Friday, August 18, 2017

Reconciliation Does Not Mean Compromise: Thoughts in the Wake of Charlottesville

It's been a week since the events in Charlottesville took place.  Emotions are running high across the country.  More protests, both by Nazis and those brave enough to oppose them, are planned for this coming weekend.  People are afraid that last Saturday's violence will be repeated.  People are afraid that this country is crumbling at the seams.

There have been a lot of reactions to Charlottesville.  There have been a lot of opinions.  There's been a lot of blame.

I want to state a few things right away, before I get at the heart of my post.

First, what happened in Charlottesville wasn't as simple as Republicans versus Democrats, or Right versus Left.  This was a clear case of good versus evil.  Racism and white supremacy are sins.  They are evil.  They are a cancer in our society that is rotting us from the inside out.  The people that stood up to the white supremacists and Nazis parading their hate through the streets of Charlottesville carry no blame in what took place.  They were standing up to evil.  They were standing up for what is right.  They were protecting our values as Americans, and facing down an enemy we've fought before.

Second, the white supremacists and Nazis who gathered to protest the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee were not doing so to try and "protect" national history.  Whatever General Lee's strengths may or may not have been, in the end he was a rebel, fighting against the United States to maintain an economic system literally built on the backs of slaves.  Whatever good he may or may not have done before or after the Civil War, his image is not one to be honored and memorialized.  He is an important figure in our history, but he is ultimately a villain in our history.  And now, whatever positive legacy he may have had has been forever tainted by Nazi ideology, and because he is now a rallying point for them and other white supremacists, his image must be restricted to our history books and museums, and not be immortalized in our public parks and town squares.

Third, there is no comparison between the Alt-Right, Neo-Nazi, and white supremacist protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.  The white supremacists movement wants to maintain a racist system that keeps white people in power at the expense and exclusion of all other groups, and for some there is even the desire to exterminate those other groups.  The Black Lives Matter movement demands that the lives of black and other people of color be as equally respected as white lives, because the lives of people of color have been historically and systemically devalued in this country in a way white lives simply haven't.  White supremacists are about just that, maintaining white supremacy.  Black Lives Matter is about equality and recognition that black lives matter just as much as white lives.

Fourth, we must be very careful when we call for reconciliation, and this is what I truly want to emphasize with this post.  Since Charlottesville, I've heard many people say that we can't give into the hate and violence.  I've heard Church leaders declare that we must seek reconciliation and peace.  I agree with this.  I agree that our ultimate goals should be reconciliation and peace within our divided country, and violence should not be depended upon in this pursuit.  However, we are nowhere close to these goals, and anyone who thinks the problems in our country have an easy fix are deeply mistaken.

We must be very careful to not confuse reconciliation with compromise, or peace with quiet.  There can be no compromise with the ideologies that white supremacists and Nazis propagate.  We cannot be silent in the face of such hate and racism.  Many people have the misunderstanding that we just need to agree to disagree, that there are two sides that simply need to reconcile with each other.  This cannot happen.  White supremacy and the racism essential for it to thrive cannot be tolerated ideologies.  There can be no reconciliation until such beliefs are given up.  To settle for anything less only perpetuates the problem, and we'll be facing the same discrimination, hate, and violence in another hundred years if we bend in this.

Many people believe that if everyone just calms down, if we just stop talking about it we'll stop feeding the hate and we'll be able to make peace once more.  That's not true peace.  That's willful ignorance of the evil that surrounds us.  We've never had true peace in this country.  Groups of people, especially people of color, have always faced violence, discrimination, and subjugation in the United States.  It started when European settlers first arrived here and declared themselves superior to the Native Americans, and it's never stopped.  Speaking out against white supremacy, racism, and discrimination isn't feeding into the hate.  It's looking that hate in the face and saying "We will not stand for this!"  Peace cannot happen without confrontation.  I do not advocate for violence, and I do not wish for violence to be used to bring about peace.  Confrontation doesn't have to be violent, but it must be firm.  It must be unceasing until the ultimate goal of change is reached.

This isn't as simple as changing someone's mind or politics, however.  This is about changing hearts.  This is about showing the coming generations that these ideologies are evil, and that we don't back down from evil.  We fight it.  We oppose it.  We stand counter to it in our streets.  We blockade it to protect the defenseless.  We give it a name, and we shout that name as loud as we can so everyone knows exactly what the evil is we are fighting against.

Violence will not lead to reconciliation and peace, but neither will silence or compromise.  All good and decent people, all people of faith, all people claiming to uphold the ideals of America must be willing to engage in confrontation when faced with such clear and present evil.  There is no reconciling with it.  We must condemn it outright.  We must work to change the hearts of those who feed it and allow it to thrive.

For white Americans, much of this means recognizing how we benefit from systems designed to blockade everyone else, and being willing to tear those systems down in order to start anew.  It means not hiding behind our own privileges and pretending we don't see all of the wrong in our society because acknowledging and confronting it makes us uncomfortable.  

For people of faith, this means remembering that Jesus himself drove the merchants from the temple because they desecrated his house with their actions and greed.  There was no compromising in his dealings with them.  He restored goodness with direct confrontation.

For people who claim to uphold the ideals of America, that means remembering that America isn't perfect.  It never has been.  Any greatness it's had has always been tainted with the racism and subjugation of groups of people that has always existed in this country.  It means recognizing that the only way America can ever be truly great is if we give up the notion that only one group can lay claim to it.  This is a land of immigrants.  A land of diversity.  A land of opportunity.  If we wish to truly embrace our values and be the country we claim we are, we must not allow racism and hate to have any further hold on us.  We must hold ourselves and those who lead us accountable when it comes to condemning such evil and standing against it.  We must put our words into actions, speak truth to power, and shine a bright light on the evil that permeates our society so that we can more easily combat it.

Reconciliation and peace are our ultimate goals, but they cannot be excuses for inaction, silence, or compromise.  If we want to truly achieve either of them, we must not hide from the evil that infects us.  We must confront it.  We must condemn it.  We must defeat it.  Only then can we make America great, truly great, for the first time in its history.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Reality of Infertility: A Response to "Making Sense Out of Bioethics: Considering the Options for Infertile Couples"

Recently, I was home visiting my parents for a long weekend.  One night, as I was lying on their couch watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory, my mom came storming into the living room and slapped a newspaper down next to me.  I looked to see that it was the Catholic Globe, the paper produced and distributed through our Diocese.  Upon seeing the paper, I knew in an instant what had upset her.  She'd been reading an article that I'd attempted to read myself, but hadn't been able to get through.  It was an article written by a priest, a Bioethicist, entitled "Making Sense Out of Bioethics: Considering the Options for Infertile Couples". Follow this link to read the article in full.

