Friday, November 18, 2005

Inclusive / Exclusive Language

I have been reading Kathleen Norris' _Amazing Grace A Vocabulary of Faith_ for some time now.  It's the book I grab to take for dr's appts because the individual portions are self-contained and short.

This week I read the chapter "Conversion: The Feminist Impasse" and Ms. Norris writes of her exposure to feminist theology, her resultant anger and her difficulties with liturgy.   What she wrote struck me all a heap because I too have had great difficulty with exclusive language in translations of the Bible when I happened to know that the original language was inclusive.  It is something I have had on the back burner that gets my attention from time to time but I never resolve it because my desire for God, Mother/Father, Son and Holy Spirit is stronger than my issues with language.  

Then I read in this chapter  of Ms. Norris' experience with
"the Benedictine abbey where I became an oblate was using a psalter that made not the slightest concession to inclusively.  Man, men, brothers. sons- it was all there, staring me in the face on every page.  There were times when this did not bother and other times when it was extremely painful, creating a barrier to my worship.  It even seemed like a lack of hospitality on the monks' part. ...

"The monks had become more than good friends and mentors.  For both me and my husband, they were a saving grace during hard times.  During the period when i was going to the abbey once a month for spiritual sustenance, I occasionally met women who spurned the monks' liturgy because they found the language of the psalter so deeply offensive.  while this was comprehensible to me, I decided that in my case, to follow suit would be analogous to to being in need of an ambulance, and refusing to take it when it came because I did not care for the paint job.  Obviously language - and specifically the issue of inclusive language-- is not as superficial as paint.  I am talking about seeing the ambulance for for what it is and recognizing the possibility for salvation in a situation that seems irredeemable.  I am talking about being willing to accept grace in whatever form it chooses to come.

"As the monks so obviously intended to include me, I was able to allow myself to be guided more by my experience of their hospitality than by what seemed the graceless language of their psalter.  A kind of miracle ensued: I found myself included, and the obsolete language of their psalter was no longer a trial for me.  when I think back on this experience--and it was by no means an easy or quick thing -- I am reminded of what Irene Nowell, a Benedictine nun, once said to me, reflecting on her own joys and frustrations working on committees currently translating the Hebrew scriptures into English:  "Does it ever surprise you that God chooses to be revealed in so fallible a fashion?"

"... Feminist theology especially had seemed a safe place in which all of my stances could be argued and defended, as in an impregnable fortress.  But I found I could not breath there; I found no room for mystery.  I am surely not the first or the last Christian to seek to forsake the fallibility of inherent in Jesus' incarnation for a sure thing.

"It was the false purity of ideology I had to reject in order to move toward the realistic give -and - take of community.  Not a community of those who would share my presuppositions regarding feminism, but an ordinary small town congregation, where no one would make much care about the heavy duty theology in which I had been immersing myself.  I could still employ it as a useful guide to navigating Christian seas.  But I could also learn to to look to the strong women of the congregation, who often seemed to incarnate a central paradox of the Christian faith: that while religion has often been used as an agent of women's oppression, it has also had a remarkable ability to set women free."

As I read this, I could feel the puzzle piece click into place.  As a monastic I am challeneged to view things from a different perspective. As I think about exclusive language in the Bible or in the liturgy, I see I have a choice either to concentrate on the content or to find fault with the way it has been translated or the social mores of a different era in human history. When I have done the latter, I have experienced anger, disdain, judgementalism, self-righteousness which is, for me, sinful. When I have engaged with the messagem rather than with it's delivery, I am more likely to discover the Holy Spirit leading me as She wills to some transformational encounter.

I confess I have had scruples about being called a nun.  It is surely a word charged with connotations and I have preferred to refer to myself as a monastic.  But then I recalled some of the nuns who as abbesses bossed around even the Pope.  And I think of what women have accomplished in service to the Lord despite centuries of exclusive language.

I have no desire to invalidate the different expereinces, pain and hardship that many other women have endured. I know their suffering is real. For myself and with the help of Kathleen Norris, I have found a compromise with which I can live.

About the Gospels

I have often heard people say something about the Gospels that intrigues me: "the gospel writers give us different versions of the same event. >

I found myself thinking "Why shouldn't the gospel writers give us different versions of the same event?  And are we certain that it is the same event, in all cases?"

Thinking here of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew) and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke) as an example.  My own take is that these are 2 separate events.  We already know that the Gospels do not give us a day by day, event by event record of what Jesus did in His 3 years of public ministry. These are Gospels, a brand new genre of literature at the time they were written, and not journalism. Sometimes I think we try to make the Gospels into journalism or a sort of court recording.

