#FaithFeminisms — Questioning

This post is written for a synchroblog on faith and feminism underway through July 25. Originally I hoped to link a previous piece to the synchroblog site and be done with it,
but . . . I discovered that feminism is not a topic I’ve addressed explicitly in nearly four years of blogging, hardly surprising I suppose since “feminism” is maligned by much of the Catholic Church. Yet I have always considered myself a feminist, and for me that means asking questions.

Why are things the way they are? 

4314134817_79ed3af337_nWhen I was in 5th grade at a Catholic parochial school in 1973, I was one of a group of girls who wrote a letter to then-Archbishop Bernardin asking why we couldn’t be altar servers. We had raised this question to our teacher, and to her credit she suggested and assisted with the letter.  To the archbishop’s credit, he at least wrote back, explaining that it was largely a matter of tradition. Although the content of his answer was unsatisfying, I still remember the kindness of its tone, which now seems rather quaint in contrast to my 2014 experience writing to our present archbishop, which received no response of any kind.

The “big bang” question of my life arose in my early 30s, after I had given birth to our older two children, when my husband and I visited a hospice for the first time.  We had been blessed to receive skilled, nurturing care from midwives during pregnancy and birth, which impacted us so positively.  Following the hospice visit I remarked to Joe that it
IMG_0261[1]reminded me of the midwives because the care was so personalized, the dying process was
treated as a normal part of life, and support was provided to the whole family.  Suddenly I began to wonder why death and dying receive so much focus in the Christian tradition but normal childbirth none at all.  Of course the reason is obvious — women’s bodies are not valued in traditional theology; in fact, Christianity often treats them as sources of shame or sin. But the questions would not go away!  Giving birth was the most amazing and powerful experience I’d ever had. My body writhed, sweated, moaned, and bled through such intense pain to bring forth a child.  How could this process be anything but holy and awe-inspiring??

How does birth connect with faith?

BookCoverImageMy response to these questions gestated for many years but finally took the form of a book for pregnant women called Embodying the Sacred: A Spiritual Preparation for Birth. Avoiding any romanticizing of birth and with the premise that the bodily process of birth is spiritual, the book draws on Christian symbols and practices and suggests activities to make the body/spirit connection real in an empowering way, for example by working with clay to reflect on the pelvis as a sacred vessel or decorating a birth garment to honor birthing as priestly work.

The holiness of birth can be a tough sell with many feminists though, even in faith settings. At first pass, it’s dismissed as a feminist concern because our culture sees birth only through a medical lens, and so often women have been oppressed by childbearing.  Our churches too have used birthing to relegate women to a separate sphere.  So the tendency is to segment childbirth as a health care issue just for younger women or to regard it only as something to be managed or avoided on the way to real liberation and equality. Often I must persuade people that this topic is worthwhile.  However, once they read my book or attend a program, they get it. The physical/spiritual connection resonates, and they want to go deeper.

I call my initial wondering about childbirth and theology a “big bang” question because nearly two decades later it still reverberates. Like the universe, it’s expanded outward.

Now I’m asking:

How do women image God through birth?

How does our culture’s disregard for birth intersect with rampant violence against women (rape culture, trafficking, pornography, etc)?

How does birth serve as a metaphor for creative endeavors, spiritual growth, or work for justice?

What might I learn from the LGBTQ community and/or women of color that will challenge or enrich my thinking on these matters?

Feminism means asking questions and never giving up on the search for answers.

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Swim Team Spirituality

The summer club swim championships — prelims today and finals tomorrow –have signified a major rite of the season around our house for quite a few years now, the past four through the lens of our oldest son’s coaching role.  But he was a team member for nine years before that, and our other two kids also swam a few seasons, so I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on this activity!  As Michael concludes his summer club coaching career, my thoughts circle back to previous swimming posts, partially reprised and updated here.

Power of Community
Although a swim team is hardly a religious activity,  the experience at its best contains elements of a spiritual community because:

People are included.  Team members’ ages range from 5 to 18, and our club is especially blessed also by diversity of race, nationality and family style, yet a swim team’s inclusion goes beyond such categories.  There is room for all abilities, and the newcomer’s personal best is cheered with vigor equal to that of the contender’s first place finish.  Also it’s not
unusual for the occasional swimmer with physical or developmental disability to be IMG_0292celebrated simply for completing the race. In our family’s nearly 15-year involvement with the sport of swimming, I have witnessed these spirited affirmations time and again, but they are not mere gestures to “raise self-esteem.”

