November 28, 2009

A Woman in Waiting

Posted in Family, fertility, Infertility, Parent, waiting tagged at 4:40 am by Gina Messina

Celebrating Thanksgiving yesterday made it more evident to me than ever that I am in a constant state of waiting.  While of course I am waiting to finish my PhD and I am waiting for my career to officially begin, what I am truly waiting for is family.  Holidays are a time for family and being so far away from home has left me feeling a little lost.  This Thanksgiving my dad flew in to spend the week with me and my husband and we spent the holiday in a restaurant with my brother and his wife.  Our family time consisted of two hours together over a meal someone prepared while missing their own family.  I found it terribly depressing and longed for the days when I was a child and Thanksgiving was a time where nothing else could interrupt the family bond.

I remember as a child waking up on Thanksgiving morning and watching the parade on television with my brother and sister while my mom baked her famous cheesecake and pumpkin pie.  She would always give us each a slice right out of the oven…although they were meant to be chilled desserts to this day there is nothing quite like the taste of my mom’s warm pumpkin pie.  Then we would spend the day at my grandparents with aunts, uncles, and cousins…often with our own football game being played in the front yard.

Today, my mom is no longer with us.  I miss her dearly and cannot remember what the last holiday we spent together was like.  I keep waiting for my grief to end, for my every move to not focus on what it would be like if mom were here.  I wonder if having children will allow me to carry on family tradition in my own way and heal some of the wound I feel so deeply in my heart.  However, dealing with infertility has left me waiting for a child.  I have waited for round after round of fertility treatments to work, I wait month after month hoping for a miracle and wonder if there is any end in sight of this cycle that has left me in limbo. 

Of course I truly appreciate that I spent this holiday with my dad, my brother, sister in law, and my wonderful husband.  I just feel like something is missing from my life and my sense of family.  There really is not anything like the mother child bond and I desperately need to have that in my life.  And so I am waiting, waiting for my grief to lessen, waiting for a child to love and teach the value of family, and waiting for a sense of family that nurtures my soul the way it did when I was a child.

November 24, 2009

Little baby Hope

Posted in waiting at 9:04 am by LadySophie

I am by nature a hard driving, fast moving, ambitious person. I do not wait well. But I find that sometimes it has been the only path ahead of me. I make a list and want to accomplish everything on it…in one day. So far, my wedding planning is moving at that pace. My dissertation checklist is not moving quite as fast though.

If I move too fast, then I miss so much around me. Waiting forces my mind to slow down, my eyes to focus on the world and other people. If I had my way, I would have been married at age 18. I thought I was ready and felt so impatient in the waiting. I tried hard to “make it happen” along the way but I couldn’t. As I look back at the last ten years of waiting in particular, I would not trade a minute of what I have experienced. I was dating a guy that seemed like a good match and was just ready to be done dating. I resigned myself to being with him and felt hope die inside me.

As long as we are waiting, hope is alive. Hope for something we desire, we dream of. When I settle, I feel a part of my soul being silenced. How different it is now that what I hoped for has come. I feel an even greater sense of hope for the future. My soul is expanding and not shrinking.

My friend says you cannot kill hope. It keeps rising to the surface. Somehow, hope grew in the waiting – like an expectant mother feeling her baby growing inside.

November 22, 2009

Why I Wait Within The Mormon Church

Posted in Family, feminism, the Mormon church, waiting at 10:42 pm by Gaia

Attending my Mormon congregation is a struggle for me sometimes. A lot of the rhetoric I hear over the pulpit about gender roles and identity, “us” vs. “the world”, exclusivity, and black and white statements in general – not to mention a lack of focus on the social gospel – drive me up a wall.

But despite all of that, I am somewhat committed to staying at least a partially active member, to waiting for the Church to change. I can locate a few reasons for this.

1. Mike. He’s the best human male I’ve ever met. Hands down. Kind, ethical, compassionate, thoughtful. And really smart. Sure, there are some things I would change (e.g. his politics and lesser interest in helping animals), but overall he is an incredibly good person. And the LDS Church helped produce him. I can’t forget that. Every time I wonder why I stay, I look at him and know that the Church can indeed do very good things for some people and teach some very good principles. It helped fashion a marvelous human being in Mike.