So when the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain have much in common, they are not identical.  I think the most like explanation for this is that Jesus gave sermons like this all the time in various and sundry locations. Also I was thinking about the differences in the accounts of Jesus'arrest, trials, crucifixion and resurrection. I have often thought that in our liturgical observations of these events, we do them a disservice by conflating them into 4 days.  Personally I don't see how Jesus could have been celebrating the Last Supper, enduring the agony in the garden, been arrested and had all those trials, interrogations, been flogged, had that conversation with Pilate in time to have been crucified at high noon Friday.  I suspect that there might have been a week at least for all of this to have taken place.

And what a week it must have been for the disciples.  Stress, fear, hope, faith, courage, cowardice they must have experienced the gamut of human emotion as well as gossip, innuendo and maybe even slander. I daresay tempers flared and some disciples probably abandoned Jesus. I can't imagine what it must have been like for them.  One day they were convinced the Messiah was with them, one day they were convinced that God incarnate was among them and the next they see him hauled off as a criminal.

It has been my experience to live through certain traumatic events in the company of others, people of intelligence and integrity, human just as the disciples were human.,  And what I note is that while we agree on the general outline of events, we don't agree 100% on the details,for the simple reason that we were feeling different things at different times and some details were more meaningful to us and others less.

I think that was the experience of the apostles and their fellow disciples. Does that make one account wrong and another right?  Does it make one account accurate and the others not?  I don't think so.  It's not an either/or. It's a both/and.

So it seems to me that the thing to do with the Biblical accounts is to consider them for what they are and not try to force them into what they are not.

I have spent many years exploring provenance, authorship, dating, textual criticism etc. and have come to the conclusion that in my own life such studies have been a source of unbelief, distrust and even sin because this was the only sort of Bible study in which I engaged at the time. Very academic.  

When I first  pursued lectio divina, I found it elusive and challenging because all this other info would pop up and distract me.  But being a stubborn biddy  I persevered and have come to the conclusion that for me, lectio is the better road because through it, scripture gets not only into my mind, but my heart, my frequent thoughts and it is my prayer that it is sinking into my personality and neurons, sinews and neural pathways, changing and refining me.

May the Holy Spirit dance in your heart!!

Sr. Gloriamarie Amalfitano

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

President Bush's Walkabout. NY Times editorial, 11/8/05

While I don't agree with some of the bits in here, I do find the piece overall to be quite compelling.

After President Bush's disastrous visit to Latin America, it's unnerving to realize that his presidency still has more than three years to run. An administration with no agenda and no competence would be hard enough to live with on the domestic front. But the rest of the world simply can't afford an American government this bad for that long.

In Argentina, Mr. Bush, who prides himself on his ability to relate to world leaders face to face, could barely summon the energy to chat with the 33 other leaders there, almost all of whom would be considered friendly to the United States under normal circumstances. He and his delegation failed to get even a minimally face-saving outcome at the collapsed trade talks and allowed a loudmouthed opportunist like the president of Venezuela to steal the show.

It's amazing to remember that when Mr. Bush first ran for president, he bragged about his understanding of Latin America, his ability to speak Spanish and his friendship with Mexico. But he also made fun of Al Gore for believing that nation-building was a job for the United States military.

The White House is in an uproar over the future of Karl Rove, the president's political adviser, and spinning off rumors that some top cabinet members may be asked to walk the plank. Mr. Bush could certainly afford to replace some of his top advisers. But the central problem is not Karl Rove or Treasury Secretary John Snow or even Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary. It is President Bush himself.

Second terms may be difficult, but the chief executive still has the power to shape what happens. Ronald Reagan managed to turn his messy second term around and deliver - in great part through his own powers of leadership - a historic series of agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev that led to the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet empire. Mr. Bush has never demonstrated the capacity for such a comeback. Nevertheless, every American has a stake in hoping that he can surprise us.

The place to begin is with Dick Cheney, the dark force behind many of the administration's most disastrous policies, like the Iraq invasion and the stubborn resistance to energy conservation. Right now, the vice president is devoting himself to beating back Congressional legislation that would prohibit the torture of prisoners. This is truly a remarkable set of priorities: his former chief aide was indicted, Mr. Cheney's back is against the wall, and he's declared war on the Geneva Conventions.

Mr. Bush cannot fire Mr. Cheney, but he could do what other presidents have done to vice presidents: keep him too busy attending funerals and acting as the chairman of studies to do more harm. Mr. Bush would still have to turn his administration around, but it would at least send a signal to the nation and the world that he was in charge, and the next three years might not be as dreadful as they threaten to be right now.

