western-centric writers think US issues are the only issues that matter. Get a map, the US is not the world.
  7. “Their vilification of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious”
    1. Hehe, he didn’t read anything written by the Church on this.
  8. “In 2012 the group was denounced by the Vatican”
    1. In 2012 the Church opened an investigation. Denunciation would be the conclusion of an investigation. He is confusing Pope Francis’ “truce” (his word) with the closure the investigation in 2015, which according to him was a denunciation.
  9. “Church’s refusal to follow some other Christian denominations and ordain women undermines any progress toward equality”
    1. Same complaint, different words. Why would the Church, which is older and more structured follow other Christian denominations?
  10. “Male clergy are typically called “father,” which connotes authority. Women in religious orders are usually called ‘sister,’ which doesn’t.”
    1. Heads of religious orders are called “Mother.”
    2. He didn’t mention this so he must think father has more authority than mother, so maybe Bruni is actually sexist, and not the church.
    3. Men who aren’t priests but are in religious orders are called Brother. He didn’t mention that either.
  11. “Things could be different. Traditions change.”
    1. Yes, traditions can change, but church teaching cannot.
    2. Priestly celibacy is a tradition.
    3. Male priesthood is a teaching and cannot be changed.
    4. Get it straight. Try to be less creative with your words, you should have stuck to “tenets.”
  12. “History and mythology yield to fresh interpretation.”
    1. That’s a loaded statement that isn’t quite clear. How we interpret history and mythology has evolved, see The Theology of the Body.
    2. Bruni pretends to ask for evolution, but is really asking for radical transformation – revolution.
  13. “Yes, the Bible says that all 12 of Jesus Christ’s apostles were men. But I’ll see you that dozen and raise you one Mary Magdalene, to whom Jesus supposedly appeared first after the resurrection. Isn’t her role as foundational to the church’s birth?”
    1. Well, Mary the Mother of God is more important than Mary Magdalene but she isn’t as salacious. He’s being very choosy in his examples. Women who actually embody obedience to God should be pushed aside, it seems.
  14. “Can the church afford to alienate a generation of young women mystified by its intransigence?”
    1. Again, where are women most on fire? Traditional circles. Religious orders which seek out ways to use the gifts of its members, who teach the truth, who are not afraid of sacrifice and the vow of poverty.
    2. He is making a claim based on his viewpoint, not actual evidence of where success is found.
  15. “But the metaphor remains, and it casts women as offshoots, even afterthoughts.”
    1. Regarding women being taken from the rib. His is one “fresh interpretation.” Another is that Adam was lonely, incomplete, without a partner. Jewish perspective sees the rib as indicating an equal. She could have come from his foot. But she didn’t.

 

Overall I think it is Bruni who is pushing his worldview, his perspective on what makes a liberated woman, which is a woman who works, who uses birth control. That attitude harms women because it creates a professional pressure for women not to be tied to their bodies or their babies. The women who “have it all” are under tremendous emotional and professional pressure to make it all work. Many of them experience feelings of guilt because balance inevitably means neither is 100% the way they would like it to be. Don’t add to it by saying a woman can only be equal if she has birth control and can work as much as a man.

His western-centric worldview judges the Catholic Church based on American values. This does injustice to those around the world suffering persecutions through societal structure, government persecution, or the suppression of culture. These Catholics find freedom and liberation in the Church. But they aren’t worth mentioning because they aren’t white Americans.

For some more intelligent responses than mine, read here.

Why I call myself a feminist

March of the women … a suffragette protest in London, 1911. Photograph: © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

Recently I was asked if I have experienced backlash for calling myself a feminist. I haven’t experienced any great backlash but I have seen a few signs of it. Given my interest in clinical psychology, I tend to avoid verbal sparring with people with whom it will make no difference. It wasn’t always the case, and my friends know how to get a rise out of me, but truth be told, I haven’t discussed feminism with too many people.

