we are the immaculate conception

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we are the immaculate conception

somos tod@s la imaculada concepción…we are the immaculate conception

Mary Visits Elizabeth: Luke 1: 39-45

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit  and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

I would like to start off with a short selection from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple …  

CELIE: God forgot about me!

SHUG: God takin’ his time getting around to you, I admit, but look at all he give us. Laughin’, and singin’, and sex. Sky over our heads, birds singin’ to us. I think it piss God off if anybody even walk past the color purple in a field and not notice it. He say,”look what I made for you.”

I use the story to engage this Gospel passage…  The story of Mary …  A woman who transgressed borders.  A woman called to be a mother, prophet, apostle, revolutionary…She has been exulted and divinized, yet her humanity has often been forgotten and ignored …It is her story that we will look at today to wrestle and grapple with the church’s teaching on the immaculate conception.

Llena de gracia…full of grace

Catholics around the world accept the teaching of the Immaculate Conception.  However, what does it actually mean?  In 1854, Pope Pius IX stated:  “The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.”   What does it mean that Mary was preserved from sin?  It is the belief that because of her unique mission, Mary was conceived immaculately in her mother’s womb so that sin would not pass on to her child, Jesus, who as son of GOD is free of sin.

It was a common belief in Israel that the sins of the parent were passed onto the child.  If Jesus was to be free of sin, his mother would also have to be free from sin.  My queries are…where does the cycle end…if sin is passed from generation to generation, was Mary’s mother, Anne, also free from sin?  How far back does the immaculate lineage have to go?  If Mary was not marked by sin, did she really have a choice … would she come down with sinfulness if she had said no?  By focusing on conception for future conception, have we limited, distorted, and reduced Mary and by extension all women to worth based on biological breeding?

This feast and dogma has wider implications than explaining that Mary was a suitable receptacle for a son–it impacts how the church treats women and their bodies.  It is a source of much division among Christians … with some believing that women should be subservient to their husbands as baby factories (those who cannot are defective machinery) while others affirm the right of women to be ordained and preach.

It is dogmas like the Immaculate Conception that lead to confusion and misunderstanding about Mary and I believe a neglect women, we coerce their womanhood into mindless biological assembly lines.  It is this theological marginalization that we need to address so that we can proclaim all as being llena de gracia, full of grace.

In this place, I invite us to relook at what it means to be la Imaculada Concepción…To be conceived immaculately.

In proclaiming Mary as the Immaculate Conception, we are also proclaiming our own immaculate conception as children of GOD.  The feast is not about Maria as an exception to the rule, but a celebration of who we are and who we will become.  We are all conceived immaculately, each of us is llena de gracia, full of grace

If we look to Genesis, we are told that we are created in GOD’s image and that creation is good.  From the beginning we are holy, we are perfect. Regardless of the goofs up that we may do upon entering the world, regardless of the run ins with the Sarah’s of the world who reject us and castigate us for being different, we are good, we are llena de gracia.

Past all the mistakes and oopses, past all the things we coulda woulda shoulda, we are good, we are llena de gracia.  Many of the women included in biblical texts are due to their calling to be mothers.  What does this calling mean  What about those of us who cannot conceive children?  Are we less filled with grace?  No … regardless of our capacity or ability or willingness to give birth biologically … we are all called to give birth to the divine in our actions, words, and deeds … we are called to give birth through our vocations and callings.  We too have been entrusted with baring GOD to the world.  GOD has consecrated and created us with a mission from the time of our birth.

The prophet Jeremiah tells us that  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  We are all llena de gracia.

As the Psalmist proclaims, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”   Regardless of the defects that society says we have or how denominations may tell us that we are unworthy for being a woman, black, or transgender, or when we are looked down upon for standing in solidarity with the oppressed, may we hold unto, remember, embrace that we are created, conceived and consecrated as good, as holy, as llena de gracia.

No one can take that away… We are Llena de gracia, full of grace.

Like our foremother Mary, we all have a purpose and personal vocation.  It is a calling that we will learn to live out, that we will grow into, that will be revealed to us through out our lives, perhaps with angelic visits in the deserts of life, moments of prayer in chapel, proclamations received through loved ones.

We are not just born and that’s it … No, no, GOD has a special something for all of us to accomplish. Mother Teresa is humorously quoted as having said, “GOD as entrusted me with a specific amount of things to accomplish in this life, I am so far behind in my work, I will never die.”  If we look to all the births that were announced in Scriptures, Isaac, Ishmael, Samuel, John, Jesus… The child born always had special vocation to live out.

This is not limited to Biblical figures, all of us come into this world with a special calling to live out, to be the change, holiness, and love GOD wants in this world.  There is no right or better calling or right or better way to express it…it is expressed through a marian enthusiastic yes and through hagarian righteous anger.  Immaculate conception does not mean we are passive and submissive, but like Mary we embody spiciness and chutzpah to care for those who are sacred to us.