To anyone who hasn't experienced infertility, the article might seem rather practical and straightforward.  The author states that some couples experience infertility, that the Church is morally opposed to certain medical practices to counter said infertility, and then lists other possible options for those couples to "still realize their parental and maternal desires".  At first read through, it might be hard to point out anything particularly offensive or insensitive.

However, break it down and read it through the eyes of someone who has suffered through infertility, and it comes off much differently.  I myself have not had this experience because I've not tried to have children yet.

But my mom has.

I won't lie, this post proved very difficult for me to write.  There's so much about this article that angered me, and I found myself going on and on about the Church's stance on IVF and the author's claim that such treatments "produce" children rather than conceive them.  I struggled with what angle to take, thinking first to go paragraph by paragraph through the article and basically write what I found wrong with the statements and claims made.  I couldn't seem to wrap my head around everything that's in the article.  There's simply so much I could say.  So much I could write.  But then it dawned on me.  It's not about me.  This blog post isn't about me.

It's about my mom.

It's about my dad.

It's about every couple that has struggled with infertility.  Experienced the pain of knowing they can't have children the "natural" way.  Known the fear that the biological children they long for might be beyond their grasp.

This post is about my mom's reaction to the article.  Not mine.  It's about what she found offensive and painful.  What she objected to because of everything she's experienced.  In the end, it doesn't matter what I think.  It matters what she knows.

The author of this article spends much of his time writing about why IVF is considered immoral to the Church and listing other treatments that are basically Church "approved".  Even now as I write, it's very hard for me not to go off and rip into his statements.  But again, it's not about me.  I've never had to choose whether to do IVF or not.  My mom has.

Image result for infertilityMy mom and I never really talked much about her struggles before she and my dad pursued adoption.  She's never really told me about the other options they considered.  All I really knew was that it took them a long time to come to the decision to adopt, and that that decision was preceded by several years of pain and disappointment.  I never understood just how painful, though.  How disappointing.  I still don't understand fully, but after reading this article, my mom shared some more with me about that time in her life.  That time before I was even a thought.  When conception, not adoption, was the ultimate goal.

She told me that IVF had once been on the table as an option for her and my dad.  My mom will admit to having mixed feelings about procedures like IVF.  She isn't completely okay with it, but also isn't completely against it.  What she would never do is presume to think she can tell another couple whether or not they should do it.  She just knows, in the end, it wasn't the path for her and my dad, but not for the reasons I would have guessed.  She talked about the emotional roller-coaster she was forced through when she was going through fertility treatments.  About the hope when the doctor told her she might be pregnant, followed quickly by the despair when sometimes mere days later her body proved she wasn't.  She told me aside from any moral objections, what really kept her from pursuing the treatment was the fact that she simply wanted off that ride.  She couldn't take the sudden up and the crashing down anymore.

Infertility is not an uncommon condition in my family, and we are not unfamiliar with the medical options available to suffering couples.  It's important to highlight the fact that infertility is not just a female issue.  Men suffer from it too.  Men I know and love right alongside women I know and love have had to deal with their body's inability to conceive.  Though my parents eventually chose to go the route of adoption, I have several family members who were conceived using IVF, and no one will ever convince me that their conceptions were any less meaningful than if they took place naturally.  I saw the pain their parents went through.  The struggle.  They tried to hide it from the rest of us most of the time, but the frustration and despair slipped through the cracks every now and then.  If anything, the pain they went through, the disappointment, the perseverance in achieving their goal of conception is so much more meaningful than a lot of natural pregnancies that happen because someone forgot the condom.  Their use of IVF wasn't a way of "producing" children rather than conceiving them, or made their pregnancies any less meaningful than if they had happened naturally.  It made those pregnancies miracles.  The children born of those pregnancies are miracles.

Okay.  So, I managed to slip in a little something about IVF.  I simply couldn't help myself.

My mom was angry at the article for what it said about IVF and similar treatments, but it was the last few paragraphs that really pushed her over the edge.        

