Free Blog, Freedom, Uncategorized

Social Constructs

I recently came across an article that caught my eye online. The title was “I’m 36 And I’ve Been Single For 10 Years. Spoiler: I’m Fine”. I immediately clicked and scrolled.

You see, dear readers, I am what I call “perpetually single.” It has been a blessing and a curse, and as I will explain, much of my own doing. 10 years ago, I had just decided that the religious vocation that I had thought was maybe for me, wasn’t. I had entered a Catholic religious order, sold all of my belongings, quit my job, and moved across the country to try out “religious life” (aka the convent). I could write a whole blog post on my experience there or why I discerned this wasn’t for me, but this is not that post (I do have my own personal blog if you are interested, and always feel free to message me or comment with questions!)

I was 26 when I entered religious life which was still, somehow, considered “old” for starting one’s vocation. This blows my mind because after graduating college at 22, I just wanted to save the world. I had spent my college career learning about and advocating against so many injustices in our world. To be 22 and to think I would know who I would want to “settle down with” or wanting to start a family never crossed my mind. But not but a decade or two earlier, that was really all women were expected to want or capable of thinking of doing. Progress? (insert shrugging shoulder woman emoji here because I am about to explain how far we still have to go).

When the “I Have Been Single for 10 Years” article came across my feed, I didn’t exactly feel relief, because I had come to terms with my state in life years ago. But I was still glad to know that I wasn’t alone. After discerning that religious life wasn’t for me, like any break up, it took a while to “get back in the game.” I have dated over the years, but I have come to terms with the fact that I don’t enjoy dating. And so I finally had told myself, “if I don’t enjoy, why do it?” But let me explain.

This is not to say that I am asexual or not sexual. I identify, for better or for worse, as a hetero-normative, straight woman. I have been attracted to guys since I was in kindergarten and have had pain-staking crushes on men ever since. And though I bemoan the fact that I am attracted to straight men (and, as I have on occasion been known to find myself, the impeccably kept gay man), it is my reality. This is not to say that I am not open to relationships. I very much desire relationships and am open to anything that organically comes my way. Organic being the key word.

What I am not into or do not enjoy is wasting my time on games. I don’t enjoy small talk. I don’t enjoy scrolling left or right on a dating app. I don’t enjoy first or second dates that are forced. I don’t like feeling that I HAVE to date. So I don’t.

It was very freeing for me when I finally articulated these words with myself and to others. And so, again, it wasn’t a relief necessarily to read this article from another “perpetually single” woman, but it was a comfort of sorts. It is also why I have chosen to share my story with all of you, so that if anyone else who isn’t into the BS of what dating is today is reading this, you too can know you are not alone.

I am going to switch gears for a second, and I want to preface by saying I in NO WAY am equating dating with this next experience, just bear with me.  I recently attended a historic Slave Trail walk with a group from my parish, led by one of our deacons. Again, no great segue way there, and obviously, the two are NOT comparable by any ways or any means. However, listening to my deacon review the history of slavery and the systems and economics that were put into place because of the slave trade, I was reminded that so many of our social structures that we have been made subject to are based on antiquated, racist, sexist, unjust, greedy philosophies.

The Slave Trail walk where I live in Richmond, VA was moving and thought provoking for many reasons. Our African-American, Richmond-native deacon told us of Richmond’s terrible roots with the slave trade. We were one of the first cities to bring slaves to the U.S. and as the capitol of the Confederacy, tobacco plantation owners fought to keep slavery because they saw it as the means to make and keep their money. When we began our walk on the trail, our deacon had us keep quiet and made us put our hands on each other’s shoulders as we walked. He told us to imagine what it must have been like walking in a new land, in the dark (because slave traders had to have known what they were doing was inhumane and often brought slaves in at night. It also helped them keep control. If the slaves couldn’t see their surroundings, then they wouldn’t have knowledge of where they could try and escape). He told us of the economic industry that Richmond built around slavery. There were seamstresses that would make clothes for the slaves at auction; the thought being that the better dressed the slaves and better looking, the more money they would make. The fact that the city in which I live built industries based on racism and the killing and torturing of human beings is beyond sickening. (For more resources on slavery in the U.S. and in Richmond, my deacon recommended the book: “Richmond’s Unhealed History” by Benjamin Campbell).

But didn’t marriage start with inhumane economic dealings as well? I know that as Christians we like to look at Genesis and think that God making woman from man’s rib connects man and woman beautifully together (and “this is why a man leaves his mother and father to join his wife” and all that) BUT just a little further in Genesis we find Abraham sleeping with Hagar because Sarah couldn’t produce children for him. Or Jacob’s uncle giving away his daughters Leah and Rachel in exchange for Jacob working on his farm. Explaining these stories to my middle school students is always interesting. Their concept of marriage is based a lot more on romance (for better or for worse) or at least a lot more on choice, not the economic deal that it truly was. Later in Scripture we see Solomon marrying women from all nations so that he could make alliances with those countries. Solomon is heralded as a wise king! But what of the women who were merely part of the deal?!

Again, I am not trying to equate slavery to marriage, though I am sure there are many jokes in poor taste to be made there somewhere. However, I am trying to point out that our systems that still exist today are built on antiquated and unjust ideals. The racism that still exists in our world today was fed by an economic industry for white men to get rich off of. The poverty lines and the jail system and many more of our problems today can stem from this institution of the slave trade. Similarly, but not equally, our system of marriage was based off of an economic system. And even though the system has slightly changed, isn’t the way we promote weddings and bridal showers and bachlorette parties still based off of industries making money?

If I do ever get married, I really just want everyone whose wedding I have ever attended to write me a check. I want plane trips, hotels, dresses, gifts, etc. all factored in. I’m kidding. Kind of.

