Friday, January 16, 2015

The Radical Feminist Blues...

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I spoke with a bishop friend this week and asked him to explain to me just exactly what a, “radical feminist” is.  He said he didn’t have the foggiest. 

Since I wrote my last blog article, I’ve been thinking a lot about poor Cardinal Ray Burke.  He would have been a young adult during the Second Vatican Council when Catholics’ proverbial cheese was moved.  Being from Wisconsin where people take their cheese seriously enough to adorn their heads with it during sporting events, I realized that cheese moving is no easy thing for poor Ray.  So, on this whole “respect women” and “women’s equality” thing, he’s just stuck – culturally incapable of moving his cheese.  After all, there’s a Green Bay Packers game this Sunday and that cheese needs to be firmly affixed to his head, like for any good Wisconsin native.

In all seriousness, Ray's father died when he was very young.  I have to wonder how that loss was handled and how all that impacted his development, including his views on gender roles.  He speaks of the importance of manly male fathers forming their children properly, yet it seems his own father was gone long before Ray hit adolescence.  Could he be projecting his romanticized notions of fathers (and mothers) upon the world as ideal based upon a void from his own life?  His words certainly seem to come from an alternate reality than the one I know, but then my father is still with me.  I do not have to imagine what it's like to have a father; I just experience it.

Nonetheless, sometimes when you so insistently remain in one place as Ray tries to do, you wind up moving in comparison to others.  If they move forward, you move backward in comparison.  Similarly one’s actions or inaction can result in unintended consequences.

In my last blog article, I indicated that Ray’s insistence to retain the church’s historical sexist and misogynist culture by declaring the female church was too feminine, he created unintended consequences.  By saying the female church was too feminine he opened the possibility to saying the church’s clergy was too masculine.  Thus, he theologically opened the door for female ordinations. 

Upon further review, he actually created a second more likely unintended consequence.  Ray’s probably going to insist that the clergy must remain male.  And so, by advocating for a more masculine church (which is supposed to be a female married to Christ and his proxies, the clergy) while insisting that the clergy remain 100% male, he is in fact saying that he advocates for the male hierarchy to marry the male church…a model for same sex marriage.

Now I realize these unintended consequences from his vociferous protection of the church’s historical sexist and misogynist attitudes might not be easy for a guy from Wisconsin…it’s more cheese movement.  So, I got to thinking that Cardinal Burke also spent four years as archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri – an historical home of blues music.  With that in mind, the Spirit again moved me to compose a song on behalf of Ray.  I call it, “The Radical Feminist Blues.”

Here’s a link to the YouTube vocal recording of the song. http://youtu.be/W86buxwFh04

Here are the lyrics:

The Radical Feminist Blues

Now poor Ray, he ain’t got a clue
What radical feminists actually do
He’s got the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, says it ain’t o.k.
For women to do stuff ‘cept pay, pray, obey
He’s got the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, thinks it’s absurd
For women in the church to actually be heard
It gives him the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Workin’ and prayin’ and fashion displayin’, he’s got the radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, he thinks it’s a fright
If women should have equal rights
It gives him the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, thinks it’s pretty shoddy
That women might know what’s best for their body
It gives him the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, finds it silly
Unless women dress like him, really frilly
It gives him the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Workin’ and prayin’ and stylin’ and brayin’, he’s got the radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, He doesn’t find it funny
When women help the poor but don’t send him money
It gives him the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, feels the earth falter
Whenever he sees a woman on the altar
It gives him the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, it makes his hair curl
To even think of an altar girl
It gives him the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Workin’ and prayin’ ‘til his hair is grayin’, he’s got the radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, feels his manhood decline
Unless he’s surrounded by men of his kind
He gets the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, says genders complement
As long as the women stay in their own tent
Or else it’s the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Now poor Ray, he likes women a lot
Just not to hang with, that's moral rot
It gives him the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

Workin’ and prayin’ and fashion displayin’, he’s got the radical feminist blues
Workin’ and prayin’ and stylin’ and brayin’, he’s got the radical feminist blues
Workin’ and prayin’ ‘til his hair is grayin’, he’s got the radical feminist blues, radical feminist blues

His cheese got moved; it cramped his groove
Poor Ray…

Friday, January 9, 2015

Jesus, Please Send Us More Manly Men

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Mystery solved.  Raymond Cardinal Burke will star in the “Our Gang” sequel, “Spanky Gets Older But Never Grows Up.”   He does somewhat resemble Spanky McFarland, does he not?