"In some cases, a couple’s infertility will end up being irresolvable. Even as a husband and wife face the grief and sorrow of not being able naturally to conceive children of their own, they can still realize their paternal and maternal desires in other meaningful, fruitful and loving ways. For example, they may discern a call to adopt a child, providing a mom and a dad to someone whose parents have died or felt that they could not care for the child."
Why did this paragraph set her off in particular?  Adoption is obviously a wonderful thing!  She ended up adopting three children and thanks God everyday that she did.  So what's the problem?
Read it again.
Read the last sentence.  Look at the part that says "providing a mom and a dad to someone whose parents have died..."  Again, if you haven't experienced adoption, you might not catch it.
"to someone whose parents..."
My mom isn't raising anyone else's children.  She's raising her children.  She and my dad are our parents.  You might not think the wording of this sentence is that big of a deal, but when you've grown up constantly correcting people about who your "real" mom is, it's a knife to the heart.  To me, this paragraph says "well, if you can't have your own children, there are plenty of people who don't want theirs so you can have them".  My mom read it in a similar way...these kids aren't really yours.  You're just the back-up mom.
"They might decide to become a camp counselor or a schoolteacher, or provide temporary foster care to a child in crisis, generously taking on an authentic parenting role. They may become a “Big Brother/Big Sister” to youth in the community who yearn for a father or mother figure in their lives."
I need to start this paragraph off by saying that these are all wonderful pursuits, and more people should take on such roles as camp counselor, foster parent, or Big Brother/Big Sister.  However, how dare the author assume that these roles will in any way compare to having children of your own, whether adopted or conceived?  It's comparing apples to oranges.  Foster parent comes the closest, but it's not the same.  Couples who suffer from infertility can experience years of physical, emotional, and spiritual agony, the effects of which can linger the rest of their lives.  My mom is so happy that she has my siblings and I, but she still experiences mixed emotions when she thinks about the fact that she never was pregnant.  She'll never know what it's like to carry a child.  When other women talk about their pregnancy experiences, she can't participate in the conversations.  She simply doesn't know, and as completely happy as she is, and how certain she is that she wouldn't change a thing about how we became a family, those feelings simply don't disappear.  That hurt and disappointment lingers.    
"Although these solutions do not take away all the grief, they are a means by which God helps to draw good out of their situation. By these means, couples are challenged to “think outside the box” and enter into the mysterious designs of God within their marriage. By stepping away from a desire to conceive and raise biological children of their own, couples facing irresolvable infertility can discover new and unexpected paths to marital fruitfulness, paths that bring great blessings to others, and that can lead to abiding joy and marital fulfillment."
Move on.  Get over it.  That's basically the gist of this final paragraph.
It's easy for someone living a celibate, unmarried life to write this.  Children aren't in his future.  He doesn't have the feelings of a spouse to consider.  His hopes for a family aren't unexpectedly crushed because his body has betrayed him on a primal level.  It's easy to pass judgement when you haven't been personally drowning in the experience.
Infertility is traumatic.  Grief is not the only emotion that couples experience.  Grief barely scratches the surface.  Disappointment.  Frustration.  Physical agony.  Hopelessness.  Guilt.
The guilt surprised me.
My mom told me how guilty she felt.  She said that when you go in to be tested for infertility, as bad as it sounds, you hope it's not you.  But if it's not you, then its your spouse.  It was my mom, not my dad.  He was perfectly capable of having children.  The guilt that she couldn't give him what someone else could was one of the hardest things for her.  The physical pain, the emotional strain...all of it was wrapped up in guilt.
I had never considered that.  I'm not at that point in my life yet.  I haven't been in a committed relationship where it's not just about what I want.  Whenever I think of having children, it's always with just me in mind.  I've always thought, if I have trouble conceiving, I wouldn't have a problem adopting.  But what about my spouse?  What would he feel?  What would he want?  What would he be capable of?
It's complicated.  Infertility is complicated and difficult.  People do almost unimaginable things to their bodies to try and overcome it.  You don't put yourself through that kind of pain for nothing.  The desire for children for these couples is so great, so all-consuming that they will put themselves through torture to achieve their dream.  I've heard people dismiss these efforts as selfish.  Unreasonable.  But they don't get it.  They haven't experienced the desperation these couples have.  This author has never and will never experience this first hand.  So it's easy for him to write about it.  To be practical and reasonable to the point of dismissive.  It's easy for him to pass judgement.  It's easy for him and the rest of the clergy to pass judgement on the way our families are made  in black and white terms because they don't know the gray.  They haven't lived it.  They haven't suffered through it.  Not the way some couples have.  Not the way my parents have.
Their pain isn't yours to dismiss.  Their experiences aren't yours to undermine.  Their tragedy is not your "mysterious design".  Their marital fulfillment is not your soapbox.  Their fruitfulness is none of your business. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

God Is Not My Father

I remember the first time I heard a priest refer to God as Mother from the pulpit.

I was in grad school, and was attending a special visit-day Mass with most of the theology school.  During his homily, the priest very casually switched out "Father" and used "Mother" when talking about God.  He didn't point it out.  Didn't say "look at this cool thing I'm doing."  He just did it, right there, in front of a Church full of theology students and prospective students, as if it were the most natural, normal thing in the world.

It blew my freaking mind.

I had, of course, heard people refer to God as Mother many times before this.  It wasn't a new concept to me.  I'd attended a non-Catholic undergrad, studied Feminist Theology in various forms, and explored the power of liturgical language over and over again.  Yet, I'd never ever heard a priest call God "Mother" in a formal Mass setting.  He knew what he was doing.  His casualness was intentional, meant to shake us up and make us think.  And for me at least, it worked.

Fast forward a few years, and another priest lectures me about why I should always refer to God as Father in the liturgical setting.  During a reading, I'd intentionally used non-gendered words to describe God in place of the gendered ones because I was no longer able to view God in that singular way.  According to this particular priest, however, I shouldn't do that because it somehow disturbs the community.  It's all well and good if I think that for myself, but I need to fall in line with everyone else.  Don't question, don't challenge, just do what I'm told.

I'm not very good as doing what I'm told when I don't think it's right.

Here's my issue with referring to God strictly as "Father".  It's so constrictive.  It limits my understanding of God and puts God into a tiny little box that defines how I always and forever view God.  That's not to say I always refer to God as Mother instead.  I don't.  I still don't think that's enough.  I try to use gender-neutral descriptions as often as I'm able.  It's not easy, and it usually sounds awkward, but I also know that my abilities as a human to comprehend God are limited.  So, in order to force myself to expand my understanding of God, I need to take God out of the tidy-little box that I grew up with.

Now, please don't take that to mean anyone who views God as "Father" is small-minded in any way.  If understanding God as a father-figure is the best way for you to develop a relationship with God, then that is what you need to do.  My main concern in this post is the ingrained patriarchal language used at the institutional level of the Church to describe not just God, but humanity in general.  So much of the tension in the Catholic Church can be boiled down to how it restricts itself by insisting on constantly portraying God as male, and only male, and upholding antiquated language that no longer reflects the complexity of human nature.

I get why God has been seen as male for so long.  God is the ultimate authority, and men have historically dominated society as its authority figures (because patriarchy).  Our understanding of humanity has also been extremely limited for most of our short time on this earth.  We used to think in much more black and white terms.  There were men, and there were women, and both sides had specific roles to play.  To deviate from those roles was to go against the "natural" order of things.  But, as we have found throughout the years, humanity is much more complicated than that.  We're not as binary as we once thought (though many continue to insist that we are).  What we've learned from science (which is not the enemy of religion, just by the way) and the observation of the human experience is that gender isn't as simple as men and women, and sexuality is a spectrum that we all fall on in different ways.  Our faith tells us that we are made in God's image.  So, if humanity is complicated, why do we insist on making God so simple?

