Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Five: Frozen

First RevGals Friday Five in a long long time since I took such a long blog break--plus it's normally a sabbath day so I stay offline. Swapping it out for Sunday since I have been working with my rector on final prep for an Ignatian Quiet Day we are leading tomorrow as well as revisions on one of my divine feminine Christian prayer books.

When it gets to the end of February, even people who LOVE winter are ready for a new season. Like this mom, sick of snow days and hearing the soundtrack of a specific movie, you might be going a little stir-crazy. With the lyrics of that movie to inspire, tell us:

1. For The First Time in Forever: Tell us about a magical first snow day – for a child, a transplanted southerner, or maybe you have a great story from the first snowfall in your area this season.

My husband and I met in grad school at Notre Dame which was so accustomed to snowy winters that we only witnessed two snow days in thirteen years residence in South Bend. The first one was a providential blessing sent by our oldest daughter Rachel, who would have been twenty-four this month, on what would have been her second birthday. It gave us a marvelous time to spend together talking and remembering, walking through the snow, sledding down the steps of the Golden Dome on cafeteria trays with some undergrads, and preparing for the memorial vespers that night at the Catholic Worker community that loved her so.

2. In Summer: Tell us what you look forward to when it’s warmer again.

More frequent and simple walks--though I do what I can in the Michigan winter--especially to the small lake near our house (actually the wide spot of a river that runs into nearby Lake Michigan).

3. Reindeers are Better than people: We are in the business of loving people. But sometimes… Well, it’s a bit of a stretch to love. Do you have a tip, a mantra, or a perspective that helps?

Honor all the feelings and pour them out in prayer and with safe and supportive listeners, lovingly confront where it seems prudent, keep the boundaries and self care strong when it isn't--and try to keep a balance with a Twelve Step focus on cleaning my side of the street even if it's not as mired in muddy snow!

4. Fixer Upper: Since we are in the season of Lent, what are you doing in the area of self-improvement?

Giving myself margin in the interest of more peaceful and centered, though busy, days--especially, and finally, taking the advice of a wise Jesuit in confession when I was in college: "If you're five minutes earlier you'll never be late!"

5. Let. It. Go. What would Elsa do? Are you de-cluttering? Moving on? Accepting a hard reality? Finding freedom? Celebrating the legal adulthood of my beloved and challenging older son and the freedom it gives all of us (especially from parental conflict around managing the drama, which is our couple healing focus this Lent!)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Dear Cis Brothers Who Want To Be Feminists:

…thanks, but no thanks!

I greatly appreciate your acknowledgment of the injustices women face in a sexist—indeed, misogynist—church and world, and your desire to support our empowerment. Not every man is willing to take those steps, and it is heartening that some have the courage to make the attempt. However, the realities of our profoundly patriarchal culture and of human imperfection mean that at some point you will almost inevitably—most likely unintentionally--hurt the women you aspire to support by re-enacting your male privilege and sexism in feminist environments. And in my experience good and well meaning men who proudly claim the title of “feminist” rather than more respectful ones like “aspiring feminist ally” or “male supporter of feminism” are consistently less receptive to learning from these mistakes when lovingly confronted by me and other women. So I ask my male readers to remember that the primary message of feminism for men—like the primary message of anti-racism for us white folks—is that you enjoy vast unjust power and privilege at women’s expense, in varying degrees depending on your position on other axes of oppression.

Similarly, it is for black women to decide whether brown women and black men can claim full membership in womanism. But for me as a white woman to make such a claim would be ludicrous, racist, and demonstrate my total lack of understanding of the primary message of womanism for me and other white women: our own sinful privilege, power, and racism at the expense of black women. I should instead stfu, learn from them, and work toward equality by attempting to decrease my own unjust power and voice and increasing theirs--and you should do the same with me and other feminists as well as non-feminist women who also suffer the injustice from which you benefit. As part of this, I beg you to stop appropriating the sacred name of our movement of thought and action in response to male oppression, even if some female feminists have encouraged you to do so—just as the permission of one black friend for a white person to use the “n word” should not override the protests of others .

Likewise, I implore my sisters who encourage men to claim feminism over the objections of other female feminists—especially when this is done without explaining those objections and offering guidance in avoiding potential pitfalls--to stop this well-meaning practice that unwittingly endangers our safe spaces and transforming work. This is true even though most male “feminists” are not as problematic as the poster boy for the dangers of handing men a “get out of sexism free” feminist membership card, Hugo Schwyzer. A Gender Studies professor who unrepentantly engaged in sexual abuse of multiple students and attempted to murder a female partner, he was exalted for years by white internet feminists, most of whom have yet to make significant amends to the women of color they threw under the bus when they were attacked by Schwyzer.

In fact, it is my respect for and trust in the majority of my brothers that makes me suggest we can keep their support and avoid the problems I describe by challenging them lovingly but clearly to discard the conscious or unconscious delusion that acknowledgment of male privilege makes it vanish, and them the “good guys” who no longer have to struggle with their own sexism. I make these requests with no judgment, and with great humility, because of my own struggles, failures, and glacial learning curve in the area where I am most clearly the possessor of vast unjust power and privilege: my attempt to embrace conversion from my own white privilege and racism and become an actual anti-racist ally to people of color rather than a frequently self-deceived verbal supporter of their cause. This requires constant re-centering on their courage, achievements, and challenges rather than on the oh-so-tempting focus of my marginal superiority to other white people who think racism is over except, perhaps, in its mythical “reverse” form. My relationships to homophobia and ableism are more intricate and complex, since I am a queer disabled cis woman who is temporarily able-bodied and often assumed to be both straight and neurotypical.

Important concerns about transphobia are often raised when cis women, in particular, suggest that there are different roles in feminist activism for male- and female-identified people. Some second wave cis feminists engage in hurtful—at times, vicious—attacks on and exclusion of our trans sisters, which is callous to their great danger and suffering and unworthy of our own struggle for liberation. I definitely see trans women as real women with a crucial place and voice in feminism, and work against transphobia as a crucial aspect of intersectional feminism. So I am especially interested in feedback from my transwomen readers as I attempt to learn from your experience and respectfully share my concerns on this issue. I would also request that you remember that you began life with some measures of embodied male privilege and continue to share its immunity from one of (most) cis women’s greatest sources of danger and oppression in our misogynist society: the agonizing discernment of how to manage an undesired pregnancy resulting from either our epidemic of rape or from consensual sex in the absence of just healthcare and family planning freedom. This is similar to the case of adoption in which birth, adoptive, foster, surrogate, and donor parents are all real parents deserving of full respect, voice and protection. However, failure to acknowledge the crucial differences between these forms of parenting often leads to injustice and suffering for those with less social privilege and power, for instance first parents and families without class and/or white privilege, and their children when adopted by families who enjoy both.

I understand and share the desperate frustration, and longing for support, of my sister feminists in a society which continues to misunderstand and stigmatize our justice work. And I empathize with the temptation to take the quick fix of granting men permission to confidently claim feminism rather than inviting and guiding them to work as our allies and having the delicate and sometimes painful conversations necessary for healthy collaboration and relationships when they enter our safe spaces. I recently experienced a wonderful example of clear and gracious boundary setting for aspiring white allies on how to humbly accept the leadership of black people at a Black Lives Matter volunteer orientation meeting, and long to see feminist groups and individuals adopt the same courageous and life-giving praxis with our male colleagues, friends, and supporters.

It is always a tough sell to convince oppressors to see and begin to act against their own participation in structural sin, and gender is perhaps the arena where members of the oppressor and oppressed classes live most intimately intertwined. All women have fathers, and most of us have a male partner at some point in our lives. Many of us parent male children who begin life helpless and dependent upon us, and grow into physical and social power which allows them, like all other men, to gravely endanger us at will and with minimal consequences by physical, sexual, and emotional violence. (If you don’t understand or agree with this statement look up the statistics about male violence against women and its lack of legal repercussions, which form a crucial part of feminists’ argument that our movement is still desperately needed and are even cited by male "feminists" in the course of attacking non-feminist men and women). Some men choose to engage in extreme forms of this violence; some enact moderate forms, often in denial that they are doing so; and even sincerely good men who do neither benefit greatly from the actions of the others as they enjoy safety in the world which women can only imagine and tremendous, if sometimes subtle, power over women in their work and personal relationships. A classic second wave analysis of this dynamic in the case of sexual violence is Susan Brownmiller’s Against our Will: Men, Women, and Rape.

This power imbalance is, of course, affected by other axes of oppression which allow even greater power for men with white, class, straight, cis, neurotypical and/or able-bodied privilege while allowing women who share these more power than women, and in some cases, men, who don’t. However, women qua women are in many ways an endangered species in our country and world—which means that it behooves us to get at least some of the oppressors firmly on our side. Many non-feminist women do this by rejecting feminism—often with valuable and too often ignored critiques of mainstream white feminism from their perspective as women of color, poor or working class status, and/or conservative religious faith. Many feminist women do this by lauding famous and ordinary men who call themselves feminists—ironically catering to the fact that in a sexist society endorsement from men is an important marker of status for any cause--and avoiding tough discussions of male privilege and appropriate ally behavior lest men accuse us of anger or overreaction, or refrain from adding membership numbers and financial donations to feminist organizations.