The call to motherhood is not about breeding like rabbits or limited to female bodied individuals, we are called to be fruitful through the evolving multiplication of our abilities to listen, cook, design buildings, theologize, preach, and understand how the physiological makeup of fungus has implications for sexual ethics.   By expanding our understanding of the immaculate conception.  By honoring Mary, we celebrate the prophets and disciples we are all called to be, of who we are now on our journeys of faith and who we will become in the desert.

We are llena de gracia, full of grace, in our callings to be hospital chaplains, professors, parents, immigrant rights activists, reproductive health advocates, parish priests, youth ministers…all of the above, none of the above…in our calling to be human, we are full of grace, llena de gracia.

In the chaotic joy of living into our multiple callings, we must remember, hold onto, internalize, and put on a post it that we are not forgotten by GOD as Celie laments in the color purple, we are not abandoned or sent alone.  We must hold onto Shug’s reminder of how GOD provides through laughter, singing, and sex.   GOD does not forget about us for GOD is with us, just like GOD came to Hagar in the desert, meeting her where she was … just like GOD came to the prophet in the stillness after the thunder and storm … just like GOD came to a poor Jewish girl from the barrio … just like GOD was with Mary at the foot of the cross … just like the names Emmanuel and Ishmael … GOD with us and GOD listens …  GOD is always there and is always here.

We may not feel it or believe it in our moments of grief, confusion, depression, chaos … when anger causes us to flee from the world into deserts of despair.  In our earthquakes and hurricanes and pervasive brokenness… in our desolation for being rejected for fulfilling a task given to us–GOD is there, GOD is here…through a friend, through an email, through a butterfly, through an angel who tells us we will be cared for, despite our belief.

GOD is there and GOD is here…through the fact that we manage to get up and face the desert despite our exhaustion. GOD is there, GOD is here, for we are llena de gracia and full of grace.  In this time of Advent as we prepare to celebrate the Word made flesh, may we remember our own births, how we were divinely knit, how we are lovingly woven together with purpose.

Though this homilitecal engagement is perhaps heretical and not what the good ol’ boys in Rome had in mind, I like Mary will not sit and wait, but will be counter-cultural and provide a counter narrative–we are the immaculate conception. We cannot let the church and society take away that we are immaculately conceived with sacred and sassy chutzpath!

We too are good, we too are consecrated with purpose, we too are llena de gracia, full of grace.

Amen!

are queer relationships compatible with church teaching?

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are queer relationships compatible with church teaching?

Second post for Queering Catholicism

According to the catechism, sexuality in relationship is defined and guided by the following:

Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament…Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such…The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude.” Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure: The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit…Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment…The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family…The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation of fidelity and fecundity. (2360-2363)

There are several scholars who believe that the full expression of same-sex love and pleasure within a personal, mutual relationship is entirely compatible with the Church’s teaching of marriage and sexuality. Many argue that sexuality is a gift from God and when expressed in a personal, mutual relationship it is therefore natural and accepted. Hence, TQBLG individuals believe that their sexuality is “created, sustained, and blessed by God” (Yip, 1997b, p. 172). If God is love, why would God be less present in the love of a queer couple than a heterosexual couple?   Many queer couples firmly believe that achieving a Christian partnership based on Christian values is achievable—their relationships are based on mutual love, mutual sharing, faithfulness, mutual commitment to pleasure…mutuality in its various forms and expressions.

On a personal note, my beloved and I have accepted the teaching of the Church and embodied it in our relationship. Our relationship (and those of countless others) is based on the idea of sexuality that the Catechism expresses. We believe in and live by “intimate and chaste union”; we practice and strive for self-giving to each other by caring for the other when sick and supporting each other’s adventures (such as working 3 jobs to support the other while in divinity school); we experience pleasure and enjoyment through our bodies by affirming each other’s beauty, balding, flat-footedness, and pudginess; and have transmitted life by affirming, celebrating, and challenging each other’s lives and personhood in fullness (even when we may not agree with each other)—our relationship has been life-giving to us and to those we welcome into our casa. By the Church’s standards, Jason and I are being faithful to the church’s teaching in every sense of fidelity and fecundity.   Our coming together may not be able to produce children, but we can transmit life by pro-creating love and laughter through the formation of a family, be it how we treat and include our families of origin in our lives, the family formed through our inner sanctum of friends, extending the Body of Christ by how we treat those we engage with in the world, and through whatever means we decide to have children (which is a whole set of other entries!).

