Saludos to all! First off, I would like to apologize that I have not posted to the blog in a long time. Life became very hectic with personal and professional life, causing a neglect in my writing. However, I am learning to balance and learning to find time for my writing, ranting, and sermonizing. And so la lucha will continue and venture into new areas of luchaness.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I wanted to share this homily I wrote in memory of Marie Hernandez and Maria Lemes da Silva, two brave women who coped and thrived despite being diagnosed with breast cancer. The sermon is based on the three Gospel stories of the woman who was hemorrhaging that touched Jesus’ garment (Matt 9:20; Mark 5:25; Luke 8:43). Her story is one of not allowing a disease define who she was and of taking a leap of faith that is rooted in radical boldness. May “think pink” be more than a catchy gimmick this month but an ongoing testament to our solidarity with all those impacted by breast cancer—a commitment to coping, surviving, and thriving. Towards the end there is space for people to name all those women and men who have bravely fought this disease, who are beginning the fight, and who are in remission—honoring also their loved ones who are also coping, surviving, and thriving.
Fore more information about breast cancer and ways to get involved, please visit The National Breast Cancer Foundation (http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org).
Coping Surviving Thriving
I will be honest, preparing this sermon was a challenge. It was and still is daunting and anxiety provoking, inducing of many brain-busts. What can I say about breast cancer? What do I know? I asked myself repeatedly, how will G-d get me through this one? Why me? But than I asked, why not me? Someone has to break the silence. I may not know much but…I do know that…
- Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among American women, accounting for one in three cancer diagnoses in women.
- One in eight women born today will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some time in their lifetime
- Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women aged forty to fifty-nine
- There are over two million breast cancer survivors in the United States
- A survey of twelve years of reports in two major psychiatric journals showed that spirituality – defined as participation in religious ceremony, social support, prayer, and belief in a higher being – yielded positive mental health benefits in 92% of the cases
I know Maria Lemes da Silva, I know Marie Walker Hernandez, two brave women who fought breast cancer, two women who are presente and here with us. I know that despite the intensity and magnitude of this disease, the pulpit has remained silent. I may not know much about the embodied impact of breast cancer, but I do know about coping, surviving, and thriving. I may not know the struggle of radical mastectomies, the pain of chemotherapy, or the anxiety caused by finding the right wig, but I do know about the warrior spirit of the luchadoras who are in the struggle…la lucha, to not merely cope or survive with breast cancer but to thrive. Luchadoras who are not letting cancer define who they are, but who are finding ways to live life without fear, despite the pain that breast cancer may be inflicting on the body, they are not letting it take over their spirits.
Coping Surviving Thriving
When it came to finding a scripture passage to reflect on sermonically, I was at a loss and I struggled with the bible, realizing that many of the passages on healing in the New Testament intersected with sin and I did not want to equate cancer with sin … I also realized that many of these same stories are sources of hope for many who are living with cancer. What to do? After hours of reflecting, praying, reading, re-reflecting, re-reading, and praying again, G-d sent me 4 radically spiritual women, Sadie, Rebecca, Stephanie, and Rachel. At a point where I was going to lose hope in scripture and in Christianity, these 4 women shared insights and thoughts and questions that helped me see passages in a different light.
With their help, I came across the story of a woman whom I am naming Florence. Her story is captured in 3 of the gospels as the woman who was hemorrhaging that touched the hem or fringes of Jesus’ cloak/robe. Her story is one inspiration, of boundary breaking, of the warrior spirit that was embraced by Marie, Maria, and the countless women and men diagnosed with and affected by breast cancer. She is un-named in the gospel accounts, but the fact that she is included in 3 gospels reflects the importance of her story of fighting with a chutzpah-based faith.
Florence was afflicted with a disease, a disease that made her unpure and marginalized her from society – not unlike the treatment many women received when they were first diagnosed, marginalized by silence by many who were unable to pronounce the “c-word.” Florence was a luchadora, she was not going to let disease stop her from living. She went to doctors, she prayed, she offered sacrifices. But despite all her efforts, 12 years worth, she did not get the results she hoped and yearned for. However she did not let that stop her, she endured the chemos and homeopathic remedies of her day with their body ravaging side affects and side effects to the side effects, she could not be healed, she could not be made whole – but her chispa, her undominable audacity to hope would keep her in la lucha, in the struggle.
