Tag Archives: Gender

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.

 

On Gender

9 Jan
Photo via Flickr user  Christine Szeto

Photo via Flickr user Christine Szeto

There is no distinction…between male and female (Galatians 3:28).

“It’s a girl.”

My friend and her husband went in for an ultrasound last week which unveiled the sex of the baby growing in my friend’s womb. Upon hearing the news, they were filled with conflicting emotions. They admitted to us, a week later, that they were a little disappointed for a moment, and then they felt guilty for that disappointment. Almost immediately after finding out, they were excitedly considering girl names. But they are a tad bit haunted by their initial gut, snap reaction : deep down, for just a fleeting moment, they really preferred if their baby was a boy.

In our world, gender matters. It matters a lot. My friends had to fully admit this in light of their reaction to hearing, “It’s a girl.” After, when they could apply more nuanced thinking, they knew that gender wouldn’t limit their joy as parents. They would love their child so much no matter what. Her gender will not limit her from wrestling with her dad or being good at science or looking adorable in blue. Yet gender does matter in our society, so much, that part of their longer, more intense reflection about their first born went to worrying about pressures that young women tend to face more than young men in our society– a focus on looks and weight and superficial ideals of perfection. Women still tend to get paid less, hold positions of power less and are the victims of assault more often. Their hesitation was not personal so much as it was an acknowledgment that our society still is set up for life to be a little easier for men.

On our way home from dinner with these friends, my spouse and I talked about that first moment when the medical professionals uttered to us after our baby was born, “It’s a boy.” We talked about the feelings that ran through us that first moment and since, knowing that we had a son to raise. We had a baby to hold and love moments after we were informed of its sex, which helped. We could love and hold that person who happened to be a boy, and we got all wrapped up in his humanness that transcends gender. Still, we are raising him in a world where gender matters.

My instinct, I’ve noticed, is to keep using the phrase in a world where. I guess part of me believes in a world away from here where it’s different. To help explain, I recommend reading Richard Rohr’s daily meditation on gender where he claims that gender is not our ontological identity. He goes on to say that men and women are different only at a superficial level, and that our True Self goes deeper than gender:

The object and goal of all spirituality is finally the same for all genders: union, divine love, inner aliveness, soul abundance, forgiveness of offenses, and generous service to the neighbor and the world.

I love being a woman. I am loving raising a boy. And I appreciate Rohr’s challenge to define myself first as a child of God, a child of the resurrection first. He reminds us that in Christ we find unity and wholeness, not duality.

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