Most tragically, women’s justified rage against their oppression frequently turns into the safer option of fierce anger against their sisters in suffering who take another path for survival—especially in regard to anguished and complex issues like reproductive justice. Meanwhile, men on both sides enjoy the catbird seat: benefiting from the evil fruits of sexism while claiming to be women’s true supporters and frequently attacking not just the men but the women on the other side, at whose expense they enjoy their power and privilege and whose wisdom from lived experience they need to honor in order to walk (or roll) their talk. This is not feminist behavior, nor ally behavior, but egregiously sexist behavior—especially when it takes the form of male policing of feminism which claims the power to evaluate and exclude female feminists with whom they disagree from their own movement. It is especially hurtful when men use claims of feminism—often drawing on jargon gained from a gender studies course or book—to discount respectful confrontation about their male privilege and sexism from female feminists, just as white “allies” frequently react with hostility and denial when called out for unintentional but real and damaging racist behavior by people of color.

I have experienced these precise dynamics over the years with well meaning men who claimed feminism—generally, and I doubt accidentally, those who also enjoyed white, straight, and all other forms of unjust power and privilege, and whose support was generally focused primarily on verbal affirmation rather than sustained and costly practical service to marginalized women and their children. A much appreciated contrast was a dear friend and brother bishop who is gay, biracial, and lives in marginal financial status due to his and his husband's generous adoption of his four nieces and nephews and two other children in need. He accompanied me to a feminist spirituality retreat and listened with courage to my and other women's stories of sexist injustice, abuse, and trauma, ultimately asking my forgiveness for his previous lack of full understanding and support with the marvelously healing words "I thought I was a feminist."

One example of the opposite behavior was a young male clergyman who complacently accepted titles of respect denied to far more qualified women priests and refused to defend us when requested to the conservative male perpetrators lest he lose their adulation and blog-following. Another was a college student who was the cherished protégé of both the nuns and women’s studies professors on a campus theoretically dedicated to women’s empowerment. He followed their worrisome example by viciously attacking as false feminists a courageous group of young women speaking out on crisis pregnancy and sexual assault–twin dangers to which he was, respectively, completely and largely immune, but which they faced daily—and was shocked when I challenged rather than joining his trash-talking. Both were completely unwilling to accept gentle call-outs, then more pointed but still calm ones, and ended in playing the victim card when repeated attempts to help them understand their sexist and privileged behavior were accompanied by strong yet still non-abusive expressions of valid anger on my own behalf and that of their sisters. Their very self-identification as feminists tragically prevented them from facing their own sexist privilege and acting as actual allies to women in our feminist work. leading them instead to the same false accusations of feminist bitterness, whining, and anti-maleness of many non-feminist men and women.

Most recently, I faced a firestorm of condemnation by both men and women in a beloved feminist community for a very measured response to a new and arrogant male member. He began by discounting both my professional expertise in feminist theology and, more seriously, that of the renowned womanist biblical scholar whose work I was citing in analyzing a sexist scriptural translation. I began prayerfully composing a gentle private reminder to check his privilege when he posted a sarcastic list of slogans mocking the latest group of non feminist women to state their reasons for not identifying with the movement. So I replied to the group sharing my grief at these women’s misunderstandings of feminism--and my suggestion to this overwhelmingly white, highly educated, and middle class group that we had failed our sisters by not explaining ourselves and our movement more clearly as well as responding to some of their valid concerns often rooted in race, class, and faith issues. I also gently suggested that male members of the group check their privilege and refrain from mocking non-feminist women or female feminists with whome they disagreed, and that a more constructive response--which never came--would to create their own series of respectful slogans on why they as men needed feminism.

The central perpetrator began sending me utterly vicious accusations of sexism against him, cleverly offline to avoid drawing attention to his hurtful behavior, while another male member screamed at me in all caps I AM A FEMINIST! Women’s responses ranged from silence to loud praise of his sexist attacks on non-feminist women to accusations against me of both transphobia and being exactly like conservative men who deny women any voice in the church. I understood that this profoundly hurtful behavior – at least on my sisters’ part—came largely out of their own pain and frustration at our common oppression, so I graciously left the group with well wishes and thanks for the good memories we had shared. But I grieve the irony of a feminist group with women in its name welcoming a misogynist while driving out a sister. And I grieve the lost opportunity for real reconciliation and dialogue, with deeper empowerment for the women and transformation for the men, which would have been fostered by gracious and challenging guidelines on ally naming and behavior like those I experienced at BLM--and continue to deeply appreciate from all the sisters and brothers of color who generously allow me to learn from them and attempt to make a measure of reparations for my, and my people’s, grave sins against them and theirs.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Luke 15 Hymn

Loving Shepherd, shelter me
From the preying wolf I see;
By the thorns and cliffs of fear
Help me feel that you are near.
Guide us on the pilgrim way,
Lead us home if we should stray.

Loving Mother, rescue me,
From the captor set me free;
Sweep the house and search the land,
Free me from the hateful hand;
As your treasures bright and rare,
Guard us with your tender care.

Loving Father, welcome me
To your wondrous family;
Grant me your forgiving grace,
Shine in each beloved face;
At your table may we all
Celebrate your joyous call.

Text: Laura M. Grimes, inspired by Luke 15
Tune: Toplady (Rock of Ages)

This hymn, the first I have written in the year since our move to Holland, Michigan, is lovingly dedicated to the sisters and brothers of my new church. One of the greatest blessings of our family's move last January has been finding two wonderful worship communities: Episcopal for me and RCA for my husband. We visit back and forth from time to time, and our twelve year old daughter alternates, generally preferring the shorter worship and father-daughter donut postlude at his place for Sunday morning and the youth group (which we count for her "Sunday obligation" when it's not purely social) at mine for Sunday evening. She is excited about sleeping in this morning and making DH's magical chocolate caramel pecan pie for the Super Bowl favorite food contest tonight, and I am excited about an adult ed, worship, and lunch date with my sweetheart. I am joyfully taking part in the annual World Hijab for a Day practice today which is perfectly timed for the annual Season of Reconciliation theme at his place (and saves me the discernment about whether it would be too distracting for some people in my usual ministry as chorister at mine).

My own parish is a marvelous gift because I am fully welcomed, delighted in, and supported in my outside ministry as an IC/OC clergywoman as well as lay liturgical and spiritual formation ministries on campus. I presently have the honor of working with my amazing woman rector to prepare an Ignatian Quiet Day and Wednesday night series for Lent, and my inner and outer processes of preparation overflowed this week into the hymn above. It embraces the three parallel stories in Luke 15 of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Lost Son to engage with the full range of ways we are estranged from and saved by our extravagantly loving God: as fallible human beings a challenging world, innocent victims of abuse and injustice, and sinners who freely choose against Her loving will. As with all my hymns, I hope it blesses your private spiritual practice; freely grant permission for one time public use in your worship community; and request that you contact me at lauraATgrimesDOTws for inexpensive licensing for ongoing use.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Greatest is Love

I was brought to tears by this stunning video I found at JN1034.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Joseph, King of Dreams

We watched Joseph, King of Dreams last night, though I didn't realize till checking the RevGal site this morning that it will be this coming Sunday's first reading. It was good to spend the time together, but the movie was pretty disappointing in itself.

I had hoped it would be as creative and compelling as Moses, Prince of Egypt, but it was a fairly pedestrian presentation of the story, as Nicholas warned me when I got home with it. What was really worrisome, though, was its subtle but real racist and homophobic overtones, which are frequently present in other adaptations of scripture stories for children.

In an anti-Semitic touch often present in portrayals of Mary and Jesus, the ten older brothers look Jewish/Middle Eastern, while Joseph (and Benjamin, at the end) looks European, with red hair, fairer skin, and green eyes. The Ishmaelite slave traders are stereotypically evil Muslims/Arabs, which is distressing as well--and there is no hint that Jacob had plenty of slaves in his household.

Equally worrisome is the bogus "biblical family" presentation of that diverse household, with Rachel the only adult female present. Jacob appears decades older than she does, as in traditional portrayals of Joseph and Mary meant to twist the biblical evidence of their many other children and uphold the impossible legend that Mary made a vow of virginity as an adolescent and stuck to it. (If he was so much older, of course those pesky brothers and sisters came from a first marriage--and, without Viagra, he wouldn't mind a celibate marriage at all...). In this case, the clear implication is that the other brothers came from Jacob's first wife, and that he only married Rachel after her death. Presto, change-o: the actual polygynous biblical family has been transformed into 1950s America, fueling the ignorance and arrogance of those seeking divine authorization for marriage discrimination against LGBT folks.

