Sunday, November 20, 2016

When Art Speaks for the People: A Response to the Aftermath of the "Hamilton" Statement

Art is a unique and often underrated treasure in any society.  For most, we don't visit museums to learn about the economic and political structures of societies past (although some do, don't get me wrong).  We visit museums to see the art that was left behind.  We pay for overpriced tickets to see the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo's David, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and Starry Night.  Throughout history, people have risked their lives to protect art from destruction, from burying Celtic crosses in Ireland during the Reformation, to forming special forces groups (The Monuments Men) in World War II to retrieve and hide artwork from the Nazis.  One of the first things to be criticized, banished, boycotted, or rejected in any society where the government is trying to assert absolute control over its people is art.  Artists are arrested and tortured, books are burned, murals and paintings destroyed, and theater productions shut down or censored because they dare to challenge the status quo.  Why?  Because art, in all its forms - music, painting, sculpture, writing, theater, etc. - is meant to challenge us and make us think.  It's meant to stir a person's deepest emotions, tell a story in a new and striking way, and express the greatest thoughts and concerns of its creator.  Sometimes, art does much more than this.  Sometimes, art is used to raise up the voices of the voiceless, publicly criticize injustice, oppression, and violence, and inspire bravery in those who wish to see the world change for the better.

That is what Hamilton: An American Musical is all about.

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From it's conception, Hamilton was always meant to tell the story of America by Americans.  That's why it's creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, was so intentional about having a diverse cast, and about having diverse forms of music, most prominently rap, which he called "the music of the revolution."  Hamilton's story is one about standing up against oppressive forces that try to control us, and overcoming nearly impossible odds to "take our shot" and "rise up" in order to change the world.  It's an amazing piece of art that has been recognized worldwide as being inventive, challenging, and for telling a story that is just as relevant today as it was in 1776.  It's the story about an immigrant who came to the United States, fought for everything he had, was opposed at nearly ever step along the way, but never quit advancing and doing what he believed was right.  Alexander Hamilton himself was a flawed, hot-headed individual who is not without his critics today, but his story of revolution and the building of a nation for all Americans is one that continues to be lived out in our modern world.

When Hamilton's Broadway cast spoke after their November 18th show to Vice-President elect Mike Pence, they weren't only following the path of artists and artwork before them that spoke the concerns of the people.  They were also living up to the tradition of their namesake, Alexander Hamilton, and the rest of the Founding Fathers.  This is a nation built on protest and revolution, on opposing forces that threaten the well-being of all of its citizens.  So, it was not out-of-line for the cast of Hamilton to raise those concerns to Vice-President elect Pence.  What was out-of-line was for President-elect Trump to demand an apology.  What is out-of-line is all those now calling for a boycott of the show.  What was out-of-line was the individual who interrupted a performance of the Chicago show by shouting profanities and saying "we won, you lost, get over it."

Never mind that the statement by the New York cast was actually quite polite and respectful while at the same time remaining raw and honest about people's concerns.  Never mind that Vice-President elect Mike Pence has said he "wasn't offended" and actually really enjoyed the show.  It's actually not even a fundamentally wrong thing for people to want to boycott the show as a result, because it's their right to do so.  What is most concerning about this whole ordeal is that people do not believe the theater is an appropriate place for that kind of statement.  Trump himself tweeted that "The Theater must always be a safe and special place."  And it should be, but for those at greatest risk in society at large.  The theater, especially a show like Hamilton, is where the loudest critiques of government and society should come from for the very reason it should always be a safe and special place.

Art has always worked to hold those in power accountable for their actions.  We see this displayed in works of graffiti on city walls, in songs protesting acts of war and violence, in stories and poems written to express the fear and pain of the oppressed and subjugated.  When our nation's leaders start criticizing art and try to "keep it in it's place", try to dictate what is appropriate for it to depict, speak to, or act out, we need to be very concerned.  Being a good leader means accepting the criticism of your opposition, hearing the voices of your people most scared, and allowing dialogue to take place whether you like what is said or not.  We are a nation that claims to value freedom of speech, that allows for art to flourish and expand our collective understanding of the world we live in.  When we start trying to silence the art world, however, it's not just the artists that suffer.  We all do, because we are no longer challenged, we are no longer made to think about the world beyond ourselves.  It is the art of our society that will tell our story to future generations, and it is up to us to determine whether it will be a story about people who turned their backs on the injustice and fear surrounding them, or stood up and held those in power accountable, making them answer for their beliefs and actions.  There is a lot of work that must be done in this country, there are a lot of voices, beliefs, and opinions that must be taken into account, but it is through art that those voices, beliefs, and opinions are more widely heard and known.  So, even if you didn't agree with the cast of Hamilton's statement, you need to be ready to protect their right to make it, because someday you might need them to speak on your behalf as well.

Until next time,

The statement of the Hamilton cast, compliments of Twitter.

Friday, November 18, 2016

You Are My Neighbor - I Love You

I love you.

You are my neighbor, and I love you.

You are my brother, my sister, and I love you.

You are my friend, and I love you.

You are my enemy, and I love you.

I might not know you, but I love you.

I might not always agree with you, but I love you.

I might sometimes hate you, but I love you.

If you're Muslim, I love you.

If you're black, I love you.

If you're LGBTQ, I love you.

If you're an immigrant, I love you.

If you're poor, I love you.

If you're rich, I love you.

If you were born in my country, I love you.

If you're straight, I love you.

If you're white, I love you.

If you're Christian, I love you.

No matter your faith, your race, your orientation, your nationality, your economic status, I love you.

You are my neighbor, and I love you.

I will fight for you.  I will stand with you.  I won't let fear keep me from responding to the pain you face.  I will be your voice when your own is stolen from you.  I will stand up to those who would dismiss your fear and pain.  I will not stop when others tell me it's not my fight, or that it will all be okay.  I will recognize my own privilege, and how I benefit from your suffering, and I will spend my life working to pay you back and make it right, even if I never really can.

I love you.  I acknowledge you.  I see your suffering, and I won't turn away from it.

I will fight with you, if I have to.  I will stand opposite of you if it means protecting others from you.  I won't let fear of losing you keep me from holding you accountable for your beliefs and actions.  I will raise my voice against yours if your words are stealing the dignity and voices others.  I will stand up to you when you try to dismiss their fear and pain.  I will not stop when you tell me it's not my fight, that you're just speaking your mind, and it's not really hurting anybody anyway.  I will recognize my own privilege, and how I benefit from a wide view of the world bolstered by education and experience, and I will spend my life working to help you see the humanity in all of the people you encounter, or don't encounter, throughout this world.

