The Table

This Advent, The Table has featured weekly reflections from Deacon Christine Haider-Winnett, RCWP, based on the liturgical readings for that week. This week’s readings can be found here. Homilies and reflections on The Table are part of a new “Preaching Equality” series from WOC.

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about,” says Matthew, as he begins to tell a complex story of Joseph’s feelings of betrayal, his uncertainty about whether to carry on with his engagement, and an elaborate dream that eventually solves this dilemma for him.

Unlike in Luke, which follows Jesus’ nativity through the eyes of Mary, Matthew barely seems concerned with her other than as a device used to help Joseph recognize the birth of Christ. The lack of Mary’s perspective in this text has always bothered me, and it bothers me even more this year as I am in the third trimester of my own pregnancy. As I deal with back aches and fatigue and an inability to successfully sleep through the night, I want to scream at Matthew “That is certainly NOT how the birth of Jesus Christ came about!”

And yet, there’s something that draws me to this text, as a pregnant woman who is watching her spouse walk through this pregnancy in such a different way than I am. In the thirteen years we’ve spent together we moved across the country twice, started graduate school, began our careers and dealt with the loss of family members. But never before has it felt like we were going through an experience together, and yet also entirely alone. No matter how hard I try to describe it, it’s impossible for Alex to understand the ways hormone changes and this increasingly large creature inside of me has changed every moment of my daily life, and it’s impossible for me to understand how powerless and outside this experience he can feel.

Even if Matthew’s description of “how the birth of Jesus Christ came about” seems painfully one-sided, I’m grateful for a window into how it came about for Joseph. When I was writing this piece, I asked my husband, a divinity student preparing for Unitarian Universalist ministry, what he thought of this story. He was struck by how much it mirrored the Annunciation. Like Mary, Joseph was offered a choice to participate in this weird, nontraditional and scandalous family. Like Mary, he was filled with doubt but in the end decided to follow God’s will, even though stood in stark contrast to what he’d been taught to believe “proper” families were supposed to look like. He stepped into a fathering role that was much more complicated than he’d probably envisioned for himself and worked with Mary to create a new kind of family—one they didn’t have any kind of mold for.

When Alex and I discussed the reading, we were struck by how much we saw Joseph in friends and loved ones that we had seen care for their own families: step-parents, same-sex parents, adoptive parents and single parents that had stepped up to provide care and stability for children even when it fell outside the norm of what family was “supposed” to look like. Like the Holy Family, they often had to create their own models of family, discovering that previous models hadn’t been created with them in mind.

Matthew’s story may not be “how the birth of Jesus Christ” came about, but it’s an important part of how the Holy Family came about—how two people decided to follow God’s will even when it seemed unimaginable and outside what they might have envisioned for their lives. This is the story of the birth of a marriage, and how that marriage formed and supported a child that would change the world. It’s the story of how two people got to decide for themselves what family means, and who to include in their family.

12316283_10153758384548622_6527913826117004816_nChristine Haider-Winnett is an ordained deacon in Roman Catholic Womanpriests (USA). She is a former member of WOC’s Board of Directors and served as WOC’s Co-President from 2012-2014. Christine holds a Masters in Divinity from Pacific School of Religion, a BA in Peace and Global Studies from Earlham College and a Certificate in Women’s Studies in Religion from the Graduate Theological Union. She currently serves as deacon at St. Hildegard Catholic Community in Berkeley, California. Christine and her spouse, Alex, are eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child. You can learn more about Christine’s ministry here.

This Advent, The Table will feature weekly reflections from Deacon Christine Haider-Winnett, RCWP, based on the liturgical readings for that week. This week’s readings can be found here. Homilies and reflections on The Table are part of a new “Preaching Equality” series from WOC.

Here in Berkeley, we’ve had a rainier than usual start to our winter season. The hills look lush and green. All our neighbor’s lawns, which had been allowed to brown due to drought concerns, are now returning to life.

Of course, the most exciting thing about these rains is what we hope it will mean for the rest of the year: a replenished drinking water supply, less wildfires in the summer, and a more fruitful harvest. But it’s still far too early to know if these rains are a fluke, or if they are a sign that our drought is finally subsiding. For now, all we can do is enjoy the change in weather for however long it lasts, keep an eye on next week’s forecast, and hope.