Speaking of which: Proposition 8, which would amend the California constitution to remove equal marriage rights, will be a close call largely dependent on undecided voters. (I screwed up my courage and joined a phone bank Sunday night with a group from our parish, which is very committed to justice in this area). If you are in the Golden State, please make sure you are registered and vote against this unjust legislation and tell your family and friends to also. If not, please pray that it will be defeated and if you'd like to learn more or make a contribution to help, click here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

His Life Was The Reason For His Death

Here is my reflection on the coming Sunday's Gospel from the Feminist Theology blog.
Like many feminist theologians, I have an ambivalent relationship with texts like today’s Gospel, where Jesus tells his disciples that he will suffer and die, and then that following him will mean picking up their own crosses. Such texts have been horribly abused throughout the centuries, as those in power have glibly preached that the oppressed should meekly accept injustice and abuse of all sorts as the cross laid on them by God’s will. Yet Jesus’ example of nonviolent resistance, truth telling even at the ultimate cost, and finding meaning in suffering and apparent failure has also been a source of inspiration and empowerment for many, and I have experienced the mysterious saving power of the cross in my own life as well. How can we preach and teach the cross in a way that fosters God’s work in the world and gives life, instead of draining and destroying it? This is a mystery and an ongoing challenge, but I think there are some clues we can find and share together. One of the most important for me is keeping the cross in the context of the resurrection and of the entirety of Jesus’ life and ministry, rather than separating these, as too often happens.

Those who remember Mel Gibson’s controversial movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” may recognize the title above as a twist on its central advertising slogan: “His Death Was the Reason for His Life.” The slogan perfectly summed up a movie which almost completely ignored Jesus’ life and ministry and focused on a long, graphic, and arguably anti-Semitic depiction of his suffering and death. I wouldn’t have exposed myself to it, or given Gibson my money for it, except that I was preparing for a job interview in which I had to teach a demonstration class on early Church Christology, and I decided to make it interesting for the students by bringing in movie depictions. As part of the preparation for that class I also watched “The Last Temptation of Christ” for the first time, and was intrigued to notice that the same slogan could sum up its thesis as well. Despite the very different ecclesial politics expressed in the movies, the Jesus portrayed by Kazantzakis and Scorese is equally focused on the passion as God’s will and the entire focus of his mission. The terrible temptation referred to was Jesus having a long and happy family life married to Mary Magdalene--which would apparently have disappointed the bloodthirsty God whom both movies see as the architect of the unjust torture and execution Jesus in fact suffered.

Rather than the dangerous slogan used to advertise Mel Gibson’s dangerous movie, “The Passion of the Christ”—“His Death was the Reason for His Life”, I propose that we remember, reflect on, and boldly preach the converse statement—“His Life was the Reason for His Death.” Did Jesus die because God was unable or unwilling to forgive human sin and renew creation without the grisly blood sacrifice of an innocent person? I don’t think so—this would be a God unloving, unlike Jesus, and unworthy of worship. Rather, Jesus died because his actions of faithfulness to God angered the religious and political establishment, and he refused to abandon the charge, and the people, entrusted to him by selling out, backing down, or running away.

In reflecting on this theme in today’s Gospel, it is crucial to remember what comes immediately before it in Matthew’s Gospel, the lection we heard proclaimed last week. Jesus asks his disciples who they say that he is, and Simon Peter is divinely inspired to proclaim that he is the Messiah, the one anointed by the Holy Spirit to save and free God’s people. Jesus accepts the identification as the Messiah, praises Peter for his insight, and promises him the spiritual authority of binding and loosing. The disciples were no doubt thrilled, and probably began daydreaming of the messianic triumph that they assumed Jesus was planning. God had so often saved the people of Israel in concrete ways that involved freeing them from political injustice and oppression, and they certainly faced an unjust and oppressive situation under the Roman yoke. They would naturally assume that Jesus was another Simon Maccabeus, and start honing their weapons and planning their recruitment speeches. So Jesus first forbade them from telling people he was the Messiah, and then went on to describe the shape of his messianic ministry in today’s passage. Matthew emphasizes this point at the beginning of this pericope by calling him not just “Iesus”, but “Iesus Christos”—a detail unaccountably left out of the NRSV and most English translations. He will not lead an army into Jerusalem, he tells them; rather, he will be executed there and eventually rise again. And when Peter demurs at the horrifying thought, he rebukes him as a Satan, a stumbling block and a tempter just like the devil who invited him to seek worldly glory and power at the beginning of his ministry. What Peter was saying was that Jesus should either give up his ministry and run away or take on the same violence used by the oppressors, and this was what Jesus refused to do—to gain the whole world by losing his soul. And his choice led both to the resurrection and, in some mysterious way, to a powerful outpouring of God’s healing love in the world.

I have several crosses that express this paradox and this saving power by being twined with leaves or flowers rather than the suffering body of Jesus. There is a bronze one given by my department chair at Rosemont college when I moved from the Roman Catholic to the Episcopal church, and another with a butterfly bought when I reconnected with the director of my thirty day Spiritual Exercises retreat, a widow and grandmother now bravely managing Parkinson’s disease. Another is a brightly painted Mexican purple cross with pink flowers, bought in Advent as I finished a healing semester teaching at the University of Portland. The most recent is a small silver-toned cross that was given by an amazing woman I met at an Al-Anon meeting, with the Serenity Prayer on the other side. She too lives with PTSD, and took time for a long lunch in which she shared her experience of God’s presence and healing power and held me as I sobbed my guts out about my own illness and my son’s. She took the cross off her keychain and it now hangs on mine, so I see it on a daily basis and am reminded to turn to that prayer I am only now coming to appreciate, as I slowly move into the gutsy, loving community centered around Twelve Step spirituality : “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Acceptance does not mean celebration of pain, or numbness to feelings, or seeing life’s traumas and suffering as God’s will. It simply means releasing denial and facing reality, and as much as possible, compassionately and reverently contemplating our own experience and that of others. It means trusting that, like Moses by the burning bush or Mary Magdalene standing lovingly by the cross, we are on holy ground--that God is grieving with us, accepting all our feelings, and helping us to find new life in any way possible. If we can stay in that difficult place, turn to God’s love, and support each other in that challenging task, I believe that the God who raised Jesus from the dead will be with us in the pain and indeed grant us, as she did him, the courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Gender Discrimination in Academia

Academia is a weird place, where a verbal commitment to political correctness and a small sample of famous female scholars effectively masks the egregious ways that sexism (and racism, and all the others) still operate.

I was reading my American Academy of Religion Religious Studies News this morning and came across a Lilly-funded study of a large number of undergraduate Religious Studies and Theology departments. (It's not online yet, unfortunately). It confirmed the dying out of tenure track positions and their replacement by non-tenure track, generally part time ones, common to all humanities fields. It also confirmed a huge ongoing gender discrepancy in academic employment at all levels: five times as many tenured men as women, more than twice as many tenure track men, three times as many full-time tenure track men, and almost twice as many part time, non tenure track men.

It also showed that only 24% of the departments offered any coursework in women's studies, and a mere 5% required this crucial aspect of the academic study of religion for majors to graduate. So women who specialize in women's issues are at even more of a disadvantage, and future male grad students are already coached in the prevailing attitudes they will find in master's and doctoral programs. "Regular theology" is done by white males, and textbooks, coursework and exam requirements ensure that they--and too many women--are never required to master the important work done by female scholars and scholars of color.

The tragic thing is that for some years entering graduate students in Religious Studies and Theology doctoral programs have been roughly evenly distributed according to gender, and final awards of PhDs are much more closely balanced, though I believe men may have some numerical advantage by that time. Many previous AAR studies have demonstrated how highly qualified, hard working women are forced out at every stage of the process, especially in dissertation completion and above all employment--especially tenured and tenure track employment--after this is achieved. Family labor is a huge part of this, though not all of it. This injustice is a tragic impoverishment to the profession, and the same thing happens to scholars of color--above all women of color. The final blow is listening to some white male colleagues, privileged at every stage of the process, complaining at interview time about the supposed advantages of affirmative action and accusing us of whining for pointing out these simple facts.

Okay, end of rant.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Friday Five: Wait and Pray

Nicholas and Katie are joining me for Friday Five before school today! Then I will join them there and read a super-cool bilingual book to both classes: Si Se Puede: Janitor Strike in Los Angeles. (English only to Katie's group, both languages to Nicholas's).

Sally at RevGals writes:

Part of the Ascension Day Scripture from Acts 11 contains this promise from Jesus:

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Then he was taken from their sight into the clouds, two angels appeared and instructed the probably bewildered disciples to go back to Jerusalem, where they began to wait and to pray for the gift Jesus had promised.

Prayer is a joy to some of us, and a chore to others, waiting likewise can be filled with anticipation or anxiety....

So how do you wait and pray?

1. How do you pray best, alone or with others?

Laura: How can I choose? Prayer alone has the deepest intimacy and prayer with others a special joy.

Katie: With my family.

Nicholas: By myself.

2. Do you enjoy the discipline of waiting, is it a time of anticipation or anxiety?

Laura: I like waiting if I know something good is coming; it adds to the joy. Waiting in need or pain and not knowing if something good will happen or not is the hard part.

Katie: I sort of like to wait and sort of do not.

Nicholas: Waiting is stressful.

3. Is there a time when you have waited upon God for a specific promise?

Laura: Yes, but no specific examples come to mind right now.

Katie: At school the good angels tell me to do good things and the bad angels tell me to do bad things.

Nicholas: No.

4. Do you prefer stillness or action?

Laura: Again, how can I choose? They're both greatly fulfilling at the right time. I guess action is a little more my style, though.

