Friday, May 26, 2017

Sublime Sounds at ordination

The ordination of Catholic women in Minnesota on May 7 began with a stunning interruption of murmurs in the expectant congregation. Sublime sounds of a single vocalist quieted us with an exquisite performance of Bobby McFerrin’s 23rd Psalm. Its inclusive God-language filled my soul as much as the beautiful sounds.
She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs,
She leads me in a path of good things,
And fills my heart with songs.
The vocalist, I learned, was Catherine Fierro, professional singer and daughter of Rose Henzler, one of the newly-ordained. Cate’s daughters also sang during the Mass.

This psalm was only the beginning of musical treats. Maria Annoni, the other newly-ordained priest, informed me about the music director, Beth Kaiser:
Fellow musician, friend, and collaborator on many things liturgical, Beth coordinated musicians from the Grand Rapids area, Duluth, the Twin Cities, Elk River, and the St. Cloud area. She pulled all these gifted people together to make one sound—and what a sound it is.
Instrumentalists included flutist Julie Ellis, violinist Jean Leibfried, trumpet player Charlie Leibfried, percussionist Gregg Ciurleo, organist A.P. Hopper, and pianist Jeanne Cornish.
Director Beth Kaiser said,
I have had the privilege of working with all of the Duluth musicians (singers and instrumentalists) for various liturgies throughout the past 20+ years.
 There is no place I would have rather been than with this very special gathering of music ministers and serve as music director for such a joyous occasion.  And, the assembly... wow!  How wonderful to hear them raise the rafters in song.  THIS is what liturgy is supposed to do. Liturgy is SUNG PRAYER.  And, I believe this is what we experienced, fully.
Gender-neutral language in womanpriest Masses always refreshes me because I suffer from lord-talk in typical liturgies. It is a relief to hear, “Creator . . . Holy One . . . God, our Mother and Father.”
Bishop Nancy Meyer opened with the sign of the Cross,
We gather joyfully for this ordination in the name of God, Source of Being, Eternal Word and Holy Spirit.
At most Masses, I find particularly annoying the recitation at Communion,
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,
but only say the word and soul shall be healed.
It returns Catholics to the unhealthy attitude of the past when self-contempt was encouraged. At womanpriest Masses congregants recite,
Jesus, you make us worthy to receive you.
By your word we are healed.

Despite their significance as boosters of justice for women, womanpriest ceremonies are attended by few young people. Gray heads prevail. It does not distress me, because I believe we are entering a new spiritual paradigm. Young people in tune with the emerging paradigm move to non-traditional ways of satisfying their spiritual needs. Who are we to say our way is better? 


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Women Priests Ordained 2

Last week I featured Rose Henzler, one of two new Catholic women priests. Also ordained on May 7 was Maria Annoni, who experienced young adulthood during the exciting days of Vatican II. She took to heart its message, “WE are the church.”
At an early age, Maria rejected the traditional ministry of women—doing the servant-work of cleaning, cooking, etc. while male ministers took the honors of standing before others and proclaiming the Word. Maria did not join the altar guild but chose to minister by using her musical talent.

She spent 30 years as liturgy director in her music ministry, 21 of these in a Catholic parish, until she was let go because she had a partner of the same sex, another music minister. Though heartbroken, Maria persisted. 
She earned a Master of Theology degree at St. John’s University in Collegeville and prepared to become a Roman Catholic woman priest.  Today, she continues to serve in an Episcopal church as a musician and has her own community, Spirit of Christ, the Healer, which supported her desire to become a priest.

Maria and Rose, like all Catholic women priests, experience opposition from Catholic officials. I find this supremely ironic. The very definition of “minister”—to tend to others, to nurse, to care for—describes the ages-old work of women. Women also excel in building relationships. Many and diverse studies confirm the tendency of women to seek harmonious connections. Women are less comfortable with aggression, they notice sooner that someone is upset, they step in to sooth hurts.

The experience of women in sensitively managing relationships could enhance the ministry of priesthood, but women are the very members of the human race barred from it. The gender that has demonstrated its talent for tending to the needs of others and for bringing people together is barred from ministry. Those who give birth, who nourish babies and young ones—Mothers—are barred from ministry. Those most experienced in ministry are barred from it.