“Be patient,” James tells us in this week’s readings. “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and late rains. You too must be patient” (James 5:7-8).

Yesterday, my husband and I went to what seemed like my hundredth ob/gyn appointment since I became pregnant. The appointment took barely a half hour—just long enough for the doctor to listen to the baby’s heartbeat, ask me a few questions and schedule our next visit.

I am eternally grateful for these short appointments, which are a reminder that everything is– so far– going blissfully well. And yet, I always find myself a bit disappointed and frustrated that I am leaving without much new information about this baby. Whenever the doctor asks me if I have any questions for him, I’m always struck by how many questions I do have—and how few of them he will be able to answer:

-What’s the baby’s hair color?

-Does this child look more like a Haider or a Winnett?

-Will they laugh at my jokes?

-What name would they like? Because we’re still stuck on that.
Less than two months from our due date, I am suddenly more eager than ever to have any information about this person that has already become the center of my world. I find myself looking over the same ultrasound pictures, and constantly running over the few facts I know about the baby’s health and size and expected arrival. I find myself more eager than ever for this baby to just get here already. Frankly, I’m tired of being pregnant.

And yet, there’s nothing to do but to, like the farmer, be patient and let things come in their own time.

I’ve never been particularly great at waiting. I want to skip ahead to the end of the book. I want immediate gratification. However, James reminds me that, like farmer tending crops, I need to pause and be patient. I need to appreciate the miracle of what is, rather than focusing on what will be. This moment in my, and in my child’s, life will never come again. I don’t want to be so focused on the future that I miss the present moment.

This is Gaudete Sunday, the time when we recognize that there is—or should be—some joy in anticipation. It’s a reminder to slow down, be mindful, and not try to race to the finish line. It’s an invitation to enjoy the rain showers for however long they last, without worrying about when they’ll stop. To contemplate the joy and mystery of living in a moment of transition. To wait in joyful hope for the coming of what eventually will be.

12316283_10153758384548622_6527913826117004816_nChristine Haider-Winnett is an ordained deacon in Roman Catholic Womanpriests (USA). She is a former member of WOC’s Board of Directors and served as WOC’s Co-President from 2012-2014. Christine holds a Masters in Divinity from Pacific School of Religion, a BA in Peace and Global Studies from Earlham College and a Certificate in Women’s Studies in Religion from the Graduate Theological Union. She currently serves as deacon at St. Hildegard Catholic Community in Berkeley, California. Christine and her spouse, Alex, are eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child. You can learn more about Christine’s ministry here.

img_5902Spanish theologian, Emma Martínez Ocaña was welcomed by the Rome-based, Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation working group on the “Collaboration of Women and Men in Ministry,” last week. Well-known amongst Spanish-speaking religious communities, Ocaña’s work is poetic and deceptively simple, engaging deep spiritual questions of gender, Jesus, and the cosmos.

Ocaña crafted a dreamscape of a “New Future for Women in the Church,” transporting the 60 or so gathered to a radical vision of Church. Dreaming, she said, is encouraging desire, beauty and truth; and in dreaming together, dreams can come true. However, she cautioned: dreams are chaotic, free, and often not “politically correct.”

Ocaña first dreamed of ministry, rich in service and love, based on a call of recognition from one’s community, and not confined to sex or a priesthood. Women will not simply occupy benches (pews), but be active in sacrament, in equal rotation. She dreamed of an end of “formation” all together, in order to rid the Church of clericalism. No “men as demigods,” but many trained ministers, willing to share. Friends, not servants.

She dreamed of an abandonment of all sexist and patriarchal language. She dreamed of never excluding a woman’s body from revealing God: “Allow the word of God to become true in their bodies.”

This being a dream, Ocaña also envisioned Jesus’ response to her dream, in the form of a letter. While this exercise felt a little silly to me, it was a rich and empowering journey to take as a group. In this letter, Jesus reaffirmed his call for a revolution that denounces sexual discrimination in all forms and gives visibility to women, who are “builders of the history of salvation,” and equals in dignity, rites/rights, duties and tasks.  