Against Wal-Mart, for example

The basic point problem I have with Wal-mart is that it encourages us to sin. I guess Wal-mart serves as a convenient symbol because they are so unapologetic in their practices.

I don't want to sell WM's good points short... sure they provide plenty of part time jobs to people who want a part time job. Sure they hire developmentally disabled people. Pity more companies don't hire more so-called disadvantaged workers.


We have been sold a bill of goods that it is better to buy more things cheaply. Once upon a time we were taught how to be thrifty. I remember the shock we all experienced when our home ec teachers introduced the subject of planned obsolescence. I remember being taught that the when it comes right down to it the cheapest thing to buy was the best best quality that would last a life time.

And this is where Wal-Mart comes in. Seems to me practically everything we buy at Wal-mart is disposable. whatever it is, we use it up and get rid of it. shoes, clothing, vacuum cleaners, furniture.

How about other labor practices than the lack of health insurance? Again, Wal-Mart is a symbol here, but since they have such an aggressive marketing and building strategy, they do become the natural target.

Once upon a time WM advertised that everything they sold was made in the USA. And then we found out that was a great big lie. Is WM paying fair wages in third world companies or are we by buying goods there supporting the slave conditions of the sweat shop? We can be sure it is the latter.

The sin WM seduces us into is that it is ok to think only about ourselves and our perceived needs and that we need not think about the needs of our neighbor. I strongly maintain that some of the things we perceive as needs are really only things we want that we could very well do without.

It bothers me when someone maintains that they can't afford to shop anywhere else and then to discover that they have several premium channels on their cable system, paying $30 a month extra a month which times 12 months is $360. We none of us **need** TV.

Yes yes, I watch TV. I am as much as part of the TV generation as any other boomer. I remember when TV used to broadcast 4 or so hours a day. We managed to amuse ourselves without it. And what happens to me now? At least 3 out of 7 evenings I will forget to pray Compline because I am so absorbed in a TV show. Where are my priorities, I have to ask myself.

How many of us have bought stuff simply because "it's so cheap, it would be a sin not to buy it?" That's something I hear a lot. Sounds like a justification to me. Sounds like we have been sold down the river and we cooperated with it. If we buy it for no other reason than that it is cheap, I think we have lost sight or our neighbor.

Corporations spend millions of dollars to create a sense of need within us. Once upon a time the cell phone was touted as perfect for emergencies. And look what has become of that. It's a whole industry now that has very little to do with being able to reach out or be reached in an emergency.

Yes, I have a cell phone. I have 35 minutes on it and I pay $7.99 a month to keep my phone activated. I never turn it on except to call it in an emergency. If I had kids and were away from home all the time, I'd probably turn it on so they or the school nurse could call me.

Sure here in the USA we now need cars because we allowed our previously pretty good urban public transportation systems fall into disuse. But buying a car has very little to do with basic transportation these days, it seems. I simply don;t get the sort of thinking that has a person paying $450 a month in a car loan when they could have adequate transportation for $300 a month. If I have done my my math correctly, that would be a savings of $1800 a year. And when we add to it the $360 from the premium cable channels, that's over $2000.00.

Yes, I realize that some of us live in rugged isolated places, but they are in the minority overall in the USA. Most of us in the USA live in urban and suburban ares and we don't have special needs with our vehicles. And yes, I know there are exceptions thereto for the handicapped and the disabled. I am talking about most of us.

I realize that talking this way will put many people into defensive mode and some will want to say "I am the exception because..." I know all about getting defensive. I do it myself a lot. If there is one thing my years In therapy have taught me, it is that when I get defensive about something I really really need to examine why. And i usually discover that i am grasping on to some cherished and beloved totally wrong idea.

Do we as Christians really have the right to buy buy buy when we know there are people in the world in want? Yes, I know Jesus said the poor would always be with us but I take that as urging to always be doing something about it, not shrugging my shoulders and saying "as soon as i have taken care of myself" because we are never done taking care of ourselves. and in the meantime, our neighbor remains neglected.

May the Holy Spirit dance in your heart!

Sr. Gloriamarie Amalfitano

If there are people who refuse to work, that is for the authorities to deal with. My duty is to assist and relieve those who come to my door. St. Thomas of Villanova ( 1488-1555)

God said to Mother Teresa of Calcutta: "You are, I know, the most incapable person, weak and sinful. But just because you are that, I want to use you for My glory. Will you refuse?"