Katie: I like to do peaceful things in my house and wild things outside.

Nicholas: Action.

5. If ( and this is slightly tongue in cheek) you were promised one gift spiritual or otherwise what would you choose to receive?

Laura: The gift of healing.

Katie: Writing books.

Nicholas: To be a really really really good golfer and artist.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Healing Love, Part II

It's been quite a day here. Grief and joy flowing in tides as I listened to the sadness, prayed and comforted myself, received consolations and felt close to Julian, then the sadness came back and the cycle would start again. It wasn't devastating, just sad and not how it should be, even though happiness and grace are here too. And it continues to be hard how few people recognize this as a real baby and a real grief. This experience has definitely motivated me to keep developing resources to assist women who have miscarried or terminated pregnancies and whose whole range of feelings are so dishonored from all sides.

The kids were great tonight when it got hard again, and so was Matt, after some coaching. Katie reminded me that we should snuggle up and do our imagery for healing broken hearts (different colored glitter glue, flowers, and other decorations) and Nicholas was loving to me, reminded Matt to be too and me to share my frustrations kindly. Prenatal loss really does hit the mom harder than the dad in most cases.

Here is the initial after dinner snuggle pile in my comfy chair.

This picture is a bittersweet reminder me of a classic one from my birthday the night before Katie was born. My tummy and I were cozied up in the same position with a much smaller Nicholas, clad in yellow pajamas with green lizards. (I got the chair at a moving sale--bargaining the guy down lest my dad disown me--late in my pregnancy with Katie, and spent much of every day in it napping and then nursing for the next year or so).

In the next one, we are holding the gorgeous pink Sony VAIO that Matt helped me get on his lunch hour to replace the one that died last week. It will always remind me of my sweet Julian now.

After this I read and sang and prayed with Katie while the guys got a birthday present for a party in the morning and dress shoes for a family wedding tomorrow afternoon. They also came back with these.

The next one, with Matt, again reminded us of a birthday picture when I was uber pregnant with Nicholas, snuggled on Matt's lap, at my BFF's house. It was a South Bend blizzard and we trudged down there with a cake to a lovely dinner cooked by her ex when the other guests couldn't make it to ours.

Before we read 1 Samuel Nicholas also gave me a foot massage, and after I sang him "You are Mine" he sang me the lullaby I usually sing to him. I am very tired, missing my sweet one, grateful for that ongoing mysterious presence as well as Rachel's, and very grateful for the ones still here in body and their wonderful dad. As I so often tell them, I am the luckiest mom in the world.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Julian's Due Date today, which is also the feast of St. Mark the Evangelist.

Please join me in celebrating this sweet child whose spirit and presence have so blessed my year, and our family's, with so much good news.

Together with Rachel, the other member of our Dynamic Duo, Julian gifted us with this move, including a last minute shift to an even better place in the same neighborhood as we planned. We will be renting a teeny tiny condo on Pacific Coast Highway. There's no office, and the kids' bedroom is even smaller than the one in married student housing. But it feels light and airy and pretty, and it's five minutes walk from the beach, and it's quite a bit less than we are paying now, so we can save a lot with Nicholas in the good public school and Katie staying at Montessori at least for kindergarten. And if we sell and give away enough stuff and keep it clean we won't feel cluttered and I can see clients in the living room when they are out.

I'm pretty sad too, praying for all the other women due at this time--both those who have lost their babies due at this time or are getting ready to deliver. I am also sorting out what kind of prayer and ritual to include in the day along with pre-move tasks, so I would appreciate prayers and good energy for .

Many thanks.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Musical Musings: Healing Love

(Cross-posted at RevGals)

During this fourth week of Easter, when many of heard the Good Shepherd Gospel on Sunday, I offer a Musical Musings with some songs opening us to the tender, healing love of God.

A big thank-you to Rainbow Pastor for recalling my attention to Bobby McFerrin's wonderful expansive setting of the Psalm 23, dedicated to his mother. RP is facing a biopsy on Tuesday so please drop by her place and assure her of your support and prayers...

Next is David Haas's "You are Mine," which we sang at Katie's baptism on Transfiguration Sunday. I sang it to Matt as we brainstormed the music for the liturgy in a middle of the night nursing session when she was very tiny.

The next two songs are not explicitly religious, but many of us find their expression of unconditional love to be a connection with God's compassion as experienced in nurturing relationships with others and our own inner selves.

"How Could Anyone," by Libby Roderick, has been mentioned by both Mary Beth and Songbird. I learned of it in Shaina Noll's version, on her wonderful album, Songs for the Inner Child (link).

Another powerful song found on Shaina Noll's album is Fred Small's Everything Possible. (Unfortunately, she removes the explicitly LGBT affirming lines--the plethora of healing songs and lullabies means that the album is still worth getting, though, for yourself, your child, and leading retreats or workshops). A longtime folksinger, Small is now a UU minister. A good friend bought his album No Limit my senior year of college, and bequeathed it to me when he entered the Jesuits; this song was the first thing he played when I returned from my college graduation. I sing it often to my kids, and sang it on the boat from which we scattered my Grandma Pat's ashes into the Pacific as well.

Coming full circle, I offer Carey Landry's Isaiah 49/I Will Never Forget You, My People. This is a very simple song and reflects its roots in the 70s, but it made a big impact on me in college and is still one of the few to explicitly engage the scriptural images of God as Mother. Like the others, it is a beloved bedtime song for my kids, and Katie brought it to mind by requesting it tonight.

What are your favorite songs for experiencing God's love?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Good Shepherds

Here is my Good Shepherd sermon from three years ago; it was delivered both at Journey and at the Episcopal parish where I worshipped and occasionally assisted during our last six months in Portland.
The sheep hear the voice of the shepherd who calls them by name and leads them out…They will not follow a stranger, but will run away, for they do not know the voice of strangers…They follow the shepherd, for they know the shepherd’s voice.” These words from today’s Gospel recall famous stories of this Easter season, in which the question is whether Jesus’ followers will recognize him in his risen body—whether they will hear and understand his voice. Remember Mary of Magdala, the first apostle to behold the risen Christ? She sees Jesus through her tears, but perceives only a gardener. “Are you the one who took him away? Please tell me where to find him!” Remember the two disciples running away from Jerusalem to Emmaus? They think Jesus is just the most dim-witted pilgrim in the history of Passover. “Are you the only person in town who doesn’t know what’s been going on?” All three disciples eventually recognize their friend and shepherd by hearing his voice. Mary Magdalene throws her arms around Jesus when he lovingly calls her name: “Mary.” “My rabbi!” And the Emmaus disciples’ hearts burn as Jesus names their reality by breaking open the Word and the Bread.

Today’s familiar reading about the Good Shepherd invites us to reflect on the same challenges as Jesus’ first followers, so long ago. How do we recognize the risen Christ working in our world through the Holy Spirit? How do we rise from our defeated hopes and hear him call our names? How do we follow the example of the first Christians, recorded in Acts--shepherding one another and the poor, and witnessing to truth and justice even at the risk of sharing Jesus’ suffering? What makes our hearts burn with the love of God, our gentle Shepherd?

To dig into these questions, I would like to explore another less famous, but equally powerful Easter story. Each year the lectionary reacquaints us with Mary Magdalene in the garden, and doubting Thomas in the upper room. But this passage from the 21st chapter of John’s Gospel appears only once every three years. It’s the Gospel for the third Sunday of Easter in year C, which was last year. Scripture scholars consider it an epilogue to John, because it follows what sounds like a conclusion at the end of chapter 20: “Jesus performed many other signs as well—signs not recorded here—in the presence of his disciples. But these have been recorded to help you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, so that through this faith you may have life in his name….Later on, Jesus showed himself to his disciples once again…” It seems as if the final redactor put down his or her pen, and then snatched it right back up! It was impossible to resist adding one more dramatic story of a powerful sign performed by the risen Jesus. And this may have been, at least in part, precisely because of the Good Shepherd discourse earlier in the Gospel, in the tenth chapter of John. The two stories are linked by their themes of Jesus’ love and what it means to follow him. They are also linked by the fact that these two are the only Johannine passages to use the metaphor of sheep to describe Jesus’ disciples. Some other gospels, especially Matthew, use this literary device frequently; but any other sheep mentioned in John are sure to be running around and saying baa.

This final resurrection appearance at first follows the patterns of the earlier Easter stories. It has both a delayed recognition of Jesus by the disciples, and a shared meal in which they celebrate it. Peter, James, and John, with some others, retreat to their familiar fishing boat, and fail to catch a single fish after working all night. They see Jesus on the beach, but think he is just a stranger calling out to them for idle conversation. “Caught anything, guys?” “Nah, terrible luck.” “Try putting your nets on the other side of the boat.” “What the heck, let’s give it a try.” They make a miraculous catch of one hundred fifty three fish, and then they recognize Jesus. “It’s the Lord!” They begin to row in, dragging their bounty; Peter, impulsive as ever, abandons the others to their task. He throws on his tunic and dives into the water, swimming as fast as he can to the shore. When the rest of the group catches up, Jesus reaches out to care for these tired, hungry men. He has built a roaring fire to warm them up and barbecue some of the fish, and brought fresh loaves of bread to go with it.