Christian members of the TQBLG community have been able to manage faith and sexual identity signifying their ability to not only survive but thrive, live, and celebrate in a social, religious environment that many times does not accept or support them. Though many are amazed, queer Catholics are finding ways to be who they are and find their place in the Church. Pope Benedict XV said that there was to be no distinction among Catholics—we are all Catholics, period! One cannot be sure whether or not he had queer Catholics in mind, but many TQBLG individuals are proud of their Catholic faith and through their experiences are opening doors so that all people can celebrate and commune as one body. May TQBLG Catholics are faithful people to their Catholic heritage striving “to live [our] lives in accordance to the Gospel, who discuss the sermon over brunch after mass, and who write their checks at the Offertory…. [They] also respond ‘Lord hear our prayer’ when the general intercessions plead for greater respect for life, because [they] know first hand what it means to experience disrespect for life” (Stoltz, 1998, p.11).

how to query church teaching

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how to query church teaching

The next two posts will be part of a series called “Queering Catholicism” which are based on a paper I wrote while in Divinity School.  I look forward to sharing these reflections and to the conversations they spark here on the blog and elsewhere.   Viva la revolucion!

The intersection of sexuality and church teaching as a Latin@ trans-person of faith in a poly-amorous relationship with the Catholic Church is not an easy or succinct issue to address and grapple with. The Church’s treatment of sexuality is multi-layered and complex. From the marginalization of women’s voices based on biblical exegesis, to procreation as the fruit that quasi-redeems sexual desire according to both Augustine and Aquinas, to imposed chastity on those who identify as homosexual, to Augustine’s perceived self-hate of the body and its sinfulness, to Paul VI’s pro-life and pro-marriage exertions in Humanae Vitae, to the rediscovery of the body as holy in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, to progressive approaches by scholars such as Margaret Farley—sex, sexuality, sexual ethics, and gender are controversial, confusing, convoluted, and often taboo subjects that the Church has dealt with in a very black and white manner with no room for color or variation.

For the purposes of this series of entries and my sanity, I will narrow the scope of sexuality-related teachings focusing on the Church’s treatment of homosexuality. As Margaret Farley notes in her book Just Love, “it is by no means accurate to say that Christians have always judged homosexuality negatively…the historical studies of scholars like [John] Boswell have uncovered a much less univocal teaching and understanding through the centuries” (p. 277).   There are 2000 years of theological, doctrinal, and ethical discourses to sort through; these entries will primarily look at the summation and compilation of this heritage as presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (book of official Church teachings).

 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (2357-2359)

 

Nowhere in this passage does it command Catholics to ridicule, reject, discriminate, harass, physically attack, and persecute TQBLG individuals or their supporters. Though the Church does not accept this violent malice or treatment, there is still on the official level a “very negative evaluation of homosexual relationships” (Moore, 2003, p. 12). Catholic communities tell their queer members that the intimate sexual relationships they have or seek are “aberrant, contrary to the will of God as expressed in Scriptures and tradition, to be struggled against, a source of danger rather than a potential element of that genuine human happiness which heterosexual Christians may find in marriage” (Moore, 2003, p. 12). Some argue that these sentiments highlight the Church’s prejudice and bias for they single out TQBLG individuals for stigmatization and censure, but tolerate other sins (Yip, 1997, p. 119). Who decides what is sinful and what is not?

The official Church teaching takes two different directions, expressing compassion while also stating objective disorder. The Church recognizes the humanity of the individual person but does not let them be fully human (Stahel, 1993, p. 8). It basically takes the philosophy of “hate the sin, love the sinner” but rephrases it to state “accept the condition and not the conditioned.” It has been my experience that my fellow Catholics are willing to accept homosexuality as an abstract concept but will not tolerate expressions of it, such as wearing a rainbow, much less know what to do with bisexuality, poly-amory, or transgender. Comparisons have been made between queer individuals and individuals with disabilities/differently-abled, in that the Church recognizes that both are involuntary. However, “the acts of a [mentally handicap] person are morally blameless insofar as they are produced by their handicap …. But with gay people, the condition is like a handicap, but its expression is an intrinsic moral evil (Stahel, 1993, p. 9). To an extent the Church is contradicting itself by advocating compassion but promoting discrimination and repression of a “condition” that it admits not fully understanding.

Despite contradictions and resulting tribulations of Church teaching and practice, many TQBLG activists and their allies are seeking ways to reconcile church teaching with inclusive approach to sexuality and sexual ethics. Theologians (both religious and lay) are wrestling with creating spaces for the theological, biblical, liturgical, social, and ethical renegotiations of sexual identity/expression and religious identity. Through this reconciliation, many TQBLG individuals believe that their sexuality and its expression is part of the natural design God created.