So why am I a feminist and how do I define feminism?

My first foray into feminism began with a fabulous, radically liberal, shocking reading in a Catholic Studies class, “Woman and Man,” at the University of St. Thomas. I delighted in the discomfort of my male peers and sought to emulate my professors’ devil’s (radical feminist’s) advocate approach. While I could acknowledge the insanity of some of the ideas, I was not afraid of them, and understanding the others’ point of view became an important cause to me.

I took other classes that forced that perspective. There and since then, I learned about many types of feminism. Radical, liberal, new age, pro-life, so-called new feminists, John Paul II femininsts.

Why do Catholics need qualifiers to call themselves feminists? I believe this takes us back to Elizabeth Scalia’s point in Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life, particularly in Chapter 3: the Idol of the Idea. Catholic group-think (note: not Catholic teaching) is decidedly anti-liberal, anti-Democratic, anti-feminist. Why anti-feminist? Isn’t the Catholic church decidedly pro-woman? Absolutely. The Catholic Church was at the forefront of educating women, given women positions of power (hello Abbess!), defining a woman not by her status in relation to man (only marriage) but on her own terms (celibate, consecrated life). So why the hate?

Radical feminists are aggressively anti-man. Liberal feminists are aggressively anti-pregnancy (pro-contraception, pro-abortion). Liberal feminists are heavily involved in the political scene. Radical feminism has shaped our modern media which paints male protagonists as antagonists that are either buffoons or bigots, patriarchal, un-feeling jerks. A strong Catholic man who has rediscovered the value of his masculinity and vocation as a man, is naturally disturbed by the treatment of men in the media. A virtuous, just man (qualities that come with that whole good Catholic thing) is abhorred by the institutionalized abuse of woman made possible through wide-spread contraception (“okay men, you don’t have to live up to your responsibilities because it’s her fault she got pregnant, she was supposed to be on the pill”) and the injustice brought upon the most innocent of persons, the unborn child. But these ideas can morph into idols and when this happens, the feminist is the object, the sacrifice to be made to that strange god.

What other ideas spring up when the idea of “masculinity” has become a god? Perhaps that certain tasks or certain personality features belong properly to women or properly to men. If a person disagrees with that concept then he or she can be labeled and dismissed, or worse, insulted, persecuted. This is not evangelization. This is not charity. This is not even a right understanding of the human person.

Masculinity and femininity are a man’s and women’s way of being in the world, according to John Paul II. They are not traits. They are the person’s lived experienced, stamped with his or her perspective, deeply formed by this core component of who he or she is, his or her sex. A man or a woman may be ambitious, caring, aggressive, passionate, but it will look different based on what sex the person is. To simplify things, one might take an approach Prudence Allen defines as fractional complementarity which categorizes qualities as a man’s trait or a woman’s trait. In this view, neither are complete without the other. That hardly seems right as some people are called to virginity for the sake of the kingdom and it diminishes one’s personal value. Integral complementarity, in contrast, sees that our unique perspectives add and inform to the greater good.

The ideas that are central to feminism can float in many circles, if we aren’t afraid of the labels.

1. A woman should not be defined or understood by her relationship to a man. We are all defined by our relationship to God. Some feminists apply the central point to the relationship with God because God revealed himself as Father, but this is applying it in the wrong direction. We are defined by our relationship to God our Creator, not to any human being.

How this central point gets applied: women should not be objectified. Feminists are typically against violent pornography. Feminists are against human trafficking. I watched two documentaries in college: “Killing them Softly” about how women are objectified in advertising and “Dreamworlds 3” about how women are objectified in music videos. These programs are not intended to have a Christian message, but their message resonates with Christians because they value God’s creation, woman.