2. While I find a lot of Joseph Smith’s actions, particularly during the Nauvoo period deeply problematic, I like his radical vision of a new religion. I find compelling his vision for the divine potential of humans, male and female. I like his radical approach to battling poverty through the United Order. I think his ideas about the spiritual and divine potential of women were particularly revolutionary, as when he “turned the key” to the women’s Relief Society and organized them “in the order of the priesthood.” I think our present day Church institution has unfortunately retreated from the liberated vision Joseph Smith had for women.

3. I wait within the Church because I now realize I can choose what to believe in. I wait because I now realize that I have the privilege, the right, and the responsibility to embrace those wonderful LDS ideas that empower me and to reject the ones that don’t. And this realization – that I can choose what to believe in, that Mormonism is not an all or nothing proposition – has liberated me. By rejecting the ideas that tear me down and hurt me (men presiding in the family, women having to hearken unto husbands, a circumscribed definition of womanhood, polygamy as my eternal future), I am now at liberty to embrace the ideas which I love that are also a part of my faith. It inspires me to know that the Jesus we Mormons believe in is the same Jesus who went out of his way to include and teach the outcasts of society, to break taboos, and to uplift all humans despite race, sex, or class. That is the Jesus I accept and love, and any ideas that have crept into Mormonism that go against that, I roundly reject.

4. I wait because I know that leaders need to be allowed to make mistakes and grow. At this point in my spiritual life, I am on a religious journey that privileges my own conception of God’s wishes and my own conscience (i.e. personal revelation/the Spirit) over the statements of Church Authorities. I now realize that all human beings, including Church leaders, are subject to their own cultural contexts, and that even the wisest, most wonderful leaders can allow unfortunate cultural ideas to creep into their conceptions of the gospel. I am trying to be more compassionate towards these leaders. After all, they are human, and I am human. And I know that I make mistakes too.

5. I wait because of my own fallibility. This realization of my own fallibility has also profoundly affected my relationship with the Church. Just as I need the Divine to forgive me for all the mistakes I make, I know that I need to forgive the institutional Church for the mistakes it makes. It’s not easy to do. I am hurt by the ways women are routinely shut out from the general Church hierarchy, by the ways women’s voices and ideas are lost or ignored in nearly all Church talks and lessons. But I need to give the Church time to progress. This is the gospel of progression; it is also the Church of progression. And I have reason to hope that it will indeed progress with time. (After all, blacks did eventually get the priesthood.)

6. I also wait within the Church because, in order for the Church to progress, it needs people like me. The Church benefits from having all types of people of various ethnic backgrounds, ideologies, and political persuasions. The more types of people it has, the more types of people it can help. Besides, this is my church too. If progressive, liberal people keep leaving the Church, it will be left with a population that grows steadily more conservative and homogeneous in ideology. This would negatively impact its ability to be the inclusive and compassionate church I know it has the potential to be.

November 20, 2009

The Church of O: Practicing Oprah

Posted in feminism, Oprah, Spirituality tagged , , , , at 4:22 pm by Gina Messina

Although our topic for this week is waiting, at the last minute I decided to veer off track when I heard that Oprah would be going off the air.  There is much to be said about her and what she has offered to both women and men over the last near 25 years.  While Oprah is a leading talk show host and media queen, she is also one of America’s most influential spiritual leaders.  With over 26 million viewers, Oprah Winfrey has created a congregation that is inspired daily by the sermons preached from her pulpit.  Her message is simple: “Live your best life.”  According to the Gospel of Oprah, you have a duty to make yourself happy.  Although her parishioners are mostly women, men also partake in looking to Oprah for guidance on health, happiness, and salvation, including Barack Obama who referred to Oprah as his “host” during a speech on his religious beliefs in Iowa on December 10, 2007.

