Tags: Cardinal Franc Rode, Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious, Congregation of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Mother Mary Clare Millea, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis, U.S. Catholic sisters, Vatican report on U.S. nuns
For days now, friends and colleagues have been awaiting with excitement the report on U.S. Catholic sisters that the Vatican Congregation of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) issued this morning. Based on an Apostolic Visitation of active (non-cloistered) congregations of sisters that began in 2008, this report has been anticipated since at least 2012. Hopes were high that it would be positive and appreciative (unlike the separate doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious of 2012) because it was issued under the current pope, not Benedict XVI, who authorized the Visitation.
Most would agree that the outcome is much better than was initially feared. A headline in Crux, in the Boston Globe, reads “Vatican probe ends with an olive branch for American nuns.” The National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report acknowledges the report’s “roundly positive, even laudatory, tone towards (the sisters’) life and work,” while also mentioning several “couched but barbed criticisms” of them. (But the British Guardian calls the report a “mild rebuke.”) A sister of Notre Dame de Namur whom I admire enormously for her decades of relentless social justice advocacy said she would be grateful for a positive report so that sisters could stop worrying and get back to the work they were called to do.
I, too, am grateful that the report is as positive as it is. I am especially moved by the section on finances, reminding readers of the difficult financial situation of many women’s congregations and that many sisters worked for nothing. God willing, at the end of the report, readers will express their gratitude by getting out their checkbooks. I also appreciate the report’s acknowledgment that the decline in the number of Catholic sisters in recent years was not the result of their secular life-styles, but in part at least, because the huge increase in the number of sisters in the middle of the twentieth century was an historical anomaly.
Nonetheless, I feel the need to make a few points.
First of all, the report describes the visitations as “sister to sister” undertakings. And it is true that a nun, Mother Mary Clare Millea, supervised the entire (massive) effort, and a “core team” of other sisters did the actual work of visiting and interviewing other sisters in their four hundred-some groups across the U.S. It is worth remembering, however, that Mother Mary Clare reported to the entirely male CICLSAL leadership, and that she herself was part of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), the more conservative organization of U.S. sisters that split off from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR)in 1992. It would be interesting to know the percentage of “core team” sister/interviewers who also came from congregations in the CMSWR.
I also have real problems with the final paragraphs of the report, beginning with the expression of hope that the “feminine genius” of more women, including competent women religious, will be “actively involved in ecclesial dialogue regarding the ‘possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church’s life.'” I will spare you my thoughts about the “feminine genius” and note only that the phrase “actively involved in…dialogue…about the possible role…” is scandalously indirect and ambivalent. Possible roles?
This paragraph is followed by the statement that the Apostolic Visitation modeled its approach on the Gospel encounter between Mary and Elizabeth, “one a virgin and the other married but barren,” who overcame fear and uncertainty to embrace their roles in God’s plan. Myself, I would have preferred a description of these extremely significant women in light of something besides, or at least along with, their reproductive status. I would have also been grateful if the final paragraph described women, especially women religious, as actually doing something, instead of (or along with) the church celebrating “the great things that God does for them” and Mary herself “constantly contemplating the work of God.”
Some U.S. sisters may object to my focusing on these details; the book about the process, Power of Sisterhood, and the report itself stress the unity that resulted from the Apostolic Visitation; some sisters also express hope for better relations between the LCWR and the CMSWR.
But it’s crucial to recognize that the report actually does nothing to change the governance structure of the Roman Catholic Church. The church is an absolute monarchy, and unlike other monarchies, only men get crowned. If a pope dies, there’s no telling what his successor will do, as some of us learned to our dismay after the deaths of Pope John XXII, and, to some extent, Pope Paul VI. (This is particularly amusing in a religious organization given to saying “As the church has always taught.”) Pope Francis is a big improvement over his two predecessors, particularly because of his stress on the poor, though the possibility that the church’s teaching on women might actually contribute to their poverty seems to elude him.
