Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Feminine Genius

Whenever I've hear the term "feminine genius" in a Catholic setting, I've always felt like I'd heard it before but couldn't remember where. Finally, after hanging out with a bunch of Catholic menopausal women, it clicked.

My Catholic all-women's college library had a wealth of books about midwifery, menstruation, menopause, pregnancy, birth, and "feminine" bodily experiences altogether. Most of these had been written and self-published from the 70's through the mid-90's with a strong emphasis on herbal remedies. "Our Bodies, Ourselves" was perhaps the most groundbreaking as it was the first medical book that explained, among many other things (red flags of domestic abuse & how to survive it, for example), the realities of female bodies without telling said female bodies what they should do to fill a certain agenda. A few of these books used the term "feminine genius" to mean the treatment of "feminine" bodily changes - it's foolish to claim, these books argued, that any & all actions done by a mind within a "feminine" body would automatically be "feminine" acts. Obviously, this made an impression!
"Feminine genius" involved the wisdom of midwives & doulas, the easing of hot flashes, and methods to soothe the aching breast growth of pubescent, pregnant, and transgender women. "Feminine genius" didn't assume that someone who menstruates, miscarries, or goes through menopause will just automatically comprehend what's happening and deal with it in a vacuum. What I took away from these studies was primarily the knowledge of reusable menstrual products, although apparently much more has stayed with me.

I guess I had so thoroughly absorbed this understanding of "feminine genius" that I'd forgotten where I had first heard it. Discovering that the alternative use of the term, put forth by celibate men, excludes the "feminine genius" that I learned in college is sometimes like walking on an alien planet. Where are the cushioned seats for women going through menopause? Where is the outcry against disposable menstrual products that don't biodegrade? Where is the protection of preteen girls, not protection of their "purity," as their bodies change beyond their control?

Anything that proclaims "feminine genius" as a presumption of how all feminine people should be, rather than the realities lived by diverse feminine people, is not something I want a part of.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Pew-fillers and the aftermath of Charlottesville

Since my return to the Catholic Church, I've noticed a large gap between the actively involved parishioners and those who sit in the pew until receiving Communion and then leaving until next Sunday.
Let me be clear. I am aware that many people can't be as involved as they might want to be. Family, career, or health demands get in the way; maybe their parish's ministries and social groups aren't welcoming, or they don't consider themselves skilled enough to participate further (you are!). Some people are active in ways that don't involve the parish proper, whether at home, volunteering, or academically.
It stunned me the first few times parishioners told me "it's great that you're so involved. I don't even listen to the homily, I just come for Communion." Why?! Maybe it just isn't in me to take every part of the Church for granted since I was away for so long. In fact, I took it for granted that everyone there is there because they want to be there 100% - not just to sit in a pew for an hour a week. I'm there largely to make sure that the things that drove me away don't happen to anyone else. It's been struggle for me over the past few months to just let pew-fillers be rather than exhausting myself over attempts to motivate them.

Since the white supremacist "rally" at Charlottesville, many white Catholic bishops, priests, educators, women religious, and activists have spoken out against white supremacy. How much action is behind these words varies, and I'm trying to remain realistically optimistic - pessimism is not a motivator. Complaints from Catholics, generally those who're disillusioned from Catholic institutions altogether, point to the bishops and priests who have gone about business as usual. These passionate Catholics call to mind Rev. Bryan Massingale, Sr. Thea Bowman, Dr. Diana L. Hayes, and the dozens of Black Catholics who have been calling out the Church in America for its inaction and ignorance for decades.
I worry that the division between Catholics who work to dismantle white supremacy, and "business as usual" white Catholics is widening to the point that the latter group will intermingle with racist Catholics. And I wonder if that division lines up at all with the gap between active Catholics and pew-fillers. Ultimately, I worry that the passionate Catholics working to dismantle white supremacy will eventually become so disillusioned that they (we?) will leave altogether. And then who will be left?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Presenting "faith journey" aka existential crisis

Every Sunday from now until January, I'm meeting with a group of Catholic women for personal formation, community discipleship, and event planning.  We will facilitate a women's spiritual retreat after our last meeting.  The dozen of us went through the same retreat last month, facilitated by women who had met together all of last year.

Event planning is well-rehearsed.  Community discipleship is new to me in terms of spirituality, but otherwise not that different from my experiences in other goal-oriented groups.  Alverno College prepared me well for both of these.

