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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Who's Talking About???? Being A Body!

Great news!
If you've been following my blog for a while (and if you're new - welcome!) you know that I have been a student of a theology of the human person composed by John Paul II that is usually called the Theology of the Body. It says things like - we are made in the image and likeness of God, and the body is Good because God told us so, and in Genesis we were created as persons for our own sake to be a gift of love with and for one another… and so much more.

THIS JULY you can learn So. Much. More.

The Theology of the Body Institute is hosting a Congress right in Philly! Easy to get to - easy to fly into - three days to bathe your head and your heart in the joy of the Gospel, and become more aware of who you were made to be.

And…. uh… I'll be there learning right alongside.

It will ask questions like this:

And also questions like this:

Some of the academic speakers will be Dr. John Grabowski of CUA talking about Marriage, Dr. Janet Smith from Sacred heart Seminary in Detroit talking about aging, Dr. Deborah Savage talking about the Feminine.

Some of the "popular" speakers include Mother Olga on TOB and Mary, Bill Donaghy on TOB and Art, and Christopher West.

AND Bishop Jean Lefitte on the Glory of the Body, AND Fr. Brett Brannen on the priesthood, And….
You can find out all about registering HERE…. Meet new people! Bring your friends (new group rates), stick a poster up in your parish or diocesan offices, or ministry…

And if you're new to all this - what I call "TOB curious" then this is a wonderful opportunity to hear international speakers on a whole mess of topics that have to do with you. Three days away from hustle & bustle and into a place where we can learn and think and pray and share.

Spend W-F in Philly and then head to the Jersey Shore for the weekend :) You know you want to…

Did I mention I'll be there, and love to meet you?
think about it. Pray about it. Share the goodness.

Where else will you hear a bishop talking about this:

Happy Summer!
See you there :)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Birth and Dying - What Does It Mean? Buy This Book

I don't write reviews often, but this one begged to be done. So I wrote a review for Amazon and Goodreads, and I'm posting it here as well, so you can read and enjoy and comment (!) and share….

This book, Theology of the Body, Extended: The Spiritual Signs of Birth, Impairment and Dying was written by a former professor of mine, and friend, Susan Windley-Daoust. I have been anxiously awaiting its arrival ever since she first sent me a chapter to read, hoping to get my take as one of those Theology of the Body people, to be sure it sat well. Um. YES.

And as we know the gift of life is planted, nurtured, grown, and finally birthed… So to help her announce the birth of this book, I will include my review, and urge you to consider stretching your own intellect and heart and reading it for yourself!

It can be purchased at AMAZON here and its associated blog can be found HERE as well.


Susan Windley-Daoust's brand new book Theology of the Body, Extended: The Spiritual Signs of Birth, Impairment and Dayingis a deep exploration into the human condition and our relationship with birth, death and impairment through the lens of the work known as the Theology of the Body given the Church by St. Pope John Paul II. While many people think the Theology of the Body is some version of the church's teaching on sexual chastity, they would be mistaken. The pope's work explores the meaning of the person, as ensoulled bodies, and our relationship to others and to God.

Windley-Daoust's take on this teaching is to recognize the moral theology in the second half of the pope's Theology of the Body, but to spend her time exploring the largely unarticulated first half: the "what does it mean to be human" question, and the implications of this for a theology of birth, death and impairment. The author asks whether these are signs and if so, whether they point to God.

The book is sectioned into four chapters. First is an introduction to the work of John Paul II, some background on his spiritual and philosophical influences, and some of the major points of his Theology of the Body. The other three chapters each cover the theme in context of childbirth, (bodily) impairment, and dying. Each chapter offers a particular theology of its theme: a theology of childbirth, a theology of impairment, a theology of dying.

What is different about this book from other book out there with Theology of the Body in the title? Well, this book reaches broadly across the spiritual and theological tradition of the Church, incorporating things such as Ignatian spirituality, the work of L'Arche, current theological views on death and dying, medical history of birthing and care of the body, and saints from Athanaius to Therese of Lisieux to Servant of God Dorothy Day. It appropriates the deep consideration of the meaning of the human person gleaned from John Paul II and applies it to the human condition and experience. And it asks how all of this has meaning, is significant, and teaches us perhaps something about God that God has revealed right in the very body of the people we are, and know, and come into contact with.