All this notwithstanding, Pope Francis is an old man. And if he dies, God knows what position his successor will hold, on women and a lot of other things. The current heads of the Congregation of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life are much more appreciative of U.S. Catholic sisters than Cardinal Franc Rodé was. Will their successors be? Until the Catholic church ordains women priests and bishops, appoints them cardinals, and elects them pope, its treatment of Catholic women, including and especially nuns, is at the least unpredictable. As things are, the only role allotted to women by the institutional church is to pray that the pope lives a long time and that the bishops and cardinals he names will be more enlightened on questions of gender and sexuality than he is.
Tags: prostate cancer, PSA, winter solstice
Well, you haven’t heard from me for a while. I owe you an apology, or at least an explanation.
As I wrote in an earlier post, last spring our family–my husband and me, his mother, and by association, his kids and grandkids, went on an illness roller-coaster ride. In April, Keith contracted pneumonia, during the diagnosis of which he was discovered to have a “mass” in his kidney, which turned out to be a malignancy, which was removed in June. Before he had recovered from the surgery, his 92-year-old mother down in Clearwater almost died, but by September Betty was back in her independent living home. We went on vacation. I wrote a blog post about the Synod on the Family.
When we came home, the urologist who did Keith’s surgery called to say he also had an elevated PSA (prostate specific antigen) and would have to have an MRI. Meantime, Keith’s Mom got quite sick again, and before long, was moved from the hospital to a hospice facility. One morning toward the end of October, the doctor called to say that Keith had a “nodule” on his prostate, and would have to have a biopsy. That afternoon, the hospice called to say his mother had died. (Seriously!). So we flew down to Clearwater for Keith to do the funeral. We then ran around gathering the various estate papers–we’re still messing with them–and flew back to New York just in time for the biopsy. Later that week we learned that Keith has prostate cancer; the surgery to remove his prostate is scheduled for early January.
This second cancer episode in six months seems just to be extremely bad luck, not a metastasis of the kidney cancer. And the doctor believes the cancer has not spread beyond the prostate, so once again, we seem to have dodged a bullet. But we are not exactly feeling grateful yet. The whole thing has been just too much.
Years ago, at the height of my feminist activist phase, each December women I knew celebrated the end of the longest dark nights and the beginning of the lengthening of daylight, the winter solstice. Some of them still do. Myself, I never really took to it; seemed kind of romantic, which, if you read this blog very much, you realize I’m not. This year, though, I am waiting eagerly for December 21, for that first new sliver of light that points toward brighter days ahead.
Tags: Archbishop Charles Chaput, Climate Change, David Gushee, drought in the American West, Pope Francis, Ross Douthout, sea-level rise, Synod on the Family, the missionary position
By now, it’s hard to imagine anyone who hasn’t heard about the recent gathering of Catholic bishops in Rome to discuss certain unbelievably important issues related to sexuality. The document presented for discussion, the relatio, used such radical terms as “welcoming” with regard to gays and lesbians, and the possibility of divorced and remarried Catholics being allowed to take communion. Some conservative bishops have objected to the very mention of such things, for example, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who has said that causing “confusion” in the church is “of the devil.” And in the Sunday New York Times, the conservative Catholic columnist Ross Douthout argues that reversing Catholic sexual teaching, in particular, the teaching on divorce and remarriage as adultery, would put the church on a “precipice.” The is so, we’re told, because the sinfulness of divorce is rooted in the “specific words of Jesus of Nazareth.” If Pope Francis does allow such a reversal, we learn, it “would encourage doubt and defections…and eventually a real schism.” If the pope seems to be choosing this dangerous path–“reassigning his potential critics in the hierarchy, stacking the next synod’s ranks with supporters of a sweeping change…”– conservative Catholics should consider that this pope “may be preserved from error only if the church itself resists him.”