I love you.  I acknowledge you.  I see your fear and suspicions, and I won't let them consume you.

I love you.  I will do whatever I can to make the world better for you.

I love you.  I will do whatever I can to make you better for the world.

You are my neighbor.

You are my friend.

You are my brother.  My sister.  My mother.  My father.

You are my enemy.

I might not know you.

I might not always agree with you.

I might even hate you.

But I will always love you. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Politicizing Faith: The Real Threat to Our Freedom of Religion

Image result for constitutionIt's no secret that politics and religion tend to be two hot topics that seem to always be intimately entwined with one another in the public eye.  This is especially true here in the United States, where the First Amendment of our Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."  Most people are familiar with this Amendment, and have very strong opinions about it one way or another.  Some use it to argue for the exclusion of all religious expression from any government-associated organization, and others, in all honesty, use it as a way of defending their own attempts to force their religious beliefs on others.

Catholics are no strangers to the almost constant tension between religion and politics.  On the surface-level, the United States Catholic Church seems to try and keep a neutral tone when dealing with politics.  Priests aren't supposed to endorse political candidates or try to sway their congregations one way or another when voting (though some do).  Both the Democratic and Republican party claim to value issues that Catholics themselves are supposed to be concerned for (however, social justice issues seem to always take a backseat to pro-life rhetoric), so technically speaking, a Catholic shouldn't hold allegiance to one party at all times, and should be open to exploring which candidate addresses the issues best that Catholics hold as important.  All very neutral and reasonable theory.  In practice, the United States Catholic Church is far from neutral, and much of that has to do with the Bishops, their hard-line outspokenness on certain issues, and their insistence that our religious liberty is under attack.

Many Bishops are loud voices in the political arena, whether they admit it or not.  Here's why they're wrong to be.

Recently, a colleague of mine drew my attention to a blog-post that focused on the ten presidential/vice-presidential candidates for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (the winners have been selected, by the way, with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston being elected president and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles elected vice president).  The post was looking at how each of the ten Bishops have approached LGBTQ issues in the past, and, unsurprisingly, most of them didn't have very positive responses in their history (a few, surprisingly, did).  Many Bishops in the United States have been criticized for not embracing Pope Francis' more pastoral vision of the Church, which includes acknowledging the human dignity for people who identify as LGBTQ and ministering to them with love and compassion, even if the Church's stance on same-sex relationships has not changed.  The U.S. Bishops as a whole (I know there are individual exceptions) seem much more concerned with upholding dogma and keeping believers in line than encouraging dialogue and compassion towards not only LGBTQ issues, but also women's reproductive issues, and interfaith engagement.  Sound a little harsh?  Maybe, but that's the reality of the situation.

As I was reading about the Bishops, some of the actions several of them took in opposing LGBTQ rights was not only disappointing, but infuriating and appalling.  On Bishop barred LGBTQ people from public ministry, banned children of same-sex couples from Catholic schools, and voiced the desire to push anyone who isn't one hundred percent in line with Catholic teaching out of the Church so that it could be a smaller, more orthodox community.  Another Bishop opposed the teaching of LGBTQ history in public schools, and signed a letter opposing the re-authorization of an act that would protect women against violence because it included sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.  Another Bishop attempted to ban Catholics who supported same-sex marriage, simply supported it, from receiving communion, and another told Church workers they would lose their jobs if they supported same-sex marriage, and shut down ministry services to gay and lesbian communities.  These actions aren't just examples of poor leadership or a galling lack of compassion for people of faith, whether LGBTQ identified or not, these are dangerous mindsets that very influential people in the Church possess and act upon, despite the overwhelming majority of Catholic laity opposing such beliefs and actions.  Given the nation's current tumultuous political climate, coupled with the hate crimes that have taken place since the election, the discriminatory actions of these leaders needs to be seriously looked at and they need to be held accountable for their part in spreading hate and mistrust among American Catholics.

This isn't the only thing that the Church needs to be called out on, however.  In general, the United States Bishops' rhetoric that religious liberty in this country is under attack needs to be examined.  While reading the same blog-post, I stumbled upon a campaign the Bishops launched back before same-sex marriage was the law of the land called "Fortnight for Freedom", which was essentially a two-week campaign filled with prayer vigils, rallies, and other politically charged activities.  The message that the Bishops were pushing was that religious freedom is under attack in the United States.  Among the issues the Bishops cited to back up this claim was the idea that expanding LGBTQ equality, specifically same-sex marriage, as well as government-mandated birth control coverage for most employers were direct attacks on people's right to religious freedom.

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Whether or not you think he's a good president,
you have to admit, the man has a way with words
Here's the deal, religious freedom in this country means that everyone has a right to practice and express their own belief or faith, or non-faith, without fear of persecution or censure (unless your religious practices somehow harm others or impeded upon their own civil liberties).  It also means that we cannot force our religious beliefs onto other people, especially through legislation.  President Obama summed up this issue quite bluntly when he said "No, you can't deny women their basic rights and pretend it's about your 'religious freedom'.  If you don't like birth control, don't use it.  Religious freedom doesn't mean you can force others to live by your own beliefs."

Now, I'm not naive enough to believe that religion has no affect on politics and legislation whatsoever.  We are each formed by our faith and beliefs.  Our morals and values are shaped by our faith and beliefs, and they will be reflected in how we vote and who we vote for.  However, to claim that our religious freedom is somehow under attack because the rights and freedom of another group are upheld is ludicrous.  Christianity has been the dominant religion in this country for much of its history, so our politics and legislation up until now have obviously reflected the beliefs and values of that specific faith.  As our country becomes increasingly diverse and more religions and systems of belief come into the mainstream, a more balanced, neutral approach to people's rights is going to be necessary.  If Christian denominations don't support same-sex marriage, that's fine.  Churches are within their rights to say they will not perform or recognize those marriages.  Churches do not have the right to say the government has to refuse to recognize and perform those marriages, however, because the government is supposed to uphold and protect the rights of all people, not just a select few.  Churches can preach against the use of birth control, and push for abstinence-only education in private schools all they want, but they do not have the right to dictate on a national scale who has the right to birth control, or what kind of education public schools should be presenting.  Freedom of religion doesn't simply protect religions from government control, it also protects the people from religious control.