My point is, if marriage really is about love, why do we make it about all of these other things that celebrate the individual rather than the union? And why do we celebrate the end of that person’s singledom? The traditional feminine bridal shower in which women gather to shower the woman with kitchenware to celebrate that she will now need new items to cook for a man is archaic.  I know this all makes me the exact opposite of a hopeless romantic and probably explains perfectly why I am “perpetually single.” I also don’t want to isolate our married readers. I know that you all are progressive and don’t view the institution of marriage as such. But let me bring it all back to our faith:

We do have a loving God. Our God is the definition of love. And our God is all about relationships. The Christian belief of the Trinity is, in fact, relational. We believe in a Father and a Son and a Spirit that connects this relationship in and of Itself and with God and His other creations. It is a beautiful faith of relationships that relies on relationships to in itself exist and thrive.

It is this kind of relationship that I get my inspiration and model from, not the economic fueled constructs of our world. Take that, Tinder.

Advertisements
Free Blog, Lamenting, Uncategorized

Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel

Are you tired? I’m tired. Today at work, we had the news playing on mute in the background, so I was treated to eight hours of people- mostly men- debating a woman’s sexual assault. My facebook is variations on the same theme. Last week, I sat through a lunch where two of my male co-workers offered their hot takes on the event.

I feel like I could sleep for a week.

And I wish I had something magical to say to you to help you feel better. Some of you are survivors of rape or trauma; probably all of us can recall a time when our body was handled without our consent. I certainly can, and more times that I was harassed verbally, and any number of times that I’ve put myself in between other women and the men who were harassing them.

And if I had to guess, the fact that I hear and see and believe you doesn’t drown out the other voice you’re hearing today. You know the ones.

I’m Sister Mark and you’re reading a Christian blog, so you won’t be surprised to hear that I am trying to cope by looking for my faith. Sometimes it’s really hard to find- I won’t lie to you about that.

When it came time for prayers tonight, I sang “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel”. Yeah, the Christmas song.  This is a nice version- you could listen along while you read. I hope it helps. It’s what I need today. Not Christmas the holiday, exactly, but Christmas the event. I need Jesus so badly today, because men have been refusing to believe women since long before Jesus’ women disciples mistook the Lord for the gardener and went to tell the men the Good News. But God knew their worth and trusted them, and so He came to the women first.

And I am clinging, so tightly, to the fact that He sees me, too. And he sees my friends and my cousins and my colleagues and He knows our worth and He knows what we’ve been through. Belief? It’s not a matter of believing. He was with you then and He is with you now. Then why did it happen? I have no idea. I’m not a theologian and I know I’m not God. I don’t know why any of it happens. But I hold tighter than anything to the knowledge that He is here and He will not leave us. Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

So I sat down and sang, begging God to come. Do I want him to show up, literally, right here on Earth, tonight? To just be with me? I don’t know. But I know that the hope of Him and the promises He made to us gets me through when I don’t know what else to do. It doesn’t fix my problems. It doesn’t stop me from being sad right now. But it reminds me that in the end, God came to us. And then Christ died, and Christ is risen, and Christ will come again… and His kingdom will have no end.

This world is a letdown. God made it beautiful and full of wonders, and often it’s nothing more than a huge letdown. So I pray for Him to come and save us and I cling to the knowledge that, someday, somehow, He will.

 

Uncategorized

The Problematic Lesbian.

I’ve been struggling to write this.

Struggling for a lot of different reasons.

The thing is, you guys… the best of it all is in my hands. I’m completely and entirely and irrevocably in love. As Song of Solomon says “I have found the one whom my soul loves.”

It’s great, right? So why in the hell would I be struggling with it, you might be asking?

Well. The person I am overwhelmingly in love with is a dude. As you may recall, this is entirely antithetical to the lesbian identity I’ve claimed for four years now.

To many progressive people, it may seem like no big deal. Love is love, right? That’s the entire mantra my community builds itself upon. And yet, within the lesbian community, there are many nuances. There is a knowledge that patriarchy works against lesbian women because they exist in many parts of their lives free from the influence of any cisgender, heterosexual men in power.

And the man I am in love with IS a cisgender, heterosexual man. I know, I know. Weep with me. (He’s fully aware I’m writing this, by the way. Lest you think I’m using him for hits.)

He and I have circled each other’s metaphorical drains for seven years now, since we first met and briefly dated in 2011. We have several things that tie us together, but most of it is intangible and unexplainable.

We have come back to each other time after time (insert gratuitous Cyndi Lauper singing here). Each of us has had several successful, happy relationships that didn’t pan out in the end, each of us has been there when that happened for the other. We’ve given each other advice, laughed with each other, and watched each other grow for the better part of a decade.

For so long, we acted like total idiots. When one of us would lean in, the other would lean out. When one would want to move forward, the other would go running. We have mucked it up enough times and returned to one another to know that either this was going to end with both of us banning each other from our lives for good, or spending our lives together for good.

“Experts” would, I’m sure, say that our relationship cycle is one that’s unhealthy, but it’s happened the way that it has for a reason. When we first met, I was twenty-two and he was twenty-one. He was my first boyfriend, and we were just a couple of kids trying to make sense of things, each with passionate tempers and brooding temperaments.

Now, we are both passionate people who have matured and grown enough to know how to communicate with one another, how to fight and how to resolve our disputes with communication and respectful language. We care for each other in big and small ways, and we’ve been tested by the fires of time.

But there are other reasons this hasn’t been easy for me.

As previously mentioned, the lesbian community truly does exist on the cornerstone of a world with limited heterosexual male presence. It was something I reveled in after I first came out.

I love my community. I love the flag I still wrap around my shoulders, the stripes I am still proud to bear written across my heart. I may no longer have a label, but I know my place is under that rainbow.

God and I have wrestled with this, gone back and forth. I have asked him why the last four years since I came out have been necessary if I was simply going to intertwine my life with a man’s life, be “traditional” in a sense.