Who is this book for? This is an academically structured and theologically astute text, but it is by no means accessible only to theologians or academics (though they will find it gripping, as I have). It is for intelligent readers who want to explore the depths of the truth about who God makes us to be. For those who are unfamiliar with the Theology of the Body, it provides enough background and may pique your interest towards reading the original text. The author helpfully provides a short synopsis of key terms at the start iof each chapter, and also offers Scripture verses and saintly quotes for meditation as the reader moves forward.

But I've read someone else's version of the Theology of the Body, or I've read John Paul II's actual text - so what about me? For those of you who are familiar with the Theology of the Body and want more, or those who, like me, consider yourselves scholars of the Theology of the Body, I promise you will find that this book is an invitation to put out into the deep and to find yourself stirred by the layers of humanity and the call to truth within the pages. While it is intended for both a male and female readership, and I encourage both, intelligent women will recognize in this a book that finally says in text what so many of us suspect in our intellects and hearts about motherhood, womanhood, hospitality, and communion.

Finally, I have to admit that I picked up this book expecting to read a chapter and put it down for later, but I stayed up late to read it most of the way through in one sitting, because it captured my theological imagination and is an insightful synthesis of the Theology of the Body's anthropology with the spiritual life and tradition of the Church. I strongly recommend it for parents, armchair theologians, priests, smart women, Catholic readers, and the Theology of the Body curious.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Fruit Baskets + Random Courage = Feminine Genius

A week or so ago, I was having a really, horribly, no-good, terrible d̶a̶y̶ week (or two). Pressure was mounting at school, and some issues were doing their best to hammer me to the floor.

Everyone in my program was equally full-up with exams, papers, personal issues. There was almost no place to turn, and my heart was breaking from words others had spoken.

I put my head down, called a couple of friends, prayed - even at 3am when I was tossing and turning with words pummeling my thoughts - even at 9am when I had to walk back into that building, and try to be fine with the damage.

And here's how God works.

A fruit bouquet showed up at my door. Very, very, very unexpectedly. It was from one of the friends I called. And I remember thinking - it's not just that she supports me. But: She's On My Side.

But you can think, easily if you're a melancholic as I am, that someone who is a friend is more likely to offer that kind of love, because you guys are in it together. (And I am deeply grateful to have her in it together with me!)

But last weekend, I read a paper at the Siena Symposium at St. Thomas in Minneapolis, MN. Over the weekend I stayed at the DoubleTree, and ate breakfast both days in the restaurant there at their buffet. On Saturday, there was a bubbly young woman named E who brought me tea. But she came back to the table to chat, asked me what I was doing in town, seemed really interested when I explained the conference.

She was replaced ten minutes later when a middle aged woman named S working there also came by to check on me, and asked about my plans. When I said I was speaking at a conference called "Woman as Prophet and Servant of Truth" she stopped in her tracks. Wait! Let me get paper, she said and ran off. Soon she was back, sitting at the table with me, asking me to repeat the title, asking me more…. She explained she had run a gathering of women at her church, and that she felt the Spirit telling her something in my words. So I continued to share about my paper, just a bit - about the goodness of the body, and the way in which women speak with and for God, as the OT prophets like Deborah and Miriam. And then she said to me that God had "impregnated" her with the idea for her women's gathering, and it took five years to be born. I couldn't help but smile. Her words were spoken as only a woman of experience could have spoken them. Her analogy of her body and God's work was real. I felt like she gave me courage to get through the nerves of giving that paper on the Theology of the Body, and she said she would pray for me, and thanked me for sharing, saying: I knew there was something special about you.

Next morning, I was back. E was there with tea again. She remembered me, and asked how the paper presentation had gone. After I told her it was well received, I explained that it would need more work because I hoped to do more with it. She told me with a smile: you can do it. I have confidence in you.

