Tag Archives: feminism

Tensegrity

6 May
woman-of-faith

Photo via Flickr user Theresa Huse

A student of mine wrote the following and asked for my response:

I am fully starting to grapple with being a feminist Catholic, and am personally finding this to be somewhat of an existential crisis. I cannot remove my heightened sensitivity to anything gendered away from me– especially in the faith that I hold so dear and want so badly to participate fully in.

There are no easy answers, but here is part of my living, breathing response. Mary Hess, a Catholic feminist I deeply respect, long ago introduced me to the architectural term tensegrity. It is a word describing tensional integrity. When multiple things are held in tension, it makes the structure stronger. In my being, Catholic and feminist are so often in tension with each other inside my body. I do believe, although the tension can be uncomfortable and even painful, ultimately it makes me stronger.

I lean on the writing of other feminist Catholics, and other feminist women of faith like Dorothy Day, Joan Chitister, Anne Lamott, Marie Howe, Kathleen Norris, Karen Armstrong, Elizabeth Johnson, Rachel Held Evans and Dorothee Solle, to name a few. I welcome their voices, their truth into my head and heart. I lean on the strength of the nuns, the liberation theologians, the lovers of Christ, the feminists who are living for peace day in and day out, quietly or not so quietly transforming our communities. I study the history of dual anthropology and mind-body dualism. I read our creation stories, where I am created in the image of God, very good. I read about the women in the gospel who actually got it, and Jesus’ radical way of seeing them. I read the Bible from the perspective of the women and wonder who they were.

I remind myself that women are the ones who have presided over the table since the beginning of time. I meditate on the power my body has to bear a child and breastfeed that child and how that is a real, powerful, gorgeous iteration of love. I understand, in a small way, the phrase, “Here is my body, broken for you.”

I believe institutions must be moved from the inside. I hold onto my jurisdiction and teach equity where I have earned trust, where my voice is valued. When my Lutheran and Presbyterian friends invite me to preach, I say yes.

I write. And teach. And write some more. After all this, it still hurts. It’s still not always enough. Humans are broken. We draw lines that God does not see. As a feminist Catholic, my heart is continually disappointed. If we stay awake to our gender and our faith, it doesn’t get easier.

I wake up, and try again. I live in the tension, tall and strong. And this is faith.

 

Female Leadership in Religious Academia

10 Apr

I like to watch trends in female hiring. I asked my brother, who is a stand-up comedian, if he thought there was anything to the fact that women are being asked to host the celebrity award shows. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosted the Golden Globes just before Ellen DeGeneres hosted the Oscars, all with extremely positive reviews. He said, “I think it shows that Hollywood has now seen (through the hard work of proving it by these women) that you can build strong female leads into a profitable industry. All of this obviously has been predicated by other talented women, but I think this generation has proven women’s humor for men and women can make money. Which I think opens a huge door for networks to take more chances on other female oriented pilots. Not to mention that these women are just good at entertaining.” There is a talent aspect, yes, but I agree with my brother that this too comes down to money. We now, finally, live in a world where women like Tina, Amy and Ellen can make money in a very male-dominated industry to the point where it is financially advisable to hire them for big award shows.

Being a woman who likes following trends in female hiring, then, my interest was also piqued when I got a note from my undergrad and graduate institutions that they both appointed female presidents. On August 21, my post Female Leadership in the Church discussed Rev. Elizabeth Eaton being named presiding bishop of the ELCA church. Her appointment made her the first ever female presiding bishop of the ELCA church. The post says:

She believes Jesus meant it when he said that all people can serve.  She speaks about asking young people, “What are you longing for?  What brings you joy?  What keeps you up at night?  Well, let me tell you a story.”  Her election to the position of presiding bishop is noteworthy.  It is an interesting time in the Lutheran church.

Now, ELCA Lutheran academic institutions seem to be following suit. On July 1, Rebecca M. Bergman will start serving as the first female president of Gustavus Adolphus College, my alma mater. Bergman shifts to Gustavus after a successful career as a chemical engineer. Also on July 1, Paula J. Carlson will be Luther College’s tenth president. Previously she was the vice president for mission at St. Olaf College. She, too, will be the first female president at Luther College. Then just in March, Luther Seminary, also my alma mater, announced that Rev. Dr. Robin L. Steinke will take office on June 1 as the first female president of the seminary. She is coming to Luther Seminary after fifteen years at  the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. It continues to be an interesting time in the Lutheran church when women are taking the call to step up into strategic positions of leadership.

It’s not just the Lutherans. On April 3, Le Moyne College appointed Linda LeMura as the school’s fourteenth president. The unanimous appointment made her the first lay woman president at any Jesuit college or university in the world. She joins the group of women making firsts and making news across denominations. Part of me is amazed that it took until 2013 for these institutions to elect female presidents. Women have been at the heart of good education for as long as we can remember. Put the truth is that presidents are responsible, too, for bringing serious money into these institutions, and well, men still have an inordinate amount of power in that sector. Men are still associated with being the face of power in religious institutions. The appointment of women as president in these religious academic institutions is a sign, I believe, that the workforce and access to financial power is shifting slowly toward equity.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:28

Feminism in Faith

12 Mar

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th, I wanted to promote Buzzfeed’s article Feminism in Faith: Four Women Who Are Revolutionizing Organized Religion.

Sister Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ

Sister Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ

The article highlights four women working within their faith community to bring about change:

Sara Hurwitz: the first publicly ordained Orthodox Jewish Rabba

Kate Kelly: an attorney getting the issue of ordination of Mormon women in the public eye

Elizabeth Johnson: a Catholic feminist theologian, nun and professor working for female ordination

Zainah Anwar: a Muslim journalist and advocate working to reinterpret the Qur’an’s verses that lead to taking multiple wives and beating wives

The article asks:

Why bother? Why fight? If you’re an educated feminist who was born into such a religion, why not convert to another that doesn’t relegate women to a second-class status? For each of these women, the answer relates to not only her devotion to her own faith, but to her community. This is no small thing: By a rough estimation, there are nearly a billion and a half women on Earth who are Orthodox Jewish, Mormon, Catholic, or Muslim.

Take a moment today to learn more about these women who are working for equality in their faith communities.

Who would you add to the list?

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