People are invited to grow.  Swimming is hard work, and improvement does not come without it.  Day by day coaches ask the swimmers to push their endurance a bit harder, to refine their strokes just a little more.  The nature of the sport is that the athletes work mostly as individuals, yet the results ultimately produce a team outcome, providing additional motivation and significance.  Likewise, swim parents must perform tasks that may be outside their comfort zone such as learning to time races or even officiate meets.  Unlike soccer or basketball, swimming is predicated on parent participation; the competition cannot happen without them.

People become connected to one another
.  For swimmers, sharing early morning practices in cold water or pulling together to win a relay or consoling one another after missing a close touch creates real camaraderie, and for parents too, working together at meets and cheering the progress of each other’s children forges an enduring bond.  Further, parents’ necessary presence at the meets provides a meaningful point of connection with one’s own children through their teen years.

People want to pass it on.  The impact of the swim team experience becomes part of you, and despite its hectic nature, you miss it after the season ends.  Then the next season rolls around, and you’re eager to begin again.  Veteran swimmers and parents both become mentors to new folks, instructing them how to read a heat sheet and other helpful tips, paying forward the help they received at the beginning.

God in All Things
As a tribute to the coaches, one year a team mom asked swimmers to write down something they wished to thank them for, which she then consolidated into a poem of sorts that was read aloud at the team banquet by some of the younger kids.  It was quite striking what swimmers of all ages expressed gratitude for:  Thank you for pushing me.  Thank you for believing I could do it even when I didn’t.  Thank you for teaching me SwimChampCoachhow to do butterfly.  Thanks for encouraging me when I was tired.  In other words, Thank you for expecting something of me and then being there to help me accomplish it. Out of the blue, a surprising thought surfaced – Is this how God wants to relate to us?  Is God pacing the pool deck of our lives, fists in the air, shouting “Yes!!” when we believe and do, or “Race!!!” when we’re ready to give up? Athletics are not really my milieu, so I’m regularly surprised by the piercing quality of this image as it arises, always unexpectedly, when inadequacy or fear threaten.

This is all Good News.

 

 

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All Are Welcome

A phrase our son uses to describe feeling understood by another is “He ‘gets’ me.” This weekend I attended the biennial conference of a national Christian feminism group, and that’s exactly how I felt.

“They ‘get’ me.”

These three short words connote an expansive sense of acceptance and safety that is almost not fully grasped except by contrast to other situations, increasingly common in church circles, where one finds it necessary to restrain free expression of opinion on charged topics like women’s leadership, feminine imagery for the divine, or LGBTQ inclusion.

IMG_0133[1]Here’s how their website describes the organization: The Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus (also known by its “doing business as” name, Christian Feminism Today, or EEWC-CFT) is a Christian feminist organization with a long history of working for gender equality. EEWC welcomes members of any gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, color, creed, marital status, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, age, political party, parental status, economic class, or disability. Our biennial conferences sustain our spiritual connectedness and foster our learning about critical Christian feminist issues.

My experience of welcome, connection, and learning aligns completely with this description.

Plenary speakers included Sharon Groves of the Human Rights Campaign, Mary Hunt of Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual; and EEWC co-founder Letha Dawson Scanzoni, whose ground-breaking works include All We’re Meant to Be and Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?. Just as significantly, the agenda also featured three students presenting their own scholarly work on topics related to women and Christianity.  Their energy and enthusiasm were a highlight of the weekend.

Each day began with singing, many selections the work of Jann Aldredge-Clanton. Her songs present amazing and beautiful inclusive imagery, and I can’t wait to incorporate hymns like “Midwife Divine is Bringing Life to Birth” and “Wisdom, Sophia, Joins in Our Labor” into my birth retreats!

Author Susan Cottrell shared reflections on parents responding to their LGBTQ children coming out.  We over-complicate the matter, she suggests; God speaks to us through our heart, and that’s the voice to heed. She and her husband have launched a ministry called Freed Hearts as an outreach to parents.

The feeling of “they get me” actually surfaced a few weeks prior to the conference when a group member posted an incredibly insightful review of my book on the EEWC site. Though I had never met or interacted with the reviewer, she responded not only to the book’s direct content but also its broader purpose:  “Embodying the Sacred allowed me to dream of a time when we go a step further yet and see gathered believers together embracing Conway’s wise insights into pregnancy and laboring, letting God speak through flesh and blood women and their partners who are experiencing it rather than talking about it abstractly and poetically every once in a while. I dream of a time when we hear the justice and power issues that are revealed, as well as recognizing the divine who comes into us and meets us as a baby.”