Despite social norms on purity and the place of women in society, Florence acted boldly, aggressively … she did not let the cancer within her define her or let society dictate her identity. Florence decided she would fight and do what was needed. She embodied the Deuteronomist’s encouragement…“Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; G-d will not fail you or forsake you.” She trusted G-d and G-d trusted her. Guided by her faith and determination, she did something radical … she touched Jesus.
Despite the crowds, despite the claustrophobia of crawling through a forest of legs, despite the heat, despite the pain within her body, despite the stigma that marked her and that she risked marking on others, she took a leap of faith and was healed … Jesus tells her that it is her faith that healed her. It was her boldness, her determination, her lucha that brought her healing and made her whole. Her lucha of coping surviving and thriving
What can we learn from Florence? What can we learn from her faith that flowed her into voice and wholeness? She lived and embodied what the Psalmist says in Psalm 31 … she was strong and let her heart take courage. She took a risk, she took a chance, she got messy. Knowing at the core of her being, in the depths of her soul, G-d was with her … she coped, she survived, she thrived.
Florence’s story is not a story of giving people false hope, or instill an expectation of healing. Florence’s testimony in the Gospels is about not letting disease or society’s view of disease define how one lives life, however, long or short it will be. We need to remind all those living with breast cancer that they cannot and will not be diagnosed to the margin. They are not alone, for G-d is with them. It is not about fuzzy quips and fluffy colloquialisms, but radically embracing life like Florence, Marie, and Maria … Of fighting with every breath and ounce of chutzpah one can muster. Of transforming limitations into differently abledness.
Maria is my best friend and sister in life’s mother. Marie is my beloved husband’s mother. These two moms, wives, workers, women of faith realized that though they might not be able to climb mountains anymore, they would boldly proclaim…
I will go to church, I will raise my children,
I will lead a household, I will be there for others,
I will participate in treatment,
I will work as long as I can to take care of my loved ones,
I will cry, I will be angry,
I will laugh, I will go to the doctor,
I will live.
Will it be easy, no.
Will we get mad, yes.
Is that okay … it sure is.
It is okay to complain and be angry and ask G-d why. Like Job and Job’s unnamed wife, we can authentically and angrily ask G-d why … knowing that G-d can take it. Maria and Marie, like so many others, coped and thrived. They could not answer many questions about their health or what would happen, but assured everyone through their conviction and faith to live as long as they were able to live, believing and reminding others to believe that G-d’s love was present and filled with anger-enduring care.
As the Psalmist proclaims … G-d is my shelter, covering me in the refuge of G-d’s feather… in G-d is my strength … though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil … with G-D, what shall I fear.
As Isaiah proclaims … “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your G-d; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”
Coping Surviving Thriving
In this place, may we be reminded that though the world may be falling apart, our bodies are ravished with scars, chemo has caused our hair to fall out, nausea is our constant companion, getting out of bed is an insurmountable quest, fear of the cancer spreading, G-d is suffering with us. G-d is carrying the cross with us and sometimes for us through a nurse, doctor, friend, loved one. G-d is holding us.
“And I will raise you up on eagle’s wings, Bare you up on breath of dawn. Make you to shine like the sun, And hold you in the palm of G-d’s hand, And hold you in the palm of G-d’s hand.” (Hymn On Eagle’s Wings by Rev. Michael Joncas)
To be held is an act of trust and vulnerability, to allow oneself to be gently cradled in the hands of another, to truly believe our partners who still behold us as beautiful, to allow others to help you because walking to the kitchen for a cup of water is exhausting … to share with a stranger that the scars on our bodies are medals of honor and badges of courage… to be held by G-d through the pain and the joy. To be held into coping, surviving, and thriving.
In this space, let us remember Florence, Marie, and Maria. Let us make presente all the women living with breast cancer … For Hispanics and Latinos, those who have died are still with us, presente in our lucha, as companions in our struggles and in our celebrations. Their stories are reminders that we are to focus on today so we can get to tomorrow, their presencia reminds us that we are not alone.