Though I believe that there is a bridge between by Catholic and sexual identities, there is a soul-wrenching disconnect when it comes to the Communion Table. Despite the inclusivity of several Catholic communities created through theological counter-narratives, I do not feel that my personhood in its wholeness and holiness is welcome at the Communion table.   I am mindful that is not possible to truly live by every teaching put forth in the Catechism. Because I am knowingly and willingly not living or expressing what the Church teaches (disobeying her), I feel like I am no longer in communion with the Church and therefore should not partake in Communion (out of respect and a love-hate relationship with her).   Who am I is othered and fractured by the Church’s rhetoric on sexuality and gender; in order to receive I feel a pressure to deny my desires which are an integral part of who I am as a wholly and just sexual being.

There are many who would disagree with me on my personal practice, I believe it reflects the complicated and messy work of intersecting religion and sexuality. I am mindful that in progressive Catholic circles, I am invited to the open table but part of me is not ready even for that—perhaps it comes from the little conservative nun who lives inside who is not truly ready for alternative yet equal expressions of liturgized and ritualized breaking of bread.  As one of many activist-scholars engaged in this issue of faithful yet critical deconstruction and reinterpretation of Church doctrine, it has taken hitting many bumps on the road to arrive at a place where I am not guilty (as Augustine and many Church Fathers would advocate I should feel for giving into desire) of embracing being a Catholic, sexual being. The journey of building the bridge between sexuality and faith is a continuous one—I am a being in process who can proudly proclaim and rant that I may not be the norm but the ability to love beyond the norm is not a mistake or disorder but another piece in the divine scheme of things.

featured image found at:  http://heysonnie.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/god-made-me-queer/

the struggle is real

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the struggle is real

In reflecting over my ongoing sojourn with faith and sexuality, I realize that who I am and the area I seek to evolve is one that both disturbs and is disturbed, changes and is changed. As I look back at my life in an effort to re-remember my re-membering as I wrestle with church teaching, CCD classes, retreats, a home that reinforced what the church expounded, my continuous coming out, and personal beliefs about faith, I am mindful that 12 years ago if I knew what I knew today I would have condemned myself. In searching the hogar within, I realize that growing up I knew that there was something different about me. I had a feeling that I did not feel right in my own body and I was not like other boys or girls. I was confused for a long time and decided not to deal with it. Rather than reconcile my faith and my sexuality, I repressed many feelings that did not fit into the black and white paradigm of gender/sexuality that stemmed from growing up Cuban, conservative, and Catholic. Twelve years ago, this reflection that critiques the Church’s teaching would not have been written, much less having attended Yale Divinity School, being the director of a LGBT Center, and much, much, much less showing my hairy legs and painted toe nails in a skirt I bought I Lane Bryant. In order to survive I unwillingly conformed to the standards imposed on me because I was scared of the ramifications if I did not—I hid behind the smile of the good Catholic boy who was going to be a priest. Being Hispanic, Catholic, and queer did not mesh well. I feared burning in hell, being beat up, and most tragically being a disgrace to my family and their memory. The world was to be black and white with no room for color or even variations of gray, period, no questions asked.

As I began to venture into the world of sexuality and gender, questions, doubts, and issues with gender binaries and expectations began to rise. I began to query my history, cultural worlds, family story, church teaching, and society’s dominant narrative. When I came out in my early twenties, I said I was gay because it was all I knew at the time and it seemed to fit; it was also slightly safer.   I was an oddity in a world of dominating and hierarchical notions of sacred whiteness and holy maleness. I did not fit the stereotype of gay maleness perpetuated by society and the media due to something more that was evolving, growing, and desiring to be birthed in me and in the world. As I learned about the T of LGBTQ, I had a second coming out to myself and to GOD. I was birthed, came into voice, and claimed that I am both/and—I am not an antagonistic dualism. AHHHHHHHH!!!!!! OHHHHHHHH S***!!!!!!!!!

As a Catholic, I feel that I am constantly having to prove myself and my Catholicity. It is a constant struggle of becoming, yet a becoming that is never affirmed, accepted, or celebrated as good enough. Becoming and existing as a person who is both/and is especially hard in the Catholic world that is still figuring out what to do with G and L, much less attempting to engage BTPPQQ and everything else. It is a place where many are quick to silently judge, label, and dismiss my personhood causing this little freak in a skirt to go back into the closet out of fear and survival. My experience thus in life have helped me realize that the grappling of living into and out of one’s faith and sexuality is an on-going one. I realize that I am not alone, there are those who have paved the way before me through their brave questioning of church teaching such as Margaret Farley, Hildegard of Bingen, Gloria Anzaldua, and Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz; and there are those who are paving the way with me like my mother, my beloved, and all I meet along the way of this quirky journey of life.   My lucha is to bare witness to the Catholic Church and take on her teachings; finding ways to be catholic. Coming into my own publicly through the birthing of this delphic delfín will be a labor of revolutionary resilience where GOD is my midwife birthing and re-birthing truth-telling in me and through me.   Amen.