Because the truth is, there’s something broken in the modern church. I’ve discussed this ad nauseam, but the way this affects someone struggling with their sexuality is potent. There is a fear that dating -and probably marrying- a heterosexual man will not only cause many to believe that I’m straight, which I’m not, but also that I have been “rescued” from some sort of “sin”, that God has planted a man in my life to save me.

Patriarchy is an ugly thing, y’all. And it goes hand in hand with the reason why it is so crucial for the church to come to universal affirmation of the LGBTQ+ community. We could debate the doctrines and the interpretations and the beliefs all day long, and trust me, I have. At the end of the day, the church and its actions aren’t representative of a God who sees our struggle and loves us through it. The church should never be the cause of anyone’s struggle, they should be the solution.

The church needs to stop perpetuating the belief that men save women, especially queer women, from themselves. They need to seek to be the solution to a hurting population of people who have been traumatized at their own hands, and they need to take responsibility for the actions that brought them here.

The answer I got, by the way, is this: I haven’t “lost” who I am, I have found exactly who I am. I am someone who stands for love and justice. I fight for anyone’s right to love exactly who they love, no questions asked. I am a part of a community that makes space for all to sit at their table, and I am proud of that, more than I can say. Far from the last four years being pointless, they have taught me how to embrace love and not to waste it, to savor it where ever it is found.

Four years ago, I came out as gay. And I still am, no matter what people want to believe from external presences. But more than that, I am in love and I am loved in return. It is a breathtaking vision of Christ’s providence and his grace, the love that falls on each of us and sparks even in the furthest reaches of the world.

It’s this kind of love that will restore Christ’s church.

love is love

 

Free Blog

The Catholic Feminist Writes About Mary

Hi again, fam! I think I can speak for our other contributors when I say that we hope this summer has been treating you well and we are glad that you continue to journey with us in this safe, spiritual space. It is still so needed, isn’t it?

I am writing today at the encouragement of my blogger sisters about a woman that Catholics have long been associated with for better or for worse: Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Even though I am Catholic, I have long struggled with my personal relationship to Mary and often had to contemplate for myself why I should hold her in such high regard.

My journey with Mary probably starts with images of her around the homes of family members, around Church, and around my Catholic school. Oh, wait. Scratch that. I actually played her in a pre-school play when I was 2, so it probably starts there.

mary2

Awww. I wasn’t quite as angelic as I looked, but I was a good kid.

I have statues of Mary given to me from each of my grandmothers. One of which, I actually remember being quite taken with when I would visit my maternal grandmother’s house. I think I even asked her if I could have the small statue, and my grandmother gave it to me. I still have both statues and have accumulated more along the way, not because I had a particular devotion to Mary, but because I was Catholic and that’s apparently just what we do: collect images and icons of the Blessed Mother.

And this has gotten us in trouble in the past, right? “Why do you Catholics worship Mary?” seems to be the common outcry. She is kind of everywhere in our Churches. Even from a young age, I always knew that we didn’t worship her, but that we pray to her, because she gave birth to God’s Son and therefore, she was really special to God. She had a close relationship with Him.

But I, like many others, have had to turn that concept around in my head over and over for many years. What does it mean that Mary is special to God? That is she close to Him? Why? Why her?

As you probably have gotten to know by now, I am a Scripture girl. In my last post, I used Scripture to talk a little about my relationship to St. Paul (another problematic character to some. It seems that I have a thing for the troublemakers!) Mary is certainly not seen as a troublemaker in Scripture, though. Far from it. This, perhaps, was even my problem with her for so long. I wanted her to be flawed because I am flawed. We are flawed. And I was always taught that because she was “special”, she was without sin. I couldn’t wrap my head around this, so I simply decided that I could not relate to her.

Despite this, though, I would pray my rosaries and spend time in her chapels (I went to The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is on its campus. There are literally dozens of chapels in that basilica devoted to the different images of Mary). I will say, one thing that I learned in my Catholic school upbringing and that I liked about Mary, was that she did seem to translate well into other cultures. Catholics believe that she has appeared in a variety of ways and taken on the appearance of many different cultural women throughout centuries. Our Lady of Guadalupe, for example, is where she takes on the form of an indigenous Mexican woman. I do like that she appears as a mother to “children” of all races and seems to take on or embody the image of that race.

Speaking of race, Mary, of course, would have been a young, Middle Eastern, Jewish girl. Growing up, however, I often only saw the blond, Renaissance painting versions of her which also made her seem un-relatable to me (even though I am blond and of European descent). She still just always seemed too perfect! But interestingly enough, it has been this administration that has been drawing me closer to Mary and making me see that she is not so meek and simple and perfect, but rather vocal and complex.

Think about all of the qualities that actually apply to Mary, not just the ones that we put upon her through the Church: she was young. Jewish. From the Middle East. Pregnant, but not yet married. Poor. Female. She was pretty much as powerless as it gets both in her culture at the time AND (sadly) our culture today.

And yet, God- our God- meant to bring about salvation through someone like this, like Mary. He chose a poor, seemingly weak, powerless, culturally diverse WOMAN to begin to enact the plan of salvation on earth. AND she had a choice!
Our loving God gave a woman a choice in a time when options were limited for women.

We all know the story. (If not, go ahead and look up Luke’s Gospel Chap 1, verse 26 or so). God sends angel (not unlike many times God has sent angels or messages to women who didn’t have children before: think Sarah, Rebekah, Hannah, Elizabeth via Zechariah just to name a few) to young woman to tell her that she will have a child. The child will be special. In fact, this child is going to be the Son of God.

And here, HERE readers, is where Mary shows her boldness. She questions the angel. She asks “how can this be?” She speaks up. She won’t just take this at face value. She wants answers.