Viewing Oprah can be seen as a religious process.  Everyday people make time to turn on their television and listen to an hour of inspiration directly from the gospel of Oprah.  It becomes a ritual of attending “church.” Parishioners attend the service, listen to the message and then take that message, evaluate it, and apply it to their lives.  Further, the viewers go out and spread the message.  Oprah’s congregation is eager to share Oprah’s message for the day with family, friends, and even the stranger in the grocery store.  With her show airing daily in 132 countries and 205 television markets, Oprah is preaching to a much larger congregation than any other evangelist.    

Oprah not only reaches her congregation via her talk show, she has a multimedia empire through which her followers are able to her message.  The talk show host, producer, philanthropist, and spiritual guru speaks to her congregation through O Magazine, O Magazine at Home, the Oprah Book Club, Oprah and Friends on XM Radio, and Harpo Productions. In each of her media outlets, Oprah only ties her name to products that promote her message of empowerment, self-improvement, and self-actualization. 

Using self-disclosure, confession, and honest talk, Oprah has encouraged her parishioners to enter a new phase of life.  She calls for the sharing of inner life experience to shed negativity and emerge empowered with a new self worth.  A symbol of spiritual renewal, Oprah is a catalyst for a new religion in America.  She has redefined the religious experience.  As a spiritual leader Oprah Winfrey has influenced millions with her vision of possibilities and message of self love. 

Women across the country, including Melissa Ethridge, have claimed Oprah to be their religion.  They have turned to Oprah for their spiritual fix and have been inspired by Oprah’s message.  Oprah has provided them with a spirituality that no church can offer.  In the Church of O women are not oppressed, in the Church of O women to do not need to suffer, in the Church of O, happiness is a must.  Women receive tools for real life and are not made to feel guilty about it.

A midrash: The Ark and the Flood

Posted in midrash at 4:42 am by Lakshmi (LaChelle)

The following is from a guest contributer, Jan Chase. We’re so glad she is sharing this wonderful re-imagining with us!

Gaia had given birth to many creatures including humans. And as S/He watched the way they treated each other, she was appalled. They were made in Her image, yet as they lived on earth, they seemed to become denser and denser, even forgetting their own spiritual nature. Oh my, What was a Creator to do? Well they were her thought creations. She must have done something wrong for this fighting and killing, and greed and pain to be happening. So as if she has burned a bunch of cookies in the oven, she thought she would throw them out and begin again. Obviously they were not enjoying this unfolding of consciousness, nor was she. And hadn’t that been the point! As they evolved so would S/He and as S/He evolved, so would they. But this becoming less and less conscious and less and less conscientious was not working for anyone. So how should S/He put these being out of their misery and begin again?

S/He thought about fire, but thought better. And as she thought about this deed, SH/e choked up, for even though this great experiment had not worked out the way S/He had planned, S/He felt a great loss and sadness to think that they would be no more and S/He began to weep. Her tears encircled the earth like a great mist, which condensed and fell like rain upon the earth. Suddenly S/He knew just what to do.

Read the rest of this entry »

November 19, 2009

not waiting anymore

Posted in waiting tagged at 2:04 am by Lakshmi (LaChelle)

What is she really waiting for?

I’ve spent most of my life waiting. I used to mark the days on my big wall calender with big colorful X’s and then scribble through the entire box. I didn’t realize what I was doing until my roommate at the time commented on it. She said, “You look like you are counting down the days for something.” And I always was. I was counting down the days until a vacation in school. Or until the boy I liked at the time returned from India. Or for the day I would finally get my braces off. There was always some moment I was trying to get to, as if in that moment, I would be truly happy.

And my life right now, so uncertain and unstable, could be described as a whole metaphorical waiting room. There are huge questions that have still to be answered for my life, and nothing really is final, even though, for most people at my age, that isn’t the case. I’m 29 and I guess I am still waiting on The Permanent Things: a husband, my house to own, a better car, a family (maybe), to have sex, my career. I mean, when I think of The American Dream, my life sort of falls short.

The Last Kiss is one of my favorite movies. It is about this guy who is 30 with a great job and he is about to have a child, but he is hesitant to get married and ends up having an affair because he feels like, after marriage, there “won’t be anymore surprises.” Well, that’s really all my life is, a big bag of surprises.