In prehistoric cultures, women had central roles in religious ceremonies, and She, the bearer of new life, was imaged Creator of the world. Patriarchy denounced Her as an abomination, declared God Lord and Father, and excluded women from priestly functions.

But Jesus ordained no one, and he broke his culture’s social norms by publicly interacting with women as equals to men. Abundant evidence shows that women were ordained in the early church.

Roman Catholic Womenpriests return the Church to standards set by Jesus and the first Christians. They act as a powerful force for gender justice and thus justice for all. For a quick read on the case for women’s ordination, read The Time Is Now.
* Contact me if you'd like a print copy.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Women Ordained on Sunday

Two more priests for the Catholic Church, which laments its shortage of priests, were ordained on Sunday, May 7, in a beautifully uplifting ceremony (more about this next time). Rosemarie Henzler and Maria Annoni would be happy to relieve the severe shortage of priests, but bullheaded, stubborn sexism will not allow it.

Some prominent Catholic women do not support ordination for women because they think it endorses clericalism. Sandra Schneiders is one, as the previous post indicates. When she spoke at Newman Center in St. Cloud, she made fun of women being ordained by likening them to goldfish devoured by sharks.

But the notion that ordained women are subsumed by or unwittingly endorse clericalism was invalidated on Sunday by newly-ordained Rose Henzler. She kindly granted me permission to publish her tribute to her mother.
My mother modeled for me how to persist against injustice in all forms but especially in my church—how to speak truth to power. As she was born in 1901, I’m thinking she probably never heard the phrase “speak truth to power,” but she practiced it.

She was blessed with an amazing mezzo soprano voice, and in 1921 when a young WWI soldier, who happened to be Protestant, heard her singing, it was love at first sight . . . or sound, I guess. When he asked her to marry him and she accepted, there was quite a “kerfluffle” (her word). She was forbidden by her pastor to marry “outside the faith.” He would not allow her to enter into a “mixed marriage!” Nevertheless, she persisted, and on August 19, 1922, he married them in a “hush-hush” ceremony in the church rectory so as “not to give scandal.”

They gave no scandal for the next 49 and a half years!

Soon she was singing not only at Mass and in Catholic weddings and funerals but for her new Protestant family members’ celebrations as well. The word got out and she was called in by the same poor pastor to discuss her egregious behavior. The bishop had instructed him to warn her that she could be excommunicated for her actions.

She answered simply that no matter where she sang, it was (in her own words) “for the honor and glory of God whether it is ‘Ave Maria’ or ‘How Great Thou Art’. I would do more harm than good by saying ‘No’ and I will continue to say ‘Yes’. So let him try it!”
Truth to power.

The threat never materialized and she continued saying “Yes” for the next 65 years and sang whenever and wherever she was asked, and not only for friends and family but when invited for priestly ordinations and even the installation of bishops.

My mother respected the clergy, but she had no time for clericalism, and her reputation for speaking her truth became known in the Archdiocese of St. Paul/ Minneapolis. She became the confidant as well as friend of many in the hierarchy, never hesitating to tell them when she perceived their actions to be less than charitable or loving. It seemed to me as a kid that there was always some priest or monsignor coming unannounced through the back door.
 She prayed—always—that perhaps somewhere among her numerous progeny there might be a priest or maybe two. Little could she know that when her prayer was answered, our God of glorious surprises said, it would be her baby girl.

Read on for the reason I enthusiastically endorse Sandra Schneiders’ theology, despite my disagreement on the issue of women’s ordination.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Women in the 4th Gospel

I want atheists to know that I am mindful of them when I write about Christian theology. I hope they stay with me to see its relevance to them, although a presentation by theologian Sandra Schneiders is my subject.

Schneiders renewed my attraction to the Fourth Gospel. Years ago, when I became aware of Christian myth and broke out of the Christian envelope, I didn’t like the Fourth for the same reason that most Christians favor it—because it does the best job of turning Jesus into God. I recall the time a fellow writer, a minister, learned that I did not believe Jesus is God.
“But he said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’”
“The historical Jesus did not say these things,” I answered. The minister knew I studied theology. He never came back to our writers group.