I'll probably get a lot of push back for this post, but the reality is that Christianity is not under attack in this country.  There is no war on religion (unless you're Muslim, let's be honest here), and no one is trouncing on your religious rights because they want to buy a cake for their same-sex wedding.  People are free to worship how they want, believe what they want, and that is the beautiful thing about this country.  Whether you think someone is right or wrong is totally your prerogative, but to force them to live how you think people should live and take away their freedom to choose their own path and their own life because your beliefs are different then theirs is about as un-American as you can get.

So, with all due respect to the Bishops, I think it's time they put more focus on ministering to the faithful, helping those in need, and supporting social efforts to create a better society on the whole, and spend a lot less time trying to control how people live their lives.  We're all just trying to figure out how to live in this world, how to be in relationship with each other, but we need to be able to choose for ourselves how we live.  As Catholics, we believe God gave us free will so that we could choose to be in relationship with each other and with God, but what good is that free will, how meaningful is that choice, when our religious leaders try to force the decision onto us by influencing our politics and legislation?  Our government is supposed to faciliate our right to choose, and our faith is supposed to help us make those choices...not take those choices from us.  

Until next time,

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Working with the Fear: Responding to the Election

Today is a very emotional day in this country.  Some are feeling validated and joyous, but many others are overwhelmed by fear, confusion, and sadness.  I know there are reasons that the election happened the way it did.  I know that people voted for Trump because of strong beliefs and ideas that they didn't want to compromise on.  And while I can't agree with the decision, it was within those individual's rights to make the choice they did.  I'm not going to attack those people.  I'm not going to add fuel to a fire I already see blazing around me.  What I am going to do is try to explain the fear.  I want people to understand why, for many in this country, this election has left such terror in its wake.  I don't think there can be any kind of healing in this nation until this fear is fully addressed...and validated.

Last night, as I watched the results of the election begin to solidify Trump's position in the world, I was overcome by one terrifying thought.  I needed to make sure my brother was safe.  For anyone reading this who doesn't know me personally, I have a younger brother and sister, and we are all adopted.  My siblings are both African-American.  I feared for their safety last night, especially my brother's.  I still fear for his safety.  I texted him to tell him to be careful, that most likely nothing would happen right away, but that there was still a chance something could.  This fear is something that has been simmering inside of me for a very long time now.  I'm scared for him to be away from home because I can't guarantee he'll be safe, or that he won't encounter people that will look at him differently or treat him differently because of the color of his skin.  I can't guarantee he won't be the next innocent person shot in the streets.  I know my experience with this only scratches the surface of what it's like to be a member of a minority group in this country, because I myself am white and don't come face-to-face with this reality every day of my life.  The fear, though, the uncertainty, the sheer dread that people feel is something I can at least relate to, even in a small way, because there are people I love very much who I'm not sure are safe anymore.

People have been saying that "it's not that big of a deal", "they're just being sore losers", or "don't be so dramatic, it won't be as bad as you pretend it will be."  Maybe things won't be as terrible as I imagine they'll be.  Maybe it will have all been blown out of proportion in the long run, and it's not the downfall of the United States as so many predict it is.  That doesn't make the fear people are feeling today any less real or any less valid.  When an individual who has openly targeted immigrants, women, minorities, and his opponents is given the kind of power in the nation that Trump was elected to last night, that normalizes all those terrible things he said and did.  It makes it seem okay for everyone else to say and do those same terrible things, so those groups are of course going to be afraid.  I'm living in the reality of this fear on a college campus, where minority students don't feel safe, where immigrant students are fearful of losing their families to deportation, and where female students are fearful of how they'll be treated by their male counterparts.

I'm afraid.  I don't know what's going to happen, and the uncertainty is killing me.  I'm afraid for my brother and sister, I'm afraid for my Muslim friends, my Hispanic friends, my female friends, my LGBTQ friends.  I'm afraid of how they will be treated from this point on.  I'm afraid not only of physical violence and discriminatory legislation, but of how they will be spoken to, how they will be viewed.  I'm afraid that the Walmart greeter who smiled at all the white people but glared at my brother will be vindicated in her racism.  I'm afraid the men who think they can tell a woman how to act, dress, and speak will be vindicated in their sexism.  I'm afraid the people who mutter under their breath that "All Muslim's are terrorists" will no longer bother to keep their voices down.  I'm afraid that businesses that refuse to service LGBTQ people will be vindicated in their discrimination.  I'm afraid, not only because I think we're in danger of moving backwards politically or because the Supreme Court appointment might not be the moderate I was hoping for, but because by electing this man to the highest office in the land, we have also sent out the message that certain people are not welcome in this country, certain people are not valued in this country, and certain people are not equal in this country...and we don't ever want them to be.  Is it fair to say that all Trump supporters had this thought in mind yesterday when they cast their votes?  No, it's not.  But that is the message that comes with Trump, whether you like it or not.  That is the message he himself promoted throughout his candidacy.  It's a message of fear, and it's one that many of us are reading loud and clear today.

So, in the end, what's done is done.  No matter how this election turned out, it ultimately highlighted that this country is more divided than ever, and lives in more fear than ever.  So no matter which side you voted for, no matter your reasons for doing so, please remember that the feelings these groups have today are very real.  They are not being overly dramatic, they are not simply sore losers.  They are men, women, and children all afraid of the uncertainty of the future because they have already been targeted during this election in some form or another.  We need, more now than ever before, to show compassion to each other, to comfort each other, to reach out a hand to try and understand each other.  Recognize the fear, understand the fear, validate the reasons for the fear, and then we can try to work together to make sure fear never rules us ever again.

Until next time,

Because Colbert is right - "You cannot laugh and be afraid at the same time"   

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

This Is My House Too: The Catholic Church and Female Ordination

This post has been a long time coming.  I've really debated how to approach the subject, how to enter into conversation about this without risking myself or my position in anyway, but I can't just sit back and stay silent about it anymore.  So let's do this thing!  Let's talk about women and the Roman Catholic priesthood.

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Let's be real, I love this man.  That doesn't mean I think he's right.
Female ordination is a hot topic in the Catholic Church, and it has been for a while.  The magistrate has been very firm in its stance that women cannot be ordained priests, so it really came as no surprise when Pope Francis, in speaking to reporters, reinforced St. John Paul II's declaration that "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren, I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."  Pope Francis not only reinforced this notion, but went so far as to imply that women will be banned from the priesthood forever and ever.

So what? you're probably thinking.  This is nothing new.