Unlike the other stories, this one goes on to an intense conversation. Jesus does not vanish from their sight after breakfast, but invites Peter to take a walk down the beach. Jesus calls Peter to share in his mission of being a good shepherd to God’s flock, and gives him tips on how to do it. I was fascinated to discover that, though both the Episcopal and Roman Catholic lectionaries include the “fish story,” from the first part of the chapter, only the Catholic reading goes on to add the conversation. This may be a simple concern of length; it may also be because the First Vatican Council used this passage to make extreme power claims, including infallibility, for the bishop of Rome. Ironically, a careful examination of the story shows that—to me at least--it has precisely the opposite meaning, with much to say about the true leadership and care God calls all of us to offer one another.

Jesus begins by making a probing threefold inquiry about Peter’s commitment to him. This gives Peter an opportunity to make amends for his earlier threefold denial of Jesus when the chips were down. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Then feed my lambs.” Jesus seems to be testing Peter a bit here. Will he repeat his confident boasting at the Last Supper that he is the bravest one in the group, and will follow Jesus to the death? No--Peter shows he has learned from experience. He says only that he loves Jesus, not claiming to love him more than everyone else does. Jesus repeats a simpler question, calling his friend by name and speaking to his heart, twice more. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Then feed my sheep.” Finally, Jesus reveals that Peter will ultimately have a chance follow through on his earlier promise. After years of preaching the Gospel, he will find himself facing a martyr’s death. We know from history that when this second chance came, Peter stayed the course; like Jesus, he did lay down his life for God’s sheep. But on first hearing this news, he reels in shock, turning away from Jesus as he tries to take it in. Can he really face this? Will they all end dying for their faith? Maybe it would be easier to know that he won’t be alone at the end. His eyes light on the Beloved Disciple, of whom he’s always been a little jealous, and he blurts out, “What about him, Lord?” And Jesus gently tells him, “Don’t worry about anyone else, my friend. Just follow me.”

Jesus’ word and example caring for the disciples, and talking with Peter, flesh out today’s Good Shepherd Gospel with some concrete practices to strive for in our life together. Good shepherds are always alert to recognize the voice of God, speaking through each human person and the whole created world. Good shepherds care for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of brothers and sisters. Good shepherds are prepared to work hard and pay a real price to do what is right. Good shepherds learn compassion through their own struggles, and challenge others, when necessary, with patience and love. And good shepherds focus on faithfully following their own path to God—not trying to make everyone else follow the same one.

Can you imagine what our city would look like if we all did this in our homes and workplaces? Can you imagine what the Catholic church, and interfaith relations, would look like if the next Pope did the same? Can you imagine what the world would look like if our government, and those of other countries, began to think like this? According to the Friends’ Committee on National Legislation, 42 cents of each dollar on the taxes we just paid went for past, present, and future wars, and less than 1 cent for humanitarian aid and international cooperation. With this kind of “good shepherd thinking,” perhaps these priorities would be reversed. We would come closer to God’s dream, which the great fifty days of Easter calls us to share, of a transformed, just, and peaceful world.

Friday Five: Moving

(YouTube video: "Mendocino," Kate and Anna McGarrigle with Karen Matheson)

We are right in the middle of a move--only twenty minutes away, but we're still a mix of busy, excited, nervous and surprisingly full of grief about what we're leaving, for me at least. So this week's Friday Five asks about your experience of the marvels and madness of moving...

1. How many times have you moved? When was the last time?

5 times as a child; 4 times in college (two dorm rooms, an apartment, and a community house); twice as a single grad student (grad student apartments and the Catholic Worker house; and twelve times in nineteen years of marriage!

Actually, make that thirteen--cause we're in the middle of one now. In two weeks, on Julian's due date, we will move to a lovely apartment near the beach, with a fireplace and a little study for my writing and (hoped-for) spiritual direction clients. I was super excited for the first week or two and now I am surprisingly swamped with grief about leaving this place, the kid's school, and of course moving without my tiniest one, except in life is so very different than it would have been without the miscarriage. Prayers greatly appreciated.

2. What do you love and hate about moving?

I love dreaming and working together with Matt and the excitement of new adventures; taking emotional stock of time in the place I'm leaving, savoring and giving thanks for the blessings and healing the griefs; and physical stock of our stuff to declutter and give away as much as possible to people who need it, which also clarifies who I am and where I am going next.

I hate the incredibly hard work; saying goodbye to what has been; and the fear of failure and loneliness when, as has often happened in my unconventional vocation and is happening now, I'm moving to and for something that is free form and not a guaranteed success.

3. Do you do it yourself or hire movers?

We've done it both ways. Many times of do it ourselves with helpful friends, a couple of last minute company funded moves where the movers packed for us, and this will be our second combination of we pack, they drive the truck and carry things.

4. Advice for surviving and thriving during a move?

Interspersing fun in the work, especially for the little ones; we've been having fun cooking tasty treats to clean out the refrigerator and pantry. Also self-care; did a good job on that today with prayer, a bath and a nap as well as setting up an emotional healing appt. with Rev. A. and putting in a call to a friend who does massage therapy.

Lowering expectations of getting everything perfect and wrapped up before moving, which I am not always so good at....

5. Are you in the middle of any inner moves, if not outer ones?

Both for me, which is why it's so intense. One of the graces of retreat was coming to honor and value my outside-the-box theological and ministerial work more, and dreaming/brainstorming ways to deepen and broaden it. This helped inspire the move to a lovely place with more outer and inner space to do that, and some promising open doors as well. (I was collared up for a wedding the day we found the apartment and that led to long and enjoyable spiritual discussions with two of the office staff. One can't wait to come to house mass and assures me the other will too).

But it's also scary to leave behind the place where so many graces have come, along with so much pain, in the past three years--longer than we have lived anywhere except four years, one with Rachel, in one of our three apartments in ND married student housing. And to not know if I can pull off the dreams of more writing and spiritual direction and retreat work. And to wonder if I will get that teaching fellowship offer on the other coast in time to change direction, and if I'll want to....

Bonus: Share a piece of music/poetry/film/book that expresses something about what moving means to you.

Kate McGarrigle's Mendocino, above, which I discovered as sung by Reilly and Maloney my first year at Notre Dame. I may not be in California permanently, but it sums up the joy of moving back home from Detroit in 2000, from Oregon three years ago, and of staying here for now (almost certainly) and moving even closer to my beloved Pacific. Now if I could just get some time and energy to walk there during the process....

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Hearts on Fire

Here is my reflection for the Feminist Theology blog this week, on Sunday's Gospel of the disciples who encounter the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus. It reflects the empowering possibility depicted in this wonderful icon by Sr. Marie Paul--that the pair were a married couple--instead of the common, textually groundless assumption that they were undoubtedly two men. Some exegetes suggest that this couple consisted of Cleopas, named in the text, and Mary, a female disciple named in John's Gospel as married to a man with the closely related name of Clopas.
Mary and Cleopas trudged wearily and silently along the dirt road. After several days and nights of fear, grief, guilt, and anger they were utterly spent. Mary briefly wondered what was in her husband’s mind and heart, then returned to the restlessness of her own. How could it be true? One more demonstration of Roman brutality, one more betrayal by the priestly caste that colluded with them, one more failed Messiah. What a fool she had been to trust, to believe that things could be different, to imagine that someone from her own village--her best friend’s older brother—could be the chosen one of God.

Mary sighed as she thought of that friend. Though it had been three years since Shira’s death, the pain and memories had resurfaced as fresh as ever since Jesus’ torture and execution at the hands of Pilate’s soldiers. Watching in terror as blood gushed in fountains despite the desperate labor of the midwife and her assistant, and the joy at Benjamin’s birth turned to anguish. Feeling her own child leap in her womb as she watched her friend’s face grew pale and her voice faint. “Esther, your son” – “Little one, your mother.” The words were addressed to Shira’s older sister, who had plenty of milk for the boy; her year old daughter now ran, climbed and jumped everywhere, nursing less and eagerly learning to eat fruit and cheese. But Shira’s eyes sought Mary’s too, in a wordless appeal to which her breaking heart willingly assented. If she survived her own birth the following month, she would love Benjamin as her own, tell him stories of his mother’s youth, make him the most welcome friend to her own firstborn. And she did, until the horrific day two years later when Simeon was taken by a sudden fever. She couldn’t stand to see Benjamin anymore, couldn’t stand life in Nazareth at all, and neither could Cleopas. When he suggested that they join the growing group of disciples following Jesus on his mission, she eagerly assented.