I don’t know what really happened, if I just don’t care about those “permanent” things as much as I used to or if I’m just used to not having them, but I’m much better now at living in the moment and loving it for what it is. I can look at what I don’t have as a void, but it isn’t really. I live in a beautiful house, I have some amazingly beautiful close girl friends (one of whom I get to live with), I live close to the ocean and downtown LA and a whole host of other amazing places. I’m not saying that waiting is a bad thing. In fact, sometimes I feel I can be too content at times. Waiting and desiring for something can be beautiful too, because of love, because you want something so much. And it is wonderful to want. But for me, I guess now, I’m working toward various things (you know, I’m getting “out there,” and I’m progressing in school, making relationships and all that), but at the same time, I’m in a period where I’m not really sitting on the window ledge, my hair blowing in the wind, peering out for my Prince Charming, (a metaphor for all that is good in the future). I used to do that a lot. But now I’ve backed away from the window, leaving it open, but enjoying the world inside the tower as well as stepping outside of it, noticing what is surrounding me, instead of what I hope will someday be.

Since I was a little girl, I dreamt of getting married to a boy with a beautiful last name. Part of me is a poet, and I adore words, the sounds and the tastes of them. I would sit and write down my first name with a whole host of lovely last names which belonged to boys I didn’t know: Constantine, Michaels, Rachel. . . (this was in elementary school and well, beyond, mind you.) But I guess around age 26 I got tired of waiting. A change in my last name would be so much more than beautiful; it would signal a new dimension in my life, a slightly new identity. And I realized I didn’t have to necessarily wait for Augustus Constantine to ask for my hand in marriage. I could change my own name myself. So I did. Not to Constantine, but to a last name that made more sense for me. A bold move. But it meant so much.

So sometimes, I admit, I’m lonely or anxious for the things I want, because I do want. Sometimes badly. But I’ve really practiced reminding myself that my life is pretty blessed as it is. There is always something I need to be doing in the present moment that is, at the very least, a distraction, and at best, productive to making my life the best it can be for the present and perhaps the future.

November 12, 2009

Jesus loves Orthodox people too?

Posted in Faith Transformations, interfaith experiences at 7:15 am by Eostre

Mary and JesusI hate to harp on the whole “I was naive and sheltered and now I am an aware and savvy grad student” thing, but with this weeks topic it was too good to pass up. When I started college I made friends with a girl who had been raised Eastern Orthodox, and was still (mostly) a part of that denomination. For me, this was an interfaith experience! We stayed up late many many nights talking over the issues of converting from the Orthodox Church to “Christianity”. That’s right, you read that correctly. To my 18-year-old self Orthodox faith with it’s sad eyed Jesus icons and pedo-baptism was alien and thus, well, unorthodox.

We would stay out all night talking very seriously about whether or not she needed to be re-baptized, and if venerating the saints was idolatry. Of course, the answer we came up with was yes on both counts. With the strict formalities (she had to cover her head when she went to church! Oh no!) and strange liturgies, she might as well have been bowing towards Mecca, and we both felt it.

Now I would like to say that this ended with me going to church with her and realizing that hey, the Orthodox (and even Catholics!) are just like me! But it didn’t. We drifted apart, and as far as I know she is still a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church (which for the record I fully recognize as Christian, now) and it wasn’t until a couple years later, when I was a junior in college, that I accepted that Christianity takes many forms, and wearing a head scarf or using wine instead of grape juice doesn’t really matter in the end. If anything, I identify more with liturgical traditions now than I do with Evangelical denominations.

So this wasn’t an interfaith experience in the strictest sense, but it is what imediately came to mind when I started thinking about this weeks topic. Like Gina said, religious literacy is abysmal in America, and I would add to that by saying that it is even worse in the Church. When presented with a tradition that predated mine by thousands of years I had no idea how to react. I hadn’t even heard of Orthodoxy before I met my friend, and I was attending a religious university!  All of my inter-religious knowledge came from a perspective of evangelism and conversion, which is pretty narrow. I can’t help but think that I missed out, and that thousands of kids just like me did too.  I was lucky, was able to break out and interact with people who actually did have a different faith than I did, but it could just have easily gone the other way.