Not wanting to wake up, Ocaña eased us back into the room by encouraging us to keep dreaming: for Church to be a witness, for these seeds to become trees. img_5884A question came from a priest in the group who challenged her “use” of a Jesus (who totally agrees with her dreams), rightly calling this a path that the patriarchy also enjoys to secure opposite conclusions. (I am reminded of one of my favorite lines from a Women’s Ordination Worldwide press statement: Stop making Jesus the Vatican’s partner in gender discrimination!”). He offered that listening to each other, may be a solution. Ocaña responded that one must put the historical Jesus, not what is constructed or cultural, on the horizon.  

Another participant shared the she believes in the beauty of dreams, but carries “so much rage,” especially towards priests who too often encourage the submission and invisibility of women. I was so grateful for this honesty.

And finally, one woman asked what we all ask at times, Why stay? When in secular society and around the world women’s equality is becoming increasingly affirmed…  Ocaña, a woman of hope, shared: “It is the triumph of patriarchy to believe what they tell us about ourselves.” She believes in mystical and political change from within. She believes in the historical, revolutionary Jesus.

The group gathered again the following day for an interactive workshop to go deeper into these questions and find fruitfulness and mercy along the journey.

I’m not sure if it was a shift in tone, or process, or simply the joy of escapism, but to enter into a dream articulated with so much hope and happiness was just the light I needed on that winter’s afternoon.

This Advent, The Table will feature weekly reflections from Deacon Christine Haider-Winnett, RCWP, based on the liturgical readings for that week. This week’s readings can be found here. Homilies and reflections on The Table are part of a new “Preaching Equality” series from WOC.

I have two cats that I simply adore. One of them, LuLu, is eighteen years old. I’ve had her since I was a teenager. She’s loud, is starting to lose her vision, and is scared of her own shadow. She’s the sweetest, most loving creature you’ll ever meet but has, at times, accidentally scratched me when she got over-stimulated or startled by a sudden noise or movement. LuLu was a part of my life when I graduated high school, and I can’t wait to introduce her to my first-born child in a few months. But I’ve also been increasingly worried about the risks associated with having her live with our upcoming baby. As much as I’m sure that she’d never intentionally hurt our child, and as hard as Alex and I are working to take every possible precaution, there’s still a worry that something could happen. I’m committed to keeping my cat and making her a part of the baby’s life, but I know that comes with some level of risk.

Given my fear of introducing my child to a housecat, you can imagine how I feel about reading about babies playing with vipers in this week’s lectionary.

I’m already so aware of the dangers lurking around every corner for this child. Risks that were acceptable for me to take alone are no longer acceptable to take while pregnant. But I wonder: at what point should concerns for a child’s safety be weighed against other concerns: the concerns for their happiness, their spiritual and emotional growth, their ability to engage meaningfully and responsibly in their community?

I’ve been struggling with those questions a lot in the last few weeks. These seem like frightening times to prepare for a birth of a child. I suppose every mother—from Mary to my own mother—has thought that. In the last few weeks, as our country feels more divided than ever and many people struggle with uncertainty and fear, that has felt particularly true for me. I worry about the risks I am birthing my child into, the harm that could be done to them or people they love and what sort of values they will see passed down. A very large part of me wants to try to shield them from the ugliness of the world, and from the heartbreak that I’m already feeling about it.

But as much as I have a desire to create a protective bubble around my child, it seems impossible to shield them from any possible harm. Children are born into an unsafe world full of vipers and leopards and wolves, many of them are born into situations much less safe than the one my own child will be born into. But even I, in my privilege, can’t shield my child from every danger. There is only so much any of us can do to protect them from harm.

The prophet Isaiah, who parented children during a particularly trying time in Israel’s history, seemed to understand that truth keenly. Like me, I’m sure there were times when he wanted to form a protective bubble around his children, shielding them from any possible danger.

However, Isaiah reminds us that God’s reign is not brought about by building up walls or trying to shield children from the realities of the world. Isaiah knows that fear makes our world smaller, and he wants a big, rich, adventurous life for children– and for all of us. To him, God’s reign is not a safe fortress but an interspecies playpen, where peace is made as children explore and play together. In fact, Isaiah argues that salvation is brought about by these risk-taking infants: babies who play with vipers, and lambs who make friends with lions. It is in that risk-taking that we are able to grow, encounter one another and make new things possible.