Her namesake, Jesus’ mother, sighed wearily at the news but kissed and blessed them on their way. She knew that Jesus has a special mission, but had felt angry and betrayed when he left so soon after Shira’s death, which followed Joseph’s by less than a year. Didn’t he know how much the family needed him? Couldn’t God’s call, so long delayed in coming to clarity, wait another year till they had all adjusted? Thank heavens they had been reconciled before the end, his mother rushing to Jerusalem in time to join the others at that bittersweet Passover meal. Mary recalled leaning back against Cleopas’ chest, intently watching Jesus’ actions and listening to his startling words. Jesus tenderly washed their feet, something the women usually did, and she remembered the recent feast Martha had prepared to celebrate Lazarus’ return to life. Her sister, yet another Mary, had anointed Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair. The others had been both moved by the grace and intimacy of her gesture, and troubled by his cryptic words about burial, put out of mind till he spoke in a similar way tonight. “My body, given for you”—she tasted the fresh bread she and the other women had baked. Her mind flashed to the awkward, eager nights of love when she and Cleopas first became one flesh. It had been so long now. Other couples in the group managed to find the needed privacy, but their desire had cooled after Simeon’s death, even when Joanna whispered to her of herbs that the women at court used to prevent conception. “My blood, poured out for you” – she sipped the rich wine Cleopas handed her. Her empty breasts ached as she remembered the bliss of drowsily nursing Simeon on the sleeping mat, with Cleopas’ arms enfolding them both.

The next day she stood as close as she could to Jesus, with Jesus’ mother, Mary of Magdala, some of the other women, and John. Cleopas was farther back, with the few male disciples who hadn’t run away with Peter and the others. She watched Jesus’ mother, looking at him with eyes full of unshed tears, and her heart was torn between compassion and resentment. She couldn’t imagine watching people torture and kill her beloved son —but at least Mary had gotten to watch her son grow up. And he had made a free choice to speak the truth even at the risk of death, rather than being snatched by a stupid, pointless disease. Then even those conflicted feelings fled, as Jesus’ face paled and his voice grew faint. “Woman, your son” – “Behold your mother.” As on the day of Shira’s death, those solemn words were followed by a cry of anguish, and an uncontrollable gush of blood, caused this time by the soldier’s spear piercing savagely into Jesus’ side.

Lost in her memories, she barely registered when Cleopas said something, and was startled when another traveler approached and spoke to them cheerfully: “What are you talking about this fine day?” Cleopas looked at him as if he were crazy, and frustrated words spurted from his mouth. “Are you the only person in Judea who doesn’t know what’s been going on this week?” Mary’s tongue unloosed, and they started speaking over each other as they poured out the story. Following Jesus, hearing his words of fiery challenge, and seeing his miracles. Being sent out on their own to preach the good news, and like the rest of the seventy, being astonished when the Spirit moved through their hands as well. Their combined prayer healed a little girl with the same fever that had taken Simeon, and it brought peace to their hearts. They agreed that they were ready to see Benjamin again, and maybe even to open to a new life in their own family. Marching into Jerusalem behind Jesus’ donkey, with the crowds cheering, and their hearts rising to think that Israel would be free once more. And then the grief, and the fear, and the wild claims of angels made by Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and the recriminations that had finally driven them to leave the other disciples in Jerusalem and begin the long walk home.

The man waited till they were talked out, then smiled wryly and challenged Cleopas: “Don’t you know the scriptures? Wasn’t that the fate of every true prophet?” Turning to Mary, he added “Isn’t pain--sometimes death--always the price of new life?” Shocked into silence, they listened as he spoke on, their dead hearts slowly starting to spark to new life. There was something about his manner that resembled Jesus—but no, that was impossible, and surely he would have said something, and he didn’t really look like him anyway. As they approached the inn in Emmaus, the sun was setting. The stranger and said, “Here’s where I leave, you, friends. Thanks for your company.” “Oh, please stay and eat with us,” Cleopas urged, and Mary added her voice to his. She felt stronger and more hopeful in his company, and wanted to delay the return of despair she feared would come along with his departure. The man smiled again and agreed, and they went in and ordered a simple meal from the innkeeper.

He brought wash water first, and Mary knelt to wash Cleopas’ feet; she saw tears well up in his eyes, though they didn’t fall, and felt the same sting in her own. She turned to the stranger next, but Cleopas shook his head and took the towel and basin from her. Her renewed grief turned to wonder as her husband followed their rabbi’s example, washing the stranger’s feet and then hers, with a tenderness which awakened her heart—and some other parts she had thought long dead. She smiled at him with a promise of the pleasure they would later share. Then they all washed their hands in another basin, and her famished stomach made an embarrassing noise as the innkeeper’s daughter placed cups and a flagon on the table. “My mother’s bread is the best in Emmaus,” she assured them, “but it’s in the oven yet. Just a few more minutes.” So they quenched their thirst with the wine and eagerly set upon the tart goat cheese, salty olives, and sweet grapes that accompanied it.

A few minutes later the girl returned with a steaming loaf of barley bread. Mary reached out to serve it to the others, but the stranger forestalled her, as Cleopas had earlier. He reached for it, broke it in pieces, and handed one to each of them. Jesus! It was him! How could she have missed it before? Mary’s heart leapt and she clutched at Cleopas in shock, looking away from Jesus for a moment. When she looked back she received another shock—he had completely vanished. She took a deep breath and steeled herself for another rush of grief, then realized that it wasn’t coming. She couldn’t see him, but she could still feel him with her somehow, and she could tell from Cleopas’ dancing eyes that he could too. “Come on, let’s go back…” “We need to tell the others…” They both spoke at once, then laughed as they cut off their jumbled sentences. Cleopas reached in his pouch for a few coins and tossed them on the table. She grabbed their cloaks, then her beloved’s hand, and they set off together in the star-filled night.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Million Dollar Friday Five

Singing Owl writes at RevGals:

Lingering effects of a cold have me watching more television than usual. There appears to be a resurgence of the old daytime staple--the quiz show. Except they are on during prime time, and a great many of them offer the chance of winning one million dollars.I think it started with Regis Philbin and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" but now we have a half dozen or so.

My husband and I started musing (after watching "Deal or No Deal") about what we could do with a million dollars. I thought I'd just bring that discussion into the Friday Five this week. It's simple. What are five things you would want to do with a million dollar deposit in your bank account?

1. Invest a good chunk of it so we can have a house someday, by the beach, with a chapel, a garden with a labyrinth(and someone to care for the garden), and a wing for retreatants. Move to a bigger place in the meantime, by the beach unless I get that teaching fellowship back East, and hire help to declutter, pack, and make the whole move happen without stress.

2. Create a clergy formation fund so my awesome Sophia sisters can get the theological education and career development opportunities they need and deserve, and we can get together for some retreat, recreation, and community building time.

3. Start the D.Min. in pastoral counseling I have been looking at for a while and launch my prolife feminist/prochoice friendly post-abortion healing program, with some great colleagues.

4. Go to the two-three month Ignatian retreat directors' internship at Guelph this summer; get us a place there and some summer school/childcare help so Matt and the kids can come with me. (Finances and limiting time away from them mean I will only be doing the twelve day version, God willing. I am very grateful for that possibility, don't get me wrong; I was accepted three years ago and had to decline since that it was right when we ended up moving to California from Oregon).

5. Travel to Europe, or maybe Mexico, in style and with childcare.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Off to Retreat

Happy Easter! I hope everyone had a blessed Triduum and Easter Day.

Mine was quite a roller coaster, with intense grief and anguish Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday--PTSD stuff and missing my dear Julian, who would be just one month from due, alike. Very resonant with the vigil of the Annunciation today as well, since we completed our discernment to undertake the first steps toward this fourth child--a move back to California for the family as well as a generous surgery reversal on my sweetheart's part--on that feast, which coincided with Good Friday, several years ago in Portland. But I hung in and did my inner work, and experienced much grace. We also had wonderful time with family--Maundy Thursday and Good Friday at the parish, Easter Vigil around a campfire at the beach, and Easter Sunday at my parents' house. And now I am feeling peaceful, grateful, and excited as well as nervous about driving to Santa Cruz for retreat today and home on Friday.

I will hold you all in prayer and please do the same for me.

Regina caeli, laetare, Alleluia;
Quia quem meruisti portare, Alleluia;
Resurrexit, sicut dixit; Alleluia

Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday Five: Good Friday

Katie is home from school and excited for her first Friday Five!

RevHRod of RevGals writes:

1. Our prayer concerns are as varied as we are this day. For whom would you like us to pray?

Laura: For my Sophia sisters, especially one who is accompanying a dying family member amid painful complications and one who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. And for everyone suffering from PTSD, especially when it is caused and aggravated by human choices for evil and injustice.

Katie: Rachel and Julian.

2. Are there things you have done or will do today to help the young ones understand this important day in our lives?

Laura: We took them to Maundy Thursday service last night at the parish. They delighted in the footwashing ritual (I washed Katie's, Nicholas mine, and Katie Nicholas') and were moved by the stripping of the altar, the dark and silent church at the end, and visiting the altar of repose afterwards. They are begging to go to back for Taize tonight, and I look forward to the peaceful chants, the prayers of healing, and venerating the icon of Christ's burial together.

Katie: Listening again to "Ride on, ride on in majesty" from last week's Friday Five."

3. Music plays an important part in sharing the story of this day. Is there a hymn or piece of music that you have found particularly meaningful to your celebrations of Good Friday?

Laura: Taize again: "Jesus, Remember Me," which we also sang at the beginning of Rachel's funeral. And "Adoramus Te, Domine," to which I added many invocations from the Litany of the Sacred Heart while people came up to venerate the cross at my grad school parish. Burning furnace of charity; abyss of all virtues; our peace and reconciliation; our life and resurrection; delight of all the saints--we adore you, have mercy on us.