At the conference my experience of welcome included the opportunity to present a workshop on birth and spirituality based on my book. I felt so blessed by the attentive listening and reflective response I received from the participants.  They “got” me!

Who “gets” you? 

Where are the places that you feel understood and authentic?

EEWCGathering2014

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Offering of Letters

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to speak at mass about my experience volunteering at a food pantry in relation to the annual letter writing campaign of Bread for the World, and below is the text of my appeal.  If you would like to write to your Congressional representatives and Senators to advocate legislative solutions to hunger, click here.  Find your representatives here and Senators here.  More information about Bread for the World is available at their organization website.  Email me at pegconway@gmail.com if you’d like to learn more about the Cincinnati chapter of this national group.

I’m here today to ask for your participation in the Bread for the World Offering of Letters, right after mass.  Tables will be set up in the narthex where you’ll write brief letters to Congress based on suggested text.  It’s a direct and easy way to advocate legislative solutions to hunger. 

I have been blessed the past two years to volunteer on Wednesday afternoons at the Bond Hill Food Pantry at Church of the Resurrection Catholic Church, just off Reading Road a short distance north of here. It is a place of true hospitality where an eclectic group of volunteers and clients together create a community. 

IMG_20130710_120938As I guide people through the pantry, in a certain way it’s like being at the grocery store.  There are shelves of canned vegetable and fruits, laundry soap, soups, etc. and we fill brown grocery bags with their selections.  But no matter how warm the welcome we extend, the underlying reality is that our clients come because they don’t have enough to eat.  A number of them are employed but can’t make ends meet.  Many are elderly or disabled.  They wait in line to get inside the pantry, then to be checked in, and then to shop.  Many do not have their own transportation and must seek help getting their groceries home.  They may only visit the pantry once per month, and they must live in the geographic area we serve.  When I’m putting items in my own cart at Kroger, I am aware of the plenty that I enjoy by comparison, and it bothers me that so many lack food.  The need is great and growing, not just in Bond Hill but everywhere. 

That is why I am asking you to take a few minutes this morning to ask members of Congress to prioritize and protect programs vital to hungry people in the United States and around the world.  Today’s Offering of Letters emphasizes two potential reforms. First, Bread for the World proposes pragmatic reforms to U.S. international food aid programs, such as purchasing relief food closer to the crisis situation from local farmers and ensuring more nutritious relief food for young children and pregnant women. Second, the letters highlight the negative effects of recent cuts to the food stamp, or SNAP, program, which affect many families by $50-$100 per month. It’s been estimated that to make up for these cuts, churches and charities would have to increase their current food assistance by nearly 10 times. That is an overwhelming prospect for any pantry. 

Please take a few minutes in the narthex after mass to write letters on behalf of the hungry.  All parish letters will be delivered directly to our legislators. Please also consider making a financial contribution to Bread for the World to support their faith-based hunger advocacy work.  Collection boxes are located at the chapel exits.  And finally, if you feel inspired to get involved in a pantry, signups are available in the narthex to volunteer at several pantries where parishioners are involved. 

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Called by Name

What’s in a name?

Twice in the past month we have sat among hordes of beaming family and friends in crowded arenas, eagerly listening for our child’s name to be called in the time-honored ritual of graduation.  Such events can go by in a blur, so I’m grateful to my friend Laura over at the Mothering Spirit blog for reminding me that names matter.  Her post took me back to the days of poring over name books, choosing and discarding possibilities until clarity emerged. We never told anyone our choices until the child arrived, partly because we wanted to confirm that the name still felt right once we met him or her and partly because we didn’t want to hear any critiques.  People seemed less likely to comment on a name once given to the baby in our arms as compared to hearing a name for someone not yet born.  Joe and I also agreed that we both had to feel completely comfortable and good about our selections; there could be no ambivalence on either side about something with lifelong significance.

Christian Joseph Conway
Last week our third child became our final high school graduate. By the time he was expected, we were a little stumped for mutually acceptable boys’ names not already taken by close friends and family. We also had added requirements for a saint’s name and a name with family resonance, so the bar was high.  We liked “Christian” paired with his dad’s name in the middle but weren’t sure there was a saint by that name. No Google search available then, so we purchased a paperback Oxford Dictionary of Saints that had an entry for a 12th century Irish St. Christian, who was a Cistercian monk, abbot and bishop though few other facts of his life are known.  That’s not a problem for our Christian. He charts his own path.