Then I read an article by a Hindu who finds the I AM passages in the Fourth ravishingly beautiful. They leave him “in an uplifted internal state” by evoking the Divinity in every individual, irrespective of religious or non-religious beliefs. [For non-religious, substitute “Inner Intelligence or Moral Sense” for “Divinity.”]
I AM the shepherd, I AM the door, the vine, the bread of life, the light of the world, I AM the way, the truth, and the life. The Hindu writer recognized the I AM inside each of us.

Years later, someone in my womanpriest community, Mary Magdalene, First Apostle, brought evidence that Mary Magdalene was the Beloved Disciple in the Fourth Gospel and its founding author. I know this sounds preposterous when you first hear it. I hope you change your mind when you read my post, Mary Magdalene authored the 4th Gospel.

Now Sandra Schneiders gives me new reason to cherish this gospel. She points out that it has four strong women, not one-dimensional as women often are portrayed, but more tough-minded, unconventional, courageous, committed, and powerful than men in the gospels. The women are capable of rational intelligence and interact with Jesus unmediated by men.

The Samaritan woman at the well (Chapter 4) converts her whole Samaritan town. Martha of Bethany (Chapter 11) leads her household, and her confession in Jn 11:27 surpasses Peter’s in Mt 16:16. Mary of Bethany (Chapter 12) anoints the feet of Jesus, who defends her— “Leave her alone,” —when Judas protests her extravagance. Most impressive, Mary Magdalene is the first to witness the risen Christ (Chapter 20).

Whatever your religious or non-religious beliefs, these women protagonists should impress you with their unconventional, effective leadership. They break the mold of stereotypical portrayals of women.

I am grateful to Sandra Schneiders for renewing my respect and appreciation for the Fourth Gospel. My summary here does not do justice to her theological analysis. But two points made by Schneiders I see differently.

1)  In criticizing the Church for its “canonized prejudice” (this phrase raised delighted laughter in her listeners), she stated that the overarching problem in the Church’s treatment of women, that from which all others flow, is clericalism. I don’t think it’s the main problem.

2)  Schneiders scoffed at Catholic women priests because they participate in clericalism. True. But Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) are well aware of this. I agree with them that, nevertheless, women’s ordination is an effective way to resist the official Church’s mistreatment of women. And as individuals, Catholic women priests model non-clericalism.

1)  I think it is not clericalism but the patriarchal concept of what we call “God” that trumps every other sexist sin in Christianity. Everything would change, almost effortlessly, if the faithful were allowed to conceptualize the Highest Value imaginable as feminine.

If Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Intelligence, Power—whatever one holds highest—were called “Mother,” everything would change. If appeals to Mother or “Her” became as commonplace as appeals to “Lord Father Him,” church people and people around the world, whatever their beliefs, would experience less sexism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and every other kind of bigotry and would be less cruelly violent. The damage done by the patriarchal god of Western religion negatively impacts everything in human experience.

After the presentation and questions, I asked Schneiders whether she agreed that Mary Magdalene could have been the Beloved Disciple and the author of the Fourth. She agreed. “But of course, it can’t be proven.” Of course.

Again, I invite you to Mary Magdalene authored the 4thGospel and hope you find the evidence as mind-blowingly revelatory as I did.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Did God have a wife?

A provocative series is airing on PBS: “Bible’s Buried Secrets.” The most subversive segment, “Did God have a wife?” (video) captured the most attention from me. I wondered whether it would spill intoxicating information I have garnered over years of doing feminist research.    

“Did God have a wife?” did not seem feminist to me during most of the hour, although its female scholar, Dr. Francesca Stavrakopoulou, reaches for provocation. Her main point is that common perceptions about the Bible and God as taught by the Judaeo/Christian tradition are upended by archaeological finds. They show that Hebrew ancestors of the Jews did not practice monotheism. Jews also did not invent monotheism, but that point was less clear in the documentary.

For hundreds of thousands of years, what is called God was a woman. She had many different names, but She was not rivaled by males. They were her consorts, not her superiors. The Great Mother gave life, and what we would call “genealogies” centered on mothers, not fathers. This information is missing in the documentary, which gives prominence to Baal and El, male Gods.