 I have been witness to marvels that affect the nature of the mystical body, for we too, gay men that we are, are also members of that same body…and mind by mind, soul by soul, heart by heart, we are building a consensus fidelium that one day will set us free…for such is the promise of our common baptism and the rights we derive from that sacrament. –E. Stoltz

 In all those times of wrestling with tough issues, with Church leaders, with each other, with disease, I have been pinned down and squeezed, touched, massaged, embraced, cuddled, and, yes, pleasured by a challenging and ever-loving GOD. I have been transformed and reconciled. No longer frightened or ashamed, I am learning to confide in GOD’s love and the love of my fellow wrestlers. After the match is over, I look forward to walking humbly with my GOD, even if it is with a limp. – K. J. Calegari

 

honoring all members of the family

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honoring all members of the family

I was asked by our campus publication Compass to write an article/reflection on National Coming Out Day…below is the musing that was published.  Original link:  http://www.ohio.edu/compass/stories/14-15/10/national-coming-out-day.cfm

Oct. 11, 2014, marks the 26th anniversary of National Coming Out Day. The “holigay” started on Oct. 11, 1987, when half a million people participated in the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

Since its beginning National Coming Out Day is an opportunity for folks of minoritized or marginalized sexual orientations and gender identities to openly share who they are with the world while advocating that we all have the right to live safely and without violence in this world.

For the last few years, National Coming Out Day has coincided with OHIO’s Homecoming. The LGBT Center has played off “homecoming” by reflecting that coming out is a way of coming home to one’s self, one’s family, and one’s community.

On this upcoming Homecoming weekend, we invite all members of the Bobcat Family to come out whether as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender; or as asexual, pansexual, queer, questioning, intersex; or as a straight ally for coming out is not limited to just those of us who identify as LGBTQ or queer.

National Coming Out Day is also a time honor, remember, and affirm all who are in the closet who cannot come out for whatever reason. Our message to them is that they are not alone and have a community who is solidarity with them. In the words of queer athlete Brittney Griner, “don’t worry about what other people are going to say, because they’re always going to say something, but, if you’re just true to yourself, let that shine through. Don’t hide who you really are.”

The theme of this year’s Homecoming of “Bobcat Family Reunion” is festive but also one mixed with several conflicting emotions. For many of us within the LGBT community, family reunions can be awkward and hurtful due to the lack of support of the “gay cousin” or not acknowledging the queer relationship of “aunt so-and-so” or intentionally using the wrong name and pronoun for the sibling who came out as gender-nonconforming. Because of these dynamics, many of us here at OHIO have found ways to redefine family by creating our own “chosen” families in which we are able to safely and openly belong.

Our hope is that during our upcoming Bobcat Family Reunion, we are able to remember the words of civil rights activist and ally Dolores Huerta, “in the Latino community, we do not turn our back on our family … we have a responsibility to nurture the youth in our families, not to push them out because they happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.”

And so we call on ALL within our Bobcat Family—students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members, ALL Bobcats—to “come out come out wherever you are, to come out come out whoever you are.” ALL are welcome to join us on Thursday, Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. in Walter 135, to spark off the coming out celebrations with a performance by Harvey Katz (Athens Boys Choir).

ALL are welcome to come out with us on Friday, Oct. 10 at 11 a.m. in the Front Room for a National Coming Out Day Rally. All are welcome to join us, whether you are coming out for the first time or for the 1804th time or just want to be present.

As we celebrate Homecoming and National Coming Out Day with our Bobcat Family, may we embody with “bobcat rainbow warrior fierceness” the words of Harvey Milk, “you must come out … break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions … for your sake, for [all people’s] sake, for the sake of the youngsters who are scared … all young people, regardless of sexual orientation or [gender] identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential … burst down those closet doors once and for all …”

there’s something about mary

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there’s something about mary

I was drawn to ENZA’s cover of Beyonce’s rendition of the Ave Maria. Just a girl and her voice, nothing more—much like the person whose life inspired the song. Who was this Mary of Galilee?   She has been at the center of controversy and many theological headaches as people try to figure out her place within doctrine.   Beyonce’s Ave Maria moves away from the intellectual conundrums and simply tells the story of a girl–a girl who was confused, lost, challenged, and yet filled with determination and faith to face whatever life brought her way.

According to tradition, Mary was from a poor farming community and was not formally educated. It is this woman, marginalized because of gender, class, and neighborhood, who was chosen to be a messenger of hope. Though art and scholarship tend to depict her as a delicate, submissive girl, her story is one of a woman who fights…who is strong…who takes charge…who does what is needed to fulfill a calling…who trusts without knowing all of the answers.