On Monday I was back to wrestling with the voices lingering from the two weeks prior, and I was at Panera. While I was having a conversation with someone, I got choked up, just at the moment one of the workers, M, came to clear off plates. She came back ten minutes later, put her hand on my shoulder, and handed me an obnoxiously pink-iced flower cookie. You look like you're having a rough day, she said, and cookies always make that better.

In just two conversations a couple weeks ago, I was wounded and distraught. I felt isolated at best and rejected at worst. I have a soft heart and with much prayer, I realized the speakers didn't even know me well enough to think about that.

But God got me into this mess, as I remind him frequently, and I was amazed at the ways in which God still let me know He is sending me women to share their feminine genius with me, even as I continue to strive to find and share my own. M and S and E were beacons of God's love to me. They didn't know me, but they were able to love me. They hadn't read a paper I've written or heard a class I've taught or watched how hard I study. But they supported me, and encouraged me, and were On My Side as women.

And for the other women who have listened to my calls, invited me to come chill out, sent me fruit (my sister has also done this more than once for me: cookies are great but chocolate covered fruit is better) THANK YOU for being not just supportive, but On My Side.

John Paul II tells us that women have a unique capacity for "seeing" the person with her heart. I affirm this. My experience in just a few days was that women who were total strangers saw me with their hearts, and more than that, acted. My dear sister friends carry me in their hearts as well, and I do the same. Women need each other in this way especially, and it is through the love I have experienced from these women that I can forgive the others…

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Holy Frugality! The $700 Prom Dress and the Haters

I know, I know. Don't read the comments.

Recently on Facebook, this article showed up in a friend's page. The story is about a high school senior with a comfortable budget, who found the perfect dress for her prom. But because of the work she had been doing with the poor, she made the decision to forgo the $700 gown and donate the money to the orphanage where she was volunteering in the summer. But her actions did not stop at this generosity. Instead of buying a different dress, she purchased a $4 burlap potato sack, with the intention of sewing it into a dress, and she has invited interested students to do the same. The idea is to arrive at her prom, where most of her classmates will be dressed in expensive clothing and make a statement of solidarity with the poor, as well as one against a culture which is doubly myopic- both the culture of upper middle class America, and the culture of teenage-dom.

It's a beautiful story, and not only highlights the Church's preferential treatment for the poor, but shows the character and fortitude of a young woman willing to give all she has and be an example to her peers.

And then the comments squashed it.

Most of them looked something like this: "$700 for a dress?!" "My wedding gown cost only $300"… "My girls would be happy for a $70 dress."… "What kind of budget is that?!"

Are you kidding me?

The group of -all- women who were responding, whom I can say with some confidence are predominantly those who consider themselves to be good Christians (based on the original poster and her following) were in an all-out tizzy over the actual amount of money this girl had in her dress budget. No mention of generosity. No mention of solidarity. So when I commented that it was "even more impressive" that she had given so much away, I was pretty much attacked.

There are two problems at stake here, as I can see. The first is a real problem with economics as a sign of holiness. The Church teaches preferential treatment for the poor, generosity, and hospitality. She also teaches good stewardship, the goodness of having resources to share, and a personal right to have things like personal funds and personal property. We all make choices about how we make money, and how we use it. But in some circles, there seems to be harsh judgement against anyone who "has" money, regardless of how they are using that gift.

I have in mind a couple of examples of a kind of championing of -not poverty- but "lack-of-funds" that show my point. I had a friend who, God bless her, used to claim she would get pregnant by doing her laundry alongside her husband's. It was her comical way of claiming her very fertile gift of self. When she watched me go through the pain of multiple miscarriages, she admitted to me that she had often judged women with only one child as being "selfish" in some way. She equated her own choice (and discernment) to have six children with generosity, never considering that another woman's desire to have more than one child (or, Lord, even one child) might be just as right and generous. And I have heard "Christian" women complain that the family with two children and a Mercedes are selfish, or not living their Christian call rightly. What harsh judgment to pass on people who may be very responsible about money, who may have discerned that two children was what God wants in their family, who may have wanted more children but were unable, who may have a gift for investing that they use for their family and others, as good stewards.