Yes, we live in an unsafe world, but as I prepare to parent my own child I am reflecting on how I can best teach my child about the risks of the world, rather than trying to shield them from those risks. I hope to raise children that will be, in Jesus’ words, as wise as serpents and peaceful as doves (Matt 10:16). I want them to be aware of the dangers that they and others face, but still go out into the world boldly to make it a more loving, just place.

So, even though it scares me, I’m going to slowly and gently try to introduce my child to my old, grumpy cat. I’m going to talk to my child honestly about the risks of the world so that they can make the best decisions on how to engage with danger. I’m going to speak honestly about the injustices in our country and in the world so that my child can work with others to become peacemakers. But I’m still going to worry.

12316283_10153758384548622_6527913826117004816_nChristine Haider-Winnett is an ordained deacon in Roman Catholic Womanpriests (USA). She is a former member of WOC’s Board of Directors and served as WOC’s Co-President from 2012-2014. Christine holds a Masters in Divinity from Pacific School of Religion, a BA in Peace and Global Studies from Earlham College and a Certificate in Women’s Studies in Religion from the Graduate Theological Union. She currently serves as deacon at St. Hildegard Catholic Community in Berkeley, California. Christine and her spouse, Alex, are eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child. You can learn more about Christine’s ministry here.

This Advent, The Table will feature weekly reflections from Deacon Christine Haider-Winnett, RCWP, based on the liturgical readings for that week. This week’s readings can be found here. Homilies and reflections on The Table are part of a new “Preaching Equality” series from WOC.

I have been pregnant for 216 days. (But who’s counting?) I know this because I have an app on my phone that keeps track of this date for me, so that I always know exactly how many months, weeks and days this child has been growing inside me.

This same app tells me that we are exactly 64 days from January 29th, the baby’s due date. But of course, as anyone who has ever been pregnant will tell you, this second number is far less precise. Sure, in 64 days it will be January 29th, but there is no guarantee that my child won’t make their arrival on January 20th, or February 10th. I know people who gave birth ten or more weeks early, about as far along as I am now. This baby could literally arrive at any moment! The author of my favorite pregnancy book assures me that “no one has ever been pregnant forever,” but that is really the only guarantee I have. One day, in 64 days or in 75 days or tomorrow, my whole life will change.

“Therefore, stay awake!” Jesus tells us, “For you do not know on which day your [Love] will come” (Matt 24:42).

This feeling of unpredictability is not my favorite part of pregnancy. I am someone who likes to stick to a schedule, who makes plans and backup plans, who tries to anticipate any possible outcome. But one thing that I’ve learned in the last 216 days is that no matter how many books I read or how detailed my birthing plan is there is so much beyond my control. I still won’t know the day or the hour. I’m preparing for the un-preparable.

And of course, things aren’t going to become any more predicable after I give birth. Parenthood is a giant journey into the unknown. No matter how many people offer advice, or how much I research, there is no way to adequately prepare for what is in store. I am getting ready to begin one of the most significant relationships of my life with a total stranger. How does one prepare for that?

Jesus tells us to stay awake and prepare because someday– any day now– the Kin-dom of Heaven will come like a thief in the night. However, while He’s very clear about our need to prepare, He’s rather vague about what we need to prepare for. Like the author of my pregnancy book, Jesus seems content to tell us “a big change will happen someday, probably when you least expect it. No point in trying to guess too much about when or where it will be.”

How on earth can we adequately prepare for an event that we have so little information about? How can we set our schedules when we don’t know the day or the hour? How can we make a plan and a backup plan for any possible situation when we don’t know the first thing about what this life-altering change will look like?

The kind of preparation Jesus is asking of us seems to have less to do with my usual methods of preparation (gathering data, making lists, sticking to schedules) and more to do with staying alert and open to the unexpected. “Stay awake, keep watch,” Jesus tell us, “something is happening that you won’t want to miss.” This doesn’t mean simply trying to prepare for every possible scenario, it means coming to accept that we couldn’t possibly anticipate every possible scenario. It means coming to understand that whatever is going to happen is ten thousand times weirder and bigger and more wonderful than we could have ever imagined. It means accepting that we aren’t the ones in control, letting go of our pre-conceived notions and allowing ourselves to be surprised.