The primary way that personal formation is achieved through these meetings is through a half hour presentation, followed by "affirmations" from the rest of the group.  Most of the retreat consisted of these presentations, edited and refined throughout last year's meetings, and then reflections on them both alone and in small groups.  The two leaders of my group, seasoned facilitators, will give their presentations again and then give some light guidance while we dozen prepare our own.
These presentations will focus on each individual's personal "faith journey," how each person got to where we are now.  Guidelines are loose, though based on the presentations at the retreat most of these women speak almost exclusively about their relationships with their parents, their husbands, and their children.

It's only been a day and a half since the first meeting and I've already turned this into a full-on existential crisis!  Go me!  I'm such an overachiever!  I signed up to be one of the first presenters partly so I won't have to think about it for more than a month, and partly + selfishly so I can give a little lesson about good public speaking skills right away (if one more person clicks her tongue after every sentence, I'm going to scream).  The more I think about my journey the more I delve into gender and feminist theory, liberation theology, and nihilism vs. existentialism.  This sums up my progress thusfar ("ppl" = people):

Here is this unusual opportunity to talk about myself openly before a group for a half hour, and... this is very cheesy... if I talk about theory, then who am I?  If my developing plan to speak about my journey consists mostly of concepts that exist outside of me, then what does that say about me?  The debate and contemplation of these ideas will continue after me, the same can't be said about relationships (I wonder how many people identify through their relationships out of a fear of mortality?).  But if I end up impacting these studies through academia, does that reflect on the quality/value of my life?  If I don't, does that imply failure?
It's not that people, places, and events aren't important to me, I just can't imagine filling up more than 15 minutes with talking about only them as a reference to my self.  But these concepts, I could - and do! - go on and on and on.

At the first meeting the other day, each person summarized their personal goal as an individual in the group for the year.  Mine was "be an agent of change."  That tends to be my goal/role in Catholic communities altogether, and it's what I hope to achieve through grad school (next year???).  The retreat highlighted how alone I feel as a whole human being in these communities and I don't expect that to change as long as I aim to facilitate change.  I'm just not certain what it says about me as a whole human being presenting oneself through theory.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Liberation Theology vs Prosperity Theology

Before I delve into the boundaries between the two, I will first briefly define them:

Liberation theology centralizes around oppressed people freeing themselves.  Scripture passages that highlight liberation of the poor and marginalized bolster this movement, namely the story of Jesus Christ as told in the gospels.  Oscar Romero, James H. Cone, and Diana L. Hayes are among the most prominent names in liberation theology.  South American and Black religious communities are the strongest proponents of liberation theology, interweaving womanism (black women prioritizing the equality of black women among both race and gender lines) and mujeristas (Latinas working to liberate both the poor and oppressed in their culture, as well as their culture overall against colonial influences).

Prosperity theology prioritizes the embracing of God-given gifts, namely material gifts.  The idea is that God has given the faithful these gifts, and it would be ungrateful to give away those gifts - charity, according to prosperity theology, is against God's will.  There are communities, though, who do emphasize giving in order to receive, but the giving is almost exclusively to leaders who are already wealthy.  Joel Osteen is the most famous proponent, and he is in good company with Southern charismatic churches and other televangelists.  Almost all of these are white, with almost no references to any of the gospels.

I am by no means the first person to connect the Trump administration and its supporters to prosperity theology (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).  "Make America Great Again" has never included greatness for anyone who benefits from liberation theology - the declaration of making Mexico pay for a wall dividing the nation from the United States makes this clear, among many other points.

Although I may prioritize the liberation of oppressed people, especially in the face of the oncoming administration, it is not about me.  After all, it is because of my platform as an able-bodied white person that I can put forward liberation theology with reasonable expectation of being received by other able-boded white people.  It is up to me to use the benefits I systemically receive from prosperity theologians, now that they are coming into their greatest political power yet, to work towards this liberation while also understanding that it is from these systems, including my role in them, that oppressed people must be liberated.  It is up to me to keep in mind these intersections while also understanding that I, no matter how hard I work, am not separate from the ivory tower that is prosperity theology.
Diana L. Hayes described it better than I could.  In her connection between womanism and liberation theology, she said that it would be logically inconsistent for her to work with feminists (see: white) because it is from us (see: white) that she must be liberated.