Douthout is a successful writer, and he certainly has a right to his opinions. But some of what he writes in this particular manifesto is problematic, to say the least. With regard to the “specific words” of Jesus on remarriage after divorce as adultery, I don’t have a copy of the Jesus Seminar volume that highlights in red the actual words of Jesus in the Gospels, but a lot of Jesus’ words were added by the books’ authors to address problems that arose well after his departure. Even more to the point, as Baptist ethicist David Gushee notes in a new book in which he changes his position on LGBTI people, Christians have been quoting the Bible to support their entrenched positions–on slavery, segregation, antisemitism, misogyny–for a very long time. The church owes apologies to many, many people, including gays, lesbians, and divorced and remarried Catholics.
Another questionable assertion in Douthout’s article has to do with the terrible effect that a reversal of Catholic sexual teachings will have on the church’s small minority of orthodox adherents who have “done the most to keep the church vital in an age of institutional decline.” If Douthout had read Young Catholic America, a new sociological study about the practice and beliefs of young American Catholics, he would be forced to acknowledge that the orthodox, here in the U.S. at least, are not keeping the church particularly vital: only 7 percent of Catholics between the ages of 18 and 23 are what we might call “practicing” Catholics–going to Mass each week, saying religion is very important, praying. Twenty-seven per cent at the other end of the spectrum are totally disengaged. Why? according to the Commonweal reviewer, “the most obvious factor identified in both the interviews and the survey data in Young Catholic America seems to be disaffection from Catholic sexual teaching, dramatically so with respect to both premarital sex and birth control.” A full 61 percent of “practicing” young Catholics report that they have had pre-marital sex. And young Catholics across the spectrum acknowledged in their interviews that they have “major problems with the church’s ‘unrealistic’ teachings” on such matters. How’s that for a precipice: huge numbers of young American Catholics ignoring teachings that people like Douthout make out to be the source and summit of the faith. (See my earlier post about sexual teaching as the top of the Catholic ideology hierarchy.)
But my chief complaint about the synod on the family is not aimed only at conservative Catholics like Douthout. It’s also aimed at the rest of us– Pope Francis, the bishops, and progressive Catholics like me who are preoccupied, not to say obsessed, with the church’s sex/gender teachings and behavior. (I myself have published five books and several hundred articles and reviews addressing aspects of sexuality and gender in Catholicism and Christianity.)
So why am I enormously frustrated with all of us, myself included? Because we ARE on a precipice– in fact, we’re actually on our way over this precipice, but it’s not the one Douthout is worrying about. It’s the one that’s already causing massive droughts in the American West, from which a major portion of our food comes, and will cause very many coastal communities (including New York City) to be under water by 2050 (to give just a few examples.) It’s the climate precipice, and the fact that the synod focused on divorce and gay marriage instead of on our destruction of God’s creation is scandalous. But of course, at a synod on that topic there might be some discussion about the ways in which the doctrine of a transcendent God and the intrinsic nature of the missionary position contribute to the destruction of the world. And that would cause even more demonic confusion than the synod on the family did.
Tags: "The Birth of the Pill", birth control pill, Gregory "Goody" Pincus, In vitro fertilization, Jonathan Eig, Margaret Sanger, Roman Catholic Church, the Pill
As you can see, I’ve been doing a lot of book reviewing lately. This week, the National Catholic Reporter published my review of Jonathan Eig’s The Birth of the Pill, so here it is. (Apologies to those who already read it there.)
THE BIRTH OF THE PILL: HOW FOUR CRUSADERS REINVENTED SEX AND LAUNCHED A REVOLUTION
By Jonathan Eig
Published by W.W. Norton & Company, $27.95
At first glance, The Birth of the Pill may seem an odd choice for review in a Catholic publication. Of the four “crusaders” in the subtitle, only one, obstetrician/gynecologist John Rock — was a practicing Catholic.
Of the other three, the brilliant research biologist Gregory “Goody” Pincus was the son of Jewish immigrants. Fired by Harvard for the Brave New World overtones of his in vitro fertilization discoveries, Pincus went on…(Continue here.)
Tags: "American Madonna", "Good Catholics", "Jesus Was a Migrant", "My Priceless View", Deirdre Cornell, Patricia Miller, St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, St. Patrick's Cathedral, The Venerable Pierre Toussaint
The following is a slightly revised version of a review that appeared in the current issue of Gumbo, the monthly publication of the Grail in the U.S.A.