Scripture tells us that when God entered into humanity, God showed up in the most unexpected ways: as a poor child in some forgotten corner of empire, born to a scared teenage girl who was far from home and who had only a barn for shelter. God took any expectations people had for how the Word-Made-Flesh should arrive (and any expectations Mary had about her birth plan!) and turned them on their heads, reminding us that God’s power is so much more weird and beautiful and unpredictable than anything we could have prepared for.

If you were expecting God to arrive as a king or a warrior it would have been easy to miss this small baby lying in a manger. In fact, the people who were best able to recognize the incarnation were people who didn’t have a lot of preconceived notions about what it should look like: shepherds and illiterate young girls who were willing to be surprised. People who took the time to notice the unexpected and didn’t let themselves get too bogged down with expectations about what glory and power and holiness should look like.

And so, Jesus is telling us, the next time that the Sacred decides to show up it will be in just as unexpected of a way. God will show up with all the drama of Noah’s flood. Or maybe quietly and quickly like a thief. Or maybe like a small and fragile baby. We don’t know what it will look like, we don’t know when. All we know is that it’s coming. Stay awake. Keep watch. Get ready to be surprised.

12316283_10153758384548622_6527913826117004816_nChristine Haider-Winnett is an ordained deacon in Roman Catholic Womanpriests (USA). She is a former member of WOC’s Board of Directors and served as WOC’s Co-President from 2012-2014. Christine holds a Masters in Divinity from Pacific School of Religion, a BA in Peace and Global Studies from Earlham College and a Certificate in Women’s Studies in Religion from the Graduate Theological Union. She currently serves as deacon at St. Hildegard Catholic Community in Berkeley, California. Christine and her spouse, Alex, are eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child. You can learn more about Christine’s ministry here.

The award-winning documentary, Radical Grace, made its Italian debut at the 19th annual Religion Today Film Festival last Thursday evening in Trento. As the foremost international film festival dedicated to showcasing religion and culture, Religion Today brought together 53 films from 26 countries, selected from more than 270 applications during its two-week run. At the heart of the festival is education and interfaith dialogue on issues of peace, human rights, and gender.

Radical Grace screened as part of a double-feature with the 2016 Israeli film, Measures of Merit, telling the story of Ruth Colian who set out to establish the first ever-political party for the Ultra-Orthodox Haredi women and her campaign to run for the Israeli Knesset in 2015. Haredi women are the only segment of Israeli society that are not represented in the Knesset. The influence of the Rabbis depicted in the film is extreme: in one case the film showed Ruth canvasing for herself, when a woman told her, “I will take that when my rabbi hands it to me.” Most striking was the language that the Rabbis used to define gender roles and “divine patriarchy,” which could have been swapped seamlessly with the reasoning from some members of the Catholic hierarchy. 

Religion Today Film Festival Poster seen around Trento

Religion Today Film Festival Poster in Trento

Between the films, Italian journalist Adele Gerardi briefly interviewed Ruth Colian and me as a representative of Radical Grace and WOC. Gerardi asked about the Women’s Ordination Conference and our mission, how one can be a feminist and a Catholic (a classic), and how the sisters are doing now. Not wanting to spoil the film, I shared just how unified the U.S. sisters have become, and now especially, how they know Catholics are behind them.

Radical Grace screened late into the night but the audience stayed until the very end. Afterwards, the woman next to me gave me a tearful hug, “Brava, brava grazie!” and groups of students and younger viewers came up to me to talk about the movement. One university student in particular, first told me how many times she cried throughout the film, but also how she is so thrilled to know that WOC exists, that people are working in this issue. The next morning I had an email from her, subject line: “How do I support your cause?”

I had worried that the “Ryan budget,” the “ACA,” and more American-focused themes might be confusing for an Italian audience, but I realized that while those issues are confusing, what the Nuns on the Bus (“suore in Pullman”) were doing is not. Social justice, courage, and humility translate just fine. (My WOC title of co-executive director, however, doesn’t quite translate as well and I suspect I got a promotion to executive producer in some translated conversations! Sorry Susan Sarandon!)