Now, earlier in Luke Chap 1, Zechariah- a man, and a man of the Temple at that- also gets bold and questions the angel sent to him (same angel, btw. Gabriel gets around) but Gabriel is not so compassionate to Zechariah. Zechariah questions the angel and Gabriel promptly mutes Zechariah so that he cannot speak until his son is born! The reason as to why I could get into in another blog post at a later time. The point of me telling this story here is that Gabriel ANSWERS Mary’s question. And then she gets to choose. She gets to think. She ponders. And then she ultimately chooses yes: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

The more I think about Mary in THIS way- as a young, powerless girl who asks questions and gets to choose her fate- the more I see her power and her strength. We don’t hear from Mary very often in the Scriptures. We hear from her a little more in Luke’s Gospel when she prays her famous prayer to Elizabeth called the “Magnificat.” It’s a beautiful prayer, but that’s not necessarily the Mary I can relate to. I can relate to the Mary who ponders in her heart when Simeon tells her later in Luke’s Gospel that her “heart will be pierced like a sword” (paraphrasing Luke) because I would certainly ponder a weird prophecy like that, too. I can relate to the Mary who makes Jesus perform his first miracle in John’s Gospel at the Wedding at Cana. Mary as the pushy Jewish mother telling her son what He should do- the woman behind the first miracle of Jesus- that is a woman I can get behind! Not necessarily the silent, Renaissance figures I had seen growing up.

Another image we get of Mary at her strongest is in John’s Gospel when she is at the foot of her Son’s Cross. Jesus says to St. John : “Behold Your Mother” and He says to her: “Woman, behold Your Son.” We as Catholics believe that Jesus in that moment is giving Mary to all of us as our Mother. I can believe that, but what I really believe in this moment is that she was a strong-ass woman who could stand there in the face of her Son’s death and not turn away when things were really, really, really seemingly bleak and hard.

I hope, dear readers, that this gives you a little insight into the big deal about Mary for some of us. (Perhaps a missed opportunity for the title of this post is “There’s Something About Mary.” Ha!) As a feminist, I get why she can seem un-relatable if we look at her as this quiet, obedient little thing. But as I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate her not so quiet moments and that her “yes” meant yes throughout her life, even until the very end.

Uncategorized

Genesis 26-50: Sibling Rivalry

The second half of the book of Genesis is largely concerned with families. We have family trees laid out over whole chapters, and the stories trace the events in the lives of these people from long ago. And honestly? They sound like incredibly dramatic people.

I know a lot of folks have a hard time getting around the fancy Biblical language, particularly if you have one of the more flowery (or old) translations, but if you can get down to what’s really going on, it’s basically a soap opera.

I mean, Jacob sells his birthright to his brother in exchange for dinner?  My brother and I spent our teenage years creating elaborate bargains as we both tried to get out of mowing the yard, so on one level I get making goofy trades with your siblings. On another level, we were just arguing about yardwork, not our entire futures! (And last weekend, we were laughing about the lengths we both went to, which seem really funny now that we have our own homes.)

Then, later in the chapter, Joseph’s brothers literally sell him into slavery. Most of this story winds up being about how Joseph copes, how he interprets dreams and becomes a valuable member of the household where he’s a captive. But it starts as the story of some guys who are really horrible to their little brother, and I think this is one of those stories that only seems okay if you don’t think about it too hard. If you do stop and consider it- you could definitely see this on some daytime TV.

And I’m gonna be honest here- I sympathize with the brothers a little bit. Not about the slavery thing, that’s obviously unconscionable. But teenage Joseph does not come across as a real likeable guy. I mean, Dad likes him best, so there’s clearly some jealousy there. And I do think that’s normal. I’d be really sad if I thought my parents liked my brother better than me.

Plus, Joseph has to go telling them about that dream that (he says) prophesies them bowing down to him. Had they not invented humility yet? It’s kind of a jerk move to lord it over your older brothers that you’re the favorite son, plus God has given you these cool gifts, and someday you’ll be nice enough to let your brothers serve you! I would also not be too pleased.

I often find myself saying that people have always been people, and they probably always will be. Genesis is a large part of my proof for that. There will always be siblings who argue. There will always be people who treat each other poorly. But there will be people like Jacob, who works patiently for years so that he can marry the woman he loves. And there will be people like Joseph, who start out sort of painful and grow up and become better people- and like the brothers, who probably learned a lot about humility and forgiveness.

And just like people don’t change, God’s presence doesn’t change either. He is with Joseph, interpreting dreams and, I assume, providing the reason and will to live. He is with Jacob and Rachel on their wedding day. Even when the stories are about the families, God is always present, blessing and sustaining. And even when it’s all about us, God is there.

Book Review

Creed: What We Believe

Hey, hey, party people! Welcome back to our corner of the world, where ideas are free and love is fierce. 💓

I want to share my thoughts on Adam Hamilton’s Creed: What Christians Believe and Why in hopes that Christians who are on the fringe (new to faith, distancing self from faith, or somewhere in between) or are struggling with doctrinal red tape will reconnect with the origins of Christian faith and establish a stronger relationship to it based on the very basics.

Story: The book seeks to define Christianity through analysis of the Apostles’ Creed. The book is broken into 7 chapters- an introduction followed by 6 chapters focusing on the key elements of the Creed which include God, Jesus Christ, The Holy Spirit, The Church and the Communion of Saints, The Forgiveness of Sins, The Resurrection of the Body. Hamilton also includes an appendix which features various historical editions of the Creed, including some other key Christian influenced creeds, namely the Nicene, Athanasian and Chalcedonian Creeds.

PerspectiveWhile Hamilton and I belong to the same sect of Christianity, this book doesn’t come across through that lens, which I appreciate. Labels have the tendency to become convoluted and the essence of the Christian faith is not something that should be. Creed does a fine job of reminding us of this. Every chapter presents a balance of how each piece of the Creed relates to the Christian faith, both on the individual and corporate levels. Hamilton’s writing is accessible to those who have done some theological study and easily relatable to those who may still be trying to find their way as Christians. I must commend Hamilton for well placed usage of conversational tone, as it makes the text easier to connect with on the key points.

