Who Cares?

Who cares…

I wonder that some days. Actually, I wonder that a lot of days. I scroll through Twitter and Facebook. I interact with people I know very well and many I don’t know at all. For almost seven years now, I have kept this blog, not always as faithfully as I would have liked but I’m human and I do the best I can. I’ve shared my ups, my downs, my doubts, my fears, my hopes, my mountaintops, my valleys and my deserts. So what?  Who cares? I’m one woman. I’m no saint. I have no answers to life’s great questions.

And yet, I continue to write. I continue to share my life with not only with those I know well but with those I know not at all.  Why? Because to quote the poet Sylvia Path, “I write only because there is a voice inside me that will not be still.”  I continue to write and to share even when I come under attack.  Why? In the words of comedian Ron White, “I had the right to remain silent. I did not have the ability.”

No really, I don’t. I’m still sifting through my long Twitter exchange with Fr Paul last weekend.  Why not just shut the laptop and walk away?  Why get sucked into a debate with someone with far better credentials than my own?  Why continue to publicly argue about my personal life?  With someone who has no bearing on my life whatsoever?

Because it’s not just me.

I am not the only one.

And somebody needs to speak up.

The funny thing is I had spent last Friday and part of Saturday morning rereading my writings, both public and private, about my struggles over the past year or so. I was preparing to meet with my spiritual director that coming Monday and it has long been my habit to review where I am spiritually and emotionally before those sessions. So when the debate started, I already knew precisely where I stood. I know. I know. Fr Paul will be howling heresy and pride and God only knows what else.

But here’s the rub. I have heard privately from many other women over the past year or so. Some wholeheartedly disagree with me. Some have found peace and wish that I could as well. Some are deeply distressed over the Catholic Church’s teachings. Some consider leaving or already have left. Some stay and continue to struggle, feeling dishonest and disconnected. I don’t try to sway anyone to one way of thinking or another. That is not my place. We all have to wrestle with God in our own way. And let’s face it, He always wins in the end. But the thing that bothers me so deeply is when I hear women say they have no one to turn to, no one to have an honest, open, heartfelt, non-judgmental conversation with about this subject. That is because the attitude expressed by Fr Paul above is the attitude of many in the Catholic Church, ordained and laity.  Who cares? Church teaching is church teaching is church teaching is church teaching. So suck it up Buttercup. Tow the line and shut your yap. Or else…

It seems like someone should care. So I ask, and not for the first time, How do you shepherd women if you won’t hear them?  How do help them find healing when you won’t see the wounds? How do you know what their experiences are if you don’t listen, really, truly listen with a deep and honest empathy? How do you guide women who are too afraid to really say what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling and what they’re experiencing in their relationship with their God?

In many ways, the relationship between individuals and their church is like a marriage. Any marriage has many moving parts, but any good marriage has a solid foundation of trust and love. If one partner cannot speak honestly out of fear of repercussions, trust fades rapidly. As trust fades, the relationship begins to falter.

One cannot truly love without trust. Without trust and without love, the relationship will fail.

So who cares what one individual says?

Who cares if one woman leaves the Catholic Church?

Will you care when two women leave?

Will you care when five women leave?

Will you care when twenty women leave?

When will you care?

Because if there is going to be a real, loving relationship between the Catholic Church and her people, somebody has to care enough to have the conversation.

Trust

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Yesterday, I had my day planned out. Spend some time at the beach, bake a batch of cookies while I worked on my homework, frame out a blog post, and cook a nice meatloaf dinner. Long about noon, I came home from the beach and took a quick scroll through Twitter. I retweeted a link by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan calling for Pope Francis to recognize women’s ordination. Nothing new there for me. I openly support Catholic women who call for the ordination of women. Anybody who knows me knows that. Within a minute of tweeting that link, a Catholic priest pounced on me. That led to a debate. Five hours of debate in tweets of 140 characters or less. It was not the way I planned to spend my Saturday.

And yet, it was time incredibly well spent. I was told I am a heretic, selfish, stupidly misguided, emotional, full of rage and guilt, ignorant of scripture, lack doctrinal formation, lack objectivity, have an unformed conscience and am in desperate need of a stricter confessor. All of these failings have taken me out of the arms of the Catholic Church and out of the arms of Jesus. So my dear readers, read on at your own mortal peril.