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According to legend, St. Brigid of Kildare was ordained a Bishop.
And you're right.  This is nothing new.  It's really just more of the same.  It didn't shock me that Pope Francis said this or maintains this stance.  It doesn't shock me that a Pope who, for many, is seen as progressive because of his emphasis on service to the poor and social justice issues (even though this isn't really anything new in the Church and he's just brought it out into the spotlight), would hold onto the traditional ruling that the magistrate has maintained throughout the Church's history.  No, what surprised me this time around was just how much his words hurt.  I thought I'd steeled myself against this kind of stuff a long time ago, but apparently I'm not as numb to it on the inside as I had hoped.  Maybe it's because I'm tired and stressed, and so just a little more vulnerable right now than usual, but that doesn't really matter.  What matters is the pain I feel, and what countless other Catholic women around the world feel when we're told this same thing over and over again.  This isn't just being barred from a job.  This isn't just being told "you're not fit for this role."  What continuing to bar women from ordination is telling us is "it doesn't matter what you feel called to, it doesn't matter how much faith you have, or how much you sacrifice and give of yourself to this Church, at the end of the day you are visitors to a house that will never truly be yours participating in a feast that you can never host yourself."

Do you know how many amazing, intelligent, talented women I've met, who have been filled with the Holy Spirit, have felt a call to preach and lead and bring grace to their Church?  Do you know how many amazing, intelligent, talented women I've met who've felt betrayed, disenfranchised, and frustrated when they're told their call to that vocation is somehow wrong?  That their way to living out the life they feel God is pointing them towards is blocked simply because they were born female?  Some continue on in silent frustration, hoping and praying that things will change for the better one day.  Some raise their voices in protest and, sometimes, either leave the Church willingly...or are forced out.

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Mary Magdalene was way more loyal than any of the twelve.
We're given lame excuses to persuade us we're wrong like "Jesus intentionally chose twelve men as his Apostles" or "there are equal roles for women, and role models...look at the Virgin Mary!"  The Catholic Church doesn't take the Bible as literal history, except for, apparently, that very specific instance of twelve men being named by Jesus.  If that's the case, then we should only have twelve bishops in the Church, and they should all be Jewish.  And yes, everyone loves Mary, but what woman wouldn't crack under the pressure of living up to the example of an eternal Virgin, who's also the Mother of God?  I'd personally rather follow Mary Magdalene's example.  A loyal, flawed, passionate woman who was so beloved of Christ he appeared to her first after his resurrection.

This is the pain and frustration I, and countless others, live with day in and day out.  So many times in my relatively short life already I've thought "It'd just be so much easier to join a denomination that truly appreciates my gifts and talents, doesn't hold it against me that I'm a woman, and doesn't talk down to me or treat me like a child."  I've had friends, family, professors, and colleagues all ask me why I stay, why I put up with all of the crap my Church continues to pile on me.  At the end of the day, the answer is really simple.  I see what the Catholic Church could be, what it should be, and it's a vision so beautiful I can't help but strive for it.  I see a family, a community of equals, where no one is seen as inferior to anyone else, where no was is told their voice, their calling don't matter or is somehow wrong.  I see a place of welcome and thanksgiving, of true brother and sisterhood.  And so I stay, and I work, and I fight in any way I can to see that vision become reality.  So, with all due respect to Pope Francis and St. Pope John Paul II, no, women will not be banned from ordination forever.  Someday, those who hold the power to change everything will realize that the Church can only reach its full, glorious potential if all of us own a part of the house, if all of us have a chance to host the feast, and if all of us are told "God has called you to this, and we welcome you."  I pray I get to see all of this happen in my lifetime, but if not, that at the very least I've had a small role in getting us there.

Until next time,
(And don't worry...I'm far from done with this topic)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

We the People and the Bill of Rights: A Reflection on the Mistreatment of the Constitution

I haven't written in a while, but that's because so much has been happening, I don't even know where to start.  Given the current political climate, however, I think it would be good to reflect a little on American politics.  Don't worry, I'm not going to try and convince any one to vote one way over the other.  I'm a big believer in voting as your conscience and reason dictate, regardless of party affiliation.  What I would like to focus on today, though, is something a little more basic.  Something that makes up the foundation of our political structure, and outlines the freedoms citizens of the United States are privileged to.  That's right, I want to talk about the U.S. Constitution (get ready for a history lesson...this post isn't very faithy).

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." - The U.S. Constitution

People always love to cite the Constitution when making political arguments.  The two most common debates, of course, center on Freedom of Religion, and the Right to Bear Arms.  I've found, that much like using the Bible to win arguments, people like to pick and choose parts of the Constitution to justify their beliefs and actions.  Even to the extent of taking things out of context, or stretching words and ideas to make them fit with their own beliefs.  So, today, I'd like to reflect on how people have been misusing the Constitution, and why that misuse is contributing to our current state of political and social chaos.

Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton.  Epicness.
I'm currently obsessed with the hit Broadway musical Hamilton.  I haven't seen it, but I've listened to the soundtrack about a million times, have most of the songs memorized, and have devoured any news story about the show.  For those of you unfamiliar with the show, Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, the youngest and one of the most controversial founding fathers.  In the song "Non Stop", Hamilton goes to ask Aaron Burr, a political rival who eventually kills Hamilton in a duel, if he will help him defend the newly written U.S. Constitution.  Burr immediately replies no, but Hamilton continues to try and persuade him.  Burr exclaims that "The Constitution's a mess!" to which Hamilton replies "So it needs amendments."  Burr follows up with "It's full of contradictions" and Hamilton shoots back "So is independence."  Ultimately, Burr did not help Hamilton go on to write the Federalist Papers, which were released to the public defending the Constitution (he did manage to get James Madison and John Jay to help him, and together they wrote eight-five documents, with John Jay writing five of them, James Madison writing twenty-nine, and Hamilton writing fifty-one...just a fun fact of the day).  What I like about this exchange between Hamilton and Burr is that is shows how complicated a document the Constitution is, and how much controversy there was over its development.  All this is to say that the Constitution is not divinely inspired.  It's not infallible.  It's a living document, with Amendments being added and taken away depending on the needs and realities of the citizens of the United States at the time.  What it's always trying to do, however, is protect the people of the United States.  It guarantees them freedoms so that they cannot be ruled over the same way the colonies were ruled over by Britain.  It guarantees a voice to all citizens, protection to all citizens, and keeps the government in check so that it doesn't forget it exists to serve rather than rule.  At least, that's what it's supposed to do.  When it is misused in attempts to gain power, marginalize people, or take away the rights of citizens, the whole system which is built upon it is broken in the process.