Style: Full disclosure: I was prepared not to jive with this oneI previously read Adam Hamilton’s Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say and had a difficult time connecting to his style, as it seemed very pedantic and mechanical. I was pleasantly surprised to find something different in Creed. Hamilton engages the reader by simplifying the themes and concepts of the Creed while weaving in historical perspective, language considerations and personal anecdotes that paint a clear picture of what Christianity is truly all about. Hamilton is also candid about many of the hang ups that people have with organized faith/religion. While I don’t use these terms interchangeably, people’s perspectives on one are often informed by the other which Creed illuminates in an objective manner that helps the reader to check bias in light of what is being presented in the text. Check out this except from the intro.

Our most important beliefs, whether expressed in the Apostles’ Creed or in other ways, affect our understanding of what it means to be human and our convictions about values, morality and relationships. Ultimately our most deeply held beliefs or convictions shape our goals, ambitions, hopes and dreams. These kinds of convictions are seldom scientifically verifiable; nevertheless we should carefully consider and question them and should be able to make a compelling case for them.

My recommendation: I feel especially called to recommend this book to those who have questions about their faith. While this isn’t an encyclopedia of Christianity, I believe this text tackles many of the issues that Christians often grapple with. As someone who doesn’t have too many questions about where I stand in my faith, I was encouraged to learn more about the roots of where that faith came from and pleased to walk away with language that I can share with others that reflects the essence of the Christian faith, doctrinal commentary aside. There is a small group study video that can be used as a great tool to open discussions among friends or in your faith communities. My church used this resource and I enjoyed the additional perspectives that were shared on the DVD. The chapter on the Forgiveness of Sins was calling to my soul with every page. I hope that you will find similar, life giving wisdom in Creed.

Here’s a link to the book on Amazon.

 

Uncategorized

In Weakness, There is Strength

Hi, again, readers! Your resident Catholic and Scripture nerd here! I know that Catholics often get a bad rap about not knowing our Scripture as well as we should, but I think people are really surprised to find that we know more than we even realize at times!

I’m not here today to talk about Catholics and their relationship to Scripture, however. I am here to talk about someone else who also gets a bad rap but happens to have written much of the New Testament:

St. Paul.

My love for St. Paul is well documented. I have a personal blog that I have kept updated on my love of him for years. I also think that I mentioned previously that I lived for a year in religious life in a convent. The religious order that I joined took their mission and name from St. Paul. So perhaps I am a little biased, but please hear me out.

Paul was certainly a man of his time and far from perfect. He was a devout Jew who did not understand or appreciate Christ early on. In the book of Acts of the Apostles, he is mentioned as consenting to the execution of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen (Acts 7-8). He also is perhaps not beloved because of some phrases like this one from Ephesians that he wrote and are very much of his time (and often taken out of context):
” As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word…” (Ephesians 5: 22-26. It goes on, but another one of St. Paul’s flaws is also his love for run-on sentences, so I will spare you some of the rest).

I see the problem with the items about Paul listed above, but I don’t consider him a problematic character myself. Paul himself is the first to admit that he is flawed. One of my favorite passages of his, happened to be read at Mass yesterday:

“Brothers and sisters:
That I, Paul, might not become too elated,
because of the abundance of the revelations,
a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan,
to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.
Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,
but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.”
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Paul, I believe, is one of the success stories of Scripture. When he finally encountered Christ for himself in a powerful and tangible way (as described in Acts 9), he has a complete change of heart. He completely abandons his old ways of persecuting Christians and becomes a faithful one himself. And not only is he baptized, he meets with Peter and the other early Christians at Antioch and becomes imprisoned for his newfound faith as well as instructs and encourages other new Christians with his letters. He goes on to say that it is “no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). He essentially renounces his entire self for Christ. How many of us can say that?

I want to go back, however, to the passage from 2 Corinthians listed above because it is one of my favorites. It also happens to be so completely contrary to what our idea of success and strength are today. I have many “thorns” in many “sides” of myself that humble me and I believe keep me going back to God. I, however, unlike Paul, constantly go to God and beg Him to pull them out! I am not grateful for these wounds or weaknesses as Paul is, because I am very much a product of our culture.

I think this idea of strength in weakness is so counter cultural to our world today. Just look at our government leaders and their approach to those considered to be “weak.” Instead of seeing those considered “weak”- like the poor or the immigrant or the elderly- as a strength to uphold and elevate, our approach is to keep them down so that the “strong” can appear even stronger. Those on top never want to be seen as weak.

From one perspective, I can see how Paul’s theory does not maybe play well in global politics. As a country, we don’t want to be seen as weak. But how much stronger might we seem if we were a country who embraced our so called “weaknesses” rather than exploit or oppress them?

This, of course, is so much easier said than done, and may seem complicated. I have been reading “The Holy Longing” by Ronald Rolheiser (which I highly recommend. It is amazing how a book written in the late 90s is so scarily relevant today) and Rolheiser addresses many issues with our society, but particularly pertaining to social justice. He describes social justice as differing from charity: “Charity is about giving a hungry person some bread, while justice is about trying to change the system so that nobody has excess bread while some have none.” (Rolheiser, The Holy Longing, pg 169). To enact social justice in this way, would be to admit that there is weakness. It would be to say that our system is unjust and that some are seen as “weaker” than others. Too many people right now do not want to fix our systems because they perhaps like having power or want to seem superior to others. If we fix our seemingly weakest spots, though, and help to make others strong, wouldn’t that help increase the strength of the whole over all?

