Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Thoughts before the Mariology lecture

I'm going to a lecture on Mariology in a little over an hour, so I thought I'd jot down some quick thoughts beforehand.

The four main concepts in Mariology are:

1. Mary is ever-virgin
2. Mary is the Mother of God
3. Mary is the Immaculate Conception
4. Mary was assumed into heaven

Now, the one that's been on my mind and eating at my brain the most recently is the first one, ever-virgin Mary. Why is it so important that Mary remain a virgin forever-ever? Why can't she and Joseph consummate their marriage? Why is Joseph denied sex for eternity? Why would it be heretical to say otherwise?

Mary and Joseph were fine, upstanding Jews. Fine, upstanding Jews were fruitful and multiplied. Or they tried, at least, for it is a mitzvah (good deed) for a married couple to have sex. So why the heck didn't Mary and Joseph get it on?

What if they did? Let's suppose they did. What would the harm be? That would open up the possibility that they had children, who would then be Jesus' siblings. That might establish some kind of holy bloodline whereby the descendants of Jesus are actively worshiped. (Don't even get me started on that brain-numbing fluff entitled The Da Vinci Code.) Worshiping the relatives of Jesus would diminish the worship of Jesus.

Christianity is all about obsession with who Jesus is (Messiah, Son of God, Savior), more so than what he said or did. Anything that might diminish his divinity is generally heretical.

So by keeping Mary and Joseph in their separate twin beds, that keeps them from having other children. Keeping Jesus as an only child does not dilute the worship of and devotion to him. Thus Jesus' divinity is not diminished, and crazy Christians everywhere can continue their obsession with Jesus.

And now for the kicker: Maybe Mary and Joseph were both gay.

Think about it.

Mary can still be a lesbian Jewish mom. Joseph can still be a hot gay carpenter. They certainly wouldn't have sex with each other. Maybe they were BFFs that married each other because they couldn't live their loves at the time.

Why the heck not? It solves the issues I've been having with that particular concept in Mariology.

Chapeau à mon amie AW!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Amazing opinion piece on Sr. Margaret McBride

On NPR, Julianna Baggott wrote a wonderful piece on her reaction to Sr. Margaret McBride's excommunication that I linked to last week.

Here's a teaser excerpt:
In 1941, my grandmother was 22 and in labor with her second child. The baby was in distress. Afraid a C-section would kill her, the doctor let the infant die. The baby, a boy, was stillborn.

The decision was merciful. No one in our family has ever second-guessed it — most of all not my mother, a 5-year-old at the time.

"I needed my mother to survive. That doctor saved my life too."

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

News link of the day - abortion, excommunication, and a double standard

Nun Excommunicated for Allowing Abortion [NPR]

Go read the whole thing. Listen to the audio, too. Here's an excerpt:

Last November, a 27-year-old woman was admitted to St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. She was 11 weeks pregnant with her fifth child, and she was gravely ill. According to a hospital document, she had "right heart failure," and her doctors told her that if she continued with the pregnancy, her risk of mortality was "close to 100 percent."

The patient, who was too ill to be moved to the operating room much less another hospital, agreed to an abortion. But there was a complication: She was at a Catholic hospital.

"They were in quite a dilemma," says Lisa Sowle Cahill, who teaches Catholic theology at Boston College. "There was no good way out of it. The official church position would mandate that the correct solution would be to let both the mother and the child die. I think in the practical situation that would be a very hard choice to make."

But the hospital felt it could proceed because of an exception — called Directive 47 in the U.S. Catholic Church's ethical guidelines for health care providers — that allows, in some circumstance, procedures that could kill the fetus to save the mother. Sister Margaret McBride, who was an administrator at the hospital as well as its liaison to the diocese, gave her approval.
And then Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted immediately excommunicated Sr. Margaret because "She consented in the murder of an unborn child."

Really, sir? I suppose you would rather rob the other four children of their young mother?

Hey, this isn't fair, you say? Damn straight it isn't. Read on:

"In the case of priests who are credibly accused and known to be guilty of sexually abusing children, they are in a sense let off the hook," Doyle says.

Canon lawyer Rev. Thomas Doyle says no pedophile priests have been excommunicated. When priests have been caught, he says, their bishops have protected them, and it has taken years or decades to defrock them, if ever.