It's impossible for humans to fully comprehend God.  We haven't had, and still really don't have, the language to describe God in a way that doesn't confine God to any one particular image.  We talk about God in ways that make sense to us, but in doing so, we risk closing ourselves off to other manifestations of God because what we imagine God to be cements itself in our heads as a result of the language we are constantly using to describe God.  Language is a powerful tool.  As we learn and develop, explore and grow, our language expands with us.  Words, phrases, and their meanings shift and evolve as our understanding of the human condition becomes more and more intricate and sophisticated.  Human beings need language to define our existence.  We use language to bring order to the chaos that surrounds us, sometimes to our detriment.  We use labels and categories to keep individuals in place, to separate the us from them, to create hierarchies of the privileged and the unprivileged.  We value some variations of language over others to create structures of power for a few and barriers for those whose personal language doesn't match up.

Once upon a time, God was a man because that made sense.  God was Father because that was how the people who worshiped God could begin to comprehend that awesome mystery.  But that's not enough anymore.  We need a broader understanding of God.  We need to stop trying to define God through our own, limited lenses.  What was once a way for humanity to better appreciate and relate to God has become a restrictive, damaging trap that creates greater opportunities for oppression than for redemption.

When God is only "Father", women are secondary to men.  Some would argue otherwise, but it's true.  How can it not be true?  If we worship a male only God, then it's easier to enforce and justify the submissive, subordinate roles that are so often forced on women within the Church, and within society at large.  It's easier to lock them out of leadership within the Church.  To deny them the right to fully participate in the sacramental life of the Church.  We're given excuses like "Jesus only selected male followers", and if you're reading the Bible literally, then yes, Jesus did only choose male followers.  But Catholics aren't supposed to read the Bible as literal history.  The Bible was written within the context of human history, in a certain time and place where societal norms would dictate how the story of Jesus would ultimately be told.  As the norms shift, as we learn and grow, our readings and interpretations of the Bible must also shift and grow as more truths are revealed to us in the world.

We're also told things like "only men can appropriately represent God because of the natural differences between men and women."  Yes, there may be natural differences between men and women, but both are necessary in order to fully understand God.  There may be differences between the genders, but all of those differences reveal a different facet to the mystery of God.  We need all sides to appreciate God.  God is all things, all people, all genders, and by insisting that God be always one way, we lose out on everything else that God is.

Granted, it's not an easy shift to make.  I still catch myself shifting back to male-specific descriptions of God when I'm not paying attention.  It's been ingrained into me my whole life, so it's my automatic reflex when my guard is down.  Just because that's how it's been so far, though, doesn't mean that's how it always should be.  God is more than we let God be.  The Church, as a whole, needs to do more to explore the many faces and facets of God, to recognize the true complexity of the human existence, and to appreciate the great beauty and freedom that lies within this broader understanding of God and of ourselves.  It is only when we allow ourselves the opportunity to see beyond our own limited scope of the world that we can come to truly encounter the divine.

In the name of the Creator, the Word, and the Holy Spirit.

Until next time,
Erin B.

      

Friday, May 5, 2017

Christianity is Failing in the United States of America

Recently, I had the good fortune to attend Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C.  I didn't really know what to expect going into the conference, but I can honestly say it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life.  Throughout those four days, I was challenged and encouraged, humbled and praised.  We heard from power-house speakers whose passion and dedication to social justice fueled my own.  I was made at some times to feel helpless, and at other times to feel powerful.  One instant filled with sadness, the next overwhelming joy.  I was enraged.  I was hopeful.  The world was laid out for me in all of its stark brokenness.  The curtain yanked back to reveal the wickedness within.  Then an image of the world as it could be, as it should be, was offered.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.  I was moved to tears nearly as often as to laughter.  I was invigorated.  I was motivated.  I was inspired.

I could go on and on about this conference, and spend hours and hours writing about everything I took away from it.  But there's one major takeaway that I really want to focus on in this moment, which is this...

Christianity is failing in the United States of America.

Let me explain.

When I say Christianity is failing in the United States, I don't just mean the Church is failing.  I don't mean it's failing because of the current trend of young people leaving the Church, essentially taking its future with them, although that's definitely a consequence of the failing.  I also don't mean that the U.S. has strayed so far from its Christian roots, both imagined and historically grounded, that it has lost its central values and is navigating the modern world with a broken moral compass.  No, none of that is what I mean when I say that Christianity is failing in the United States.

Christianity is failing in the United States because Christians don't love enough.  We say we do.  We love to talk about just how much we love one another, about how welcoming and hospitable we are towards each other.  When it comes down to it, however, when the call comes to stand up and demand justice, to protect the vulnerable, to challenge the status quo even at the risk of ourselves and our privileges, do we answer that call?

Some of us do.  Most of us don't.

We make excuses that the world is to broken, there's just to much, there's no way for any of it to be truly fixed anyway.  We obsess so much over a Kingdom of God that we envision far off in the future, an afterlife of perfection that is just waiting for us on the other side, that we don't try to bring the Kingdom to us in the here and now.  We put all of the responsibility of change and justice in God's hands, but don't bother to carry our fair-share of the burden.  We push our own agendas on others, disguising it as justice, instead of considering what is good for all people, not just ourselves.

Christianity is failing in this country because we satisfy ourselves with band-aid solutions to our societal problems, instead of digging in and looking at the true issues at the foundation of those problems.  During Ecumenical Advocacy Days, we focused a lot of our attention on Martin Luther King Jr. and his speech "Beyond Vietnam".  In this particular speech, he highlights the "triplets of evil": racism, materialism, and militarism.  Much of what was discussed during the four days focused on the impact and implications of these triplets, still as relevant today as they were 50 years ago when Dr. King wrote his speech, especially within the realm of politics.

People always say that politics don't belong in Church.  The separation of Church and State, for many, means that the Church has no right to try and sway people politically.  To some extent, this is true.  The Church is no place for Bipartisan politics.  The Church is no place for political agendas that don't benefit the majority of people.  But politics do belong within the Church.  And the Mosque.  And the Synagogue.  And the Temple.  Christians must be politically aware and active.  People of faith must be politically aware and active.  It is through our politics, through our government, that the nation's morality and priorities are displayed.  Right now, looking at our politics, the proposed policies and direction the government wants to head, the United States appears greedy.  Power-hungry.  Selfish.  Unconcerned with the most vulnerable and oppressed among its own people.  Unconcerned with the devastation we often leave in our wake around the world.

But what are we, specifically we Christians, doing about it?