With that, I want to talk specifically about the Bill of Rights, that part of the Constitution most often used and abused in political discourse.

The Bill of Rights consists of the first ten Amendments to the Constitution.  They were drafted based on concerns from the states that the Constitution was giving the federal government to much power, and they wanted guaranteed freedoms spelled out for individual citizens (  Which was a legitimate concern on their part.  The U.S. had just fought its way out of British rule, which had imposed its rule on the colonies without any kind of concern for their context or care for their representation.  People wanted to make sure that they hadn't fought their way out from under one tyrant to turn away and create a new one.

Now, everyone knows the jist of the First and Second Amendments, but for the sake of context I'm going to write them out for you.

Amendment One:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment Two:
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Now, as much as I would love to dive into these two Amendments right now, there is simply to much to talk about, so I'm going to save them for a second post. However, I would like to point out the fact that not only does the First Amendment protect the free exercise of religion in the United States (any doesn't specify Christianity only), it also states that Congress cannot establish a religion, meaning the government cannot mandate a national religion.  Ergo, the United States is NOT a Christian nation.  More on that later.

I doubt as many people who are familiar with the First and Second Amendments are as familiar with Amendments three through ten.

Amendment Three:
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment three mostly deals with the practice British soldiers had of forcing their way into homes and onto farms for shelter, without the permission of the resident or land owner.  This isn't that big of a deal now, but it's nice to know that my home can't be taken over willy-nilly by the military to be used as shelter.

Amendment Four:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

You know why in almost every Law and Order episode you've ever seen the police scramble to find a judge to sign a warrant to search a home?  Because it's in the Constitution that they have to.  People are protected from being randomly searched and having their possessions seized from them without just cause and a warrant.  This includes things like vehicles, so an officer cannot search a vehicle during a traffic stop if they don't have a warrant...or don't see anything illegal just laying on the seat.  It's really a protection of personal space.  You have a right to feel safe and secure in your own home.

Amendment Five:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

This Amendment protects people being tried for crimes.  Yes, criminals are even protected in the Bill of Rights, because, guess what?  They're citizens too.  This is where we get the whole double jeopardy thing (can't be tried twice for the same crime), as well as the statement that life, freedoms, or property cannot be taken away without the due process of law.

Amendment Six:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment Six lays out all of the rights an accused individual has in regards to their trial.  They have a right not to be stuck in court for years and years.  They have a right to be judged by a jury that is impartial and has no personal connection to the case.  They have a right to be told what and why they are being accused.  I find the why especially important myself.  They have a right to know who will be testifying against them, and have the right to choose witnesses for their defense, as well as a lawyer.  Basically, the Miranda Rights in all their Constitutional glory (this Amendment plus the Fifth that is).

Amendment Seven:
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Basically Judge Judy's favorite law.  It covers lawsuits and stuff.

Amendment Eight:
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

This Amendment is, in my opinion, the Amendment most often broken.  It's common knowledge that some cities and systems use parking tickets as a way of creating income for themselves.  Such practices target the poor and marginalized, those least likely to be able to afford the excessive fines and bail that do exist and are imposed on them.  This freedom is the most often denied, even if no one will admit it or even realizes it.  It's meant to protect people from being taken advantage of, to keep someone with a parking ticket to become trapped in a web of debt and imprisonment.  But it often blatantly ignored, the most vulnerable of our society suffer as a result.

Amendment Nine:
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The Ninth Amendment is interesting because it basically gives the people right to other rights.  It's protecting rights of citizens that might not be specifically mentioned in the Constitution, but are important nonetheless.  Like the right to privacy for example.

Amendment Ten:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Finally, Amendment Ten gives powers not given to the Federal Government to the states and people.  The people are guaranteed not only various rights, but power in determining the function of their government.  Yes, a select few are elected to represent the people, but it is a service they provide.  Politicians are supposed to serve their people, not themselves.  So often today, our politicians seem to only be looking out for their own self-interests and not for the people.  The people, in turn, are not innocent in this because we continue to elect the same type of people into power over and over again.  If we really want their to be change, we need to take control of our government back.  We need to recognize that the politicians do not rule over us.  The U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, was created to ensure that we the people had a say in how things are run.  That we are protected from an overzealous government, and even from political parties who want to force their beliefs and ideals down everybody's throats.  The United States is supposed to be a country where people have the freedom, the opportunity, and the right to choose their own way of life.

Again, I'm not going to endorse any one candidate or claim any side in this political firestorm we have going on.  The only thing I want to do is encourage you to really think about who you are voting for this fall.  Will your candidate truly work to uphold the ideals of the Constitution?  Will they fight for the protection of all United States citizens, and not just a select few?  Will they work to give the people a greater voice in the running of the government?  Will they respect the beliefs and ideas of others, and not force anyone to believe in something they don't?  Will they respect that all citizens, no matter their background, ethnicity, faith, sex, or political party have rights that cannot be taken from them?  If your answer to any or all of these is no, then maybe it's time to rethink your vote this fall.

Until next time,

Erin B.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Prayer for Orlando

I am not a member of the LGBTQ community.  But that doesn’t matter.  I am not from Florida, don’t know anyone from Orlando, and have no personal loved ones who have been directly affected by the mass shooting that took so many innocent lives this past weekend.  But that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I am human, and those who died were human.  What matters is the ease with which one individual was able to destroy so many lives, tear apart so many families, put an entire community in a state of fear, and a nation in shock.  What matters are the images of the mothers on TV, scared out of their minds because they don’t know where their children are.  What matters are the people whose friends were shot in front of them on a night that was supposed to be full of fun.  What matters are the people being carried, bleeding and afraid, and placed into the back of police trucks to be taken to the ER.  What matters is that this type of horror has happened before, and will continue to happen as long as people deny the hate that continues to permeate our society.  When we let out churches and religious leaders preach hate, we let the individuals who commit these atrocities feel justified in their crimes.  When we let our political leaders, our presidential nominees, discriminate against groups of people, encourage their voters to commit violence against the opposition, and publicly insult anyone who doesn’t agree with their point of view, we are compliant in the perpetuation of a society that turns its back on peace and compassion to embrace hate and violence.  When we try to control people’s love, try to tell people who they can and cannot love just because it makes us uncomfortable, we are the ones who take on a darkness in our soul.  If we actively work against love, it can only be hate that we brew.  That’s what makes it shocking, but not uncommon, for one disturbed individual to obtain a gun he shouldn’t be allowed to have and storm into an elementary school, a college, a church, or a nightclub to gun down innocent people.  When we allow a society of hate and fear to control us, to dictate our actions, we make it easier for these types of hate crimes and terrorist acts to take place.  We need to do better as a whole.  We all need to take responsibility for what happened in Orlando this weekend.  We need to wake up and see what our fear, our hatred, our distrust of others is doing to our world and our fellow humans.  It is with this thought in mind that I offer up this prayer:

I pray for the innocent victims of Orlando.  I pray for their families, their friends, and especially for those who claim to hate their community.  I pray that their hearts are profoundly changed, that they see how much harm their hate truly causes.  I pray that they realize that love and acceptance is the only way to truly achieve peace in this world.  I pray that individuals who harbor such darkness inside them that they lash out with no regard for the sacredness of human life come to understand how truly terrible their actions are.  I pray they realize that they are not “fixing” things with their actions, they’re not carrying out any type of message from God, and that they’re not teaching people “a lesson.”  They are simply making themselves into monsters, and destroying lives along the way.  I pray that the fear doesn’t overwhelm us.  I pray that, instead, we grow stronger in our commitment to the message of equality, the message that compassion and love are more powerful than fear and hate.  I pray that we each find the strength to stand up for what is right and good, and the courage to not turn our faces away when we see the hate and discrimination that takes place around us.  I pray that our country stops tearing itself apart, that our leaders start thinking about what is best for the people and not just for themselves, and that no community within our society ever feels isolated or targeted again.  I will hold this prayer in my aching heart for as long as it takes for it to come true. Amen.

Erin B.

Friday, May 27, 2016

It's Time to Have "The Talk" - Part Three

As promised, it's time for Part Three!!  The following if a paper I previously wrote for a class in grad school, so a word of warning: It's a wee bit long.  Was going to go through the paper and pick and choose bits to throw up on here, but I couldn't bring myself to break it apart because it all flows together and builds on up itself to well, and wouldn't make complete sense if I broke it down.  It's worth it, though, I promise!  And, honestly, it wasn't as long when I posted it here as I initially thought it would be.  Anyway, without further ado, I give to you Part Three of "The Talk"! 