I may be over simplifying things, but I think another one of our problems with our society is that we over complicate things. Justice could, perhaps, be much simpler if we didn’t complicate the system so much to begin with. Another thing that Rolheiser points out in his book is that justice has to be more than an ideology: “…for a Christian, the ultimate motivation in working for justice may never be a simple ideology, irrespective of how noble that particular ideology may appear. Rather both the truth that inspires the quest for justice and the energy that fuels it must ground themselves something beyond an ideology” (Rolheiser, The Holy Longing, pg 173). For us Christians, that truth is Christ. For others, that truth may be peace, equality, or that energy that Rolheiser speaks of.

For me, one of the hardest things about this most recent administration and state of our country has been that I have felt this divide between ideology and building the Kingdom of God. So many Christians that I know, chose an ideology, I believe, over working on building the kingdom that the Gospel refers to, which includes building up the weak.

St. Paul continues to be an encouragement for me in these tough times. As the author of Hebrews says (some scholars say that the author was St. Paul as it has a similar tone to the rest of his letters, but this is debated by others):
“Consider how he [Christ] endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.
In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” – Hebrews 12: 3 & 4

It is true that Christ made the ultimate sacrifice so that I might not have to shed my blood. However, much blood has been and is being shed by those who suffer from injustice. I pray that we can move beyond charity, and work for true justice, even if that means admitting our weaknesses. For in our humility and weakness, we can be made strong, if we are allowed the freedom to exercise our own strength.

Uncategorized

The Freedom of Being Finished.

BeFunky-photo

Hello, dear family. Another day, another lesson. We discover, we connect, we move forward.

 

So I’m not a huge fan of devotionals. (*Gasp in Christian*) When I was a kid, my mother and a bunch of other women from the churches I grew up in would gather in all of their puffy-haired, Charlie perfume wearing glory with covered Bibles in tow and discuss it. My mother and father both collectively had countless books of “devotionals” written by numerous authors on our bookshelves. I never saw my parents as consistent in their practice of them, though, and I was no different as I got older. I find it incredibly difficult to connect with what someone else is saying about the scripture, especially in such brevity.

 

When I began attending an Episcopal church and fell in love with liturgy, I couldn’t get enough of it. The beauty of it all was that it was scripture presented to the people. The homily of course (what non-denom evangelicals call the “sermon” or “message”) is a matter of a person’s interpretation, but the rest of the Eucharist Rite is hymn and scripture, prayer and response. In its simplicity, I found restoration, and I was hooked.

 

In a discussion with the Rector (read: “senior pastor” in evangelical-ese), I was told of an app for my iPhone that are called Offices, these are provided daily and taken from the Book of Common Prayer. I was elated, here was all that I loved about attending church in a format I could access every morning and every evening.

 

Full disclosure: There is nothing brief about these Offices, especially not in comparison with typical evangelical devotions, most of which can be completed in less than ten minutes. I’m a slow reader, but with hymns these usually take me about twenty minutes, sometimes more if I take my time. Also, if you’re interested you can find the ones I use by going to your App Store and searching “Mission St. Clare”.

 

All of this is merely the pretext for what I want to discuss today, because as I was going through this morning’s Daily Office, I was reading a portion of Galatians 2 that I know well enough, and always makes me laugh a little on the inside. This is the passage beginning at verse 11 in which Paul opposes Cephas (Peter) and essentially calls him a hypocrite. My brain puts it like this:

 

Uh, hey man. Like, you ate with these people the other day. Why not now?

Oh yeah, bruh. I mean, I just sorta need to–

Save face? Dude, you’re such a hypocrite.

What did you say?

You’re trying to keep some law that isn’t even relevant anymore. What are you, a Pharisee?

*gasp* How dare you?!

 

Look, my brain is its own special place, okay? I almost always reword passages of scripture in a way that makes me laugh, because trust me there’s plenty to laugh about as you make your way through the Bible. (People who can’t laugh at the Bible annoy me something fierce.)

 

In Galatians 2:21, Paul hits us with this gem: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Er, that’s NIV translation by the way, which isn’t my favorite but it’s what I had nearby.)

 

Oh, Paul. You have to love him. (Me in my head: Do I, though?! DO I?!) The mental gymnastics he puts us through while reading his work is unbelievable. My poor ADHD-addled brain usually has to read what he says at least four times before it starts to come into focus. So many people quote the passage just before this verse: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” This verse is important, too, but in my view it absolutely MUST be put in tandem with verse 21 that follows it and in the context of this passage as a whole.

 

(CONTEXT IS SO IMPORTANT WHEN YOU READ THE BIBLE, OKAY?! OKAY.)

 

The death of Jesus is arguably the most pivotal moment of human existence. I believe in the Big Bang (*gasp*), I believe in evolution (*clutches pearls, sweats*), and I believe in the expansion of the universe (*faints*), all of these are critical moments in science and the history of mankind. All of these events are contingent upon one another for us to inhabit the natural world in which we live. But the SOUL of a man, the intangible stuff of his being, it all hinges on this moment.

 

Jesus walks the earth, he is condemned, he is hung on a cross as a criminal, and he dies. Before he dies, he utters some pretty freaking important words:

 

IT IS FINISHED.

 

Let’s stop. Take stock. What is exactly finished here? For so long, I think the shallow interpretation of this passage that I was left to by neglectful spiritual leaders was the interpretation that Jesus was speaking of the tribulations of the final days of his life– the anxieties, the cruelties, the pain, and the suffering. This would make sense, right? Only Jesus never really considers himself in terms of his own pain and suffering. We see human emotion from him quite frequently– compassion, temptation, even anger. Rarely though, does he seem concerned with his own welfare, merely with his message. (Jesus: A Two on the Enneagram?? Discuss!)

 

Why then, would it logically follow that Jesus was uttering a phrase of thankfulness for his death and the ending of his suffering upon his last breath? Answer: It doesn’t!