Our preachers offer up shallow sermons and homilies.  They don't challenge us in our current context.  They don't address the concerns and realities we face day-to-day.  Yet, whenever a pastor or priest does try to speak to the injustices surrounding us, we criticize them.  Tell them it's not their place.

How often when we talk about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. do we refer to him as Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?  Why are we so easily able to make his faith a footnote of his life when it was the driving force behind almost everything he did?  Why are we so afraid to be challenged by our preachers?  To be challenged by our faith?  To challenge our faith and our faith leaders in turn?

Do we really think we're living out our faith when we turn away from injustice and corruption?  That we're spreading the Gospel message when we refuse to give up any of our creature-comforts so someone less fortunate can have at least what they need to not only survive, but thrive along with us?  That we're truly upholding the gift of Christ's sacrifice on the cross by blaming the poor and oppressed for their lot in life, instead of holding accountable the powers and systems that keep the poor poor and the rich rich?

If we, the people of the Christian faith, do not prioritize the needs and support of the poor and most vulnerable in this nation and this world...if we support or turn a blind-eye to policies that hold materialism and militarism over care of the hungry, the war-torn, the displaced, and the oppressed...then we fail to uphold our purported Christian values.  When white Christians refuse to recognize their innate privilege, refuse to understand how that privilege is built on the pain and suffering of people of color, and refuse to stand against it despite the cost, we fail.  When feminist Christians fail to recognize the extra barriers facing women of color, and don't first strive to catch them up before moving forward in the pursuit of gender equity together, we fail.  When older Christians scoff at young people's efforts for justice, lament at the lost of the young within the Church but don't actually take the time to understand that young people have lost faith in a Church they view as stagnant and passive, we fail.  If we, as Christians, keep our heads down and ourselves quiet because "I doesn't affect me", we fail.  If we don't reach out a hand of friendship and love to our Muslim brothers and sisters, standing up to those who would spread Islamophobia so that hate towards a community of faith is allowed to grow, we fail.  If we aren't enraged every time an unarmed black man is killed in the streets by police, we fail.  If we aren't deeply concerned about the injustice of our prison systems, and how people of color are disproportionately incarcerated to an alarming degree in this country, we fail.  If we don't fight to protect our environment, believing it a gift from God that is not ours to use and abuse, we fail.  If we don't raise our voices in protest when the health of our most vulnerable is put at risk because those in power have prioritized the profits of insurance companies over the well-being of the public they are meant to serve, we fail.  If we don't always work to show compassion and understanding to those whose backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs are different from our own instead of judging and condemning them, we fail.

We fail in living out the Gospel message of radical love, acceptance, and compassion.  We fail to appreciate the gift of the sacrifice that was the crucifixion.  To recognize our responsibility to each other and our world in light of the promise of the resurrection.  We fail Christ.  We fail God.

And in this failure, we forfeit the privilege to call ourselves Christians.

Yet, we are human.  We all will fail from time to time.  Our greatest failure, however, is when we refuse to recognize our own faults.  Our own shortcomings.  When we refuse to try and be better because our own stubbornness and certainty of our own righteousness blinds us to the pain and struggle of others.

Christians need to do better in this country.  We need to love more.  Listen more.  Fight more.  We need to let ourselves be challenged, and not shy away from conflict but embrace it as an opportunity to grow and learn more about our world.  Our faith is not a comfortable one.  We should not let our own comforts mean more to us than the justice of others.

We need to do better, but we can do better.  If we remember that our faith is not, at its heart, a faith of power and prestige, but a humble faith, a sometimes rebellious faith, yet a faith always centered on love and compassion, we stand a chance of getting it right.

That's what I witnessed at Ecumenical Advocacy Days.  Christians from all denominations coming together to do good and to fight injustice because their powerful faith would not allow them to sit on the sidelines and simply watch things happen.  It drove them to make their voices heard, and hold the powers that be accountable for their actions.  It gave me real hope that things can get better.  That things will get better.  We just need to stop using our faith as an excuse to do nothing, and recognize it as our reason to do everything we can to make this world a better place.

Until next time,
Erin B.

Below are some of the very notable plenary speakers from Ecumenical Advocacy Days.  Feel free to view and enjoy!



 


   

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Privilege of Indifference

In the 2005 film V for Vendetta, in the not-to-distant future, England has become a police state run by a fascist government.  The people, for the most part, live pretty regular lives so long as they stay in line, but there's a undercurrent of fear that permeates the film and adds a layer of tension that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat even during the most benign scenes.  You see hints of this fear here and there.  Pasted on the walls of a normal London street are signs reminding citizens that their strength is in their unity, and their unity comes from a common faith.  Hanging on the wall of a retirement home is a picture of the country's High Chancellor, prominently on display, like so many dictators before him, to remind the people who controls them.  The fear is subtle, and it's only the viewer who seems to recognize it, as so many of the characters seem numb to it.  But it's a very real fear.  A fear of what will happen should anyone step out of line.  Of secret police patrolling the streets at night, enforcing the government's curfew in brutal ways.  Of a message of unity, but a unity built on sameness of faith, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and nationality.  There is no room for error in this world.  No room for difference.  There is only obey, or face the consequences.

Enter V, a masked vigilante whose sole mission in life is to bring the government to its knees by inspiring a revolution among the people.  He has no identity apart from the Guy Fawkes mask and black clothing he always wears.  In one of the movie's earlier scenes, V commandeers the government-sponsored emergency channel to broadcast a message to all of London at once.



In his speech, he says what everyone knows but are too afraid to admit: "...there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn't there?"

He talks about how the people have lost their freedom to express themselves and object.  How intolerance, injustice, and oppression have come to be the norms of their society.  He poses the questions "How did this happen?  Who's to blame?", and while there are officials and politicians and those in power who had worked to create the systems that rule England's dystopian future, it isn't all on them.

"If you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror."

For all the terrible things that the government has done in V's world, it's ultimately the people who stood by and let it happen.

"I know why you did it.  I know you were afraid.  Who wouldn't be? War, terror, disease.  There are a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense.  Fear got the best of you..."

Fear.  Fear is what drove the people to put those who would come to cause so much harm into power.  Fear got them there.  And then indifference kept them there.