Jesus Was a Migrant. By Deirdre Cornell Orbis Books, 2014. 144 pp. $20. Available at http://www.orbisbooks.com/jesus-was-a- migrant.html
Grail member Deirdre Cornell’s new book, Jesus was a Migrant, could hardly be more timely. Even as nearly seventy thousand unaccompanied minors have poured across the southern borders of this ostensibly Christian nation in the past year, too many of our fellow-citizens still oppose providing them with shelter. And in the face of this crisis, our president has allowed a mere four thousand refugee visas to be designated for these young people while failing to increase the total number of refugee visas at all.
In her very first chapter, Cornell articulates the argument that all of these Christians need to hear “Surely a God who migrated from heaven to be born to a refugee family—to be born to a people painfully and intimately versed in Exodus and exile journeys—surely this God would ask us to look for his presence among migrants. Jesus was a migrant. How can migrants not matter?”
Cornell expands this message in fifteen subsequent narratives, each of which brings the experiences of migrants into detailed and memorable focus. In Part I, we walk with the migrants of Israel, from Genesis to Exodus to Babylon and back, and then meet Cornell’s own immigrant ancestors fleeing to the U.S. during the Great Irish Hunger of the 1840s. In Part II, we celebrate with Rosa, a Central American migrant who had made her way to the U.S. at great cost only to be forced to return home a month after her quinceañera; then we bury with Deirdre the stillborn twins of Susana and Pedro even as other Christians are celebrating the birth of Jesus. In further chapters we mourn with the Latino community as they raise the money to ship the body of a young migrant back to Mexico and share the visit of Deirdre and her family to their compadres and godchildren in a trailer park in Florida. Jesus and other migrants become ever more real to us as we proceed.
In some respects, Jesus was a Migrant is a continuation of Cornell’s two previous books. She continues writing in the first person, for example, weaving her own (now twenty) years of migrant ministry into the stories of the men and women she and her husband Kenney serve. Jesus was a Migrant also continues the references to and elaboration on the Psalms and the Hebrew prophets that enriched her first book, A Priceless View. Indeed, the integration of absorbing and accessible study of the Psalms, the Prophets, and the Gospels in Cornell’s’s stories of migrant experience is one of the outstanding features of this new collection. And migration itself was already a subtext in American Madonna, Cornell’s second book, about the Virgin Mary crossing Mexican and U.S. borders.
But Jesus was a Migrant differs from these previous books in some respects. First of all, it’s a collection of shorter pieces, revisions of articles written for The Catholic Worker and other publications or given as talks. And presumably because they were created for different audiences, the articles exhibit less of the scholarly nuance that I, for one, valued in the two previous books.
Indeed, during my first reading of Jesus was a Migrant, I found it almost pious. For example, Cornell uses Marina Warner’s feminist critique of the cult of the Virgin Mary to leaven her study of Latino/a Marian devotion in American Madonna. But in Jesus was a Migrant, she draws (briefly) on the work of Ann Catherine Emmerich, a German mystic whose writing inspired Mel Gibson’s violent, antisemitic film, “The Passion of the Christ.” And while Patricia Miller begins Good Catholics, her study of the Catholic struggle over abortion rights, with a denunciation of the misogyny embedded in the doors of New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Cornell begins a chapter on the lives of Catholic saints who were migrants with a reflection on the body of Pierre Toussaint in the crypt beneath those doors. Indeed, in this chapter, Cornell includes the life of one of the figures on the doors Miller find so sexist, St. Francis Xavier Cabrini.
As I reread American Madonna however, I had to admit that Deirdre Cornell had warned readers of this shift well before the publication of Jesus was a Migrant. Speaking of her years working with Catholics in Mexico as a Maryknoll lay missioner that led her to a new devotion to the Mother of God, Cornell wrote, “Immersed in a community that I loved and that loved her, I began to speak less and to listen more…I learned to tread on holy ground where I had to take the proverbial sandals off my feet.”