 

The Greek word used in the Gospel of John to describe Jesus’ last words is “tetelestai”, a form of the Greek verb “teleo” which means “to bring to an end or complete”. Again, I think it’s patently false to infer that what Jesus is bringing to an end or completing here is his own life. No, in his own words while he was still alive, Jesus speaks of a “ransom” (Greek word “lutron” which is translated as “to loose”, found in Matthew and Mark).

 

What Jesus is accomplishing here is the abolition of sin. The complete and total erasure of it, from every human who has ever lived or will ever live. In the moment of his death, we are taught that Jesus becomes sin itself, so much so that even God cannot look at him. Upon his death, sin is finished. It has been conquered, once and for all.

 

THIS IS THE GOOD NEWS WE TALK ABOUT.

 

Why then, do so many congregations today continue to teach that a humans inherent nature is “sinful”? How do we define sin? Through the law? Through OUR law? Through a socially defined moral law? What is the law in a post-crucifixion world? Is it what government determines it to be? What happens when governments change or shift? If we are unbound from Old Testament law exquisitely and painstakingly detailed throughout the Old Testament, why are moral parameters constructed by biblical authors like Paul and not put forth by God himself?

 

Therefore if we cannot define sin as a breach of the law because law is man made and therefore subjective and in flux, and if sin was abolished upon Christ’s death and a breach of human law or social morality does not constitute sin, then what is sin and where does it exist, how is it defined?

 

Reader, it is now that I would like to posit that “sin” is a condition of the mind and not of the heart or the spirit. Jesus, in his life’s work, repeatedly says phrases such as “you deceive yourself/yourselves” and “do not be deceived”. What is the great deceit here?

 

The great deceit is the belief that sin is a present and active condition rather than a dead and absolved one.

 

We continue to believe we are sinners, even after Christ uttered his final words, and so we spend a life struggling for purity and absolution when it has already been provided.

 

It has already been done.

 

But we keep striving, trying to do something that’s already been done.

 

It’s like trying to knead bread dough after it’s already been baked.

 

My loves, my beautiful friends, sin does not mar you, and there is no law against which you struggle, no action that can separate you from the love of God. Rather than torturing yourself into compliance, believe in the depths of you that your redemption does not want for any stringent obedience. It exists, no matter what.

 

Your sin is loosed. You are free.

 

That is the gospel truth. And it’s worth dying for.

Free Blog

“Pop Art” and the Divine

Hello again, readers! It is your Catholic, pop culture loving friend here. In addition to being a pop culture fanatic ( I crush the Arts and Entertainment category at every Trivial Pursuit game and pub trivia night!) I am also a teacher. So naturally summer is my favorite season and I am very much enjoying the fruits of my labor currently.

When I first started teaching, I had to learn how to best use my time off. Taking a week or two to do absolutely nothing is a must, but one can only binge so many shows on Netflix before it starts to get unhealthy. Something that I have a major interest in (besides all things pop) is art. And so far this summer, I have signed myself up for two art classes and have already made visits to some of my favorite museums and galleries. Experiencing art is something that engages and relaxes me, so I can think of no better way to spend my summer than learning more about it and creating it.

Visual art and faith have been linked since the beginning of human existence. Before we could write, our ancestors created cave paintings to tell their stories and communicate. Art can explain and articulate things that merely words can’t. And while I certainly consider writing an art form, this post will be mostly about visual art.

That being said, I did just finish reading Madeline L’Engle’s literary work: “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art” (which I highly recommend) and she articulated things that I understood about art but couldn’t put into words myself. She essentially asserts that art and the sacred are linked. Whether or not the artist is a religious person, the act of creating connects him or her to the Divine. This explained to me in a very tangible way why it is that I connect to art so much.

In our world today, connection seems to be “easier” with smart phones and social media. Yet, it is very evident in the way that we continue to mistreat one another and the social injustices that still exist, that we need to connect to one another still more.
Here is where my pop culture moment comes in.

In times of political stress, art has always been produced as a reaction to the climate. If you look at the movements of art in the post World War 1 and 2 eras, you get incredibly radical art movements like Dadaism and Surrealism as well as Abstract Expressionism. In times when people do not know how to grapple with what is going on around them, we create.

The same can be said of this political climate and in particularly through the art of video. I think of all of the commercials and tv episodes that have become ways for us to deal with the backlash of this oppressive climate. However, I am particularly struck by the visual art created by musical artists like Childish Gambino and most recently Jay Z and Beyonce.

180507071236-childish-gambino-music-video-2-super-tease

Image still from “This is America”, Childish Gambino taken from CNN.com and Google Images

If you haven’t watched “This is America” by Childish Gambino, it is violent, but unfortunately so is our society which it is reflective of right now. Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, makes several statements with this song and also his video. There have been several articles written about all of the symbolic movements and visuals featured in the video. From the Jim Crow poses that Glover makes, to the white horse of the Apocalypse running through the background, to the all too reminiscent police and gun violence scenes- Glover covers hundreds of years of African American oppression in only a few short minutes.

Similarly, Jay Z and Beyonce create visual art with a political statement with their latest video for “Apes**t”. Jay Z and Bey have separately released videos that make political statements while presenting the viewer with beautiful visual art. Take for example Beyonce’s “Formation” or Jay Z’s “Moonlight.” (the latter by Jay Z takes it’s title from a predominately black film that was an Oscar winner in 2016, but was incorrectly announced as “La La Land”- a very, very white film). Both make statements on what it is to be black in America in accessible, visually stimulating art.

BeyonceJayZLouvre

Image still from “Apes**t”, The Carters, taken from Tidal and Google Images

In this new video for this song, “Apes**t” off of their new joint album, Jay Z and Beyonce are dressed in glamorous, beautifully fashionable clothes and shown standing in front of iconic pieces of art in the Louve. First of all, the fact that this couple has the power to shut down an historic tourist attraction to shoot this shows their clout and achievement. The beautiful shots of them posing regally in front of primarily white paintings by white artists is striking and surely intentional. Beyonce gets much of the screen and lyrical time, and at some points, she also makes strong gestural movements, similar to the striking moves that can be seen in Glover’s “This is America.”