The next day, the Festival organizers arranged a short walking tour of Trento where I got to speak to more of the judges, film-makers and actors. There was great interest to bring Radical Grace to other festivals in Italy, India and Bangladesh, and in particular to have discussions around women’s ordination. True to the mission of the film festival, this cross-pollination of creative people and tools brought great dialogue and sharing. It was a true honor to represent WOC and the film Radical Grace at such an important nexus.

Radical Grace is now available on itunes and for community screenings, with discussions guides on economic, social, and gender justice for download. 


forcades-siamotuttidiversi-coverAt la Casa Internazionale delle Donne in Rome, Benedictine sister, Teresa Forcades spoke with Italian feminist theologian Marinella Perroni about a new interview-book, Siamo Tutti Diversi! Per una teologia queer (We are all different! For a queer theology), featuring Forcades. 

For those keeping close notes, these two powerhouses are a convergence of WOC’s recent programming: Teresa Forcades, a keynote speaker at WOW 2015 and Dr. Marinella Perroni, a panelist at our Jubilee for Women Priests. The October 3rd event took place in the same space as the Jubilee for Women Priests (although about 30 minutes late and with a cat and dog also present!).

Teresa entered the room like a complete rock-star, with flashing cameras following her to the front of the room. She spoke for nearly an hour in Italian, only deferring to Spanish a few times when answering very personal questions from the audience.

The heart of this new theology book, as she described, is understanding “queer” as a liberating identity that one continually creates, outside of categories and socially prescribed roles. Teresa described many of our saints and the historical importance and mobility of their queerness, their rejection of norms: Joan of Arc, Francis of Assisi, for example.

“Theology has always been queer,” insofar as it is a personal re-centering, interpreting agency of identity to the subject (the person) rather than the projected label.  Queer identities and embodiment are continually renewing, continually dependent on a relationship with God. The sacramentality is in every day.

In a separate interview with “Female Wor{l}d,” Marinella Perroni described queer theology as “an application of the criteria of liberation theology, a liberation understood as a promise from God and as a practice of freedom before God, for all individual human subjects understood and respected based on their most profound particular traits, those related to sexual development.” 

Sr. Teresa Forcades and WOC co-director, Kate McElwee

Sr. Teresa Forcades and WOC co-director, Kate McElwee

The audience, however, focused their questions on Sr. Teresa’s journey to the Benedictine monastery and her relationship with the hierarchal Church. Raised under the Spanish dictatorship of Francisco Franco, her family considered the Catholic Church “a place of Franco,” and a place of the past that will die. Perhaps a similar comparisons to how many communities look to the Church today — imperialistic and aging.

However, not unlike many Catholic feminists, Teresa found excitement and joy in her experience of Catholicism through studying theology, particularly with Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, and through encounters with prophetic and pastoral sisters. When discerning her religious life, Teresa described conversations with nuns, questioning how they would respond to communities with AIDS and LGBT groups… and the nuns’ response was one of kindness and pastoral curiosity: “I wanted to learn to be like this, to look at people in their eyes…” 

Outspoken on the injustices of ordination, Teresa reiterated a common mantra of hers: power is linked to ordination and ordination is linked to gender, and that is misogynistic and must change. The ways women are “kept out” is unacceptable, she said. Though Teresa did not go into depth here, I would recommend revisiting the Teresa’s WOW 2015 keynote on a Trinitarian approach to “Feminist Ordination.”

The evening was truly an intense experience of the life-force of Teresa: a brilliant theologian weaving body, feminism, sexuality, autonomy, and liberation into a revolution called queer. Not another label, but an invitation to radically recreate one’s self in every moment as a projection of God.

Read More:

Teresa Forcades, the revolutionary Catalan feminist theologian, says: “We are all different!”

poster-rt-2016_1In its 19th year, the Religion Today Film Festival is set to launch in Trento from 7-17 October under the title, “We all loved each other so much. Religions and gender issues.” According to the festival website, the title is an homage to Ettore Scola, and “explores the portrayal of women and the female condition in different religious contexts and the challenges of gender diversity.”