In this space, you are invited to share the names of all those who have been impacted by breast cancer. You are also invited to light a candle…
Let us lift up the names of our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, wives, cousins, and grandmothers, friends, brothers, co-workers, husbands, and pastors…
May we lift up the names of those who have died, those have been recently diagnosed, those in remission, those going through treatment, and those who are getting tested…
(back to sermon)
Where 2 or 3 are gathered, there I am … This is our calling as people of faith … To be in la lucha with and sometimes for others, to break the silence, to allow G-d to flow through us … starting groups of support, taking people to the doctor, cooking meals, going the extra mile at the cancer walk, not letting pink be just a gimmick but a true sign of our solidarity…sharing the Kleenex when the time to say “ta ta for now” comes…Talking about breast cancer to ensure that women can go from lump to laughter, love, and life.
Though one may be overpowered by the vomiting, scarring, headaches, body aches, puss, hairloss, confusions about treatments, worries about finances, uncertainties … one is not alone, one is in community, en conjunto, we face this disease … we are in this together.
As it is written in Ecclesiastes, “And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Our experiences here are interconnected, the experiences of Marie and Maria and all women before us are interconnected with us. Marie and Maria died of cancer, but did not lose the battle to cancer. They are still fighting…their memory, their children, their spirits, their Florence-like chutzpah, their presence lives, loves, and fights on … With them presente in our lucha, we cope, we survive, and we thrive.
In honor of the Supreme Court hearing the cases for Marriage Equality, here is my beloved and I sharing about how for us, family means for all moments I love you. Our family is no less and no better than anyones, our family is equal. We are #morethanmarriage and will continue to fight until all are equal truly mean all are equal…not just in terms of marriage or family structure but in all facets of our humanity and life experiences.
To celebrate Throw Back Thursday, I found this reflection I wrote while I was in high school. I’ve been on an interesting journey, going from Catholic Fundamentalist to Queer Heretic with sacred sass. I often wonder what happened to the religious zealot that was delfin in high school and first two years of undergrad. Perhaps they are still here wandering inside my head, finding new ways to channel the fundamentalism and zealotness. Enjoy my first #tbt post :-)
We are the World, We are the Children
“If there is right in the soul, there will be beauty in the person; If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the home; If there is harmony in the home, there will be peace in the world.”
Humans come in every shape, color, size, and form. To be global citizens, we have to accept that diversity and to see everyone as human despite our differences. Our differences make us individuals, which make us unique and special. We have to respect that, for we all live on the same earth. Until we can live on other planets, we are going to have to live on this earth together, might as well make the most of it. We should make our stay here as good and with as little problems as possible; so basically we should all get along and be friends.
Global means to be of the earth as a whole. This means we have to look at the whole world, we have to look at the big picture—think BIG. We have to understand and get it though our thick heads that the whole world isn’t from one corner of the block to the next. We have to open our eyes and come out of our little holes and meet people of different cultures and backgrounds. We have to learn all that we can from each other, for a global person is not one who travels the whole world over, but one who sees the person next door. We have to look past the exterior and see the interior—we have to see the person. We can not just talk to be people of the same culture and seclude ourselves, for if we do we are going to miss out on a lot. We cannot be islands and live isolated lives—that would be wrong. We have to share our experiences from we can learn from each other and find we are much more alike than different.
A global citizen is one who breaks through the barriers of racism and prejudice. They do their best to see people on the inside and not to judge a whole people by one person. No one is superior or inferior to anyone else, we are all equals. We may all have a different color and have different backgrounds, but we all have the same race: we all belong to the human race. We have to look at each other as beings that will cry, laugh, bleed, burp, use the bathroom, eat, grow just like we will. We have to learn not to hate, we have to learn love and be loved. I have always believed that we are all different colors and that we make up a rainbow, a beautiful rainbow with every color imaginable. If we leave out or push away some one because they are not like us, the rainbow is going to lose a color, and even though it has a whole bunch of other colors, and what is one color compared to the whole world? Let me tell you that that one color is just as significant and important; it is so precious, that with out it the rainbow is not complete and it loses its beauty.