Katie: "Jesus Loves Me."

4. As you hear the passion narrative, is there a character that you particularly resonate with?

Laura: Mary Magdalene: healed, exorcized, empowered, despairing, deeply present in love and courage--and so often forgotten.

Katie: Mama Mary.

5. Where have you seen the gracious God of love at work lately?

Laura: My joyous sacramental date with Nicholas on Wednesday and his words last night at mass: "I like going to church now. I didn't use to, but now I do."

Katie: The Palm Sunday Peace Parade and going to the Japanese restaurant for a special dinner afterwards.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Friday Five: Signs of Hope, Signs of Spring

Sally at RevGals writes:

What have you seen/ heard this week that was a

1. Sign of hope?

After being guided to some challenging but life-giving decisions about the next steps in living my theological vocation, I have been quite productive and--more important--often enjoyed it!

2. An unexpected word of light in a dark place?

One of my children had a very hard time the other night, and I was able to tap into Sophia's wisdom, care for my inner self, then do amazing work to calm and negotiate and reconnect. Much gratitude arising.

3. A sign of spring?

Hard to pinpoint here in southern California, but there's been milder weather when I walk the beach and at night. We actually had to close the window some nights in February (yes, I know your hearts bleed...)

4. Challenging/ surprising?

Ongoing management of the PTSD as I read and learn more, and work courageously through the memories and thought patterns.

5. Share a hope for the coming week/month/year....

Continue to find joy and companionship with Sophia in my work, with less of the emotional toll and exhaustion it still sometimes produces when I push myself too hard. And continue to build the friendship and healthy pastoral collaboration with the wonderful woman who will be my first ordinand, Godde willing, this summer.

Bonus play... a piece of music/ poem guaranteed to cheer you?

Godspell, which brings back happy memories of my days as a Santa Clara Mission Mouse. When the late Sunday night mass had run later than usual, the director would blast this on the sound system and we'd dance our way through moving hundreds of chairs....

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Five: Heaven

Singing Owl, at RevGals, writes:

What is your idea of a heavenly (i.e. wonderful and perfect):

What a perfect theme for today, which would have been my sweet Rachel's seventeenth birthday as well as just over two months before little Julian's due date.

1. Family get-together

Well, that one won't be completely heavenly till the six of us are together at the Lamb's high feast. But in the meanwhile our family dinners each night are a really joyful reason for gratitude.

2. Song or musical piece

Harp, like what my friend Fr. M. played and I sang with, when I led Taize at my South Bend parish for ten years of Good Friday nights.

3. Gift

Lots of time with people I love; travel to make that possible for those who are far away.

4. You choose whatever you like-food, pair of shoes, vacation, house, or something else. Just tell us what it is and what a heavenly version of it would be.

Well, interesting versions of good dark chocolate are already pretty heavenly. I guess I'll say a large, beautiful house overlooking the ocean, with no danger of weather damage or loss. Swimmable beach below, fireplace, hot tub on the cliff, huge gorgeous kitchen and lovely bathroom with another hot tub and a comfy chair....

5. And for a serious moment, or what would you like your entrance into the next life to be like? What, from your vantage point now, would make Heaven "heavenly?"

My two sweethearts to embrace me and bring me to Her embrace.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday Five: Water and the Spirit

RevHRod at RevGals writes:

For today's five, tell us about your baptismal experiences.

Great timing--my reflection on John 3 at the Feminist Theology blog this week had a lot to do with baptism.

1. When and where were you baptized? Do you remember it? Know any interesting tidbits?

I was baptized at three months old, at Transfiguration Church in south central Los Angeles on Martin Luther King Blvd. (then Santa Barbara Ave). My Dad had gone to elementary school and made his First Confession and Communion at the parish, I was a flower girl for my aunt Cele there in second grade, and it's where I decided to move home to California at my great-uncle Glenn's funeral in 2000. (My parents lived in a tiny little house they were fixing up around the corner on Third Ave., and my grandparents lived in other houses on that lot in earlier and later years. My grandpa's sister Marian and her husband stayed in the neighborhood and the parish through the ensuing white flight years, and one of their greatest honors was being named an honorary Knight and Lady of St. Peter Claver).

It was just before the end of the Second Vatican Council, so it would have been in Latin at the small white font that still stands there. The picture with my godparents and the priest shows my Uncle Ritchie in a suit with super short hair, my parents' friend Mary Lou in heels and a Jackie Kennedy hat, and Fr. Dan Germann--then a cool young Jesuit at Loyola, where my dad was a senior--skinny, babyfaced, and in a black cassock. Dan later taught me liturgy and had a profound influence on my priestly vocation at Santa Clara; it was fun to discover that he had baptized me about halfway through college. And it was very moving to march for peace with the LA County Workers Union this past Martin Luther King Day, walking right by the church in my collar and reflecting on how little anyone at that service could have imagined I would live out the baptismal vows taken on my behalf.

2. What's the most unexpected thing you've ever witnessed at a baptism?

At a new conservative RC parish in South Bend, where they had been required to build a gorgeous baptismal pool but didn't know how to use it: a full term healthy baby was held, fully clothed, over the pool and had the usual couple drops of water on its head. They also put in the little holy water dishes not just at the side door but at the main door a couple steps from the font, and everyone in the parish used these to bless themselves on the way in, ignoring the abundant source of sacred living water. Heartbreaking ritual impoverishment.

3. Does your congregation have any special traditions surrounding baptisms?

Not that I can see so far. Our family does, though. We always baptize our children by immersion, then clothe them in the beautiful baptismal gown my mom crocheted for Rachel. We also keep some of the blessed water and make sure they have icons of their patrons for their room; for Katie's baptism I gave out Robert Lentz and Janet McKenzie icon cards of Catherine of Siena as well.

4. Are you a godparent or baptismal sponsor? Have a story to tell?

I have two goddaughters: my BFF's daughter Claire and my cousin Laura Kathleen (since my dad was second oldest of a large family, many of my cousins are more like nieces and nephews, and a few the age of my own children).

5. Do you have a favorite baptismal song or hymn?

Sing A New Church
, a newly composed hymn to the tune Nettleton (Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing). I learned it as a graduate fellow at Collegium, a wonderful weeklong seminar/retreat for faculty and prospective faculty at church-related universities.

Radiant risen from the water, robed in holiness and light;
Male and female in God's image, male and female, God's delight;
Let us bring the gifts that differ, and in splendid, varied ways
Sing a new church into being, one in faith and love and praise.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I am Hannah

Here is my Holy Family sermon from three years ago at Journey Catholic Community, which I forgot to post after Christmas. So I do so on Valentine's Day as a prayer for marriage equality in church and society, and with love and blessings to the amazing Kate and her beloveds. Check out her wonderful new shop with jewelry, lotions, and lots more.

Come in, little one, sit down. Have a cup of wine, and some of these cakes I baked this morning. I know, I know, you’re not my little granddaughter anymore—you’re a lovely young maiden preparing for your wedding. It seems like just yesterday that my miracle child stood under the marriage canopy—and now her firstborn is becoming a woman. Yes, it’s your mother I’m talking about. I know, your uncle Samuel is the one everyone talks about. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. Every child is a miracle. And your mother was the first one I got to see grow up. Samuel went away so young…

What was it like? You know the story--I must have told it to you children a hundred times. Everyone in Israel knows how God sent the prophet Samuel, the last of the judges, the kingmaker and kingbreaker—the wise women in the villages love to spin the tale, and the scribes at court have written it all down. What was it really like?…Well, it’s true that the scribes don’t know everything. And there were things I left out of your bedtime stories. All right, then, your wedding present from Grandmother Hannah. The whole story—it’s not all pretty, but it’s the truth. And, God forbid, should you have a like suffering, it may give you the strength to see it through.

There is no pain on earth like being a barren woman. Watching your sisters and friends give their husbands children, listening to endless hints from his parents, seeing the pity and the questions in the neighbors’ eyes. Does he even bother going in to her anymore? How long before he sends her back to her family and tries again with a real woman? Elkanah didn’t divorce me, I’ll give him that. Most men would have. He did love me—but he didn’t understand. “Why is your heart sad? Am I not more than you to than ten sons?” I wasn’t more to him than ten sons, or he never would have taken Peninnah as his second wife. Each year we’d make the trip to sacrifice at Shiloh , and a sword would pierce my heart when Elkanah gave the first portions to her and her sons and daughters. Then he’d try to console me by giving me a double portion, and Penninah would take it out on me later. I couldn’t blame her, really--it told everyone that she only mattered to him as a brood mare. I don’t know which of us was more humiliated.

The Lord had closed my womb—that’s how the scribes tell it. And that’s what I thought, then, too. So I prayed and begged, I cried and screamed, I asked what I was doing wrong, and finally I struck a bargain. After the yearly sacrifice, I slipped into the temple to make one last, desperate prayer. If God gave me a son I would offer him back, dedicate him to the Lord for life as a Nazirite. My eyes were closed and my lips moved silently, demanding an answer. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” At first Eli the priest thought I was drunk—as if God couldn’t hear me, because he couldn’t! But then he joined his prayers to mine, without even asking what I sought, and peace finally descended on my heart. I went back to join in the feasting, and when my husband came in to me, I was sure that I had finally conceived.

