I’m not a theologian, but…

Chris%2520Robinson%2520%2526%2520Peter%2520Bergman%252C%2520Vicks%2520ads-8x6Years ago, there were some TV commercials for a cough syrup that became “viral” in the 80’s sense of the word, for the tagline, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” This came to mind as I began work on this post, thinking, “I’m not a theologian, but I play one on social media.” Am I an impostor? Yes, I earned a degree from a theological institution, but to be clear, it is a a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies – not theology. Am I qualified to speak on matters of church?

This is on my mind as a very public war wages on, with me involved in some small way. New York Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat has been railing on about Pope Francis for quite a while now. Douthat is a Catholic, a convert, and while I am loathe to use this language, is a conservative Catholic. Am I a liberal Catholic? Many might say so, but frankly, I disdain the labels.

One of my social media connections, Dr. Massimo Faggioli, is a theologian, scholar, author, and an expert on Vatican matters. In recent weeks, he and Douthat have been slugging it out on Twitter, culminating in an open letter to the New York Times, penned by Faggioli and esteemed Jesuit, scholar, and author, John O’Malley SJ, and signed by theologians. As you might imagine, this letter has created a social media firestorm. (All of which, this post included, benefits the NYT and Douthat – page views baby, it is all about page views.) The Daily Theology blog published a copy of the letter so that others could have their names added as signers. And yes, it feels a bit awkward for me to look at the post/letter as it exists, to see my own name… and no corresponding institution of higher education listed for me. Dr. Stephen Okey, who posted the letter asked me about what it should say… I could not say either my work or worship parishes, the opinion was my own. And I am a proud alumni of St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, but my degree is not in theology – nor am I a student any longer. In the end, I let it be. As I said, now that feels awkward.

But is it awkward?

9780814647073Yes – and no. Two other posts, and countless other social media posts regarding this issue bring this into focus. Both examine the questions – must one be credentialed two speak about the church in a public forum? That along with a recent conversation (held on social media, natch) with the church social media-ista of them all (see book on left), my good friend Meredith Gould.  I’ll start with that last one… Meredith and I were discussing theology in another context, and whether or not it was a dusty old way of seeing things. For the record, it is not dusty for me, but as always, Meredith shows me other points of view that lead me to new places. Anyway, her point was brought back to me as I navigated this current matter.

The first of the aforementioned posts is from Catholic author Kaya Oakes, writing at Religion Dispatches. Kaya is herself a lecturer in the college writing program at the University of California at Berkley. Kaya, rightfully so, addresses the question, does one need to be credentialed in order to speak or write about the church and matters theological? Read the post, it is a good one. The other important post is “Why I Signed the Letter” from theologian Katie Grimes at Women in Theology. Katie addresses that perhaps all the blowback about credentials -and privilege too. Also a great read, one that has a number of theologians commenting on how they would have signed that letter instead. Me? I am fine with my first signature, but am grateful for the clarity brought forth by Katie, Kaya, and others.

giphyThis momentary firestorm is important for another reason for me, one that I find incredibly frustrating. Did I say INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING? Sorry, I did not mean to should, but yes, I’m frustrated because of something at large…

Picture this, a New York Times or any other major media outlet for that matter, publishes an op-ed column that is critical of the pope or the church. Oh wait, that has happened, this is but one of a number of examples, or maybe this. (Note, I am not a fan of the first columnist. At. All. The second, it depends.) Perhaps the New York Times is considered anti-Catholic, which I agree it has been over time. What happens? Maybe someone in the hierarchy is critical of the paper, for example, like this. Perhaps the paper even points out some inconsistencies of said cleric.

Is it me, or has there been a real silence around any recent criticism of Pope Francis, the church, the Synod on the Family? Douthat, not for nothing, is remarkably uninformed about church history, theology, doctrine, and typically his writing lacks any context. Yet, does he get criticized by the church proper, as does his colleague Maureen Dowd? If this has happened, I have missed it. Is the New York Times being anti-Catholic when Ross Douthat writes all that he has written lately?

john-henry-newman-quotes-39250That inconsistency is worse than the Douthat thing in and of itself, and I am really struggling. I’m glad that I signed the letter, even if I am not an academic or a theologian. I do believe that the posts from both Oakes and Grimes elucidate the original situation going back to Faggioli and Douthat first going at it. That said, I wish that we would all shut up a bit, me included, (nice to add as I approach a 1000 word count… ugh) and find ways to look at ourselves as church, one Body in Christ.  Anyway, as you consider this long ramble, remember – I am not a theologian, and quite possibly, neither are you. However, we are all members of the big body, and yes – we all must change.

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My empty word file mocks me and other tales of writing (updated)

tumblr_inline_mjpyglF4VQ1qz4rgpLately I have been at many events where writing comes up, and people say things like, “tell me about your blog?” *sigh* My ego happily grabs my business cards from my purse and tosses them like a spray of confetti on New Year’s Eve. Simultaneously my seemingly unstoppable jaw flaps with phrases like “Oh, I just write about faith and real life, that kind of thing.”

Except for when I don’t. You see, I haven’t written too much lately. Kind of like one of my favorite anti-heroes Peter Gibbons, from the movie Office Space, I stare at my computer a lot, along with all my notes, and it might look like I’m working. But I am not.

If you are a regular reader, you know this. If you are among those who picked up the confetti, you will quickly notice this. And I have been struggling with this off and on for some time now. Oh, the writer’s life!