Letting Them Speak: A New Way of Ministering to Catholic Teenagers about Sex
Catholic youth ministers and religious educators are facing a difficult challenge in regards to teenagers and sex.  Catholic youth find themselves torn between societal expectations towards sex and the Church’s teachings.  Too often, they fall under the pressures of society because the Church has left them ill-equipped to handle the issue of sex on a spiritual level.  Sex is either not talked about with teenagers, or they are told by the Church not to have sex until they are married.  Rarely are they told why they should wait, what the benefits of waiting could be, or are given the chance to explore their understandings of faith and sex for themselves.
Ministers and teachers of religious education need to rethink how they approach sex with Catholic youth.  Instead of following the model of abstinence only, youth should be told why sex is important in the Catholic faith and why it is something that should be cherished and not taken for granted.  The power of intimate connection that sex has should be highlighted, as well as how God is present within the act.  Ultimately, those working with Catholic youth cannot be hesitant or afraid to talk about sex, and teenagers should be invited into dialogue about sex rather than being told what they should and should not do.  A new model for ministering to Catholic youth about sex that is both affirming, intellectual, and spiritual is greatly needed in the Church.
Before any kind of model can be proposed in how to effectively minister to youth about sex, it is important to have a thorough understanding of how large this problem truly is.  The concern for Catholic youth and sex goes beyond their spiritual health and can prove very perilous for them physically as well.  The risk of a person engaging in sexual activity and receiving an STD is alarmingly high, and it’s been reported that “[o]f the twenty-nine sexually transmitted diseases identified by the National Board of Health, almost half of these occur among young people ages fifteen to twenty-four.”[1]  While abstinence-only programs have been widely promoted both by the Church and the government, the results of such efforts have not been great enough.[2]  The same can be said of safe-sex programs promoting condom use and birth control to prevent pregnancy and the possible spread of STDs.  This is shown in a study conducted by Chap Clark, the author of Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers, in which Clark reported that “less than 10 percent of sexually active adolescents use condoms consistently.”[3]  The truth is that the message these programs are trying to get through to teenagers is only sticking with a small minority.  Most teenagers are either ignoring these messages or do not have a thorough enough understanding of what sex is in order to comprehend why they should pay attention.
The biggest obstacle that youth ministers and religious educators have to face when ministering to youth is the huge influence that society and the media have over them.  It is difficult to battle the sexualization of society and the media when Catholic teenagers are constantly surrounded by its influence and only exposed to their faith in limited quantities.  The impact that society and the media have over all adolescents, not just Catholics, is massive.  Sex is portrayed everywhere, and is exposed to younger and younger youth as the media and market try to catch their attention.  According to Clark, “[b]y the time a typical child reaches ten or eleven years of age, he or she has seen on television and in movies…sexual intercourse…and any other form of sexual expression or experimentation a human can invent.”[4]   Some teens have reported sexual activity they see on television as being more influential to them when they think about sex than even their friends, and though most adults realize that sex as portrayed on TV is more often than not unrealistic fantasy, youth “who think TV accurately portrays sex are more likely to be dissatisfied with their own first experiences.”[5]   Society is not only exposing teenagers to more and more sex, but setting almost impossible standards about how sex should be.
Sex is also rampant in the marketplace, with stores like Victoria’s Secret “setting the bar” and retailers popular among youth like Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle Outfitters following suite[6].   The rapid increase and use of technology has also made sex and sexual conduct easier to access by youth.  Pornography as well as explicit advertising and promoting of sex and sexual activities are now only a click away for the majority of America’s teenagers.[7]
Parents are not blind to the affect media and the marketplace have on their children and how sexualized it has become.  Joy Overbeck writing in “Popular Culture Affects Teen Sexuality” recounts a story of shopping for clothes with her ten-year-old daughter and how shocked she was at some of the “fashionable” items her daughter insisted on having.  She points out that it is not that she wants her daughter to be “a little girl forever”, but that her daughter has been so influenced by “the fantasy of bodies and beauty that marinates our entire culture” that she feels her daughter and other youth are experiencing a “premature sexual awakening” that “is stealing” their youth.[8]   The problem is that parents cannot fight against society’s influence on their own, and often give into is sexualization without realizing it themselves.  This is why it is so important for the Church to be able to offer an effective message that teenagers can appreciate and use against the every present and invasive sexual norms of society.
The Catholic Church is not doing an effective job when it comes to ministering to teenagers about sex.  Unfortunately, the Catholic Church has a very lengthy history in which it has held sex in a negative light that has confused its community of believers and created a culture of sexual guilt within itself.  Some of these traditional views of sex have been Biblically based, an example being Paul’s letters in which he repeatedly speaks of the ideal of virginity, sometimes even over marriage.  However, many of these viewpoints have come from and were developed by the great thinkers of the Church and have been passed down as part of the Tradition.
Much of the Church’s theology, including its sexual theology, has been built on foundations created by early influential theologians such as Clement, Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine.  For Clement of Alexandria, sex was not about love and desire.  Clement believed that “[w]ithin the bounds of Christian marriage and household, the reason for sexual activity was children.”[9]   This idea of sex being only for procreation has continued down through the ages, and though the Church’s stance has long since changed, it is still a stereotype that people have latched onto.  St. Ambrose faced a society in which men and women “postponed the radical demands of baptism because of the needs of public life and the teachings on sexual renunciation” and so idealized virginity and celibacy as “a clearly demarcated integrity” for the Church.[10]   For St. Jerome there is seen a further degradation of sex in his claim that married couples were “not to be placed at the same level of hierarchy as consecrated virgins” and that “all marriages were somewhat regrettable.”[11]   Finally, St. Augustine viewed sexual desire as “suspicious” and saw it as a sign of humanity’s fall into sin and “disordered will”.[12]   With such adverse language as the traditional foundation for how the Church understands sex, it is no wonder that teenagers are turned off by what the Church tries to tell them, when the Church actually tries to tell them anything at all.
Catholic youth are, more often than not, confused by what the Church has to say about sex.  In her book Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses, Donna Freitas, after interviewing various Catholic young adults, concluded that the average Catholic student was “either clueless about Catholicism’s teachings about sex, or didn’t care.”[13]   Ministers and teachers are simply not relaying all that the Church has to say about sex to teenagers, and so all that they know, or think that they know about the Church’s teachings is the societal stereotype.  Somehow, teenagers are being passed over when the Church discusses sex, instead focusing on married people.  In schools and ministry settings, discussions about sex seem to not go beyond explaining the changes of the body during puberty, and the occasional safe sex or abstinence only lecture.[14]   This is damaging because the teenage years are arguably the most confusing and trying years in a person’s sexual development, but the Church is doing little to help in that development.
Some youth, as Freitas noted, just do not care, relying on their own judgment as to what sex is and means.  However, teenagers are so often blasé to the idea of sex because of over-stimulation that they might only hold “loosely to the philosophy that sexual activity is generally better reserved for someone you love” but this idea tends to be “not so strong that it precludes a random sexual encounter with a stranger given the opportunity.”[15]   Without a solid foundation from which to build up their ideas of sex and the continued affirmation that sex is important, teenagers are simply not going to care enough to consider why they should or should not be participating in sexual activities.
To begin to fix this problem, religious educators and ministers cannot be afraid to talk about sex, and to engage in dialogue with their students about it.  The reality is that a large number of teenagers are having sex and nearly all of them are being exposed to it in almost every aspect of their life.  Not talking to them about it will only leave them vulnerable to the negative messages and harmful portrayals of sex that the rest of society has to offer them.  They do not think sex is a big deal because no one is telling them why it is important.  They are only seeing that “everyone” is having it.  Educators must also have the understanding that teenagers do not like to be talked at, but talked to.  It is not enough to lay out facts and statistics, or throw theology at them and expect them to understand.  They need to be guided and their own voices need to be heard and respected.  With this in mind, the following model for ministering to Catholic youth is formed with the setting of a Catholic high school and religious education specifically in mind, but the broad concepts and ideas can be applied to various other forms of youth ministry.
First, a definition of what sex is needs to be determined for the purpose of the conversation and class room.  Teenagers often have a very narrow definition of what constitutes sex.  Clark notes this in his study, saying that he “came away with a clear impression that almost no midadolescent believes that sex is anything other than penile penetration in a vagina.”[16]  Challenging this notion brings to light the many layers and complexities of sex and how it can be a very broad concept.  The students should be invited to participate in the defining of the terms so that they are given the chance to think through and come to understand just how complex sex is.
Relying on students’ initial knowledge or ideas rather than text book definitions or Church doctrine can also help the instructor know roughly what is influencing the students and how much knowledge they actually possess about the topic.  The instructor can ask questions to prompt further discussion such as “Is sex just intercourse?”  “What about oral sex?”  “Is sex anything that can cause orgasm?” and “Do two people have to be involved for something to be considered sex?”  It is important for the instructor to be open with the discussion and not assume the students will not take it seriously or will not know anything.  Another thing to keep in mind is to make it clear that the definition that is determined is not a universal one, and they will encounter other definitions of sex outside of the classroom.
Once a definition of sex is determined for use in the conversation, asking students what they think sex is for would allow them an opportunity to think even deeper about the topic for themselves.  Again, helping them through the thought process by asking questions and using prompts is important as they may not be able to make connections beyond the physical aspects of sex.  It might be beneficial to ask the students to discuss how they think sex should make people feel or think, or if a mental connection is necessary and why they might think it is or is not.  Asking them why they think people want to have sex, and having them explore more benefits beyond just the physical aspects of sex could prove helpful to the instructor by offering an insight into the students’ rationales for having sex.
For some students, it could end up being simply that they are lonely that they might seek sex, a pattern that Clark noted in his study saying, “I became aware that the adolescent world is not as saturated with sex as it is infused with palpable loneliness.”[17]  Unearthing the real issues some teenagers are facing could lead to a conversation pinpointing the real reasons why students might be having sex.  Again, involving them in the discussion rather than simply telling them what to do or not to do could make them think more fully about the topic in a safe environment where an adult is present to help them process their thoughts.
At this point it is important to bring the Church and its teachings into the discussion, but instead of focusing on abstinence only, or sex as a means of procreation, emphasizing the connective and intimate nature of sex brings the positive aspect of the Church’s message to the forefront.  It is easy to find sex-positive teachings throughout Church doctrine.  It’s only a matter of exposing it and not letting it become shadowed by the negative.  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example, it states that “[s]exuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul.  It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and…the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others.”[18]  The Catechism goes on to encourage acceptance of individual “sexual identity” rather than ignoring it as people so often believe the Catholic Church wants its members to do.[19]  It is important for educators to actually tell students what the Catholic Church teaches, and not just assume that they already know.
The language that religious educators use when talking about sex is also important.  Instead of telling students that they “can’t” or “shouldn’t” do something, or that they are somehow in the wrong if they have sex before marriage, affirming that sex is good and important is key.  This can also work towards dispelling the blasé attitude that teenagers seem to have towards sex by reiterating that sex is good and created by God, and so it should be cherished.  Sex goes beyond physical pleasure and can be “a source of our greatest delights and our most painful confusions.”[20]  It is not always clear that teenagers understand the profound mental effects sex can have on those involved.
The point that needs to be made to teenagers over and over is that God created sex and sex is good when done for the right reasons.  Despite what they may or may not think, the Catholic Church does not think sex is dirty, and God is not anti-sex. The Catechism even states that “[s]exuality is a source of joy and pleasure” and that the “Creator himself…established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit.”[21]  Despite what many people believe the Church says about sex, it is not just for procreation, and despite what society says it is not just for physical pleasure.  Sex is supposed to be a benefit to the body and the soul, which can only happen when a truly intimate connection exists between the people involved.  This desire for connection is an ingrained human trait that makes sex more about a “relational connection and a safe place” than “a physical, albeit sometimes pleasurable, activity of the body.”[22]  Teenagers seek this connection, but do not really understand how devastating sex can be when taken for granted or limited to physical desire.  Explaining it to them is not enough.   Religious educators need to help them along as students seek to understand sex, not turn them away or offer them simple yes or no answers.
When discussing the merits of sex in a Catholic setting, it is also important to discuss chastity and the Christian body.  Chastity is another concept that seems to be easily confused among believers, youth especially.  According to the Catechism, “Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.”[23]  Chastity is about balance and self-control, using human reason to determine whether or not certain actions can leave an individual spiritually healthy.  Sex is a gift, but it is a gift that comes with responsibilities and the potential to cause harm.
In Catholic teachings, chastity helps people keep their “passions” in check in order to not be ruled by them.[24]  This does not mean that someone who is chaste is not having sex or does not like sex.  It often seems that believers, adults and youth alike, are confused by the concept of chastity.  Informing students that chastity is something that everyone struggles with lets them know that they are not being blamed or singled-out, but are being challenged just like their fellow adult believers.  Of course, as with every other step in this model, it is important for educators to help them process what chastity truly is, and how being called to a chaste life does not mean being called to a life without sex or one in which sex is looked down on.  A chaste life means appreciating the power sex has and knowing that it is a kind of intimate connection in which God is found.
Understanding that the body is good is also an important message for teenagers to receive when discussing sex.  Though an entire class session could be dedicated to this point alone, it is good to at least talk about the significance of the body in Catholic teaching.  Despite what history may show or what people think the Church teaches in regards to the body, the reality is that “[t]he body is holy, sex is good; God dwells there.”[25]  At this period in their life, teenagers are most likely struggling with how they feel about their bodies and their physical urges, and so helping them to understand that whatever they are experiencing is no cause for shame or self-loathing can help to alleviate their doubts and guilt.  Jesus Christ had a fully human body with fully human urges.  He hungered, he wept, he needed to be by himself once and awhile, and he died a very real death.  Christianity is based on the idea that God became human with a mortal body, and reassuring youth of the importance of the body is vital for their physical and spiritual development.
Finally, acknowledging the pressures and struggles that teenagers’ face regarding sex is extremely important.  Making it clear that the educators do not expect making decisions about sex to be easy for youth can open a doorway for more dialogue and trust to take place later on.  It is also imperative that feelings of guilt not be placed on the students, because they will shy away from any further guidance from the educator or the Church.  What must be known by the students is that their decisions will not lead them to be ostracized from their faith community, and that God is ever-loving and compassionate.  If teenagers are going to face off with the demands and pressures of society, they have to feel confident that they will be backed by an unshakable support system and loyal faith community.  They have to know that they are not alone in the world.
The model presented has a lot of room to grow, and can be used in different ways by different youth ministers.  What is most important about this model is that dialogue always be a part of it.  If teenagers do not feel like their voices are being heard, then they will most likely reject what is being told to them.  Engaging them and inviting them to think deeply about sex and other issues while maintaining a guiding presence for their thought processes can help adolescents to realize the potential consequences of their actions and benefits of their choices.  Simply telling a teenager not to engage in sexual activity is not going to help them understand why they should not have sex, or why it would be better for them to wait.  Religious educators and other youth ministers need to take off the kid-gloves when ministering to teenagers and engage them in a way that will help them towards spiritual and intellectual maturity, all while letting them know that their voices are valid.  Society does not have to rule them if the Church and its ministers are only ready to listen to them.