Here we have different artists- Glover and the Carters- exploring and emoting what it means to be a black artist in the political climate right now. As a white woman, I cannot begin to understand fully or pretend to explain their experience. All I can do is accept and experience their unbelievable art and attempt to analyze their meaning and what it says about our world today. And to bring this all back to the spiritual, even though these are pop culture artists and art forms, they invite us to connect to our world, our humanity, and ultimately, our Creator.

Art has always been a connection to the Divine as well as a reaction to the culture which it seeks to reflect. I appreciate these artists’ attempts to create so that we as humans might have more connection to each other. I pray that we can see reflections of our Creator in these artists and artworks as well as in one another. And I continue to pray for our country so that these artistic movements may one day be reactions to joy and equality rather than that of oppression.

Free Blog

Conviction & Swimsuit Season

So, it’s that time of year again when all of the ads start selling the swimsuit body. By now, you’ve likely seen a zillion commercials for fitness programs, meal prep plans and pills that will (maybe) make you look like the ultra thin model they have chosen to promote their product. The barrage of these messages can wear on our nerves and our relationship to fitness, to the point that we find ourselves ignoring them. That is unless, we aren’t. No matter how “good” we’ve been throughout the holiday season, the ad market is constantly telling us we need what they are offering. We all need the impeccably chiseled bodies that prance across our screens. We all walk our own walk when it comes to body image and wellness and some of you may be further along in your fitness journey, rising high above the media influence. Kudos to you. For those of us who aren’t, this one’s for you.

As modern women, the pressure is higher than ever to look the part. Mothers are expected to present perfectly coiffed and polished children, complete with sparkling appliances and hip mom hair. Singles feel the pressure to always be flawlessly manicured, made up and pliant- because how else will you catch a spouse? The emphasis on physical appearance has become so important, that women are actually killing themselves to keep up. Young people between the ages of 15-24 with anorexia have 10 times the risk of dying compared to peers, Journal of Eating Disorders, 2015. Even more disturbing, is the other end of the age spectrum. From 1999- 2009, hospitalizations involving eating disorders increased for all age groups, with those aged 45-65 increasing the most, accounting for 25% of all hospitalizations, Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality, 2011. So where do we stand as Christian women in addressing this oppression? Are we circulating scriptures to help with weight loss (read: THOUSANDS of pins on Pinterest) or are we looking at ourselves with the love of our Creator?

Reader, hear me: I am by no means claiming to have mastered this. I love my pedicures and balyage as much as the next Kardashian and am in no way trying to shame subscription to current beauty norms. What I do know is that the standards perpetuated by our culture that lead 7 in 10 women and girls to report a decline in body confidence and increase in beauty & appearance anxiety (Dove Global Beauty & Confidence Report, 2016), which they say is driven by the pressure for perfection from media are pervasive and REAL. What I want to discuss is our confidence and the source that it stems from.

In Hebrews 11, we are reminded of all the Old Testament stories of those who exhibited great faith and were blessed and/or honored God with their acts. The Message translation spells it out nicely.

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. Hebrews 11:1-2

Let’s unpack: If faith in God is the source that makes life worth living, what place do dissatisfaction, imperfection or comparison have in our lives? If we believe that God is all powerful, good and loves us more than we could ever comprehend, how could we possibly allow a commercial to debunk these truths? How could we see ourselves as anything less than divinely beautiful? Dear reader, I know you may be thinking “Get real, Tonia. We live in the 21st century. Appearance matters and last time I checked, God isn’t following me around breathing heavenly dust over me to make me a 10 to everyone I meet, nor is He whispering sweet nothings to me when I roll out of bed looking electrified.” And while I’m not trying to start a fight with you, I would argue that He is.

In Hebrews 11:3, we learn that the world is called into existence by God’s word-what we see is created by what we don’t see. That means you and me and People’s Sexiest are all created in the same spirit of light and love, and regardless of our waistbands or teeth whiteness, we are all perfectly and divinely created. God’s word says we are wanted, chosen, beautiful and more precious than rubies, so who are we to doubt this? So what if those jeans from last year don’t fit. Why does it matter that your contouring technique isn’t perfect? Would you really let the fact that you went to work with eye boogers contradict the overwhelming love that God has for us, flaws and all? NO! As, Christian women, we know better. We know that we serve a God who made us in an image of strength and love. My challenge to you is to live in it.

Resist the urge to compare yourself to the woman in the next fitting room. When you have days of doubt and self loathing, lose yourself in the Word. Open your heart to receiving the loving Spirit of our creator, day in and day out. I promise you 10 minutes of Pinterest spiraling on love/beauty scriptures will change your attitude (DO IT). If all of this seems too fluffy and sunshine-y to break down the spirits of dissatisfaction and insecurity that have been speaking over you, I invite you to sing a new song.

Consider that your identity is essential to the world. You are more than eye candy. God created you for a specific role in His Kingdom, to reflect the light and love that our Creator has for each of us. Any force that contradicts these truths is an enemy to all that God has planned for you, which is greater than you can imagine. Still not convinced? Meditate on this:

We already are what we want to become. We don’t have to become someone else. All we have to do is be ourselves, fully and authentically. We don’t have to run after anything. We already contain the whole cosmos. We simply return to ourselves through mindfulness and touch the peace and joy that are already present within us and all around us. I have arrived. I am already home. There is nothing to do. -Thich Nhat Hanh

You are perfect. You are loved. You are divine. Seek confidence in our Creator. His supply is endless and He gives it freely and without judgement.

wj

My heroes, Wendi & Jessee who love Jesus, themselves and fabulous swimwear