The plotline would center completely on Spanky (a.k.a. Cardinal Burke) trying to resurrect his “He-man Woman Haters Club” through hosting Catholic Men’s Conferences around the world.  I can see no other explanation for Burke spouting such unsubstantiated sexist psychobabble about raising “manly men” in his interview on the Misogynists-R-Us website, “The New E-man-gelization.”  (By the way, if you’d like a veritable “Who’s Who” list of Catholic sexist and misogynist speakers, direct your eyes to the right nav list entitled, “Men’s Conference Speakers” on this site.  I attended the Michigan Statewide Catholic Men’s Conference a few years ago and heard several of these guys speak and it was hour upon hour of non-stop Burke-esque sexisms, misogyny, and poor theology.)

As you may recall, Cardinal Burke was recently reassigned from being Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura...somewhat the chief justice of the Vatican’s highest court…to being the Patron of the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta.  After reading Burke’s full interview transcript, it should crystallize in your mind why Pope Francis re-assigned Burke to be the spiritual guide of a Middle Ages religious order.  It would seem that is his preferred time period in which to operate.

Without reading the transcript, you can probably guess the sorts of things Burke says…women and gays are to blame for men leaving the church and clergy shortages…girls shouldn’t be altar servers because they lack the proper discipline and reverence…an undefined group of “radical feminists” scared men from getting married because women keep demanding rights and somehow this confused guys so they decided to be gay instead…manly men need to dress like men and then they'll want to be priests…children need their dads to be “real men” who are clear, firm and disciplined – evidently qualities he feels mothers incapable of demonstrating.  There was a 100+ car pile-up in Michigan tonight and I think women might be responsible for that too.

Burke says it’s natural for males to eschew hanging out with females.  He also advises priests to encourage developing manly men by being manly themselves and by giving special attention to other men.  This should not in any way be confused with a same sex attraction on the part of the cleric, I guess.  Eschewing women and giving men special attention is, according to Burke, the best way to be manly.  Why do I suddenly find myself contemplating if Burke was a “Village People” fan?

If you know Burke’s clerical fashionista tendencies, you are probably still collecting yourself after reading his highly ironic statement that men need to dress like manly men.  Burke’s outfits have a definitive effeminate air and likely have more silk, lace and bling per square inch than any other living ordained cleric or woman…anywhere…on this planet.    

I don’t have the time or ambition to offer point by point corrections to his numerous factually unfounded statements.   However, I do feel it important to highlight Burke’s apparent gross theological error.  It is so significant that I question his fitness to act as an apostle. 

Burke said that the church was “too feminine” and this scared away men.  Excuse me Ray, but Catholic theology teaches that Holy Mother Church is in fact a real honest to goodness, actual factual female.  Thus, there is no such thing as the church being “too feminine.” 

If Ray wants to tamper with making the female church more manly, then perhaps he is also open to making the male clergy more feminine?  You see, the church hierarchy defines the church’s anthropology as hinging on having real men as priests marry the real-deal female church.  The hierarchy teaches this as foundational for establishing male/female only marriages – they must imitate and reflect this mystical union between the male clergy and female church. 

If Ray thinks the female church needs to be more manly, it stands to reason that he thinks it’s ok that women serve in the male clergy role.  Extra! Extra! Read all about it; Cardinal Burke makes theological case for ordaining women!  Thanks, Ray. 

Anyway, when I read Burke’s "manly men" statements, I find myself humming country tunes about pick-up trucks, dogs, tight jeans and misfortune.  So, let’s just say maybe that’s what inspired me to compose this short pray in song form – as a little “thank you” to Ray for indirectly creating a slam-dunk theological case for women’s ordination.

Here's the link to the YouTube of the song:
http://youtu.be/AzTO6zdtQVU
And, here are the lyrics if you’d like to sing along:

Jesus, Please Send Us More Manly Men
Jesus, please send us more manly men
The kind who like to dress up like a man
Wearing dresses on the altar of God

Jesus, please send us more manly men
The kind who don’t like no girls next to them
Wearing dresses on the altar of God

Jesus, please send us more manly men
The kind giving special attention to other men
Wearing dresses on the altar of God

Jesus, please send us more manly men
Selfless and disciplined to take rights from women
Wearing dresses on the altar of God


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reflections on Mary's "yes"...