Like many of us, she did not know what challenges awaited her. She did not know she would be risking her life, she would ride a donkey while 9 months pregnant, that she would be exiled and become an undocumented immigrant, she did not know that her son would be rejected, humiliated and executed. Despite the not knowing, she took a chance…took a risk…got messy…and said bring it on embracing her life with gusto, boldness, determination, and chutzpah.

Whether you engage her story as just a mythological narrative or as actual events at the core of religious traditions, Mary’s story is one that many of us who are facing life’s uncertainties about jobs, vocational calling, relationships, and how to live with purpose can relate to. This poor, marginalized, Jewish mother is an inspiration for me in learning how to embrace life, on how not to give up, and on how to trust the journey bumps and all.   What does her story teach you?

what is the church so scared about?

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what is the church so scared about?

Growing up Catholic, I was raised with the notion that the Roman Church was the holder of ultimate truth and that there was a certain infallible nature to the Church. All other traditions were wrong, confused, or flawed in some way. Perhaps it was a grave misunderstanding of Church teaching and doctrine, but I believed that the only to way to obtain truth was through the Church.   Ecumenism and religious pluralism threatens this idea of the Church holding the truth. To think that truth can be held by other traditions (even a piece of it) is unfathomable to many conservative Catholics. This mentality can lead to a superiority complex among Catholics who feel that the Church is better than other traditions.

Catholic teaching is very black and white—what you see is what you get for the most part. Regardless of where one falls on the spectrum of obedience and agreement to Church doctrine, there is a clear set of teachings to grapple with. Teachings on sexuality and responsibility may seem outdated but at least one knows the official stance to support or rebel against. Religious pluralism threatens the control that the Church has over her members. By acknowledging pluralism, one acknowledges that there are truths and alternative means to obtain them outside of the Church. There is no control over how people think, what they do, or how they express themselves. It goes from being black and white to colorful which poses a threat to accountability to a set doctrine. I do not mean to describe the Church to be a power-hungry, tyrannical dictatorship needing to control every nanosecond of every life; however, obedience and loyalty to teaching is often emphasized and lack of conformity shunned upon. Individuals who seek to broaden their experience of the Divine by adopting practices from other traditions (even Christian ones) are often criticized by fellow Catholics who feel that if one sits when one is supposed to kneel or uses a mantra or acknowledges that Jesus was Jewish or discerns the possibility of entering another tradition because the Church is no longer home—one is deviant, ostracized, and shunned.

The Church needs to learn how to balance Catholic and catholic. There is a balance between being a universal church that is located in various parts of the world with being open to widening the circle of acceptance of individuals and beliefs that can broaden our understanding of God. Through the black and white (which brings order) God has been placed within the limitations of a box. I believe this unjustly binds the Almighty Creator of the Universe who is so much more than our imperfect minds can grasp. I find it problematic when people define God as this and not that or develop rubrics for what constitutes authentic religious expression—whatever does not conform to our labels/categories is some how less than and questioned.

The church is struggling to become comfortable with learning from other traditions.   The Church is recognizing where she needs growth (at times admitting and owning errors and mistakes) and how religious pluralism can enrich liturgy, theology, and doctrine. It is a journey of discovering how to be catholic Catholics—why is that so scary?

que viva cachita

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que viva cachita

In honor of the feast of Our Lady of Charity, patroness of Cuba, I am reposting a reflection on the revolutionary image and story.   For a basic understanding and background of the story of Our Lady of Charity, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Charity

¡Que viva Cachita!

Reading and reflecting on the story of the apparition of Our Lady of Charity, affectionately Cachita, has created an opportunity for me to profundizar my religious and cutltural roots as a Cuban-American (something that I have rarely done).  As with all stories that involve the divine, the story of Cachita carries with it a multiplicity of theological meanings.  Juan Moreno, one of the “tres Juanes,” shares a simple and very human narration of what took place almost 400 years ago demonstrating how the divine reached out to his community.  His personal testimony reflects how GOD continues to find ways to connect with us in order to create new spiritual and cultural identities within changing spiritual and cultural realities—a testimony and messenger whose radicalness not only lies in the message of his witness but also is in the testimony of his person as he was a black slave, a true embodiment that GOD speaks in the most prophetic and unexpected ways.

Much of my Marian Theology or Mariology has focused on the image of Mary as a disciple who journeys with us on el camino de fe para locos y apasionados (the path of faith for the crazy and passionate).  Juan’s story is in this same spirit presenting Cachita as a mother who walks with the people, especially the poor and oppressed.  Her image is found in the sea by a black man and two Indians; symbolically representing a beacon of hope and revived dignity in the chaotic waters of marginalization.  Though there is much discussion on her appearing both wet and dry as Juan shares at different parts of the narrative, this phenomenon shows that Mary is a mujer atrevida (a bold woman) that reverses social and cultural order by demonstrating that she is a woman who is with the people and is not afraid to get dirty (or in this case wet).