Kieran Eileen Conway
Our middle child and only daughter is now halfway through college. When we were discerning her name, friends loaned us a name book that had been purchased in Ireland, and we liked the sound of “Kieran,” rather blithely overlooking the fact that it’s actually a boy’s name.  Ireland has at least two 6th century saints by this name with varied spellings.  One was an abbot known as one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland for his work in setting up monasteries, and the other was a bishop.  We especially liked naming our daughter after a bishop!  Her middle name is that of a dear aunt on Joe’s side.  Kieran was only a few hours old when I briefly wondered if we had been too adventurous in our naming; every time I said her name, I’d had to spell it. By the time she was two, when someone asked her name, with complete poise and confidence she would say “Kieran, K-I-E-R-A-N, Kieran”– like a spelling bee.  She knows who she is!

Michael Jennings Conway
Our new college graduate’s name was long a favorite one for both Joe and me, and it pretty much chose us right from the start.  This preference never wavered even when our  nephew was given this name only a few months before our son arrived. It’s my older brother’s name, and it’s the name of Joe’s great-grandfather who came from Ireland.  The middle name is my Irish paternal grandmother’s maiden name, which adds a bit of distinctiveness to an otherwise common sounding name.  Though many people of their own volition call him “Mike,” I never, ever do so.  A biblical name, in Hebrew “Michael” means “Who is like God?” – a rhetorical question since no one is like God.  In the Book of Revelation, Michael the archangel leads heaven’s armies.  As these associations suggest, our Michael is a person of strength and determination.

So what’s in a name?  History and origins, and calling to the future.

 

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Faithful Departed

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

When I was a child, certain family friends always added the above prayer on to the typical Catholic meal time grace, “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.” Eventually we adopted the practice also, and it was fun to “surprise” guests who were not expecting this extra phrase after the usual grace.  I brought the custom into our marriage, so our children have grown up with it as well.  For most of my life I said it by rote, but including prayer for the dead at meal time has taken on real significance over the past few years, particularly since my mother-in-law’s death in 2010 and then my dad’s in 2013.  Whenever someone dies — whether close to us, an acquaintance, or someone prominent — having this built-in remembrance provides a type of solace.  We don’t have to think about it or plan anything; the words are already there, habitual.  And so tonight I made this small offering of prayer for Brogan Dulle, the young Cincinnati man found dead after having been missing for 8 days.  Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. 

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Prayer for Graduates

The prayer below touched me very much at the conclusion of our son’s graduation from Loyola University Chicago as part of the university president’s blessing.  He acknowledged the parents and invited us to stand and extend our arms over the graduates as we recited it together, a gesture so familiar from years of RCIA rites during mass at our parish yet unexpected in this setting.  I have written before about the importance of marking transitions with conscious gestures, and this moment provided such an opportunity.

Prayer for Our Graduates

May God bless you and sustain you
on this your graduation day.

May the Creator of this vast universe
keep you safe as you go forth
from this place that has nourished your mind
and your soul.

May the Almighty look down upon you and give you
success in all your endeavors,
courage in all your struggles and challenges,
understanding in all that is new to you,
wisdom to choose what is right and do what is good,
perseverance in all you undertake,
serenity and peace in the knowledge that
you are not alone, that you are loved.

May the Lord of All look kindly upon you
this day and forever.

Amen.

IMG_0728[1]

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Holocaust Remembrance

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Hashoah, declared by the Israeli government in 1953.  Since the Jewish calendar is lunar, the exact date varies each year but the timing was chosen to coincide with the 1944 uprising by Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto  and highlight their heroic resistance, as well as to remember the six million who perished.

IMG_0691[1]Yesterday I attended a Yom Hashoah commemoration ceremony at our nearby Jewish Community Center which included candle lighting by survivors and descendants of survivors, a video with reflective commentary by varied individuals, songs, speeches, and prayers. Central questions carried throughout and particularly addressed by the keynote speaker were, “How do we remember the Holocaust?” and “What does it mean to be a Jew in a post-Holocaust world?” As a Christian, it’s not entirely comfortable to sit in a gathering of mostly Jews reflecting on the Holocaust, and perhaps that’s why I made a point to be there, to be present to horrific tragedy but also to my own discomfort. I’m now pondering what it means for a Christian to remember the Holocaust and how to be a Christian in a post-Holocaust world.