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New Year’s Day brings us a Marian Feast Day, a day upon which many clergy will extol the virtues of Mary’s “yes.”  Calling Mary’s response a “yes” implies there was a question with the possibility of answering “no.”  But, did Mary really have a choice?  

In Luke’s gospel the angel Gabriel didn’t seem to ask Mary a question when he announced her impending pregnancy.  He didn’t say, “Mary, what do you think about becoming pregnant before you get married?”  Or, “Mary, would you be willing to have the Holy Spirit impregnate you even though this could totally screw up the partially transacted business deal of your marriage to Joseph and get you stoned to death?”  He just said it was going to happen and that she shouldn’t worry.  Gabriel’s statements were declarative not interrogative.    

In Matthew’s gospel, the announcement didn’t even come to Mary; it came to Joseph - who according to Mosaic Law did have options…quietly end the betrothal, accuse Mary of being damaged goods or complete the betrothal process and marry her, likely for a lower bride price.   Mary’s religious, social and legal status largely depended upon what Joseph said and did, not what she said or did.      

The non-canonical gospel of James offers some insight into Mary’s early life, telling us Mary’s parents, Anna and Joachim, donated her to be a temple virgin when she was about three years old.  If I had done similarly with any of my daughters, I would probably be in prison for child neglect or human trafficking.   However, the church sings the praises of Anna and Joachim, calling them saints.

What is the likelihood a child donated at and conditioned since three possesses sufficient critical thinking skills to realize, assess and exercise any of her options, limited and unpalatable as they may be?   

Some might dismiss this with a hand-wave, saying that those were different times - and they were.  Children and women were considered property with zero to few rights.  They had very little legal voice to oppose authority.   Would she have even thought “no” was a possible response?

According to Luke’s infancy narrative, Mary’s response to Gabriel’s announcement was that things should be done unto her according to Gabriel’s word.  That seems predictable based upon her childhood experiences…pretty ho-hum given the context, some might say.  Personally, I would be more amazed if she had said, “Gabe, Thanks, but no.”  Please note, I’ve not found saying “no thanks” to God to be a consistently reliable technique for God sparing me from things I do not want to endure.  So even if Mary said “Gabe…not gonna lie on this one…not loving your tidings…please tell the Lord to favor someone else” would that have prevented her pregnancy according to her wishes?

More interesting to me than Mary’s “yes” was her referring to herself as a “handmaiden of the Lord.”  In ancient Hebrew culture, a handmaiden’s married female owner could order the handmaiden to sleep with her husband to conceive a child on her behalf if the wife was unable to conceive.  Sarah ordering her handmaiden, Haggar, to sleep with Abraham to bear a child is such an example. 

The husband could not order the handmaiden to be sexual proxy for his wife; only the wife could do this.  Therefore, I wonder if Mary carried feminine rather than masculine imagery of God…in that her response was to consider herself conceiving a child as proxy for God…something culturally she would only do for her female owner?

We actually know almost no facts about Mary.  Over the years, myths evolved adding details based upon supposition and imagination rather than fact.  Eventually some of the details within those myths were declared infallible doctrine by Popes Pius IX and Pius XII - her being conceived immaculately/free from original sin, and her being assumed into heaven - sucked up by a Holy Hoover vacuum cleaner into heaven rather than taking the standard route by dying.  As an aside, her perpetual virginity has never been declared infallible doctrine, although it is doctrine.

Though we know little about Mary, we know a little more about Mosaic Law and the status of women at the time.  In some respects it offered women a degree of financial security not offered in other cultures at the time.  But if you read the various details regarding women’s virginity and legal implications for tampering with it, you see that women get a pretty raw deal.  They are property; they are objects upon which to be acted; their punishments are more severe, etc…  The list of marginalizing aspects is long.

Fast forward through history to today and we see that though some women have progressed in financial and physical security, discriminatory and marginalizing attitudes ingrained over thousands of years are difficult to shed.  Attitudes depicting women as dependent objects lead to practices that make them dependent objects.  For example, many girls around the globe prostitute themselves just to get a secondary or university education because their families believe formal education for girls is frivolous - females are to depend upon their fathers until they depend upon a husband.  Practices like this have led to a disproportionately large percentage of adults in poverty being women.  I have read statistics as high as 70% of impoverished adults are women. 