The articles in Jesus was a Migrant are testimonies to this transformation. We all move toward holy ground in different ways. Some of us do so by critiquing the sexism sculptured on cathedral doors. Others cry out to the Mother of God to aid us when our children are deported or our partner gets cancer from pesticides. Jesus was a Migrant helps us hear that second set of voices.
Tags: Buddhism, Catholicism, Thomas Merton, Zen Buddhist meditation
A year or so ago I was walking across Bryant Park, just behind the New York Public Library, when a man I took to be a Buddhist monk walked up to me. He held out a bracelet made of dark brown round wooden beads; one bead, which was larger than the others, had two figures on it, apparently from some Asian language. The “monk” asked if I would like one. I took out a five dollar bill and offered it to him. He replied that the bracelet cost twenty dollars. I said I was sorry but I couldn’t pay twenty dollars and started to put the money back. He scowled at me, in a not very Buddhist way, but then took the five dollars and gave me the bracelet. I put it on.
I suppose I took the bracelet because I am somewhat attracted to Buddhism. I took a required course on Japanese Buddhism in graduate school and read some Dōgen, whose thinking I rather enjoyed. More recently though, since my husband and his mother were both so sick this summer, I have been practicing Zen meditation. I decided I really needed to calm down. I even joined the Brooklyn Zen Center, in search of a community of support.
In sharing this with you, I do not mean to mean to suggest that I am some kind of spiritual adept. Except that it would demonstrate a distinctly unBuddhist kind of grandiosity to make such a claim, I’d be inclined to say that I am the worst meditator in the world. Often I seem capable of suspending the anxious planning my next activity (sometimes my next blog post) for no more than a few seconds at a time. And most days I can barely stay sitting for the fifteen minutes that I plugged into the Zazen Lite app on my iPad.
Let me also be clear: I am not planning to transfer from Catholicism to Buddhism any time soon. As my American-Baptist-clergyman husband is given to saying, my Catholicism is genetic. Then too, some very distinguished Catholics have found Buddhism deeply meaningful. A copy of Thomas Merton’s Zen and the Birds of Appetite is on the book shelf next to my computer.
Despite its pitifulness, my meditation practice does seem to be helping me. As a result, I suspect, of saying “thinking” and bringing my attention back to the present the six or seven thousand times I do so in any given meditation session, I now sometimes find myself being able top stop my mind from racing on to the next task when I am not meditating. Maybe this grey haired lady will learn to be in the present before she is no longer in it at all.
A few months into my meditation practice, I heard on the radio that Asian men posing as Buddhist monks were conning people in New York by selling fake Buddhist bracelets to them. I suppose this news could have annoyed me. I was certainly glad I hadn’t given the guy the twenty dollars (though the odds on this child of Depression-survivor working class parents doing so were slim to none even if the “monk” had been authentic.)
I’ve decided, though, that something about the fraudulent Buddhist bracelet fits in perfectly with my attempts at meditation. I’m not awfully good at it, but I find it a comfort. My quasi-monk wasn’t very honest, but it’s rather a nice bracelet. I think I’ll put it on and go meditate.
Tags: "The Wrath of Capital", Adrian Parr, Chris Hedges, Climate Change, Cochabamba water wars, neoliberal economics, People's Climate March, The Grail in the USA, the World Bank
Last Sunday, between 300 and 400 thousand other people and I marched around Manhattan to tell world leaders on their way to the UN climate summit that things have to change. I am sure you have seen photos and videos and read articles about the March. It was in many ways inspiring and encouraging. Just seeing the outfits people wore and the signs they carried made me smile many times. One of my favorites was a crude sign–a piece of cardboard on a stick carried by a young man–that read, “I Can’t Swim.” And as a person who has made many snide remarks over the years about environmentalists being white people who love polar bears, I laughed out loud at a t-shirt with a polar bear on it, who said, in a cartoon bubble, “Save the Humans!” Furthermore, after the March, at the UN, many heads of state, including our own Barack Obama, made inspiring statements about the need to act on climate change.