"Yet in this instance we have a sister who was trying to save the life of a woman, and what happens to her? The bishop swoops down [and] declares her excommunicated before he even looks at all the facts of the case," Doyle says.
How's that for a double standard?

Augh, it makes my brain hurt!

So the old gentlemen's club dilly-dallies on the dirty old men who have been destroying lives all over the place, and yet kicks one woman out for saving another woman's life, for saving the mother of four children, for sparing those four children a motherless childhood.


Yes, it sucks that she lost her unborn baby. The woman almost died, and that nun saved her life, and now that nun's going to hell?

(Kinda like when Huck Finn thinks he's going to hell when decides he's going to free Jim, even though Huck thinks it's a sin to free someone else's slave?)

What gives anyone the right to effectively condemn someone to hell through excommunication? I don't care how divinely inspired it is; no earthly institution has the right to make that decision. Leave that in God's hands.

Really, if you have decided to believe that abortion is murder, then don't get an abortion. But don't take that choice away from anyone else.

Put yourself in the situation. Or if you're vaginally challenged, put your wife, girlfriend, sister, mother, cousin in that situation. What would you do? Would you let her die? Would you forgive yourself for that? Would you be like Oklahoma and subject her to an invasive questionnaire and an ultrasound first? Would you forgive her if she lived? Would you let God, in his unfathomable divine mercy and unconditional love, forgive you?

St. Martin death match!

If I could pick the saint that's attached to my name, I'd pick St. Martin de Porres over St. Martin de Tours any day!

St. Martin de Tours

I learned some interesting tidbits on St. Martin de Tours on Wikipedia. St. Martin de Tours was a French soldier and is a patron saint of France and of soldiers. His main claim to fame is that one day in the dead of winter he was riding along and saw an old, naked beggar. Martin split his own cloak in two and gave half to the beggar. Later on, as the story goes, the beggar turned out to be Jesus. Then Martin's cloak was restored to whole and became a relic. This cloak (or chape in French) was prayed over for victory in battle. The person who carried the chape was called the chapelain, from which we get the word chaplain. Neat, huh?

After a while, Martin became a bishop of Tours, and really liked converting pagans. One of his tactics was to chop down a sacred pine. This sacred pine was probably big and old. Now, where I come from, chopping down big, old trees does not gain you friends, much less beatification.

At various California mission gift shops, I've seen a St. Martin de Tours prayer card with the prayer:

Blessed Saint, you were born under pagan ways but since your childhood you were chosen to be a prince of the Church and, as Bishop of Tours, many souls were redeemed and liberated from the satanic forces through your prayers, austerities and blessings.

We humbly ask for your intercession before Our Lord Jesus Christ because we want to be worthy of the Holy Spirit that lead us from darkness to light into the eternal kingdom, forever and ever.
So this Frenchie saint is all about converting pagans and praying before going into battle? Wow.

St. Martin de Porres

(Yeah, I know. The picture is really bad because he looks like a white dude wearing black face. Not cool.)

In contrast, St. Martin de Porres was a mixed baby (Spanish father, black Panamanian mother) who--despite the really rough life of being a mixed baby in Peru in the late 16th and early 17th centuries--cared tremendously for the sick at the infirmary of the poor Dominican monastery in Lima where he was a lay brother. He also cared for animals, even kitchen vermin, and might have been a vegetarian.

He is the first black saint from the Americas and is the patron saint of mixed babies, interracial relations, and social justice.

The prayer on the back of the St. Martin de Porres prayer card is:

Most glorious Martin de Porres, whose burning charity embraced not only thy needy brethren, but also the very animals of the field, splendid example of charity, we hail thee and invoke thee! From that high throne which thou dost occupy, deign to listen to the supplications of thy needy brethren that, by imitating thy virtues, we may live contented in that state in which God has placed us and carrying with strength and courage our cross, we may follow in the footsteps of Our Blessed Redeemer and His most afflicted Mother, that at last we may reach the Kingdom of Heaven through the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Charity and social justice? I can support that!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Healing Taizé Service

Or A Spiritual Bitchslap from God

This has been an odd week.

I finished reading Philip Gulley's new book, If the Church Were Christian, and loved everything he says about the institution of the church losing sight of the values and message of Jesus. WIN!