Pope Francis says he’s an advocate for both the poor and women.  A true advocate for the poor must be an advocate for women because they are to a large extent “the poor.”  A sincere advocate for the poor would also try to help alter the circumstances leading to poverty.  With women, this includes offering education and eradicating attitudes and practices defining women as dependent upon men.  This includes eradicating attitudes and practices that artificially limit women’s chances based upon gender. 

Unfortunately, I have not yet heard Pope Francis acknowledge the connection between poverty and the marginalization of women.  With his supporting institutionalized sexist practices in the church that emerge from its gender-based ideology while at the same time declaring feminists’ efforts at empowering women as “demonic gender-based ideology”, he seems primarily to reinforce regressive attitudes about women – attitudes that jeopardize their financial and physical security – attitudes that place more women in poverty.   Furthermore, Francis can’t seem to speak about women without sexist drivel and/or sexist jokes escaping from his mouth.  It makes his statements about valuing women ring hollow.  Meanwhile, his actions to support his words take a long time to occur and have been underwhelming when they finally do – to the point that they seem largely to be token gestures.

Even in a developed nation with great progress towards women’s empowerment, I am experiencing the downstream effect of the rock-star popular Francis repeatedly making sexist jokes.  For example, Christmas Eve Mass the priest told us the highest ministry a woman could have was to make cookies for a priest…har-dee-har-har.  If an executive made such a sexist comment at my secular job, the executive would be reprimanded or possibly fired depending upon severity.  But there are few people willing to go against the grain and call Francis out for his sexist statements.  This gives a sense of normalcy or invincibility to downstream clergy.  They can make similar sexist comments without fear of repercussions.  This also works against empowering women and ultimately increases their poverty.

Another area causing severe poverty ties to women’s reproductive health – an area where the church increasingly tries to eliminate women’s options, making “yes” the only “answer” regarding conceiving children.  Perhaps this explains or mirrors the clergy’s fixation with Mary’s non-optional “yes.”  Is giving women actual options truly something to fear to the point of restricting them?

Rather than prattle on about Mary and her “yes,” I ask Francis and the clergy to shed the scales from their eyes that blind them from seeing the role church hierarchy’s centuries of gender-based ideology plays in determining women’s economic options.  I ask them to stop the disparagement of feminism and feminist theology that empower women by helping them actually address the causes of poverty via developing self-confidence and independence.  Such theology is not afraid to be surprised by what the Holy Spirit asks women to do as it places no limitations around what the Holy Spirit can or will do.  When I see marked progress in these areas, then I will believe that the rock-star pope is a sincere advocate for women and consequently the vast majority of the poor.

I acknowledge Francis has done some heart-warming gestures in support of giving comfort to the poor.  But, when is he going to address the core issues causing so many women to live with their children in poverty?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Spiritual Fruit Salad...

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Just before I read reports of his Christmas address to the Vatican Curia, I was wondering if Pope Francis ever actually received the Christmas card and other letters I’ve sent him.  He doesn’t write…; he doesn’t call…; he doesn’t visit…  What’s a girl to think?

However, now I think it’s possible he has received my mail because his “15 Ailments of the Curia” echo many concerns I’ve expressed in my missives.  If you’ve not read his list, I encourage you to do so.  

As much as I appreciate Francis acknowledging and even chastising the hierarchy for its arrogance, hubris, insensitivity, hypocrisy, insecurity, self-absorption, fear and unhappiness resulting in over-bearing, domineering, control-freak, career-climbing, self-promoting, money-grubbing, gossiping, suck-up, fashionista hierarchy members who travel in cliques, his litany had a glaring omission: the ailment of “sexism.”   I don’t know why he overlooked that ailment unless maybe it’s one that plagues him or one he does not acknowledge.  Regardless, without addressing it, the other ailments will never be fully addressed. 

I actually believe that tackling Pope Francis’ list of 15 without correcting the ailment of sexism likely will just make a sick turn of the crank grinding women down further within the church and society.  I don’t know if that would be an intended or unintended consequence but humble, sensitive, secure, confident and happy sexists are still sexists.  One might argue that such sexists are even more destructive ones because their charm wins people’s confidence enabling them to manipulate and abuse people more easily.  