I know my views on women’s ordination are considered heretical by the Catholic Church. I’ve wrestled with that view for years. I don’t take the church’s views lightly, nor do I suggest anyone else should. And ultimately, after study and prayer and discussion, I made the decision to follow my conscience and to trust in the truth of my experience of God’s love. The Catholic Church has always held the primacy of conscience and taught that individuals must follow their conscience even if they are wrong. (Vatican II, On Religious Liberty 1965)

So then who gets to decide what is truth? So who gets to decide what Jesus truly intended? This is why we need a church community: to challenge us and hold us accountable. It is why I have shied away from the spiritual-but-not-religious views that many people take up after becoming disillusioned with religion. Religious tradition serves a purpose and that is to lead us closer to God. My Catholic pastor has been known to say openly that if religious tradition is not leading you closer to God, it isn’t working for you. Find one that will. But don’t try to con God. Be honest with Him. It’s the only way the relationship can grow. I know many faithful Catholic women who have struggled with the church’s teaching on women’s ordination. Some find that they accept the doctrine as truth. Are they wrong?  No. They have followed their conscience, as must we all.

The Catholic Church brought me closer to God and there have been days when I wish it hadn’t. It would be easier to show up Sunday after Sunday, halfheartedly shuffle forward to receive Communion, mumble through an obligatory confession a few times a year and go back to my everyday life with God safely tucked away in the tabernacle where He can’t wreak havoc on my life. But it did bring me closer. I found love, compassion, forgiveness and was challenged to show others the same. Along the way, I found the landmines and roadblocks that keep people from coming back to the church. I found people who, like me, equated the Catholic Church with God. If the Catholic Church rejected them for whatever reason, then in their mind God had likewise rejected them. And that is a dangerous lie. Jesus came for the lost, the broken, the sinners, not just the elect few. No one who cried out to Him went unheard or unanswered.

Yesterday was one of those days when I wished I could keep silent and found that I could not. I had things to do! And yet, I could not let the Twitter tirade go unchallenged. I poured out my convictions 140 characters at a time. The church is greater than the Roman Catholic Church. It is the community of all believers and belongs to all those who seek Jesus with an honest heart. To deny women ordination is to deny that women are also made in the image of God and other denominations have accepted that truth. That my disobedience to Rome is not disobedience to God. That becoming Protestant was not slapping God in the face but running into His arms. If in the end, after having followed my conscience to a religious tradition which brings me closer to God, if then I am wrong, He will not slam a door in my face. He knows my heart, my wounds, my scars and my desires. And most importantly, nothing can ever take me out of His arms. I am His and I trust Him.

Yes, I said it. I trust Him. I trust Him above all else. Especially above the threats of judgment and hell and condemnation. I did not arrive at this place lightly or easily. But I am where I am and my Shepherd knows my path. At the end of a long, heated debate, Fr. Paul told me he wouldn’t want to be me on the Last Day. Because if he is wrong, no biggie. But I am wrong, yikes. But from the way I see it, if I am wrong, I trust in God’s love and His mercy. I make no claims to have the right answers. But if Fr. Paul is wrong, how many people will he have browbeat into staying in a dishonest relationship with their God, encouraging them to maintain a false fidelity to church over an honest struggle for truth out of fear of hellfire and damnation? And which then is the greater sin? I trust that in the all-encompassing light of God’s love, it will cease to matter.

Morning After Reaction: Like a Girl

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Like most people, I tuned into the Super Bowl last night.  My team wasn’t in it and neither were any of my secondary favorites so I was in it for the commercials and half-time show and hoped the game wouldn’t be a boring blowout win.  I was reading and posting up-to-the minute reactions to what I saw on the television screen on both Twitter and Facebook. There was a pretty obvious marketing shift this year from past years.  Gone were the overly sexy commercials with nearly naked women selling everything from sneakers to websites to beer. Mercifully missing were the Viagra and Cialis ads, although Fiat’s nod to the ‘little blue pill’ was quite clever. In their place were ads featuring emotional, tear-jerker themes: McDonald’s ‘Call Your Mom’, Dove’s ‘Daddy’, Nissan’s ‘Cat in the Cradle’,  and of course, Budweiser’s ‘Lost Puppy’.  But then came Liam Neeson, then Pierce Brosnan and every woman I know (myself included) swooned.  The NFL’s anti-domestic violence ad and the Always ‘Like a Girl’ ad were definitively meant to raise women up. Katy Perry is the first female act in a long time who managed to be reasonably clothed as were her backup dancers.  Their 50’s style bikinis covered more than the typical NFL cheerleader’s uniform.  Okay, wait a minute here – did the NFL finally get the message that women actually watch and enjoy football?