Then I started reading this other thing called The Truth in Catholicism, by George Weigel. He purports to explain in non-Catholic terms the church's side of controversies between church and society, explaining why the church's side is right, of course. FAIL. Granted, I'm only in chapter two, but Mr. Weigel is still very much a Catholic writer for a Catholic audience.

On Sunday I went to a non-denominational-ish service of Banana Republic/J.Crew yupsters, with brain-twisting Coldplay-like contemporary Christian music, with ONE reading followed by a 23-minute long sermon on meditation that began with the priest recounting a sad tale of the day he dropped his beloved iPhone and had to buy a Droid, but not before mulling it over for an hour while wandering the mall. Meditation at the temple of materialism? FAIL.

Furthermore, I'm still a bit miffed at my parents because they don't like the conflicts between my conscience and the Vatican. No one should ever have to leave their parents' house in tears for following one's heart.

So I've had a lot of snark built up.

My snarky barriers all came crashing down at a Taizé service at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco last night.

Named after a town in western France, Taizé is an ecumenical, international community founded in 1940 by a Swiss monk, Frère Roger. In the village of Taizé, just south of the line that separated France during World War II, Frère Roger founded a community to shelter refugees fleeing from German-controlled north to Vichy-governed south. Over the years, Taizé has become a major pilgrimage destination. The simplicity of communal prayer there is echoed in Taizé prayer services all over the world. One hallmark of Taizé prayer is the repetitive music, which deepens the directed meditation and reflection. It's very Sufi-like that way.

The theme of last night's Taizé service at MCC was Healing. We each received a song sheet and a piece of yellow ribbon for the directed meditation. Initially, I was mostly impressed by the stained glass windows around the small worship area and in the skylights. The guy behind me also improvised beautiful harmonies to the chants. At the directed meditation, the worship leader had us use the yellow ribbon as a tactile focus for the prayerful fidget, much like one might use a rosary or any other type of prayer beads. He had us think about nurturing moments in our lives, whether we were doing the nurturing or being nurtured, then focusing that nurturing energy into the yellow ribbon. Then he had us think about some time that we nurtured ourselves.

"Crap," I thought. "I haven't done that in a while." Then I slowly cried buckets for the rest of the service.

All this church shopping and reading and exploring and arguing and discussing -- that's not the point. This is the point: nurturing, healing, alleviating suffering. All the rest is details; don't drown in the details; don't sweat the small stuff.

Yeah, I guess I had it coming to me, the cosmic bitchslap of God or the Holy Spirit or whatever handing my spiritually vulnerable ass to me on a plate. I've been focusing on a lot of petty boundaries lately, mostly dogmatic details, yet God's grace transcends all petty boundaries. Heck, I even wrote about it a couple weeks ago!

The spiritual bitchslap reminded me of the time the husband and I went to India. We visited the Ellora Caves, an mind-blowingly impressive collection of Buddhist and Hindu temples hand-chiseled out of the mountainside. It was probably about 40 degrees Celsius, and I was baking to a crisp. I felt miserable. It took all my energy and concentration to put one foot in front of the other to make it to the next cave, only to start the process over again for the next cave. Then we stepped into a vast Buddhist cave where a group of Tibetan Buddhists sat on the floor praying. I don't know if it was the unbearable heat or their communal energy, but I felt tears in my eyes, and I didn't want to leave that peaceful refuge. The simplicity calmed me.

So what have I learned? Well, I can't really ignore a bitchslap from God telling me not to sweat to small stuff. Somehow I have to move on to reconciliation.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Eve, Mary, Feminine Ideal, and Boobquake

Looking at the Bible as literature, we can see that Mary is presented as a foil to Eve. In many ways, Mary is presented as the model of the feminine ideal. Over the centuries, however, the qualities that the church emphasizes in both Even and Mary further a larger attitude of the repression of female sexuality.