In the movie, V is battling against the people's indifference to what is happening around them as much as he is battling the fascist government ruling them.  His call to revolution isn't merely a strike at the government, but an attempt to rouse the passions of the people.  To wake them up to the truly terrible things that are happening around them so that they will rise up and fight to regain their freedoms.

The thing that always scared me the most about V for Vendetta was how realistic that future was.  How very possible that outcome seemed.

Now, it seems like the very path we're heading down.

So much has happened since Trump became President.  Already he's attacked the media, put our national parks at risk, angered our allies, given our enemies justification in their hatred of us, cut off necessary healthcare to women worldwide, put thousands of innocent people seeking refuge from their war torn homes at risk, torn families apart, given power to the dangerously inexperienced, and proven again and again he's a liar who cannot be trusted.  It's been so much in such a short amount of time, that it's truly exhausting.

I've written letters, made phone calls, gone to rallies, spoken with representatives, attended forums, and posted every speck of truth I can get my hands on.  Yet nothing ever seems to come from any of it.  Most of our politicians who oppose Trump up until now have appeared overly cautious, and the rest don't seem to care about what the people actually have to say.  As Trump issued more and more orders, and our Congress stood by and watched, it all seemed hopeless.  So pointless.

In my lowest moment, I'm ashamed to admit, I thought to myself, "What does it matter if I resist or not?"  I was stressed and not sleeping well.  My mind was overly consumed with what was going on in the world around me.  I was afraid I was becoming annoying and preachy because I wasn't letting up in my outspokenness against the President.  "Why go through all the trouble?  Why put myself through this stress?  I could just stop.  I could just ignore it all.  It's not like any of this really affects me..."

And then I realized what was happening.  I was giving into one of my greatest privileges.

Indifference.

It's true, a lot of what's happening won't directly affect me.  I'm a white Christian with a good job, insurance, and tons of people to support me in case something goes wrong.  I'm not an immigrant, I'm not a refugee.  I support Planned Parenthood, but I don't personally need it.  I'm straight and will have no problem someday getting married.  I haven't had to fight every day of my life for basic respect and recognition as a person.  When I get pulled over, my only worry is how much the ticket will be.  I've never been wealthy, but I've never had to worry about being able to eat a meal or having weather-appropriate clothes when I need them.  I can afford to buy tampons and pads, and have never had to choose between them and food.  As a kid, I never had to worry about whether my parents would be home when I was out of school, or if they'd been taken during an ICE raid.  I don't have to worry about being treated differently if I move to certain neighborhoods, or of being seen as "other" simply because of how I look, dress, or pray.  The fear of a bomb dropping on my home at any moment is not my constant reality.

I am very privileged, and most of my privilege comes from pure luck.  I was lucky to be born into the life I lead.  I was lucky that opportunities were more easily provided to me than to others.  I've worked hard to get where I am, but I know that under that hard work is a foundation of privilege that has propelled me further in life than those who started without it.

I also know that many of the privileges I take for granted today came at a price I never had to pay, because others paid it for me.

Once upon a time, my Irish heritage would have made me an outsider.  I would have been seen as "other".  I would have faced open hostility and socially accepted discrimination.  I would have been seen as an invader, an unwelcome immigrant encroaching on the American people's rights and privileges.

At one point, my Catholic faith would have made people suspicious of me.  My faith would have been considered a threat, a looming foreign religion that threatened to undermine this country's political systems and beliefs.  I would have been labeled a Papist, loyal to Rome over the U.S., on a mission to overturn Democracy in favor of Papal rule.

Not to long ago, my sex would have barred me from certain roles outside of the home.  I would have been a commodity, something that could be put up for market and sold to the highest bidder.  My husband could have beat me, raped me, insulted me, and it would have been my place to take it.  I would not have been able to have a voice in the political world.  My silence and body would have been valued more so than my mind and voice (unfortunately, this is still the case in a lot of ways).

But it's different for me than it was for those that came before.  Why is this?  Because those that came before didn't have the privilege of indifference.  They had to march, rally, fight, and even die for the basic rights our country is so proud of boasting about.  The rights they fought and worked so hard for are what led to the privileges I am now able to enjoy.

Suffragette's March on Washington, 1913
Women's March on Washington, 2017


Privilege in-and-of-itself isn't necessarily a bad thing.  We can't always control the privileges we're born into.  But we can control how we respond to them.  How we use them.

Do we acknowledge our privileges?  Do we abuse our privileges?  Do we hold our privileges above the rights and well-being of others?

The United States is a country of great privilege, but often we confuse privilege for freedom.  When a marginalized group begins to push back, demanding the freedoms we lucky ones all already enjoy, we get angry and defensive.  We claim they're taking away those freedoms (because for some reason, there's not enough freedom to go around I guess?).  They're taking away our rights.  The truth of the matter is, what is really at stake are our privileges, not our rights.  Many of our privileges depend on the oppression of other groups.

We are privileged simply because we aren't them.

To ignore that fact not only is an injustice to those we exclude from our freedoms, but it spits in the faces of all those who fought for those same freedoms so many of us now take for granted.

Caring about the well-being of others, being willing to sacrifice some of our privilege so that others have a chance to gain any are what we as Americans are supposed to do.  We don't have a great history of following through with this ideal, but it's part of the ideological foundation of this country.  People come here, from all over the world, from all walks of life, because they believe in the promise the United States offers.  The promise of freedom and prosperity.  The promise of life, acceptance, and peace.  These are the promises we so readily advertise to the rest of the world, but seem to always have a hard time living out.

We need to do better.  We need to do more.  We need to care more, and sometimes that means marching, and rallying, and fighting, and annoying your friends on Facebook.  We need to talk to each other more.  Have dialogue instead of arguments.  Uphold the truth, even when it's inconvenient.  Those of us with the privilege of indifference need to recognize that we might have a choice to stand up and speak out against injustice, but so many others don't.  For so many, the fight for their rights is their constant, everyday reality.

We need to hold ourselves accountable.  We need to hold our government accountable, or face the consequences of a powerful few dictating the lives of millions.

As V would say, "People should never be afraid of their governments.  Governments should be afraid of their people."

If we let our own privileges stop us from fighting for those in greatest need, then we are contributing to the very oppression and discrimination so many of our ancestors fought to undo so that our lives might be just a little bit better than theirs.  

Erin B.              