A WOC favorite, the documentary film Radical Grace is included in the festival this year, screening with Italian subtitles for the first time. Earlier this week, I was honored to speak on behalf of the film and WOC at the festival’s press conference at the prestigious Casa del Cinema (where WOW screened Pink Smoke Over the Vatican for the first time in Italy in 2011).  

As the only guest speaker, my invitation was a curious spotlight on a single film, especially in light of some of the sponsors in the crowd. Nevertheless, I spoke about the pain of the investigations and the resilience and heart of sisters who follow a higher calling of social justice, (and the masses who support them!). It was an incredible opportunity to share the organizing efforts of the Nun Justice Project and the dedication of the women behind the film, who followed Sr. Simone Campbell, Sr. Jean Hughes, and Sr. Chris Schenk (and Erin and myself — I still love this montage!) for several important years.

After I spoke, one woman in particular came up to me to share that she had followed the U.S. sisters closely during the investigations. She said although she is not a feminist, she supports the sisters. As is true around the world, the language and labeling of feminism is culturally triggering and challenging in different circumstances. The word and the movement are so central to WOC’s mission and in particular Sr. Chris’ storyline in the film, I will be curious to see how the film is received here in Italy — praying that it draws out those faith-driven feminists I have been searching for!  (I’ve written about my conversations with Italian feminists and the pitfalls of language across cultures before on the Table, here).

The screening takes place on October 13th, where I have been asked to offer short commentary to the film before what should be a stellar interfaith panel discussion: “From Eve’s point of view: Religions and gender relations.” Speakers include: Nibras Breigheche (Muslim theologian), Elena Seishini (Buddhist monk), Selene Zorzi (Catholic theologian and former nun) – in dialogue with Anna Fedele (Center for Research in Anthropology – Lisbon University Institute).

Radical Grace has screened at 45 film festivals and 80 community screenings, driving deep conversation around feminism and faith.  The film is now available for community screenings and on itunes with discussion guides for Catholic-rooted and interfaith groups on themes of  women’s equality and social justice. 


cspjrspwiaetlifOn Tuesday, September 20, 2016 I was honored to be present at a special forum at the United Nations entitled, “Keeping the Faith in Development: Gender, Religion & Health”. As President of the Women’s Ordination Conference Board, I went to support the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, as their director, Dr. Luca Badini Confalonieri, participated in this panel and presented a summary of the recently published Statement on the Ethics of Using Contraceptives.

The streets leading to the extreme east side of mid-town New York were vibrating with the kind of excitement that only the coexistence of a sunny day in Manhattan, the convening of the UN General Assembly, the President being in town, and a street bombing just two days before could produce. A similar vibration of anticipation filled the hall where we gathered to hear ten interfaith panelists discuss the intersection of human rights, religious traditions and the UN’s goals for sustainable development.

Earlier in the morning, as I boarded the train from Connecticut, I had wondered to myself if the trip was really “necessary” and within the parameters of the mission of WOC. Although the link between supporting a document that champions inviolacy of conscience and WOC’s advocacy for women whose conscience calls them to priesthood seemed important to me, I could also see that some might see this as a peripheral issue and, perhaps, even a distraction.

Once the panel presentations and discussion started, however, I was in no doubt that I should be there and that pieces of WOC’s vision and values were on the table. My eyes were opened to a much larger theater than I had imagined, where “gender equality” is not a hashtag or placard in a march, but the reality of one toilet for women in a village of 16,000 people. My notes are filled with phrases like, “religious authority”, “sustainable goals”, “promoting health care”, “culture”, “dignity”, “scientific evidence”, “human rights” – but if we could make a wordle from that afternoon, the phrase that would dominate our cluster would be “GENDER EQUALITY”. These eminent scholars, authors, religious leaders and development experts from around the globe all used the phrase and emphasized that gender equality is the transformative vision needed for all societies. While undoubtedly there would be disagreements about the process of achieving this, there was unanimity in admitting the primacy of this goal.