These questions are salient because confronting this genocide requires more of us than the mass killings in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, or the Congo. Though not widely discussed, the stream of anti-Judaism that originated in the New Testament created conditions that made the Holocaust possible.  For example, the charge of deicide, that the Jews killed Jesus and that all Jews for all time are guilty, comes right out of Matthew’s Gospel and has been used against Jews for centuries to terrible effect. The Passion narratives, which we just read during Holy Week, generally encourage this view, and preaching about them rarely provides a clearer context or clarification on these texts.

As Christians, Holocaust days of remembrance invite us to grow in awareness of our tradition’s dark side as a means of preventing future tragedy. Other Holocaust-related observances include the international memorial day on January 27 marking the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp and Kristallnacht on November 9-10, as well as  annual days of remembrance in the US designated by Congress. In that spirit, here are several articles that broaden our understanding of anti-Judaism within Christianity:

The Thing I Never Want to Hear Again on Good Friday
Getting Judaism, and Jesus, Wrong
Converts Who Changed the Church
Reading “The Jews” in the Sunday Readings

Recently my husband, son, and I were privileged to attend a Passover Seder at our friends’ home. Actually, we participated in the Seder, because we were called upon to read and joined in many ritual gestures.  Most moving to me was the “spilling of wine” for the ten plagues. As each one was said aloud – frogs, boils, locusts, etc – we removed a drop of wine from our glasses to signify that “our cup of joy is reduced by the knowledge that the Egyptians suffered as we became free.” Perhaps one day the Church will engage in such ritual honesty regarding violence done in its name.  Especially during the Easter season, “spilling of wine” in the Eucharist could acknowledge that approaches to proclaiming Jesus that are harmful to Jews diminish our joy in the resurrection.  Given the recent shooting in Kansas City and ongoing events in Ukraine, we must never forget that antisemitism is a current reality, not a memory

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Dear Archbishop Schnurr

I felt called to respond to the expanded moral conduct clause in the teacher contract here in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and submitted this letter via their website earlier today.

Dear Archbishop Schnurr,

I am deeply disturbed by the new teacher contract for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and am writing to ask that the moral conduct clause be restated in a more reasonable fashion. The provision prohibiting “public support of or homosexual lifestyle” is especially problematic because it fails to recognize the lived experience of people with same-sex orientation and their families and friends. Its implications will cause tremendous harm.

The church has tried, unsuccessfully in my view, to distinguish between a homosexual orientation and homosexual acts, and the new contract language points to the difficulties underlying this attempted distinction. A person with a gay or lesbian orientation lives his or her lifestyle as a gay or lesbian person. But an orientation is not conduct that a person chooses, it’s inherently who they are. Moving on to consider homosexual acts, applying such criteria is difficult to the point of ludicrous. Are we to inquire whether a person with a gay or lesbian orientation is committing “homosexual acts” to determine if he or she is acceptable? Given the absurd impracticality of this idea, the clause therefore implies that simply having a gay or lesbian orientation is not permissible for a Cincinnati archdiocesan school teacher. Does this clause intend that people with a gay or lesbian orientation are barred from teaching in Cincinnati archdiocesan schools?

From the opposite perspective, how is a Catholic school teacher to relate to friends and family who have a gay or lesbian orientation? For example, what if one’s child is gay, not a practicing Catholic, and married or living with a partner? Is a teacher not permitted to be seen in public with them at a cultural or social event or in a restaurant, or invite them to dinner in his or her home? How can this be enforced? Who would want to?

I am most concerned about the impact on young people of the contract’s exclusionary approach. The ever-tightening circle of who is acceptable to the church can only do harm to children and teens, particularly regarding matters of sexual orientation and identity. What will happen to middle- and high school students of Cincinnati archdiocesan schools who awaken to a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or queer (LGBTQ) orientation? How are they to feel when their teachers or counselors – typically a potential support network – will be at risk of termination for providing that very support? Who will be there for them? Why would they want to be part of a church that ostracizes them?

An exclusionary approach is the exact opposite of what’s needed. National statistics on the plight of LGBT teens require that the church focus on providing pastoral care and inclusion, not drawing boundaries. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a 2009 survey of 7,000 LBGT students age 13-21 showed:
• Eight of ten students had been verbally harassed at school
• Four of ten had been physically harassed at school
• Six of ten felt unsafe at school
• One of five had been the victim of a physical assault at school

An earlier study of adolescents in grades 7-12 found that LGBTQ teens were more than twice as likely as heterosexual students to have attempted suicide. The CDC recommends a number of steps that schools can take to create a safe environment for LGBTQ youth, including:
• Identify “safe spaces,” such as counselors’ offices, designated classrooms, or student organizations, where LGBTQ youth can receive support from administrators, teachers, or other school staff.
• Encourage student-led and student-organized school clubs that promote a safe, welcoming, and accepting school environment (e.g., gay-straight alliances, which are school clubs open to youth of all sexual orientations).
• Encourage staff to develop and publicize trainings on how to create safe and supportive school environments for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and encourage staff to attend these trainings.
• Facilitate access to community-based providers who have experience in providing social and psychological services to LGBTQ youth.