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Jesus Christ: A Model of Rebellion

Let's be real.  It's been a heck of a week.  A lot has happened, and a lot of people are feeling a lot of things.  I'm no exception.  I've unintentionally become that person on your social media homepage, constantly posting about politics and only seeming to be in a state of continuous anger.  Well, that's because I am angry, but that's not really why I post so much or speak so openly about my beliefs and opinions.  My goal is not to create fights or insult and undermine people who think differently than me.  My goal is always to inform, to pull the curtain hiding the real wizard back, and to make sure everyone knows exactly what is happening in the world around us.

Image result for planned parenthoodLast week, I posted a piece explaining how I define pro-life, and why I stand with Planned Parenthood.  I was extremely nervous to post that piece.  I was afraid of what some of my friends and family would think, and how they would react.  I was afraid of the things total strangers could say.  I wasn't afraid that people would disagree with me.  I know people disagree with me about that issue, and that's okay!  What I was most afraid of was that people would try to cut me down and belittle my message without any attempt at actual dialogue or respectful engagement.  Which is why I was pleasantly surprised when the feedback I received was, overall, incredibly positive.

Now, I'm not naive in that I think everyone who read it was 100% on board with what I had to say.  I'm sure there are many people that would tweak a few things here and there.  I'm also sure that there were plenty of individuals who totally disagree with me but simply chose not to comment on the post, and that's totally fine.  I can't, and don't, expect everyone who reads what I write to be in total, or any, agreement with me all of the time.

There were some comments, though, that weren't so positive.  I was accused of not being a good Catholic, not being in good standing with the Church, and of not putting my faith and God first.  Instead of feeling bad like I expected myself to feel, however, or regretting the post, those comments actually made me think a lot about my relationship with the Church and with God.  And I came to a realization.

My faith in God and my obedience to the Church are not the same thing.

Maybe those individuals are right, and I'm not a good Catholic.  Maybe I'm technically not in good standing with the Church.  Ultimately, though, I have to answer to God and my conscience, not the Church.

I love the Church, and I love being Catholic, but I'm not blind to the problems within the institution.  I'm not going to pretend everything is okay all the time.  The Church is a human institution trying to figure out how best to be in relationship with God.  It's going to stumble every once and awhile.  It's going to make mistakes.  It's going to sometimes be stubborn, and controlling, and try to make people fall into neat tidy lines because that's what people do.  We don't just bow down and accept the things we disagree with, especially when those things go against what we feel to be true in our hearts.  We push, we question, we demand accountability.  We live out our Christian faith by demanding that our Church continuously do better and better.  Sometimes, we even outright rebel.

Christianity, like the United States, is built on rebellion.

Image result for hamilton battle of yorktown
Our Founding Fathers = Rebels
The rebellion for early Christians was quieter than that of the American Revolution, but it was a rebellion nonetheless.  Threatened by an authority determined to control them, body, mind, and soul, early Christians defiantly gathered together in secret to worship, support each other, and spread their faith.  In the Roman arenas, surrounded by roaring crowds calling for their deaths, they stood by their faith.  They stood by each other.  They wrote to each other in support.  They wrote to each other from exile and from prison.  They continued to spread their message of love and God across the empire despite the risks.  Despite the law.

Because they knew the law was wrong.

They knew there was something beyond it.  Something better.  Something they couldn't fully understand, but were still willing to give their lives to uphold if necessary.  They rebelled, and had they had support from other groups, had greater, easier ways of having their voices heard, they might have rebelled louder.

Early Christians didn't simply decide to rebel because they wanted to, however.  They needed to, and they rebelled by example.  Christianity, at its heart, is a radical religion, because it is based around a radical figure.

Jesus was a rebel.    

I've always found it kind of funny when people justify their mistreatment of others by claiming to be following the teachings of Jesus and Scripture.  They use Jesus' name like a get-out-of-jail-free card for discrimination, bigotry, and hate, disguising their true intentions with the excuse "I'm only trying to save your soul from damnation."  How easily they seem to forget that Jesus dined with outcasts, promised his kingdom to those considered weak, and criticized the wealthy.

Jesus was a radical in his time because he openly defied socially accepted discrimination and oppression.  He pushed back against religious authorities who insisted they alone had the answers to knowing and interacting with God.  He spoke to crowds about radical ideas of what it means to love each other and show each other compassion.  He opened the doors to those previously excluded from salvation.  He knew what he risked in his defiance, in his resistance, but he didn't let that stop him.

Image result for table flip jesusHe taught his followers to turn the other cheek, and also took up a bull whip, flipped tables, and chased the greedy merchants from the temple.  He showed us that resistance is complicated, it's not always neat and tidy, but it's always necessary when those in authority try to decide who is worthy of salvation and who isn't.  When those with power try to keep the downtrodden low so they can maintain their own privilege.  He showed us that to rebel is sometimes necessary to be truly faithful to God.

To be Christian means to be willing to rebel when human dignity is put at risk.  To resist when groups of people are treated as second-class-citizens, whether or not you believe what they believe, or value what they value.  To hold those in power accountable for their actions when they choose money and greed over the good of the people.  To speak out whenever injustice threatens your fellow human.

We rebel, because like the early Christians, like Jesus himself, we have hope in a world better than this one that is worth fighting for.

Just as Christians are called to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger so too are we called to rebel.  Whether against the oppressive actions of a government, or the excluding teachings of a denomination, we resist, we march, we speak out.  And as long as there is suffering in the world, as long as there are people in need, whose voices have been stolen, and whose dignity is threatened, we won't stop.

We will always rebel.

Until next time,
Erin B.  


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

I Am A Pro-Life Catholic, and I Stand with Planned Parenthood

Several years ago, I was trying to figure out why in the world Representative Steve King kept getting elected to office.  One answer I received kind of astonished me, and has bothered me ever since.

"He values life, so you know he has good morals."

Image result for steve king
Don't trust crazy-eyes here.
By that statement, of course, the person meant Steve King is pro-life.  Or, more realistically in the political world, anti-abortion.  It blew my mind that just because he operated off of a pro-life platform, people automatically assume he not only has good morals, but actually values life.  Steve King.  The same man who has proven time and time again that he is a racist bigot who doesn't care what he says or who he hurts so long as he's the loudest voice in the room.