A global citizen is one who is able to standup and speaks out for what they believe in and at the same time respects other opinions and beliefs. They understand that not everyone believes the same thing and that’s okay with them. We should all have an open mind and respect each other’s beliefs. We have to understand that we are all entitled to have our own beliefs as long as we don’t out down somebody else’s.
A global citizen is one who tries to make peace in this world. Instead of making a fist they give a hug. They understand that to make peace we have to learn to accept each other for who we are. It is hard sometimes to do that for society trains us well in looking down at others, but it is not impossible—it can be done. We are trained to look down at poor people, to see them as the scum of the earth, so we deprive them of human dignity and compassion. A global citizen is not one who does this; he or she reaches out to the poor and helps them get back on their feet. We should reach out to these people and show them they care. We should lend a helping hand to whoever needs it regardless of class, age, sex, or race. We all deserve friendship; we all deserve to know that we are matter and are special. We have to peacefully live with each other—for divided we fall, united we stand. We can get things done on our own, but we can get a whole lot more accomplished if we work together. We can solve the problems of this world if we put our heads together.
A global citizen is one who instead of just talking and talking and talking, DOES. They go out in the world and live by what they say. They try to leave their mark anywhere they go. They can talk the talk but can also walk the walk. We have to comprehend that actions speak louder than words. It’s all hunckydory and wonderful that you say you respect and love everyone, but can you actually show it? People will hear you say it, but will believe if you do it.
We live on the same earth, breathe the same air, drink the same water, feel the same sun, see the same moon, feel the same breeze, and see the same stars at night. Instead of making weapons of massive destruction, we should make lasting friendships. Instead of holding back, we should reach out and give a hug, for a hug is love in any language. “We can make a difference, we can make a change, we can make the sun shine through the rain, we can make this world a better place.”
featured image from: http://www.unartforpeace.org/e/546
Earlier this semester we organized a Rally for Trans and Queer Justice in response to the violence that many in the trans and queer communities are experiencing. It was inspired by rallies calling for justice following the aftermath of ongoing events at Ferguson and the tragic death of Eric Gardner. As I read articles about the rallies and participated in some of the rallies here in Athens, I became aware that the lives of trans and queer people were not receiving attention despite the many alarming (but overlooked) reports involving trans women of color being murdered in the United States. I do not want to undermine the #blacklivesmatter movement or the conversations connected to how the black community is treated and mistreated by systems of oppression that permeate all levels of society; however, I do not want these conversations to overshadow the lives lost due to violence in all its forms targeted towards trans and queer communities. In our chanting and call for justice we must also include #translivesmatter … it is not about replacing or undermining or getting caught up in who is more oppressed, but coming together to ensure that #ALLourlivesmatter in our rallying and ranting and writing.
Below is the reflection I shared at the rally.
Saludos a todas y todos…My name is delfin and I am trans and queer person of color. On behalf of the center and all involved in making today happen, thank your for your presence!
Today, we rally, rant, rave, and chant NOT ONE MORE! Today, we rally, rant, rave, and chant to break the silence.
As trans people our lives, voices, bodies, and experiences have been forgotten, neglected, and silenced. Today we roar…NOT ONE MORE!
Queer and Trans people are victims and survivors of all forms of violence. We have experienced and we are surviving…
- Violence such as living in Ohio, one of 29 states where we can be fired for being and/or being perceived as LGBT
- Violence such as having to navigate a campus segregated by gender, where our pronouns and names are misused and abused … a campus and community where finding a safe restroom to use is an everyday challenge
- Violence such as suicide…40-50% of suicides are attempted and/or completed by LGB youth with rates being higher for trans youth
- The violence of conversion therapy and reparative therapy
- The violence that erases the lives and experiences of Asexuals due to misunderstandings of romantic and emotional attraction
- Violence reflected in that trans women are at higher risk of sexual assault than cisgender women…the rates being much higher for trans women of color
- The violence of having to be diagnosed with a disorder in order to live into and be who we are
- The violence of our lives, bodies, experiences, and voices being silenced, erased, and pushed to the side
In December, 17 year old Leelah Alcorn completed suicide. In her note she challenged us to fix society…It is in her honor and in the honor of many many many more that we gather today to fix society and to fix society now!