The new teacher contract prohibition on “public support” prevents schools from offering such services to LGBTQ students, making Cincinnati archdiocesan schools distinctly unsafe places for LGBTQ youth. Is this intentional? The church’s harsh position as evidenced in the new contract will only reinforce family rejection of LGBTQ teens, already a tragic phenomenon in this country. Studies suggest that one-quarter to one-half of homeless youth are LGBTQ and they became homeless because of their parents’ reaction to their orientation.

It is understandable that the archdiocese wishes to be clear about its expectations that teachers adhere to church teaching in their behavior, but the new moral conduct clause goes too far in regards to all the designated issues, not just sexual identity. No one lives in a fortress; none of us, including Catholic school teachers and bishops, can withdraw from a society in which many people live together and/or have children outside of marriage, have abortions, utilize medical infertility treatments or surrogate mothers, and have LGBTQ orientations. As already evident from past cases, women are disproportionately and unjustly affected by the requirements regarding pregnancy and sex outside of marriage. Has a male teacher ever been fired for having sex outside of marriage?

The definition of teachers as ministers is clearly a legal strategy to reduce or eliminate federal employment protections for teachers, in no way pastorally or educationally based. The addition of this tactic is especially disheartening after the wounds caused by the church’s litigation-driven approach to the sex abuse crisis. Ultimately, the meaning of “public support of” any of these matters could be determined in the courts, a process that is inherently divisive, and certainly in no way healing, pastoral, or theological.

I urge you and the superintendent of Catholic schools to consider the true needs of our young people, especially those with LGBTQ orientation, and revise the moral conduct clause to encourage loving, caring, inclusive behavior.

Sincerely,

Peg Conway

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No Minor Occasion

Our third and youngest child, Christian, is 18 years old today. Wow! Now in my bio I can state with total accuracy that I have three young adult children. I purchased IMG_0656[1]the plastic “Happy Birthday” banner shown here on our oldest’s first birthday, launching a family tradition. Last night as I reminded myself aloud to put up the banner, I remarked to Joe that this likely would be the last time we’d hang the birthday banner, that from now on our children would rarely if ever be waking up at here with us on their birthdays. I started to feel a weight of sadness at this realization, but in the next instant it seemed too melodramatic, morbid even, and the wrong mindset. I looked at Joe and said, “I don’t want to focus on all the ‘lasts’ that are upon us. They’re just not worth dwelling on.”

Advance contemplation of endings reminded me of the play we saw on Friday night at the Ensemble Theater here in Cincinnati. “The Mountaintop” by Katori Hall imagines April 3, 1968, the last night of Martin Luther King’s life, in his motel room in Memphis after he has delivered a major speech. A motel employee brings coffee to the room, and their encounter leads to unexpected revelation and insight for King. He is forced to confront two profound truths: “You’re not in control of everything.” And, “It’s not all about you.”

CJCbaby-2Parenting in general raises such awareness, but Christian particularly has been the bearer of these messages for me. From infancy, he made it clear that he is his own person. We already had experience with a boy and a girl, so Joe and I felt confident in how to raise this son. Wrong! Christian slept less and more randomly, embraced a much broader food palate, and played according to his unique imagination. But we gradually learned to cast aside our prior knowledge or patterns and to trust Christian’s intuitive sense.  At age 6, out of the blue he said, “Mom, I want to do a play. Find me a play!” So I did, and since then he has been in at least one show each year, including three plays during every year of high school. Also at age 6, he begged to accompany his older siblings to a five-day overnight farm program four hours away in Holmes County, OH. He met the minimum age, so with the encouragement of the camp director we relinquished our qualms and let him go. Christian never looked back, loved every minute of it, and continued to visit The Country School the next seven summers for at least one week, often two.

Soon we will finalize his college decision, and I expect Christian’s intuition will be the guiding factor, no matter my preferences or fears.  In response to a “Happy birthday, Christian” Facebook posting that I made last night, a friend queried, “Now that Christian is 18, does this mean your job as parents is over?” I’ve been thinking about this question all morning, and I would say the answer is largely “Yes.”

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