I was lucky. I had professors who pushed me to understand different faiths and different perspectives. I wish everyone could be so lucky. And really, with the world the way it is just now, Jesus has a good reason to have sad eyes, so maybe the Orthodox Church got it right.

November 11, 2009

Different is Good

Posted in interfaith experiences, Relationships at 1:45 am by LadySophie

Is there anything more difficult than meshing two differing worldviews? I want to approach our weekly topic from a different direction. Can you be sincere, heart friends with someone who differs with you in deep, meaningful ways? They are liberal and you are conservative. Can you be close friends with someone who has a core religious belief that is directly in contrast to your own? They believe in God and you do not. I always have people in my circles that are quite different from who I am. I love the diversity and the richness of it all.

This romantic relationship in my life has helped me think about meshing two different lives. We are both used to being single and have some deep rooted ideas about how things “should” be done. He is used to being a parent, I am not. He is about to start professional school, I am just finishing. He is Filipino, I am Texan/ Californian. He is a careful saver of money, I am a skilled spender of money. We are talking about merging our lives and it is easy to focus on differences.

The same is true for interfaith conversations. Do we focus on similarities or differences?

He loves to learn and so do I. He keeps his faith at the center of his life and so do I. We have no idea where our lives are headed, but that doesn’t seem to bother either one of us too much. We keep circling back to those things and finding common ground.

Can we apply the same strategy to interfaith relationships? To friendships with political opposites? I think we can. I have some kind of tireless hope that people can overcome differences and arrive at sincere, meaningful relationships. 101_0109

November 8, 2009

Immortality: Surprising Confluences Between Feminist Theology and Mormonism

Posted in interfaith experiences, religion at 3:57 am by Gaia

On the whole, I like the Mormon concept of immortality. I like the idea of being with my family forever. I like the idea of being able to love and live with a child or spouse or parent that might have died too young. I like the idea of being eternally engaged in learning and working with others. Ok, I am put off by the idea that I as woman might be an eternal baby maker, and the status of Heavenly Mother – my immortal role model – is angst inducing if I sit down and think about it for very long. But in my positive moments, I have some hope that my husband and I would actually be equals in the next life – that the patriarchy of our church and of our world is just a natural consequence of the fall and of human fallibility.

So I initially found it a bit jarring yesterday as I read about one Christian feminist theologian’s take on immortality. Ruether, author of Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology, is a founding mother in the field. She questions whether or not the idea of immortality is an outgrowth of a Western (and she would also say male) concern with self-perpetuation as well as an abstraction from the real life processes of growing, birthing and dying. She has reason for this latter concern: in traditional Christian theology, immortality is static, and according to some church fathers, the resurrected female body (not the male) will have its sexual organs neutered in some way so as to not be able to inspire lust.

Ruether proposes that we explore a feminist theology that moves away from thinking so much about the ego’s everlastingness and instead accepts our own finiteness and embraces death as part of a natural matrix of humans and non-humans, who spring from the earth and eventually return from it in a nutritive regenerative cycle. Rather than hoping for the ideal in the next life, she urges us to use this present moment to create a just and good community for our children.

I have mixed feelings about Ruether’s rather negative take on immortality. On the one hand, I very much appreciate her ideas about valuing the body, accepting change, and restoring balance between human and non human. On the other, I really like the idea of existing eternally, that there is something so important about my soul that it is co-eternal with the divine (even if that idea is a bit egotistical).

So it might appear that Mormonism and Ruether’s feminist theology might not have a lot of common ground to work with regarding the concept of immortality. But I actually see some surprising confluences. Mormonism’s concept of immortality is very different than the one Ruether is rejecting. Our immortality not only accepts change, it expects and embraces it. Rather than a heaven that is never-changing perfection, Mormonism’s concept of eternal life is all about working to make progress and evolve. There is an embracing of the body, sexuality, and natural life processes in our ideas of eternal reproduction. In a nutshell, I see Mormonism’s concept of eternal life as a merging of both traditional Christian ideas about immortality and of Ruether’s feminist emphasis on the body and change.