I have other friends who live in and among the poor, because that is their response to what they believe is their personal vocation. One of the those friends bought a house with funding from a generous man who is committed to lending money interest-free. No one seems to fault the lender for having the money in the first place. He has no obligation other than his conscience to make this kind of offer. But he is committed to do it because he is able to do it. Other friends of mine who are brothers and priests in the Bronx also live among the poor. Their food is earned by begging. Their doctors bills are covered for them. Their home is a beautiful old Dominican convent (though they are Franciscans). Their needs are met by God's providence. Through the gift of those with money. And I would never have been able to have responded Yes to God's call for me to enter this doctoral program if a friend had not funded me for the first year. Others of my friends and family wanted to help, and did. But only she had the resources to pay for the entire tuition. And she absolutely didn't have to, but she felt called to, and so generously gave.

There are different gifts, but the same spirit. And this applies to material things as well. The issue with the Rich Young Man in the Gospels isn't that he is rich. It is that when he is called, he has too much to lose, because he is attached to those things. In some sense, when you have nothing to lose, it is easier to pick up and follow. Maybe you have nothing to lose because of your choices, like my friends in the Bronx. But maybe not.

One woman in this thread insisted that if the girl only had $50 and gave that up, it would "hurt more" and therefore be more impressive. I call shenanigans. If one girl has a $50 budget and one girl has a $700 budget, and they each give all of it away… it has the same impact because both of them are left with nothing. They have both given ALL of it away. Moreover, there is something decidedly different about the girl with plentiful funds giving her budget away, because if we rightly presume (and we many be wrong) that the $700 budget indicates a financially comfortable life, how much greater is her gift because she is not giving from a place of experiential understanding - "wow, I remember what it was like to have nothing, so I'm going to live with less" but rather she is giving from a place of compassion without experience. As in "there are orphans not getting what they need, so I will give up what I could have and change what I want to honor their dignity."

I suggest that the danged "snarky" responders never took into consideration that their daughters and their $70 dresses weren't actually offering to give up their $70 for the poor. Just saying.

Solidarity with the vulnerable, preferential treatment for the poor, commitments to distributism, community, sacrifice, almsgiving. These are part of the considerations we can make as a measure of fiscal stewardship - as part of our Christian call and responsibility. But these do not mean we can claim some right to hold others in judgement for the ways in which they are responsible because it is not the same as our way. Having a clothing budget of $100 and buying all your clothing cheaply from a place that uses sweatshops and child labor is not a more admirable thing than buying a $500 wardrobe from someone who is committed to fair labor practices. Extreme couponing might mean you spend only $5.75 on your $400 order, but there are serious ethical questions attached to this. (BTW, wouldn't it be a more just use of your couponing gifts to donate that extra 1328 tubes of toothpaste to the homeless?) These are complex issues. Talking down a teenage woman's gift of leadership and commitment to change, by condemning her for having $700 to spend on a dress in the first place, will not make you a better Christian.

No, it pretty much makes you a snarky b. And gives Christians a bad name.

So, you go for it, Courtney. You wear your potato sack dress and you have the night of your life. You are a brilliant young woman and you can help change the world. And as for the haters, well, you just have fun throwing those stones and being bitter about those who give more because they have more to give. But I assure you, your own personal poverty is not coming from your checking account. It seems to be coming from your souls.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

GE and the Feminine Genius

When John Paul II spoke about the new feminism, he called it a philosophy "which rejects the temptation of imitating models of "male domination", in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation."

I'm guessing many women can get on board with this, even those who find other writings by John Paul II on women to be too conservative, or too focused on "motherhood." And while I understand the pushback, I also believe that criticism of the focus on motherhood has more to do with the reader's narrow definition of "mother" than the former pope's understanding of motherhood as a category as big as the Church herself.