Just this month, 3 black trans women were murdered: Ms Edwards, Lamia Beard, and Ty Underwood. In Colorado a queer identified youth, Jessie, was the victim of homicide perpetrated by the police force. In our own state of Ohio, 4 trans women of color have been murdered…these are story the stories that we’ve heard through the media…there are many more that go unreported and untold.
Research shows that 67% of victims of anti-LGBT violence are trans women of color…research shows that 30 to possible 70% of homeless youth identify as LGBT. Many of the names read at Trans Day of Remembrance last November were of Latina women.
Where is our national outcry? Where are the occupies and the national organizing? Where are the programs ensuring that those silenced are not forgotten? We here today, we are breaking this silence…We roar NOT ONE MORE!
Yes we want equality, yes we want legal protections, yes we want healthcare…more importantly, we want the simple yet radical act of being recognized and affirmed as people. We want to know at our core that our lives, bodies, voices, and experiences are affirmed…we want to know that we matter.
Today, people will share their stories of struggle and resilience. We have folks who have volunteered to share and we also welcome for folks gathered here to share.
Today, tomorrow, and every day, we will break the silence…we will rally, rant, rave, and chant until the violence stops!
Not one more murder…Not one more suicide…Not one more silencing…Not one more, period!
¡Muchas gracias! ¡Viva la revolucion!
Some chants shared at the rally shared here for your use at other rallies…
The People United Will Never Be Defeated
Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Transphobia’s Got To Go
This is What Democracy looks Like
Trans lives taken – shut it down! Not one more life – shut it down! The whole damn system – shut it down!
We’re here, we’re trans, we’re fabulous, don’t fuck with us
When trans people are under attack, what do we do, stand up, fight back
Whose streets? Our streets! Trans rights now
Below are a series of reflective responses that I was asked to write by and for Soulforce. I have been involved with Soulforce since 2007 when I took part in the second Equality Ride, visiting colleges and universities that have anti-LGBT policies and practices. Since that faith-filled bus ride for justice, I have participated in Soulforce’s action at the General Convention of the United Methodist Church in Dallas, the 2008 96 mile Equality Walk for Marriage Equality in Phoenix, the 2009 witness at the Vatican Embassy in New York City, and lastly the delegate program which was a part of the queer pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Rio. My journey with Soulforce has been soul-filled teaching me the transformative force one’s testimony can bring as we live into solidarity with marginalized communities (a solidarity with myself and with others).
As Soulforce turns 15 they are working to create a Living Nonviolence Archive, a collection of personal stories and experiences about how folks have lived into and out nonviolence as a “guiding philosophy for us since our inception, calling us to be creative, self-reflective, and intent on subverting power.” I was asked to be part of this oral-history/herstory/theystory project and I wanted to share glimpses into my testimony as a way of introducing (or reintroducing) folks to the transformative intersectional solidarity of Soulforce. To learn more about this project and learn from the witnesses of others, visit: http://soulforce.com/resources/living-nonviolence-archive-toolkit/
What does nonviolence mean to you? Especially in terms of the organization, how do you see nonviolence play a core role in terms of what Soulforce does and what Soulforce is about?
Expressing nonviolence in its fullness is tough but I will try to give a glimpse into what it has meant and how it continues to evolve for me. Nonviolence is something that is lived everyday from words to deeds to thoughts…however is not about perfection or always getting it right. Nonviolence is open to bloopers and good intentions and to learning from one’s mistakes.
Soulforce has complemented and enhanced my principles as an activist theologian who strives to create a space where we are meeting people where they are. Its not othering the other but trying as best as one can to inhabit their space and see the world from their perspective. Nonviolence moves away from the right vs. wrong, us vs. them, privileged vs. disadvantaged…it creates a narrative of us, we, together…allowing all of us to recognize our privileges so we can use that power to make it better for all of us AND to recognize where we are disadvantaged so that we can live our solidarity with others more authentically and less misappropriatingly.
For a long time I spoke about not reducing or limiting folks to just one aspect of who they are…I constantly fought being reduced into a box…Soulforce gave me the language of nonviolence in which I learned about words like intersectional and queer and both/and.