But there are (at least) two things you need to know if you want to grasp the full significance of the People’s Climate March. This first may be obvious to a lot of readers: it took a massive amount of work. For the Interfaith Contingent, with which I and my sister Grail members marched, just establishing the order for our various groups to stand in took very many emails and phone discussions. The people from GreenFaith and 350.org who got us organized deserve an enormous amount of credit. It is also the case that in order to be sure the police would allow us to enter the Interfaith staging area on 58th St. for the March, we had to arrive before 11 AM, even though our contingent didn’t actually start marching until approximately 2:15 PM. Marching around Manhattan for an hour is nothing compared to standing and sitting and standing some more for three and half hours. I was exhausted before we set out.
The other thing you need to know is that, hundreds of thousands of marchers in NYC and around the world notwithstanding, the March doesn’t begin to be enough to force world leaders to take action on climate change. This is the case because neoliberalism, the economic system that came to dominate the world during the reigns of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, simply won’t permit some reasoned process of changing our energy system, no matter how desperately such change is needed. As Chris Hedges points out in a devastating Truthdig column published a few days before the March, the NYC police, under the leadership of our ostensibly progressive mayor, wouldn’t so much as allow the March anywhere near the United Nations, despite the fact that it was explicitly aimed at the UN summit occurring later that week. The fossil fuel industry owns the government, and as Hedges argues compellingly, we’re going to have to engage in non-violent protest in very large numbers to turn things around. (I myself am terrified at the prospect of going to jail, so don’t think I read Hedges’ article with equanimity.)
Adrian Parr’s galvanizing book, The Wrath of Capital: Neoliberalism and Climate Change Politics, clarifies the ways in which the neoliberal economics that is inscribed in our societal DNA again and again appropriates environmental and climate change discourse (and actions) for its own purpose, the endless expanse of profit. It does this by rendering invisible the full cost of various climate related practices and products. For example, in her chapter on water, Parr explores the ways in which the water wars in Cochabamba, Bolivia in the early 2000s did and did not reverse the impacts of neoliberalism on the thirst of the average Bolivian. For water activists like me, the success of the citizens of Cochabamba in overturning the forced privatization of their water as part of the World Bank’s “structural adjustment program” was a glorious example of an environmental victory. Unfortunately, deeply inscribed class differences and political corruption mean many Bolivians must still struggle mightily for access to reasonably priced potable water. Similarly, the government of India touts the marvels that genetically modified seeds are doing and will do for the farmlands of India increasingly devastated by climate change. No mention is made of the profits the corporations who own these seeds are making, the increasing debt of the farmers who buy them, and the rising suicide rate among them. We might also ask who owns the factories where solar panels are manufactured and what the laborers in those factories are being paid.
The argument that we can mitigate climate change and grow the neoliberal economy at the same time is what my doktormutter, Laura Levitt, calls a “happy narrative.” Enslaving somebody, destroying the environment, and growing the economy go hand in hand, and only a radical commitment to stopping all of them can get us where we need to go.
Tags: Quebec City, St. Francois de Laval, St. Marie of the Incarnation
Some readers may have noticed a certain silence on my part. My last post appeared on August 16. Well, we’ve been on vacation. But as with most things, there’s more to it than that.
At one level, there’s my esteemed companion’s absolute objection to mentioning in a blog post that we’re away, even as I find it hard to blog without doing so. We live in the middle of Brooklyn, and while I feel fairly safe here–lots safer than I felt in Brooklyn in the 1970s or 1980s–we really can’t afford to be inviting people over while we’re gone.
But at a deeper level, I just needed to knock off. I mentioned in an earlier post that my husband was seriously ill this past spring and summer, first with pneumonia, then with (thank God, early-stage) kidney cancer. Years ago I took a vocational aptitude test and got a score of less than zero for nursing, so you get a picture of me dealing with all that. Then, as Keith began to recover, Betty, his ninety-three year old mother down in Florida, became seriously ill–sort of lost her mind, leg swelled up, already had congestive heart failure, had surgery, stopped being able to breathe, had a tube down her throat, etc., etc. For days, every time the phone rang we expected to hear we’d have to fly down there for Keith to do the funeral. And in the midst of all that, a tooth popped out while I was flossing, and I ended up having a root canal and other fun dental procedures.