But now I’ll look at virtues of “Did God have a wife?” Its photos of archaeological digs and figurines found in them excited me. I am a strong proponent of educating people, and what better way to do it than a TV program? I’d never before seen figurines of Baal, El, and Asherah—they were fascinating.

Dr. Stavrakopoulou directs our attention to symbols surrounding Asherah on figurines of Her found in digs. They display Her life-giving powers—prominent breasts and sacred pubic triangle. These were revered by ancient cultures. She birthed new life; She was the tree of life; She was the one saying, “Be fruitful and multiply,” not a lord.

When patriarchy conquered mother-centered cultures, sacred life-giving power was stolen from the Divine Feminine and given to a male God-image—the Lord. In a similar patriarchal do-over, the Greeks stole Her life-giving power by having Zeus manage a kind of birth (more complete story below).

Asherah’s image was accompanied by a branch with leaves representing Nature. At shrines, wooden poles or trees representing Asherah were held sacred. Most biblical references to Asherah—40 of them—are obscured by references to these “sacred poles.” The Lord orders them destroyed, as in Deuteronomy 7:5 and 12:2-3:
Tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars, destroy by fire their sacred poles and shatter the idols of their gods that you may stamp out the remembrance of them in any such place.

Anyone who researches this will run into the term “cult objects,” a clear sign that our whole culture, academia included, is governed by Christocentrism. Do we talk about a chalice or a priest’s stole as cult objects?

Jesus of Nazareth was not ruled by the patriarchal mindset, but the religion that grew up in his memory was. Christian churches denigrated female bodies and blamed females for all evil. Sexist statements by Church “Fathers” are well-known:
Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman.
(Clement of Alexandria)
You are the devil’s gateway. You first plucked the forbidden fruit . . . It was you who destroyed the image of God, man.
(Tertullian)
Woman does not possess the image of God in herself …
(Augustine of Hippo)

Today, the female body held sacred by prehistoric cultures suffers a different kind of desecration. Today, the bodies of females are playthings of men. Few things annoy me more than that public baring of breasts to feed babies is forbidden, while public display of breasts to titillate men is encouraged.

The most impressive part of “Did God have a wife?” was its analysis of Dt 33: 3. The words in question are totally hidden in my NAB translation, but not in my RSV translation. Moses is blessing the Israelites before his death and says he saw “the Lord” and "at his right, a host of his own."

Dr. Stavrakopoulou shows us the Hebrew letters usually translated “his host,” which makes no sense, and explains that it is reasonable to suspect they should be translated "his Asherah." Another reference to "Yahweh and his Asherah" was found on a shard of pottery excavated in another archaeological dig. This my research had uncovered before. In other words, we know that ancient people revered Yahweh and Asherah as husband and wife.

Knowing the history of patriarchal distortions in scripture makes “the Lord” language hateful to me. Its oppressive stamp increased when in 2005 the Vatican overthrew the translation by experts in liturgy who had labored long to produce language beautiful and meaningful. Instead, the Vatican imposed clunky, domineering Lord-talk. It forbids inclusive God-talk, for instance, praying to “Our Mother.”

For this reason, listening to Mass language is always a trial. I can stand it because the atmosphere in Sacred Heart Chapel, the lofty dome and pillars, the music, the reverence and spiritual depth of the religious community, uplift me. When I sit in that place, good thoughts come.

The way we imagine what’s called God makes a huge difference in human relationships. I hope information like that given here will gradually sink into the minds of more people. Right now, I resolve to do more educating on this topic, but I keep being distracted by political events.

**
One person replied,"Oh, pul-leeeze." I'm sure he knows this but I thought I'd better add it: If it's ridiculous to think of God having a wife, isn't it just as ridiculous to pray to an exclusively male God? This is the point.


April 3, 2017

Two comments by email concern me. Apparently, I didn’t make myself clear to every reader in my last post. I assumed all my readers would know that it's ridiculous to think of God having a gender. The spiritual principal we call "God" CREATED gender. It could not possible BE one of the genders. I shouldn’t have, but did, take for granted that readers would connect the dots I didn’t spell out.           