In any case, as I am helping teach a class in the Women and Gender Studies department at UD on feminist social change, my spidey-senses have been heightened lately to the ways we see women's true genius in "every aspect of the life of society" these recent days. One of those ways has been in the joy of watching the Olympics - from slope style skiing and boarding to luge. When I was a kid, I'll admit, I thought the best part of the winter Olympics was the figure skating - not many girls avoid the lure of sparkles (and I wasn't really a "princessy" kid otherwise). As an adult I still love that sport, and ice dancing, because I am in awe of what people's well-disciplined and talented bodies can DO. On slender metal blades. On slippery ice.

My family are hockey people. And I think this might be the first time that I avoided spoilers on Facebook, recorded hours of viewing, and stopped everything to watch the Women's Hockey gold medal contest. When we were teens, my brother's "pin up girl" was a poster of Manon Rheaume, a goaltender (in full goalie duds, mind you)for several NHL/IHF teams. But still, you "never" see women's hockey teams on tv. And it's about time.

But the strength and gift of female athletes spins or slides its way right into our living rooms, and interviews show women dancing to music during warm ups, or wearing their lucky earrings to snowboard. It is a picture that has nothing to do with androgyny, but is radiantly and fiercely feminine.

Along with all this television viewing come ads, and we know the ways that most of these pigeonhole women. With the rare exceptions (Dad, don't forget the gogurt… and the Tide commercial where the SAHD washes his daughters favorite dress ups), women are either being pressured to color gray and anti-wrinkle themselves or use a better mop and cook a better meal. Motherhood is relegated to a list of household chores. Sure, there is some reality in this. But in that 30 seconds, this is all she is.

John Paul II also warns against "anonymous people" reminding us that when we see "art" reproductions of people we need to remember there are real people behind them.

And so, if you haven't seen the new GE commercial, A Child's Imagination I am happy to share a few words here. They are narrated by a young girl who is recounting all the things her mom does at work. From a general "feminist" standpoint, it's a good commercial. It places woman at the center of invention and technology. It pushes back against a long outdated model of working women as less innovative or intelligent than their male counterparts. And it involves the imagination of a young girl, who is clearly being influenced by the woman… handing down a pro-woman message to the next generation. More than "bring your daughter to work day," it's a celebration of women's successes without making her main contribution a Barbie like prettiness that decorates the world. In fact, we never see the mom.

But that's a second, and perhaps more interesting point to me, and to the idea of feminism as pro-motherhood. [Yes, I am talking about the physical kind here, although in another space I will be happy to expound on motherhood as a universal vocation of woman.] JP II also says of motherhood that it is an opportunity to reconcile people with life… So when we see this commercial and realize it is a girl relaying her mom's contributions to the world in a very work-centered way, we must also realize that this high-powered woman is also a MOM.

If she is a mom, it means she made a choice to give life to another human being. If she has a little girl, it means that she accepted the burden and joy and struggle and responsibility of life. It is not a woman who has accepted a "man's" interpretation of the world - a society where work and promotion and success occur in a linear and isolated way. She has not allowed the terribly limited regulations of maternity leave to stop her own imagination. She has not let sleepless nights stifle her gift and her genius. This ad manages to be both pro-woman and pro-life in a subtle, stunning way. It makes me want to be the little girl and want to be the mom. It is a tiny sliver of a view of the genius of women, and the ways in which both womanhood and motherhood may bring real value into the human condition, in a marvelous and counter-historically male dominated society- kind of way.

Whether you stay at home with children, have children and work, work without children, are spiritual sisters and mothers… whether you manage finances at home or in a Fortune 500, whether you create costumes or cakes, airplanes or printers, whether you bring music or prayer or leadership or education into the world, whether your world is contained mostly in 2000 square feet or you travel weekly… the world needs women's genius. And in whatever way we are called, women's genius brings life. Thanks, GE, whether you realized it or not, for affirming woman's genius and our service to life.

Enjoy this beautiful commercial -
A Child's Imagination and then go forth and celebrate your own genius and encourage genius in the women and girls in your life.