Mary as foil to Eve

The New Testament often reworks and mirrors the Old Testament stories for thematic emphasis. In this way, Mary is presented as a foil to Eve. In the Garden of Eden, Eve disobeys God and eats the forbidden fruit. In the Gospels, Mary, "the handmaid of the Lord," says yes to God to give birth to Jesus. Eve disobeys God because she is tempted by a serpent. And what is a serpent but a penis? So Eve gets duped by a penis, whereas Mary remains a virgin and has a baby. The church also maintains that Mary remains a virgin for life, but we'll get to that later. Finally, Adam can't resist his hot wife and also eats the forbidden fruit, thereby giving us all Original Sin. Adam screws it up for the rest of us, and Jesus, fruit of Mary's womb, fixes it. Mary and Jesus are presented as restorative agents after Eve and Adam's expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

Mary as feminine ideal

A traditional hymn sung at Friday evening shabat services in Judaism is "Eschet Chayil," or a Woman of Valor, from Proverbs 31. I'd like to point out some relevant lines from the King James Bible:
Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.
The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
[. . .]
She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
[. . .]
Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.
The men sing this song in praise of their wives, for without the wives, the households would fall apart. A virtuous woman is a God-fearing woman who takes care of all things domestic and who treats her husband well. Textile arts, for example, fall under the domestic skill set of the ideal woman. Tools involved in the ancient art of turning loose fiber into usable thread include a spindle to twist the fiber, a distaff to hold unspun fiber, and a niddy-noddy to skein and measure the spun yarn. Various works of art depict Mary with these spinning tools. For example, one stained glass window at the Old Swedes Church in Wilmington, Delaware, shows the Holy Family and their respective trades:

For the moment, I won't dwell on the creepy anatomical proportions of little Jesus and the creepiness that little Jesus is carrying a carpenter's T-square so large it looks like a cross. Let's focus, rather, on Mary, who is spinning yarn on a low-whorl drop spindle, drawing the unspun fiber from the distaff behind her.

Here's another example of Mary and yarn, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci called Madonna of the Yarnwinder:

Geez, what is up with showing little Jesus holding cross-like objects? Creepy foreshadowing, man! You don't see paintings of little Louis XIV playing with a toy guillotine, do you?

Anyway, that thing that little Jesus is holding is a niddy-noddy. I've made a PVC niddy-noddy to skein and measure my handspun yarn. I suppose it would sound silly to call the painting Madonna of the Niddy-Noddy, but that's what I'll do from now on. The presence of a spindle, distaff, and niddy-noddy in these artworks shows that Mary is an ideal woman of valor, a God-fearing woman who does a lot of domestic stuff like spinning yarn.

Repressing women through the ages

While fiber arts like spinning and knitting are no longer among the mandatory domestic skills of the ideal woman, the domestic expectations of a woman today include cooking, cleaning, ironing, maybe some occasional sewing. The word "housewife" encompasses these skills and also carries a negative connotation of a lack of marketable intelligence or expertise. This domestic ideal probably accounts for today's persistent wage differential between the genders. After all, Eve was created from Adam's rib, symbolizing women as subservient to men. Eve is a hyper-sexual character in the Garden of Eden story, and her actions result in expulsion from the Garden. Mary, however, is praised for her perpetual virginity. Taken together, it sounds like female sexuality is a bad thing. Indeed, the church emphasizes Mary's role as mother rather than wife. Consequently, the church denies Joseph sex for eternity! I find it hard to believe that a married couple of fine, upstanding Jews such as Mary and Joseph would not regularly be fruitful and multiply.

Through the stories of Eve and Mary, society's take-home messages seem to include women's subservience to men, the elevation of a domestic ideal, and the denouncing of female sexuality.

Well, that's depressing.

Relation to current events

Some days ago I linked to a BBC news article on an Iranian cleric who claims that earthquakes are caused by immodestly dressed women. That's right; a religious leader blames natural disasters on female sexuality. Science blogger Jen McCreight decided to test the cleric's hypothesis with Boobquake! On Monday, April 26, 2010, McCreight encouraged women to dress immodestly to see if all those boobs could produce an earthquake. McCreight checked the USGS website for seismic activity of the day and compared it to historic data. Results: women dressing immodestly did not produce a statistically significant increase in seismic activity. Yay, boobs!

There was quite the feminist backlash against Boobquake, saying that dressing immodestly simply objectifies women in the eyes of chauvinistic men. Greta Christina of Carnal Nation wrote a fantastic feminist defense of Boobquake that slams those other feminists as sexist.

Blaming women when our sexual expression gets handled poorly is an old and ugly game. Feminists ought not to be playing it.

Yeah, that game is so old that it dates back to Genesis.