The ancient Hebrews, whose writings were edited and turned into the Bible, had the same problem we have— consistently, always, exclusively, hearing God referred to as a lord. They never heard references to Her as the life-giver, the Source of all that is. As a consequence of Yahweh being imagined exclusively male, “He” was given a wife in Hebrew imagination. This unintended consequence indicates the pathology of male-only God-talk.

We have to distinguish between what’s called “God” and God-images. A male-only God-image diminished human understanding of Divinity for the ancients and continues doing it today. Further, it deformed human relationships then and does so now by utterly devaluing the feminine.

The Lord of the Hebrew Bible, what Christians call “the Old Testament,” not only condones rape but orders it when he commands genocide, euphemistically called a “ban” or “dooming” in our Bibles. Often the Lord explicitly orders the Hebrews to save the virgins of the conquered people for use by themselves. Examples of the ban are found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Judges, and Joshua.

As for today, can anyone doubt the connection between the Western Lord God and gender abuse? There are more slaves today than at any time in human history. Besides big profits made from human trafficking and illegal brothels (victimizing boys, too), untold numbers of women toil at backbreaking labor to feed their children while the men who impregnated them give orders, make the decisions, and relax.
This is observed regularly by global aid organizations such as Heifer International and micro-lending NGOs. The reach of predatory patriarchy abetted by sexist God-talk encompasses the entire globe.

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The contact buttons at this site and http://www.godisnot3guys.com had not been working well, but that’s been fixed now. So click on one of the contact buttons to reach me if you don’t know my email address and don’t want to comment online.

My friend Marilyn in Phoenix, the same one who nagged me into blogging again, extracted from me a promise to announce that my directors at St. Cloud State U. acknowledged my retirement from supervising student teachers. There was a cake—that sealed it for me. This part time adjunct position started in January of 2000. I think I’m better at it now as I’m finishing. Isn’t that the way of things? We’ve mastered something and then it’s time to move on. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

My Re-Imagining moment

First, I invite readers to learn about the Re-Imagining movement. 

On February 26, I was re-imagining at Mass while listening to the first reading—Isaiah 49: 15:
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
In the past, when I heard passages like this I thought,
Lovely, God described in feminine terms!
As I listened this time, I thought about the Greek myth I wrote about in the previous post. The myth has the Goddess Athena springing fully-formed from the head of Zeus, so that a male god usurps an exclusively feminine faculty. On the basis of this myth, the Greek dramatist Aeschylus justifies matricide (Scroll down to previous post for the story).

With this in mind, I thought to myself about the Isaiah passage: 
It’s lovely, except that the Lord is speaking. No one imagines a female lord.
The Judaeo/Christian Lord robs females of their power as Zeus does by his faux birthing of Athena because the Lord never is referred to as “She.” Pronouns tell us what’s wrong with this and many such scriptural passages. When He claims feminine powers, He utterly negates female worth. 

As the Mass progressed, I also thought of a recent interview by Krista Tippett, host of “On Being.” She was speaking to a mathematician and science writer.
Margaret Wertheim: My mother’s Catholicism has been one of the greatest and deepest influences on everything I do.
Tippett: But you also are atheist, is that correct?
Wertheim: [I do not] believe in the existence of God in the Catholic sense. [But] I want to say very publicly I’m not an atheist. . . .
I’m very, very saddened by the fact that militant atheism has become [sic] so to the fore of our society. I think it’s destructive and unhelpful. And I don’t think it does science any service. 
I agree and know atheists who agree. 
The word “militant” stood out during the interview and came to me in church. I thought,
The Bible contains militant patriarchy.
Wertheim used “militant” to describe atheists belligerently attacking a belief system—quite different from the Isaiah reading about a mother’s love. But the Zeus-birthed-Athena myth and the-Lord-mothers-better-than-a-mother myth both insidiously undermined the belief system in pre-historic times when God was imagined to be female. 

Knowing history enlightens the present. The Great Mother in pre-history, Mater Magna, embodied feminine powers. If Christianity is to stop being a patriarchal oppressor, we need to pray to Her as well as to Him.



Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Chalice and the Blade—and Trump 2

First, I apologize for neglecting to publish recent comments. I forgot to check. This is an explanation, not an excuse. If you scroll down to previous posts, you’ll find comments that weren’t there before.

Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade inspires further reflection:
     Myths of classical Greece show how the male-centered invaders who conquered female-centered societies thousands of years earlier also conquered minds. In the earliest Greek myths, Hera reigns supreme as the Queen of Heaven. In the male system, she becomes the jealous wife of the all-powerful thunder-god Zeus. Greek religion even grants Zeus a power unique to women. The goddess Athena springs fully-formed from his head; he fathers a daughter without the help of any mother!

Greek drama of the fifth century B.C.E. deserves our respect for its artistic value, but it also deserves our criticism for its anti-feminine values, as illustrated in the Oresteia, a trilogy by Aeschylus. 
Stripped of its artistry, the plot in brief repels us. Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia. To avenge his crime, Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon and mother of Iphigenia, kills Agamemnon. Then their son Orestes avenges that act by killing his mother Clytemnestra.

Orestes is brought to trial and absolved for murdering his mother. On what grounds? The god Apollo argues that a mother is not truly a parent, only a vessel to nourish the father’s seed. He points to Athena, saying, “There can be a father without any mother.” Athena agrees that only fathers are related to their children. Expropriation of female power is complete.

Can there be a more effective victory over feminine values? Christian myth copied it.

But today, the power of the Father/Son myth is waning. This monumental change is evidenced by the “nones,” the 25 percent, and growing, of U.S. society non-affiliated with religion. Other phenomena signaling the shift are frequent messages of love and acceptance in public discourse and growing rejection of capital punishment. A large signal of a major shift is the uproar surrounding Donald Trump.

His choices to head departments and agencies designed to protect health care, housing, economic security, clean energy, fair access to technology, voting rights, a safe environment, and mutual respect have histories of undermining the very institutions they will now head.

When Trump rolled out the names, I looked for the source of the force behind Donald Trump, who doesn’t have the brains or the ultra-right inclination. All Trump gets out of dismantling protections is the celebrity-attention of being Disrupter-in-Chief. Who’s the driver behind the scene? I thought Mike Pence.

It is Steve Bannon. White America first, sexism, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, militarism—all espoused by Bannon and consistent with the values of warrior tribes that overtook peaceful, woman-centered civilizations thousands of years before Jesus of Nazareth lived.
     Bannon, who is Catholic, allies with Vatican hardliners who oppose Pope Francis' more compassionate approach to church doctrine. Bannon sees the world in a fundamental clash of civilizations—Islam versus Christianity—and the “church militant” needs to actively fight “this new barbarity,” he says. He is livid with zeal.

When a system is dying, resistance to the shift toward an unfamiliar paradigm flares dramatically. Bannon’s opposition to Pope Francis perfectly illustrates this. Our country is being ruled by the extreme ideology of Steve Bannon and the emotionally-damaged Donald Trump.  But there is hope. The blazing show of Donald Trump/Steve Bannon signals patriarchy in demise.

"Intelligence Squared" debates pit four debaters against each other, two on each side. The debate over the proposition, “Give Trump a Chance,” reinforced my feeling that we stand at a crisis point that will generate massive changes. Only one debater defended Trump. The other debater on the side of giving Trump a chance argued that our institutions are strong enough to resist Trump’s destructive policies and those who voted for him need time to reconsider their vote.

I didn’t care which side of the debate won; I wanted to hear debaters argue to give or not give Donald Trump a chance as a way of gauging whether our society is choosing cooperation and partnership over domination and competition.
How much resistance is building to the Trump administration’s stance against others and over others? That even the debater who argued to give Trump a chance recognized the destructiveness of his policies assures me that stereotypically-feminine values indeed are surging. 

I am not arguing for feminine qualities to overtake masculine qualities and reign alone. We need masculine strength, independence, and confidence. We need balance,   and this has been missing for millennia, ever since warrior tribes invaded and conquered matrilineal societies during the fifth and fourth millennia B.C.E., and replaced their peaceful, egalitarian cultures with warlike, hierarchical ones.

More next time.