In living nonviolence, we must remember that all of us are not just one thing or can be limited/reduced/boxed into one aspect of our mosaic of identities; we are complicated beings whose identities coexist and clash…nonviolence as lived by soulforce affirms and celebrates that we are many identities; in my case queer, trans, catholic, Catholic, latin@, child of immigrants, social worker, theologian, activist, married, sibling, hyphenated US American, person of spirit, scholar, flatfooted, fullfigured, lives with depression…all of the identities make me, me. I cannot pick and choose or allow systems to pick and choose…its all or nothing.
When we embrace nonviolence it is embracing all of who we are and all of who others are. Its confusing, its messy, its real.
What are the most important stories to tell? When you think about Soulforce and nonviolence, is there a particular story that comes to mind?
On the 2007 Equality Ride, I co-organized the visit to University of Notre Dame. As a person raised Roman Catholic and whose relationship with the institutional church has been wrought with many different emotions, the stop took on many different feelings. It was my first time engaging the possibility of direct action which my family was not a huge fan of.
My mother did not agree with what we were doing and kept telling me that Notre Dame was a private institution who could do what they wanted…leave them alone and focus elsewhere. Though her maternal practical logic made sense, I couldn’t leave Notre Dame alone. A message needed to be sent to LGBTQ folks on and off campus of solidarity, a message that church was not limited to the hierarchy in the Vatican or the hierarchies created at Notre Dame…we are all church.
As a Latin@, openly questioning religious figures is a no-no, even if you disagree with a priest or other clergy person, you don’t question much less protest or defy whatever it is they are saying. Notre Dame was countercultural for me personally and spiritually; I was taking a step of publically calling out the Church and the church on its teachings and practices based on discrimination, contradiction, and severe misunderstanding of sexuality, gender, and Christianity.
It was the first time that I truly understood what it meant to come into voice and that the church was and is the people, not just its leaders. Change was not limited to the top but could be sparked and spread from the bottom…as a lay person I embraced my prophetic calling of priesthood that all of us receive.
Notre Dame also showed me how activists show their solidarity to each other; when I was escorted out of the student center and interrogated outside the chapel, a cool soft hand gentled touched my hand and my shoulder…I look back to see not only Haven but also Wick who was asking the police force how silencing a group of students and visitors is sound catholic social justice teaching.
Just as I was putting myself out there to show that LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff as well as members of the South Bend community were not alone…I was reminded that I too was not alone and that I had a whole group of folks who were I solidarity with me as we together embodied solidarity with marginalized individuals and groups…who in turn were also in solidarity with us…it was and is a big ol’solidarity lovefest.
Notre Dame was a stepping stone for me; it showed me what it meant to live into and out “grace under fire” and that speaking out against injustice is not a matter of perfection or not being nervous…it is the exact opposite, it is bloopering and risking and leaning into one’s fears and insecurities, reminders that we are human who are learning as we go (and sometimes as we make it up as we go). Notre Dame was a rebaptism for me…a welcoming into a community and communion of social justice rainbow warriors.
Were there strategic moves that contributed to our success? Do you have any activist tips or details about the action that come to mind that really helped it all to work?
In looking back at Notre Dame and at other actions I have participated in with Soulforce (Methodist Convention, Equality Walk 2008, Vatican Embassy, and Delegate Program), I pick up on things to perhaps do differently but don’t get caught up in dwelling on mistakes made. Nonviolence is ongoing and evolving practice of taking chances, making mistakes, and getting messy. That written, what I think all of the actions have in common is that it is a mix of individuals who are connected to the challenge being addressed supported by allies who may not fully understand, in this case what it means to be Catholic, but who know that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It is about meeting all involved where they are on the journey in order to find ways to co-exist.
Going into Notre Dame ranting how G-d is queer and trans, Jesus bisexual, and the Virgin Mary a feminist along with calling out discrepancies in church teaching and misuse of church power/authority…though this could be a lot of fun, it will also create barriers where conversations are not possible and where the encounter of mutual presence is not created.