It’s okay – there was some balance.  Tough guys with their trucks were present as always.  The Cure.com ads featured some short puerile jokes about balls which my teenage boys found absolutely hilarious and I have to admit I couldn’t help but snicker. And Victoria’s Secret was there to remind us that half-starved underwear models still reign supreme.  And the trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey – well – that could’ve waited until post-game thank you very much.  My twelve-year old son really doesn’t need to know about Christian Grey’s ‘playroom’.

The one that captured the heart of Twitter last night was ‘Like a Girl’.  I have over 300 followers on Twitter and about seventy percent of those are ordained clergy and religious of various denominations.  Within minutes the Protestant Twitterverse lit up with posts like: I preach like a girl.  I lead a church like a girl.  I study the theology of Barth and Kierkegaard like a girl. And what was especially awesome to see was the ordained men who posted: “To women clergy: you don’t just lead ‘like a girl’ but ‘like a woman’ and that is equally wonderful.”

And the Catholic clergy?  Radio silence. C’mon guys – really?!  Nothing to say about the sisters who founded the Catholic schools and hospitals?  Nothing to say about the sisters on the frontlines of Catholic social justice?  Nada?!  Not even a shoutout to the all female directors of faith formation and theology professors?!  And the sisters were no better. Not a peep on that one. Plenty about the steady stream of heart-tugging commercials but not one word on Like A Girl.

Why so quiet? The Catholic Church is supposedly in need of the feminine genius and Pope Francis and other church leaders are calling for women leaders to serve in a variety of key leadership roles in the Church. But I have to wonder, is that real or is it merely showmanship?  Because for every bishop and cardinal who openly supports an increased role for women, there is a Fr. Illo who bans girls from serving on the altar because that is a priestly function and somehow altar girls take that away from the boys who would serve. Ordaining women is still non-negotiable and any real, meaningful power in the Church remains firmly in the hands of men and women are beholden to the whims of those men.

But there are those who make the argument that men and women are meant to be complementary, to serve in different roles. Okay, so in a good, healthy marriage, tasks aren’t divided by outdated stereotypical gender roles but by personal strengths and weaknesses.  I have a brother who does all the ironing, because he’s better at a straight crease than his wife.  Is he less manly? Hardly. I have a sister-in-law who rebuilds cars. Is she less feminine?  Not at all. For generations now, we’ve had men serve in the priestly role that requires not only the leadership skills generally associated with maleness, but also kindness, gentleness, tenderness, deep compassion and nurturing traits which are associated with femaleness. So it raises the question, if a man can embrace his total self, made in God’s image, which is neither male nor female but both, then why can’t a woman?

There are Catholic women who have all the qualities to make good priests. There are Catholic women who feel they have been called by God to serve His people, in His church, on His altar. But women with such a calling are faced with two roads: Be ordained a Catholic priest and be excommunicated for heresy or leave to be ordained by another denomination.

So what? There are Catholic women who are happy with the way things are now. Why do we need women priests anyway?  Simply put, there is a serious lack of perspective when only one voice is being heard.  Remember Archie Bunker? From that ‘time when girls were girls and men were men‘?  Whatever he said went. Period. And Edith always went along with him, even when he was being an idiot, because she loved him. But just because she loved him, it didn’t make him right. If the Catholic Church continues along this path of all-male perspective all the time in a world where women have learned to embrace all of their strengths, including those formerly reserved only for men, they run the risk of becoming the Archie Bunker of Christianity. And for a force as large and powerful as the Catholic Church, that would be a very sad state of affairs.

As for me, I cried the first time I heard a woman pray the consecration. Some part of me that I had locked away long ago came to life again. To see a woman on the altar and to hear a woman preach breathed new life into my soul. Not because the men I heard all these years were wrong to preach like men but because she is also right to preach like a woman.