First it was finishing up that last semester. Then it was graduation. Now it is… well, it is… I have a very big deadline approaching. Things were going along, and then thought I was there, but then I started to revisit and edit. So, about being there? Maybe not so much.tumblr_m1tmz8sgIp1r82bbmo1_500I do have things that I want to write about and I will be back. Hope versus optimism, a thought I got from a post written by Bridget at Women In Theology. Other thoughts focus on the catholicity of being a Catholic Christian, which got a boost from this post by Jana Bennett at Catholic Moral Theology, inspired by an editorial from Matt Malone, SJ, editor of America Magazine. There are a lot of short scriptural reflections on my mind, but never on paper these days.

BPA0305RF1238-MAnd what about the sacraments that I want to write about? There is a big draft about baptism that I have been wrestling with. Wisely or not, I would like to write about LGBT issues in the Church, and that is rolling around in the back of my brain. Pope Francis provides me with endless fodder, including the recent flap about who gets saved.  (Updating by adding this link from Stephen Colbert.) And my desires to write about Holy Orders, or how we might be church going forward, and why the Eucharist matters, are far greater than my ability to do so, as of this moment. The list goes on and on.

And what about the posts about hearing three great theologians in recent times? From Elizabeth Johnson CSJ in April, to Anthony Gittins C.S.Sp.,  and Richard Gaillardetz PhD in May, I am awash in thought about all of them.

Family_Guy_Get_Me_Started_Black_Shirt_POPPlus, the Fortnight for Freedom is coming, and I have promised to submit two pieces to Catholic Sensibility during those dates. No – not about the Fortnight for Freedom, which you do not want to get me started about – but for the Two Weeks of Worthy Women series that blog host Todd Flowerday initiated during the first Fortnight for Freedom. Last year I wrote about Thea Bowman and Gertrude of Helfta. This year… well, you will have to wait and see.

And I do have a family, the desire to spend time with them, as well as read books, garden, walk my dog, and sleep. Let’s not forget the full time employment either!

So that’s where I’m at. If you are a reader, I beg your patience. If you are new, maybe you will poke around and see what I have said before. Things like this, or this, or maybe this?

Hopeful pessimist or hopeless optimist? Thoughts on Ascension Thursday

tumblr_m2ac30GRU61r35gi7o1_500“May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call…” – Ephesians 1:18

A little lectio divina led me to savor this particular line of today’s Scripture, for Ascension Thursday. While I’m a little wistful that Easter draws to an end, I also find myself hopeful. Now I’ve been floundering around for something to say about my hope, and wouldn’t you know it, God pointed me to some words on the topic. Just yesterday, in the throes of my final floundering, I came across a post written by Bridget at Women in Theology, where she, among other things, reminds us of something very important:

“…hope is not optimism. In fact, in certain cases (I suspect most of the cases where it actually matters) optimism can be a vice opposed to hope. An optimist can discount and ignore evidence against her conviction that things will right themselves. An optimist is threatened by others’ pain. But someone acting in hope—the conviction not that things will right themselves, nor that we’ll be able to right them, but that God’s power will work to overturn whatever wrongs our systems can devise—that person can face pain. Without denying pain or being swept away by it, she can face her own and others’ suffering.”

Hope is not optimism. Do a little lectio with those words – they are most powerful!  I find this so helpful – and so hopeful, as I return to those words from Ephesians that open this post. I also appreciate that Bridget reminds us of the importance of language and of depth of reflection, something we can easily forget in the land of status updates and tweets, in the land of “optimistic opinionating” that social media can represent. (This is not a swipe at social media, without which there would be post today, but rather a call to reflection. Add to that a reminder that God uses all things for good – including social media, which provided the incubator for both this post and the WIT post that ultimately inspired it.)

Today my reflection, along with it my prayer, is to be anchored in hope and free from optimism. This does not make me a hopeful pessimist, any more than the opposite would be a hopeless optimist… although I can see the allure of the latter. No, it is the banality of optimism that I was reminded of at the last minute, and the power of great hope that grows out of faith.

Pentecost will arrive on Sunday, May 19. In these days in between, we await the Holy Spirit. What will your prayer be during this powerful time? Suddenly, my own prayer which was centered around the ways that I “hoped” that God would shape my life, has shifted. Today – at least just today, just this moment – pray that hope grows more deeply in my heart. If I am able to string my prayer of hope from moment to moment, and day to day, between now and Pentecost, who knows what will happen? Maybe, just maybe, the “eyes of my heart will be enlightened.” And to that I say, amen, and amen, and amen.

In the meantime, don’t just go staring at the sky, waiting for Jesus to come back down. Open your heart and notice Jesus all around you, especially in the most pessimistic of places and in the people you would never imagine finding Jesus is, but where Jesus might be found with the open eyes of a willing heart.

ascension.jpg!Blog

Enjoy the Silence

demotivator_writers_blockMy mind has been a jumble with numerous thoughts. In fact, my “writing prompts” folder is fuller than ever. There seems to be a problem however.

I. Can’t. Write. A. Word.

There is no real reason that I can tell. I’m pretty happy, school has come to an end, and graduation is almost here. The other day I filled out a form and it asked for my level of education, and for the first time ever, I checked the box for having a masters degree. That felt good. But, no real writing has come forth. Who knows why? Not me!

Today I read this post, entitled Keep Speaking Like a Woman, which talks about women writing for the academy, but has elements that apply to any of us who write for any reason. If you are a writer and/or a woman, I think you will want to read the link; it is a big, big wow.

In the meantime, keep my place for me, I will return. Enjoy the silence. And this very favorite Depeche Mode song of mine!