However, going in wearing a polo shirt and khakis reciting the prayer of peace attributed to Francis of Assisi while sharing what it meant to go to CCD and praying the rosary as a family and sharing stories of growing up Catholic…that created a safe space for people to come together and talk and more importantly listen. It was not a proving match of who was more catholic or the right type of catholic, but more of lets share what catholic means to you and how we can create a church where all are welcome truly means all are welcome.
Fast forward to summer 2013 where I led a group of pilgrims to World Youth Day in Rio, many of the lessons learned and insights gained from and with Soulforce helped frame the trip. We were not angry outsiders participating in the largest gathering of Catholic youth..we were proud and queer Catholic youth who love our church and want to see OUR church welcome and embrace all.
Our message was that all of us are equally blessed and expressed that through sharing rainbow rosaries, rainbow sashes, soulforce /dignity/newways pamphlets, participating in Mass and in Catechesis sessions…our tactic was simple, to simply be Catholic and through that witness, show that a rainbow church is possible. Similar to other experiences, it was sharing stories rather than getting muddled in theological, ecclesial, and biblical debates (which to be honest we did have those but caught ourselves and moved the conversation back to story sharing).
Just being us, humanizes that being LGBTQ is just an aspect of who we are and enriches our experience of faith individually as well as communally.
How do you imagine the action would have been different if the commitment to nonviolence was not a core part of Soulforce’s identity?
I don’t think it would have happened and I think the seeds would not have been planted…at Notre Dame as well as in Brazil, we had folks come up and share their stories of being LGBTQ or knowing a LGBTQ person…if we went in violently, those narratives would have been lost. People may have been pushed deeper into the closet and fractured even more. Soulforce is about solidarity not imposition, it is not replacing one oppressive dominant narrative with another…it is about being with people and together finding ways to transform community into spaces where all are welcome and where all coexist, across and because and with our differences.
In the spirit of this holy season of new birth, I am resharing a piece inspired by my pondering Mary giving birth through the eyes and testimony of her widwife.
It has been more than 20 years, but I will never forget that night.
How could we turn them away? How could we not help?
They had been on such a long journey…
by foot, by donkey, in the sun and heat, sweating, scared, confused, flabbergasted…
and all while 9 months pregnant!!!!
We did not have much room–my beloved and I did find some space with the animals in a cave;
it was not the ideal space for a young couple to give birth but they were grateful to have a place that was warm and dry—
they even said the animals were welcome companions after such a long, lonely journey.
Her husband found me—unsure of what to do but determined to help his young wife.
She was only 15 years old, but reflected a bold sense of hope-filled and faithful determination.
She asked a lot of questions…
Will it hurt…how long will it take…how do I…when do I…???
Will we be good parents? Will we stay here in Bethlehem?
Nazareth is our home, will we be welcome there?
Are parents ever prepared, I wonder.
She also asked about angels visiting, which was a little confusing to me.
I was present when she gave birth to her first child…
I wiped the sweat from her forehead…held her hand giving her encouraging squeezes…
I calmed the father to be, reminding him to breathe…
I was the first to hold him…the one to lay him in his mother’s arms…
watching how only a babies eyes, cry, and peaceful sleep can melt away
the exhaustion, fear, uncertainties, and hardship of a long journey and of the unknown journey yet to come.
Who knows what challenges await them!?!?
I made sure that our religious laws and customs were followed as best I could
given that it was the middle of the night and we were in a cave filled with animals.
The night the soldiers came,
I gave them food, water, and supplies for their exile into Egypt…will they make it safely?
Why are they taking the children…why is this happening?
I can still hear the cries from babies being taken away from their families…
of fear, despair, loss, terror.
But then the image of the young family’s spirit,
their determination to survive and to live into their vocations as a family…
the memory of being there the night hope was birthed into the world
helped bring wholeness to many shattered lives.
I was Miriam of Nazareth’s midwife.
I served YHWH by serving a poor, frightened Jewish family.
What path would this child take? Only G-d knows.
Years later I heard stories of a traveling rabbi
preaching about radical hospitality and wondered…
With this little one came esperanza and possibilities.
My life and testimony, overlooked by history, was lived in the service of others—
being present at the births of children…present at the birth of fe, nueva vida, and familia.
Being included in scrolls and stories and documents did not stop me from doing what was right—will it stop you?
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.
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).
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/