Elkanah was ecstatic; Peninnah was jealous and insecure; and I spent the months of my pregnancy torn between fierce joy and terrible grief. Why had I made that foolish vow? I could keep the child till he was weaned—two or three years, four at most—and then he would go to live in the temple and I’d only see him once a year. What would Elkanah say when I told him? Maybe I’d have a girl, and I’d never have to--I hadn’t promised to offer up a daughter. But when my pains came I birthed a son. I saw the joy in Elkanah’s eyes on the day of Samuel’s naming and circumcision, and kept my vow in the silence of my heart. I nursed him myself--let the servant girls do the cleaning and cooking, or help Peninnah with her brood! I prayed with bittersweet gratitude as he drank from my breasts in the enfolding darkness of the night, or the bright sunlight of our busy mornings. “Speak, Lord, your handmaid is listening.” I wrestled with the Lord, dreading the day I would have to let Samuel leave the circle of my arms. And slowly I began to sense that this child had his own destiny to fulfill—that my long years of anguish had been preparation for something more important than another worker with the fields or the herds. If Samuel’s birth was as extraordinary as Isaac’s, or Jacob’s, maybe his life would be too.

I finally told Elkanah and Peninnah about my vow when the baby was a year old, and the time came for the trip to Shiloh . They were confused when I refused to go with the family, and shocked when I told them the reason. There would be time enough for sacrifice when Samuel was weaned—my home had become my temple, and for now I would worship with him there. Elkanah’s mouth dropped open, and his brow furrowed with anger. I found myself in a sudden panic. Would he annul my vow? The law gave him that power. It decreed that a man’s word to God was irrevocable, but a woman’s only as good as her father’s or husband’s whim. I had thought I would welcome that way out of my sacrifice—and I found to my surprise that my long struggle with the Holy One had transformed it to a freely chosen offering. It was an answering gift to the one whose motherly compassion I had come to know through my love for my child—the one who opens the womb when it’s possible, and consoles the heart when it isn’t. I looked hard at Elkanah, daring him to forbid me, and before he could speak Penninah cut him off. “We have six children, and Hannah only one. If she can give him up, you can do no less.” Then she added, “Besides, you know what the priests say happens when you offer your first fruits to the Lord. Now that her womb has opened, wouldn’t you like it to stay that way?” Elkanah looked at each of us, then nodded slowly and said with quiet resignation, “Do what seems best to you. And may the Lord establish the word that has been spoken.”

Two more yearly festivals passed until the heartbreaking, joyous day when we all traveled together to Shiloh . Samuel was a solemn, beautiful child, wearing the linen garment I had woven for him. Elkanah slaughtered the sacrificial bull, and Eli looked to him for the ritual words dedicating Samuel to the service of God. I never loved my husband more than when he calmly returned the priest’s gaze and shook his head. Eli’s puzzled eyes searched our circle for another adult male. They lit upon Peninnah’s oldest son, standing between his mother and his shy young bride, but the young man followed his father’s example and remained silent. Finally the priest noticed that every face in our family looked expectantly at me, and his smile grew to match theirs as my voice rang out with triumph. “As you live, my lord, I was the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me my petition which I made. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.”…

What was that, darling? Then I wasn’t sad anymore? Oh, yes, I was, many times. Your mother and the other children were a tremendous comfort, but they didn’t replace seeing my firstborn grow up. I worried he would forget me, or his brothers and sisters would resent him, even as I was proud of all he did for our people, and the part I had played in it. In choosing Samuel God chose our whole family, and we all made our peace with that in a different way. All we could do was keep talking, and fighting, and listening to God--and to each other--and to God in each other. And that, little one, is the blessing I will always pray for you and the family you are about to create with your beloved. Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Friday Five: What Are You Doing For Lent?

Ready or not, Lent is upon us! To get you in the mood for this week's Friday Five here is a pretty setting of one of my favorite pieces of Lenten music: Hosea, written by the monks of Weston Priory.

1. Did you celebrate Mardi Gras and/or Ash Wednesday this week? How?

We went to our wonderful new Episcopal parish for a New Orleans Mardi Gras party, concluding with the kids burying the Alleluia. Got them to bed a little late, then got up super-early for morning Eucharist and got ashes for the first time as a family. So we were all really tired by suppertime (Nicholas and I made bread and cheese souffle). Both were very joyful experiences, though, and well worth it.

2. What was your most memorable Mardi Gras/Ash Wednesday/Lent?

Mardi Gras: Zydeco mass, with dancing in the aisles and a party afterwards, at the Cathedral of St. Paul (TEC) in San Diego.

Ash Wednesday: Junior year of college, when I hosted my Christian Life Community (Ignatian prayer and faithsharing group) at my first apartment. I burned a palm and put the ashes in a little Japanese teacup with purple irises, and we passed them around the circle giving them to each other. And first year of grad school, when I preached my first homily at the prayer service in the women's graduate apartments (where I also led music at the Saturday night mass for two years). I had suggested to the nun-rector and liturgy committee that we do a Word service instead of mass so we could have a presider and preacher from our own community instead of importing a man, and they promptly assigned me the task!

Lent: 1991, when we gave up sleep and were happy to do it. On the first Friday we and our best friends had been among the very few foolish people to drive through a major snowstorm for Vespers and soup supper at my parish, and an older woman pinned me, hugely pregnant, like a deer in highlights with her labor horror story. And on the second Friday Rachel was born after a week of early labor at home, fourteen hours active labor in the hospital, anointing from my parish priest/spiritual director (I couldn't even have a tiny bit of the Host because I was throwing up ice chips) and a by-then-eagerly-welcomed emergency C-section. Mischievous miss had kicked and thrashed so much that one of the doctors said he'd never seen a baby so hopelessly tangled in her cord.

3. Did you/your church/your family celebrate Lent as a child? If not, when and how did you discover it?

In a classic Gen-X pattern, my Boomer parents' last religious act was to baptize me as an infant before they dumped the whole thing (Dad was hostile and Mom uninterested). So my adolescent rebellion was to go *to* church, and that's when I learned about Lent.

4. Are you more in the give-up camp, or the take-on camp, or somewhere in between?

Used to do give-ups in my youth and they so don't work for me, so now I take on practices. Though this year I experienced freedom and peace, along with some grief, in giving up a friendship that had been wonderful and suddenly turned painful and unproductive, despite best attempts, in the last few months. I can now better remember the good things and wish the other person well, and hope that they can too.

5. How do you plan to keep Lent this year?

As a family we are abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays, and adding a nice little booklet of devotions to our daily prayer routine. The Catholic fasting rules were damaging for me on both survivor and squashed vocation counts and I needed to take a lot of time off; but I was surprised how much I missed the community bonding aspect of it. (Mary Douglas is so right about the parallel between strict control of the physical body and the social body). But it feels right to take on this small step again for myself and also to concretize the experience for my kids.

During bedtime prayers with Katie we are singing Lenten songs and avoiding the "A word," with some complaints from her panda (in French). Flamingo, however, refrains from whining and reminds panda of the liturgically correct song choices (in Chinese).

During bedtime prayers with Nicholas we have started chanting the Compline psalm, which he loves, and are nearing the end of Acts. He also requested that after the reading we work with saint or angel cards--rather than our previous pattern of the Song of Simeon and Salve Regina. The art and stories are powerful for both of us, and he is praying intensely and growing in confidence that God is intimately involved in his daily life and concerns. I was delighted at how fast he picked up on the concept that it's not fortune-telling, but prayerfully seeking divine guidance on how to be more happy and loving in specific areas of our lives.

With Matt, we are turning our computers off at 8:30 (I have also continued to fruitfully have mine off on Sunday, which I began the week before Advent) and bonding with couch snuggling, talking, and Netflix reruns. We must be the last people in the universe to discover how great Joan of Arcadia is....If we're the second last and there's someone else out there who missed it, do check it out--very spiritually insightful and all about vocation.

I am working on a book version of Sophia's Rosary--yahoo--overhauling what's there and adding meditations for the scriptural mysteries of Sophia, God the Mother, and great women of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. It's really exciting but I think I'm pushing myself too hard because I keep finding myself kind of exhausted by evening so will need to sort out a better balance between that and the academic writing waiting in the wings and everything else I'm juggling.

On my own I am cooking and shopping very simply and contemplatively, and seeking a prayer and life rhythm that opens me up to loving intimacy with God. Far from found thus far. Sometimes my newly edited Sophia Lauds figures in this, sometimes Morning Prayer at the parish (led by wonderful older laywomen who feel like moms), sometimes beach walking with preceding and following visits to the Blessed Sacrament and the gorgeous saint windows in Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. And sometimes, like today, it's a nap. Good choice but I am kind of tired and sad so I guess fitting in actual prayer time (by myself before sunset) too is really important and a joy not just a duty, though scary cause those intense feelings can always come up. Will try again tomorrow and remember that despite my imperfection God takes delight in me, and is even more gentle and loving than I aim for (and succeed at, in good moments) with my kids. Which is a good thought for Lent, isn't it?