But we seem to have survived. Not only is Keith much better, his mother is about to go back to her independent living apartment, having regained her faculties and begun walking again. And I myself am having the occasional thought.
So let me share a few of them, after which, tomorrow or the next day, I’ll write something about yesterday’s People’s Climate March which I participated in.
During our time away, we spent a week at my brother’s place in rural Vermont, and almost two weeks in Quebec City, east of Montreal, in Canada. Regarding Vermont, let me say that it’s quite an experience for someone who ordinarily shares a borough with two-and-a-half million other people to go walking for an hour and not see a soul. Sometimes I really like it; other times it kind of freaks me out.
As for Quebec City, it’s pretty amazing. You may know that the old part of the city is walled, the only walled city in North America north of Mexico. Founded in 1608, it’s also full of museums and monuments about the history of New France, a subject I knew very little about before we went there. One of my favorite parts of the visit was taking a tour of the Museum of the Ursulines, which explores the history of the oldest order of Catholic sisters in North America, brought there by Sister Marie Guyart of the Incarnation. Sister Marie was a widow in Tours, France, who entered the (cloistered) Ursuline order but in 1639 traveled to New France and started the first convent in North America in Quebec City; the school she founded was also the first women’s educational institution in North America. A mystic, she also wrote dictionaries in three indigenous languages and an Algonquin catechism. And lest you think everything has changed in three-hundred-fifty years, she struggled against efforts by the bishop of Quebec City, Francois de Laval, to take control of her community. Pope Francis canonized both of them together last April; I’m sure Archbishop Laval was thrilled to have feisty Soeur Marie join him at the same level of churchly adulation.
The other thing I love about Quebec City is that when I’m there I know how to speak French, whereas when I’m in Paris, I’m way too ignorant to be able to do so. Seems as if only 10 percent of English Canada speaks French, so when an English speaker starts speaking in French, the Québécois are thrilled. A sales person said, “You really know how to speak French, don’t you!?” whereas the snotty Parisians say, “Your accent is terrible. Speak English.” Finally, my seven years of French classes have been redeemed.
There’s lots more to be said about Quebec City, but not now. Stay tuned.
Tags: "The Shadow of a Year", antisemitism, British Mandate for Palestine, Gaza, Hamas, John Gibney, Palestinians, the State of Israel
As I explained in a previous post, I was shocked to learn the history of the relationship between the State of Israel and the Palestinians, how the Israelis drove the Palestinians off their land, even attempting to eradicate Palestinian traces from the landscape. Aware as I was of the history of Western (and Christian) antisemitism, I had avoided the whole question of Israel and the Palestinians. And I do believe that the current killing of Palestinians in Gaza and the destruction of Gaza by the Jewish Israelis is totally unacceptable, something the international community must stop.
Yet even as I acknowledge all this, I must admit I am also deeply disturbed by the self-righteous tone of many of the anti-Israeli articles, listserv posts and demonstration announcements coming my way of late. By mentioning this I do not mean to suggest that I agree with the majority of Americans who blame Hamas for the current conflict. I don’t blame Hamas. At least, I don’t blame them any more than I blame myself and the rest of us supposedly virtuous USies.*
To begin with, as I’m sure you’ve heard, the United States is helping to fund the Israeli military, at the rate of $3 billion a year. That’s somewhat, but not massively, less than the amount Congress says we can’t afford to intervene in the refugee crisis on our borders. And as a result of this $3 billion, we help to guarantee that the Israelis, whether they are the attackers or the attacked, will lose a minute number of soldiers and civilians compared to the deaths and destruction in Gaza. And let’s be clear: my husband and I are funding the Israelis, as you are if you are paying U.S. taxes. I am not refusing to pay those taxes now, just as I did not refuse to pay them during the invasion of Iraq, a military catastrophe that we not only made possible but implemented.