[1] Linda L. Belleville, Sex, Lies, and the Truth: Developing a Christian Ethic in a Post-Christian Society (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2010), 8-9.
[2] Ibid., 12.
[3] Chap Clark, Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2004), 130.
[4] Ibid., 128.
[5]Debra W. Haffner, Mary Kelly, and L. Brent Bozell III, “The Media Affect Teen Sexuality,” in Teenage Sexuality: Opposing Viewpoints, ed. Karin L. Swisher (San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 1994), 36.
[6] Belleville, Sex, Lies, and the Truth, 7.
[7] Ibid., 11.
[8]Joy Overbeck, “Popular Culture Affects Teen Sexuality,” in Teenage Sexuality: Opposing Viewpoints, ed. Karin L. Swisher (San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 1994), 30.
[9]Joseph Monti, Arguing About Sex: The Rhetoric of Christian Sexual Morality (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1995), 218.
[10] Ibid., 220.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid., 222-223.
[13]Donna Freitas, Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses (Cary, North Carolina: Oxford University Press, 2008), 199.
[14] Ibid., 198.
[15] Clark, Hurt, 133.
[16] Ibid., 129.
[17] Ibid., 123.
[18] The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2332.
[19] Ibid., 2333.
[20] Evelyn Eaton Whitehead and James D. Whitehead, Wisdom of the Body: Making Sense of Our Sexuality (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2001), 23.
[21] The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2362.
[22] Clark, Hurt, 131.
[23] The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2337.
[24] Ibid., 2339.
[25] Whitehead and Whitehead, Wisdom of the Body, 18.