Juan shares that upon returning to shore with the statue an altar was built to place her on in the middle of the town. I believe that this is an attempt to keep the divine close to home.  Juan states that upon seeing the image, both he and his companions felt joy.  GOD does not speak through the image; simply being in her presence brings peace, comfort, and a sense of feeling acompanado.  The community built a place to both honor Mary and hold onto the joy her presence brought.   Despite the fact that Juan, Rodrigo, Juan, and los del pueblo were oppressed, they were able to carve out a refuge where people could relate to the divine on their own terms.  There is no command to build a chapel, shrine, or church—this is done instinctively as a way to create sacred space to keep the heavenly close by.   This is a mutual desire in that La Virgen wants to stay close to the people by demonstrating through lights where to build her iglesia; she wants to stay close to her children reminding them that GOD has not and will not abandon them.

Often times Marian images are used to uphold women’s faith.  Juan’s story of Cachita, however, also upholds the faith of men (the divine feminine kindles and rekindles the spark of faith in people of all genders).  Though men’s voices have dominated theological reflection and doctrine, it is often the case that lay men, especially my experience of hombres latinos, are reluctant to demonstrate their faith because eso es de mujer (that’s what women do).  The story of Cachita as told through Juan reverses this notion in that it is the every day joe smoe that mobilizes el culto for Cachita.  Juan describes how the men take the initiative to build the initial shrine, keep watch over Cachita, have conversations with Cachita, and lead the procession that leads to a miraculous quenching of a severe drought.   The devotion described through Juan’s vivienda is a reminder that faith goes not only beyond social class and race but also gender.   Though the men set out to retrieve salt for cooking and preserving food (a radical act of breaking gender norms), their lives become “salt for the earth.” Their experience not only preserves and spices up their faith and dignity but also that of the community and generations hasta la fecha (until today)

As our siblings in la lucha in the United Church of Christ share, “don’t put a period where GOD placed a comma—GOD is still speaking.”  The story and image of Nuestra Senora de la Caridad  continues to speak to Cubans and non-Cubans alike with new insights into how to encounter the divine within one’s own unique context and how that context can be transformed.   Que viva Cachita!!!

OurLadyofCharity

god is gender nonconforming

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god is gender nonconforming

Reposted from:  Believe Out Loud; written by Alison Amyx

I grew up learning about a God who was a “He.” Sporting a white beard and positively owning that throne in the sky, this was a God who threw lightning bolts when you strayed from the path of righteousness.

When I got to college, I took a necessary break from believing in God.

Even before I knew I was queer, I knew I could not believe in a God who would so easily, so gleefully condemn God’s own beloved children to damnation. I simply could not reconcile the authoritarian image of God that I was taught as a child with the unconditional love shared in the same breath.

When I began studying religion, I stopped using pronouns in reference to God. Given my growing sense of agnosticism, removing “He” as a descriptor of God was obvious. I wasn’t sure about anything related to the divine mystery I once knew as “Father,” so how could I possibly know anything of God’s gender identity?

By the time I reached seminary, I’d been introduced to the practice of replacing “He” with “She,” embracing the oft-overlooked feminine qualities of the divine, and counteracting the long-standing Christian misrepresentation of God as a masculine deity.

Imagining God as “She” provided a balm to the deeps wounds of misogyny and helped me see myself as made in the image of God.

I celebrate the feminine nature of God. I celebrate God as Mother, the giver of life and the divine, nurturing embrace. I celebrate God as the source of being and fierce protector of God’s creation.

However, I know from experience that these “feminine” traits are not exclusive to female-identified people. For example, whether we identify as female or male, we all have the capacity to be nurturing. Understanding this as only a “feminine” trait is unfair to both women and men. The same is true for traditionally “masculine” attributes and experiences.

When I finally reclaimed my faith in God, I claimed a faith in a being that, by definition, exceeds our expectations and rises beyond our imaginations. That’s why I do not believe that God conforms to our expectations of what gender should be, or how it is supposed to be performed in the world.

If God doesn’t transcend the limits of our human understanding, then who or what can?

This does not mean we shouldn’t understand God as Mother, or even Father. As a good Baptist, I affirm our ability to commune with God on our own terms. But neither “He” nor “She” encapsulates what I understand as the expansive identity of a God that, by definition, cannot conform to our expectations.

As a result, I’ve stuck with my agnostic instinct, calling God, simply, “God.” For years, I’ve avoided pronouns when speaking of God, rearranging sentences to deemphasize those pesky little words and simply trailing off if I stray toward the gendered language that was so deeply engrained in me as a child.