And that’s not the only reason we and our European allies are not entitled to feel righteous toward the Israelis. Another is that the U.S. fought with the Europeans who had gone to war against the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Then, as part of the League of Nations, we agreed to the establishment of the British Mandate for Palestine, which took what is now Israel , Gaza, and the West Bank out of Arab hands. With the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the British had pledged themselves to establishing a Jewish State in Palestine, and after World War II, that state was established; Gaza came under the control of Egypt, and the West Bank under Jordan. I myself have often wondered why the victors in World War II didn’t give Bavaria to the Jews for a homeland, considering the crimes the Germans had perpetrated against them. But since the British already controlled Palestine, I guess it was just easier to hand a chunk of that territory over to the State of Israel. We colluded in this mess from the beginning.
The other reason many of us here in the U.S. and Europe have no reason to be righteous about the ongoing catastrophe in Israel/Palestine is that Christian antisemitism and the Holocaust did and still do play a major role in Israeli violence. There are those who question how the Israelis can continue to invoke the Holocaust as a justification for their actions, as if a people can recover from a genocide in a few decades, or even seventy-five years. Those who take this position need to get real. In my studies of the history of Ireland, I have been struck by the extraordinary length of time that it takes for a people to truly work through and move on from traumas such as massacres and famines. In The Shadow of a Year Irish historian John Gibney documents how Catholics and Protestants in Ireland used a Catholic uprising and massacre in 1641 to justify violent attacks on each other up to and including the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late twentieth century. I wonder how long we USies* will continue to fixate on 9/11 and use it to justify our own Middle Eastern wars?
But the Jews have sustained persecution by the Christian West since well before 1641–since at least the 4th century, when Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire. In Constantine’s Sword, James Carroll argues that, had it not been for pogroms and conversions, in 2000 there would have been two hundred million Jews in the world, not a mere thirteen million. Seventeen hundred years of ethno-religious persecution, even without the Holocaust, might well result in a culture of paranoia.
As I said at the beginning of this post, I am not on Israel’s side. I believe it is a telling sign of the dysfunction of the entire international order that the slaughter of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, and the inhumane blockade that facilitated the conflict, continue.
But I also think that those of us with Christian roots, or who are citizens of the United States, have an obligation to be extremely careful about how we talk about this conflict. Self-righteous condemnation of Israel risks making us sound all too much like the Euro-American antisemites and colonizers who played a major role in getting this conflict going in the first place.
*”USies” is a term I formulated so as to avoid describing myself and other resident of the U.S. as “Americans,” a term some Central and South Americans find offensive.
Tags: Cimate Change, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report, People's Climate March, UN Climate Summit 2014
I don’t need to tell you about the dangers of climate change. The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is hair raising–and they’re noted for the moderation of their reports. The U.S. report is equally chilling. It used to be that if you had kids and grandkids you were supposed to be concerned about this. Now if you’re planning to live fifteen more years you need to be afraid.
On September 21, climate action groups from around the world, including religious, spiritual, and interfaith groups, are converging on New York City for what we hope will be a huge march down the middle of Manhattan to get the attention of world leaders who will be gathering later that week for a climate change summit at the UN. World leaders have been pretty much AWOL on this subject. Some of the best, like Germany, who pride themselves on green technology, are importing increasing amounts of coal from the U.S. where numbers of coal burning power plants are being phased out. I kid you not. We need to scare these guys and gals to death.
To accomplish this, we need you to come to the People’s Climate March on September 21. If you live in the NY metro area you absolutely HAVE GOT TO COME. And if you live somewhere else, you should really try. Imagine telling somebody in 25 years that you participated in the climate change equivalent of the March on Washington! Won’t you be proud? Churches and non-profits are arranging for places where out of towers can stay, so you just need to get yourself here.
This is how you sign up for the March:
1. First, click here on this link: http://facebook.com/events/301805359975258/
2. Then, RSVP for the March by clicking “Join”
Then start making plans!