November 5, 2009

Religious Illiteracy: We are a Nation of “Jay-Walkers”

Posted in pluralism, Religious Literacy, World Religions tagged , , at 7:33 pm by Gina Messina

world-religionWhen it comes to religious literacy, America is a nation of “Jay-walkers” (As in the segment on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno).  Although it is a secular nation, the U.S. is clearly one of the most religious countries in the world with Christianity being riddled throughout its history.  American founding documents are centered on the Bible and Christian teaching, multiple presidential speeches have quoted the Bible, our currency states “In God We Trust,” the Pledge of Allegiance calls the U.S. “one nation under God,” our judicial system requires one to give testimony after being sworn in on the Bible, and the list continues.  Regardless of the aspects of Christianity that permeate the secular boundaries of this nation, its inhabitants know little about this religion. 

American knowledge of religions other than Christianity is appalling. In 2002, the National Association of Independent Schools criticized the high level of religious illiteracy.  One would assume that U.S. citizens would have a basic understanding of the principle teachings of the major world religions, such as the Five Pillars of Islam or the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism; however the majority cannot even name what the major world religions are.  The bottom line, religious literacy of citizens of the U.S. is abysmal.

In a post 9/11 world, a basic understanding of Islam is imperative. Following the terrorist attacks random acts of violence against Muslims, and those believed to be Muslim, have occurred across the U.S.  In Arizona an Indian American who was Sikh and wearing a turban was perceived to be Muslim and shot to death; an act of intolerance and ignorance.  In Dayton, Ohio a chemical irritant was sprayed into the room of a mosque that held the infants and children of its practitioners while they were engaged in a Ramadan prayer service. During the presidential campaign emails inciting hate spread around the world warning of Barack Obama’s Muslim heritage.  In addition, millions of copies of the anti-Muslim propaganda film Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, a fear inculcating documentary, was sent around the country as a scare tactic to keep Barack Obama from being elected.  Bigotry disguised as “anti-terrorism” is utilized to instill fear and promote hate, easily succeeding in consequence of the lack of religious education in the U.S.

While the U.S. is overwhelmingly Christian, it is a pluralistic nation.  Numerous world religions are practiced within the country.  Los Angeles has more than three hundred Buddhist temples and is home to more Buddhist schools than Tokyo.  There are over 1 million practicing Hindus and yoga has become a part of everyday life in America.  Taoism is practiced around the country in martial arts studios and its influence can be seen in Star Wars where the “force” is based on the Tao.  One of only seven Baha’i temples in the world stands in Chicago, a faith with nearly 1 million practitioners in the U.S.

We are living in an age of globalization where the U.S. stands as an economic leader (as they say, when America sneezes, the world catches a cold; clearly demonstrated from our current economic crisis). That in itself requires Americans to be aware of cultures outside their own; clearly religion is culture.  Being involved in international affairs, it is crucial for our officials to be knowledgeable on religious traditions.  One must have some knowledge of Buddhism in order to understand foreign policy on Tibet; understanding the basics of Confucianism is essential in order to understand foreign policy on China. That being said, the ambassadors of Muslim majority countries do not have training in Islam.  In addition, ambassadors to India and China have no training in traditions practiced in those areas.  This is not only irresponsible, it is dangerous.   

I think bringing religious education into our public school system would offer a good opportunity to address this problem of religious illiteracy.  Providing our nation’s youth with religious knowledge will give them the power to function not only in a nation that is overwhelming Christian, but that also is a religious melting pot (or salad plate which might be a better analogy) and home to multiple world traditions.   It is foolhardy for our nation to have such little knowledge and experience in religion with its role in globalization and international affairs.   Simply stated, religious illiteracy cannot continue in the U.S.  The call for religious education is not a call to teach faith, but rather a call to approach the subject matter from a phenomenological, anthropological and sociological approach, meaning to learn about the traditions from the adherent’s stand point; understanding one’s beliefs and experiences because of those beliefs; recognizing how the tradition functions in culture and affects the adherents’ lives.  Bringing religious education into public schools is the most efficient and effective approach to creating religious literacy and therefore should be a goal for the progression of this nation.

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