2. A woman should have equal access and rights. Liberal feminism takes this point and applies it to all groups, regardless of sex, while still identifying it as a feminist mission. This concept has evolved. Earlier it meant equal voting rights, equal pay. Now it is evolving in popular culture to include the concept that some women want to have children, having children looks different for men than women and women should not be penalized for that. Evolution continued: women should not be penalized for having and nursing children. Accommodations should be made. Evolution continued: men are also part of the having children equation and should be involved, allowing them time off from work to be good dads and bond with the babies.

I’m not naive, it has also evolved to equal access to marriage for LGBT persons. But that idea has moved beyond feminism because feminism, as an idea, rests on the question of woman.

Likewise, if people who label themselves as feminists puts a pro-abortion, pro-contraception message above the message of feminism, as in the recent headline stating Democrats blocked an anti-human trafficking bill because it did not include access to abortion, then this is not an issue of feminists making a god of their message, but of people passionate about a pro-abortion/pro-contraception stance, turning that idea into a idol to which other persons or issues should be sacrificed.

Let’s wake up. Quit labeling. The Catholic Church takes what is good and uses it to glorify God. Look at the Pantheon. Look at All Saint’s Day. She did it then. She can do it again.

Reflections on Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Ch.2 (Part 2)

Now regarding Chapter 2: The Annunciation of the Birth of John the Baptist and the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus in Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, written by Pope Benedict XVI. Due to the length, the reflection has been published in two parts. This is the second.

Now for the second aspect, the presence of hope and joy. Pope Benedict wrote that the permanence promised to the Davidic kingdom, a kingdom not of this world, “is the great force of hope in the midst of a world that so often seems abandoned by God” (p.32). It’s true. What more can I say? The only time I have experienced despair or hopelessness, the steadiness of God’s kingdom preserved my hope. God would not abandon us. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13). It is who God is. God is love (1 Jn 4:8). This became the lens through which I interpreted the events of my life.

Pope Benedict writes later:  One could say that the figures of the virgin and the divine child belong in some sense to the archetypal images of human hope, which emerge at times of crisis and expectation, even without there being any concrete figures in view (p.57). Though he states the Virgin birth is a historical reality, the concept of archetypes stands out to me. Jungian archetypes, taken as he put it, could be quite controversial, but as a general concept, are fascinating. Venerable Fulton Sheen wrote, “Every person carries within his heart a blueprint of the one he loves. What seems to be ‘love at first sight’ is actually the fulfillment of desire, the realization of a dream.” Contained within the concepts of the theology of the body, the man-woman relationship is a type pointing us to the supernatural reality of Trinitarian unity. Because we are made in the image of God, we have, as it were, spiritual DNA pointing us to our potential. We sense when we are on the right or wrong path, fulfilling or denigrating our potential. That is because of the archetype within us. God wrote these into us. Therefore, if, as he says, the virgin and divine son have been archetypes for hope, I believe God put this in us because the Virgin birth would be the fulfillment of that archetype. We would know it when we see it.

Not that that is always the case. We also need the gift of faith, and I grant that, but it would not be a universal church if this story did not resonate with us, and it resonates because it is written in our hearts.

 

Lastly, the portrait of our Lady: interior, asking in faith how it shall be, seeking to discern it (two qualities Pope Benedict identifies as shared with St. Joseph). She is called fearless. She is full of grace, in tune with the word, the law, bold enough to trust the Lord with her life. The drama described here quiets the reflection, “Mary, did you know?” because heaven would not have held its breath waiting for her response if she were some naive waif. No, she is a woman! She is strong, I repeat, fearless, capable of saying and willing yes to what the Lord has commanded. In possession of herself enough to give God the permission he seeks, “be it done to me according to Thy word.”

Here is a model for womanhood! Here is the blueprint. The archetype. The guideposts for what makes a woman great. Great women do not trample on the men in their life, pushing ahead to achieve, silencing those parts of them that make them women. No, she has the power to choose. She chooses to trust. This is the greatest gift a wife can give her husband, to choose to trust him, put herself in his hands and allow him to protect her, even though she may be fully capable of protecting herself.