I think Francis would bristle at being labeled a sexist.  I think he probably envisions himself a very pro-female kind of guy what with him appointing 5 whole women to his 30 person International Theological Commission.  That mentality is fairly common amongst people of Francis’ and my parents’ generation.  They are so indoctrinated into promoting a gender ideology of females’ limitations and duties, that they often see their sexism as just a factual manifestation of nature…”it’s just how things are…”  And though some such folks believe themselves to be rather equality-minded, their face-palm worthy sexist statements and actions belie the gender ideology to which they are enslaved.


Historically, women and their anatomy have been frequently compared to many fruits: peaches, apples, melons, cherries to name a few.  These tend to be degrading sexual metaphors.  However, some people from my father’s generation actually think they’re paying a compliment when they admire a woman's “melons.”  Lack of appreciation for such “compliments” simply baffles these folks.   Francis calling women theologians “strawberries upon a cake” might fall into this genre of sexism.  It might not.  

And while Francis might see magnanimity in him having 16% female representation on his theological commission, I see it as woefully inadequate.  Numerous qualified women theologians could bring the commission to an equal 50/50 split right now, today, no waiting.  Yet, my lack of appreciation for Francis’ “magnanimity” might befuddle sexists in the crowd.  My mathematical competence that realizes 16% is markedly less than 50% somehow gets confused with the word, "ingrate."

Perhaps rather than having sexually inappropriate undertones Francis just meant he thinks male theologians provide the foundational substance (cake) of theological thought and women theologians add superficial, yet palatable adornments (strawberries) to that foundation making it more attractive to consume; I don’t know.  But, I would expect a non-sexist to say something like this, “Women theologians are like male theologians; the depth and breadth of their diverse experiences of God are intrinsic to the very substance of theology.”

I discussed Francis’ “women theologians are like strawberries on a cake” statement recently with my youngest daughter (in her 20s) while eating her strawberry adorned birthday cake.  She mused that since strawberries atop a cake provide the only healthy nutritional part of it, maybe Francis believes women theologians provide the healthiest theological contributions.  If Francis’ few female leadership appointees prove to do anything other than mirror or smear frosting on 2,000 years’ of male theologians’ cake, I’ll agree with her. 

However, Francis overlooked female theologians such as Elizabeth Johnson who might actually act as a conduit for the “freshness, fantasy and novelty” of the Holy Spirit that Francis says he greatly desires.  He instead opted to appoint female theologians that seem to parrot what the guys have already said.  Francis, why are you so reluctant to letting the Spirit blow where it will when it comes to women?

By the way, Francis, a friendly warning here…When I acknowledge those same ailments in your list of 15, I’m labeled a “clergy-hater” or “church-destroyer”, so brace yourself...  But don’t be discouraged.  When people feel threatened, they often label and try to discredit the source of their threat.  Sometimes they even try to accuse the opposition of doing what they actually do.  It’s kind of like how the church hierarchy has peddled gender ideology for about two thousand years but now people who call the church out for this sexist practice get labeled by you as “demonic” peddlers of gender ideology.

Bottom line: whether or not Ray Burke wins Cardinal fashionista of the century, whether or not George Pell, Sean O’Malley and Tim Dolan avoid headlines and talk shows, whether or not the hierarchy starts interacting more frequently and directly with their flocks, it will not make your gender ideology that artificially limits women’s abilities any more acceptable.  Possession of a uterus does not magically or biologically make women more qualified to wash clothes, bake cookies, change diapers, make coffee, run photocopies or type documents.  Nor does it make them less qualified to think and lead.  In a globally connected world with instantaneous communication abilities as well as economic opportunities for women, taking centuries to correct errors and imbalances that could be corrected instantly just does not cut it.

Dear brother Francis, please be guided by the words of Michael Jackson…look at the man in the mirror and “if you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make that change.”  I appreciate you are doing this on many fronts but in the area of women, it is far too little, far too slow and suffers setbacks by your intermittent sexist statements. 

I welcome the opportunity to share with you the "freshness, fantasy and novelty" of the Spirit that blows through me.  Please feel free to visit when you're in the U.S. or give me a call anytime.