In hymns and liturgy, I sometimes change pronouns, and I sometimes do not. I’m often too busy finding the harmony to make such changes in a song, but in the right moment, I’ll sing with a breath instead of a word when a hymn drops a “He, “Him,” or “His” in reference to God.

In the process, I’ve learned that pronouns are not necessary to forming a sentence, much less an identity.

When I began meeting folks who identify as gender queer, I stumbled over new pronouns as most of us do when we try new things. Ze, hir, hirs; She, her, hers; He, him, his; They, them, theirs—and many more.

For me, learning to use new pronouns has required both a practice of intentionality and a community of accountability. While incorporating new pronouns has been a challenge, I found it surprisingly easy to make the switch when my first partner asked me to stop using pronouns altogether during the early stages of his gender transition.

For a period of a few months, I called my partner neither “he” nor “she,” neither “they” nor “ze.” Suddenly, my years of practice, the years of rearranging sentences and avoiding gendered language for God, came to fruition.

As a Christian, I believe using a person’s preferred pronouns is a necessary practice of welcome and hospitality. Calling someone by their preferred name is a practice of respecting identity—seeing a person the way they want to be seen, knowing a person as they desire to be known, and welcoming a person in community on their own terms.

Respecting preferred pronouns is a way we can embrace each individual as they were created, each in the image of God.

And when I don’t know someone’s preferred pronouns, I’ve now had enough practice to simply avoid gendered language until I find the appropriate moment to ask: “What are your preferred pronouns?”

We can’t ask this question of God. So why not live into the divine mystery of a deity who challenges our assumptions, defies all genders, and invites us to step beyond our expectations into a world of beautiful diversity?

featured image from Believe Out Loud

be a rainbow in somebody’s cloud

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be a rainbow in somebody’s cloud

As Maya Angelou passed this May, many of my friends and family took to social media to honor her life. One my favorite quotes by Dr. Angelou seemed to be a favorite amongst others:

Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.

She stated once in an interview: 

There’s an African American song that’s 19th century—it’s so great. It says, “When it look like the sun wasn’t’ gon’ shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the clouds. Imagine.” And I’d had so many rainbows in my clouds. I’ve had a lot of clouds, but I have had so many rainbows….And one of the things I do when I step up on the stage…I bring everyone who has ever been kind to me. I say “Come with me, I’m going on the stage. Come with me, I need you now.” Long dead, you see. So I never feel like I’ve had no help; I’ve had rainbows in my clouds.

When I heard her words I started thinking of rough chapters in my life when I didn’t know when the sun would shine again. At 16 I found myself there when I started questioning my sexuality. Up until that point I saw myself as a good Christian, and being a good Christian definitely didn’t include being a lesbian.

At least that is what I was told by my pastor and my family.

Needless to say when I began to come into myself and contemplated coming out, I struggled. I struggled to find meaning in a world that now seemed incredibly frightening and confusing. I struggled with my church for turning me away when I told the leadership my truth. I also struggled with God for not freeing me from these feelings and for what I thought was abandonment. I was overcome with fear and anger, and I had no place to put it or the tools to work through it.

One day when I was mulling through articles online in search of some source of guidance, I came across a news article about a minister named Beth Stroud from Germantown, Pennsylvania who was defrocked by the UMC. Intrigued, I read her story and was inspired by her bravery.

In a flurry of excitement, I pulled out my best stationary and wrote Beth Stroud a letter. In it I told her I was a 16 year old high school student from California who knew she was a lesbian, but who was afraid that God didn’t love her anymore because of it.

I sent the letter not knowing if she would respond.

Luckily for me, she did:

I wish I could say that I had overcome all self-doubt, but I haven’t. I still wake up sometimes in the middle of the night and think “What if I’m wrong about God accepting me just the way I am?” But in those times, it’s the supportive community around me that gives me strength. I see all the amazing same-sex couples in my church who are raising beautiful, healthy children. I experience the unconditional love of my family, my partner, and my congregation. And all that helps to keep me feeling strong. Just keep spending time with God and seeking out communities where you experience being accepted just as you are.

Those communities will be channels of God’s love for you.

Blessings,
Beth Stroud

Stroud’s love was a rainbow that burst through my clouds.

Her love and kindness saved me from my darkness.

As I moved forward in my life, I have carried this card with me. There are times when we all experience loneliness and doubt, and we need someone to remind us that love still exists and that God is always right there with us.

I use this card as a reminder of why I do this work. I note Beth’s kind hand to me as the origin of my commitment. I only hope that I can be as much of a rainbow in someone’s cloud as she was in mine.

Originally published on RMNBlogWritten by Ashley Boyd of Believe Out Loud 

post url:  http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/be-rainbow-somebodys-cloud