But Steve King isn't the only example of a politician who can hang on to his political power by claiming a pro-life agenda.  We see hundreds of examples of politicians who oppose abortion, citing the need to protect the sanctify of life, but then turn around and support the death penalty, fight gun regulation, cut healthcare to those in need, criminalize immigrants, demonize refugees, slut-shame sexual assault survivors, and work to defund our educational system.  These people are not truly valuing life.  They just know speaking out against abortion is going to get them votes.

Image result for planned parenthoodI am a Catholic woman, and I consider myself pro-life.  How I define pro-life, however, probably sounds different than the rhetoric you're used to.  I am not politically pro-life.  I do not beat the drum and shout from the mountaintops about the need to protect unborn babies, but then turn my back on and ignore the needs and the sufferings of people once they've entered this world.  If a person claims to be pro-life, but doesn't bother to try to understand the complexities of the human experience, the differing perspectives that color and shape the choices and beliefs of individuals, then they're not really pro-life.  If a person claims to be pro-life, but refuses to acknowledge the sanctity of the environment, ignores the need to protect the planet rather than exploit it, then they're not really pro-life.  To be truly pro-life means to act with compassion towards others, to try and understand the thoughts and beliefs of those different from yourself, to care just as much for the poor and for the immigrant as you do for the unborn.  To be pro-life means to be an advocate for those in need, to be a good steward of the earth, to be a voice for the voiceless and stand up against injustice.  I am pro-life because I care about the lives of all those around me, and I work to make life better for anyone I can.

As a Catholic, pro-life woman, I support Planned Parenthood.  Congress is currently making moves to take away all federal funding for Planned Parenthood.  They claim to be doing this out of a pro-life perspective, in an effort to stop the organization from providing abortions.  The fact of the matter is, it's already against the law for federal money to go towards abortion services.  The Hyde Amendment, which was passed in 1977, makes it illegal for abortions to be paid for by Medicaid, except in the case of rape, incest, or if the mother's life is threatened.  What then would it really mean for Planned Parenthood to have their government funding taken away?  It would mean millions of people, many low-income who rely on government services to afford basic healthcare, would be without such vital services as cancer screenings, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, access to contraception and safe sex education, prenatal treatments, and pregnancy tests and screenings, just to name a few.  The potential defunding of Planned Parenthood isn't simply an issue of pro-choice vs. anti-choice.  It's a matter of the health and wellness of millions of people vs. the political agendas and manipulations of a privileged few.

There is a great danger in allowing politicians to use morality as an excuse to police and control the personal choices and beliefs of the people they are meant to serve.

In all honesty, though, I stand with Planned Parenthood because I don't care about the politics or moral debates.  I care about people.  I care about the girl seeking judgement free birth control, because her religious upbringing has made her ashamed and scared to talk to her parents about sex.  I care about the single-mother receiving breast exams and care because she can't afford to regularly go anywhere else.  I care about the young pregnant couple, just starting out on their own, who are able to find the prenatal care they need without having to stretch their already tight budget.  I care about the young man seeking treatment for a sexually transmitted disease he didn't know his partner had.  And I care about the young woman who needs a safe place to go for help because she has no where else to turn.

The simple truth is making abortion illegal or harder to acquire isn't going to stop it from happening.  It's just going to make it more dangerous for those who do seek it.  I can understand the conviction those who are staunchly against it have, and their desire to eliminate it as a choice once and for all.  I appreciate the deeply held beliefs many of those people have, and I know that the majority of people who stand against abortion are good people just doing what they believe is right.  I don't see abortion as a good thing, necessarily.  I would like nothing more than to live in a world where abortion is no longer seen as a needed option, but I know making it outright illegal isn't going to accomplish that goal.  It's only a band-aid solution to a host of deeper, more systemic problems in our society.

You want abortion to go away?  Then push for more holistic approaches to safe-sex education that accounts for the emotional responses as well as the bodily ones to sex, and doesn't shy away from the topic of contraception and reproductive healthcare.  Make churches talk more openly about sex as a good given to us by God, and not a shameful, sinful act that we should hide or remain close-mouthed about.  Throw out abstinence-only education and recognize that, ultimately, people are going to make their own choices, follow their own conscience, and if they do have sex outside of marriage, they need to be safe and educated about it.

Start teaching boys and young men not to sexualize girls and woman.  Teach boys not to rape instead of trying to teach girls to not draw attention to themselves.  That only leads to victim-blaming and slut-shaming in the end.  Stop reducing girls and women to their appearance and policing their bodies and dressing choices.  Stop portraying girls as damsels or lesser in strength and value than boys and men, and start recognizing and nurturing their power and tenacity.  Stop thinking that feminism is a bad word, or means anything other than equality among the sexes.

Pro-lifers, don't demonize the women who receive abortions, and start to try and understand the reasons and circumstances surrounding their decision instead.  There are women who choose it freely, but there are many who seek abortions because they simply don't feel like they have any other options.

I care about the defunding of Planned Parenthood because Planned Parenthood is pro-life.  Planned Parenthood is pro-life because pro-life means more than anti-abortion.  It means caring for those in greatest need, sympathizing with those in greatest pain, and showing compassion to those in greatest distress.  It means recognizing that not everyone is going to share your beliefs, but that everyone has a conscience and is able to make choices for themselves.  It means recognizing that, sometimes, we make sacrifices in our own lives so that other people can receive the care and support they need to not only survive, but to thrive.

Ultimately, I stand with Planned Parenthood because I know it's not just about me.  My thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and perspectives are not the only ones that matter in this world.  Just as I wouldn't want anyone to force their beliefs and opinions onto me, I have no right to force my beliefs and opinions onto anyone else.  I can walk with people, I can and should care for people, I can support people, but I can never control people.  And I shouldn't want to.  No one should.  Our government is meant to serve, not to control, and in those times that it does try to step over that line, people of faith, those who are truly pro-life, should be among the first to stand up and push back.  We shouldn't be the ones clearing the way.

Until next time,
Erin B.

P.S. In case you need a little more convincing as to why stepping back and broadening the picture around abortions is important, I highly recommend following this link to watch the video from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:  Abortion Laws 

https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/conception_how_it_works/
http://www.businessinsider.com/defunding-planned-parenthood-abortions-donald-trump-congress-paul-ryan-republicans-2017-1