I left the auditorium somewhat discouraged by the enormity of the challenge, but also proud to be part of WOC’s efforts to change the oppressive hierarchical and patriarchal system of the Catholic Church. We know that not practicing gender equality in the church contributes to the contexts and cultures around the world and here in the U.S. that tolerate oppression of women in very fundamental ways. As Azza Karam, the moderator of the panel said at one point, “Faith communities are signals of hope and therefore very necessary – but this also creates a deep need to interrogate the structures of patriarchy in faith spaces.”

We can all feel proud of WOC’s forty years of “interrogation” and, as we celebrate our 40th Anniversary, we look forward to renewed efforts to take the challenge of creating gender equality in our church and world into new places of collaboration and accomplishment.

Note: For a full account of the proceedings of this event, please see Jamie Manson’s article in NCR.

More than 150 folks gathered at Trinity United Methodist Church in Des Moines to hear Fr. Roy Bourgeois tell 253882_327964550650964_533596931_nhis story of activism, and the price he paid.  Though he spent four years – four years! – in prison form protesting the School of the Americas, when he tells of being released from Maryknoll, his hurt is as fresh as if it happened yesterday.  This man, so clearly called to be a priest, lost his official Roman Catholic credentials because he supported women’s ordination in a public way. (Read Fr. Roy’s statement from 2012 on his dismissal from Maryknoll)

That began a pretty amazing weekend, honoring the Des Moines Catholic Worker’s 40th anniversary.  WOC was invited to participate in and co-sponsor  this great event, and to moderate a panel on women’s ordination.  Iowa has a vibrant Catholic Worker movement, with several houses of workers in Des Moines, as well as locations in other cities, and at least two farms!  All of these ministries are attracting college and graduate school interns, young adults in permanent positions, older folks, people who volunteer regularly (many for dozens of years!), older folks, all races and ethnic groups, and folks all over the GLBTQA spectrum.  An amazing and wonderful array of God’s children!!  When folks in traditional Catholic parishes moan: “Where are the millennials?”, they need look no further than the Catholic Worker in Des Moines!

Fr. Roy sharing his story of activism and witness to more than 100 people gathered in Des Moines

Fr. Roy sharing his story of activism and witness with more than 150 gathered in Des Moines

The panel we moderated included Rev. Janice Sevre-Duszynska, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, Rev. Mary Kay Kusner, and two young local women from the Catholic Worker and Drake University, Mary Traxler, Clio Cullison, neither of whom identifies wholeheartedly as Catholic.  We discussed a variety of issues, from the Pope’s commission on deacons to who each one of us finds inspirational in this work.
for blogWe also touched on Dorothy Day, the founder of the CW, for whom women’s ordination was not a big issue.  Of course, she was absolutely a woman of her times, having died in 1980.  A couple of audience members were quick to point out that the CW movement would see women’s ordination as a justice issue, just like racial equity, for sure, but that feeding the poor and listening to every person we meet is what they are all about.
Board Member, Marion Flynn moderating the panel: "More Listening, Less Judging: Imagining a Church of Gender Justice"

Board Member, Marion Flynn moderating the panel: “More Listening, Less Judging: Imagining a Church of Gender Justice”

I told the story of my college graduation, at Newton College of the Sacred Heart.  Dorothy Day was our commencement speaker, and I spoke on at the same podium.  She was a powerful and challenging speaker.  My talk is lost to eternity, but I know my call to the priesthood was apparent to everyone (and it was, after all, 1974, when we thought priesthood for women and married people would soon be a reality).  After the ceremony, Dorothy Day approached me, and asked me to think about the Chicago Catholic Worker, and she offered to make the connection.  As flattered as I was, I also knew that my call was different.  But I also knew that I had met the most significant woman I would ever meet, and that she had blessed my heart.

We are all so grateful to the people at the Des Moines Catholic Worker for the inspiring witness, and congratulate them for 40 years of service to the poor.  We love you all!

Further reading:
Roy Bourgeois in the Des Moines Register: Struggle for justice, equality continues in Catholic Church

Marion Flynn, WOC Board Secretary, studied theology in the 1970’s – and was certain there would be a path to the priesthood, having been called at a very early age.  She has worked as a banker and fundraiser, is active in her parish, and is honored, beyond words, to serve the cause of women’s ordination.  Marion lives in the Chicago area, but was born in Massachusetts.  She holds a BA from Newton College of the Sacred Heart, and an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.