January 28, 2010

Thoughts on being a Non-Initiate

Posted in Christianity, faith and doubt, God, interfaith experiences, Mormonism, Relationships, religion, school and academics, Spirituality tagged , , , , , at 6:09 am by Eostre

I am taking a class this semester on the Literature of Mormon Women. It is a great topic, and I am really excited about it. There is one thing that has me a little apprehensive, though. I am the only non-Mormon in the class. I know, this shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is really a strange situation, for multiple reasons.

First, the obvious, it is weird being the only one in the class who isn’t an initiate. I don’t know the lingo, I don’t recognize most of the names, and I didn’t know before last week that the Temple and the Tabernacle were two different buildings. I am on the outside looking in. I have studied Mormonism, but that is very different from actually being a Mormon. Sure, I can name the four canonical texts, but I don’t use them for my devotions. All the knowledge in the world isn’t enough to bridge that gap.

The second, and less obvious reason, is that I have not been in a really religious environment for almost two years. My faith since coming to Claremont has been largely a private thing, I haven’t participated in any faith-based communion for a while, mostly on purpose. Going to this class I have been struck by how far I have gone from when I was comfortable in an insular religious environment. It doesn’t matter that this doesn’t happen to be my religion, the attitudes are strikingly similar even though the trappings aren’t. There is a certain way that religious people speak, think, and act, that I have been away from for a long time. If you are (or have been) religious in America I am sure you know what I mean. There is an insularity, an us and them mentality, that I had forgotten about.

This is challenging me in completely unexpected ways. I expected the discomfort of being the only non-Mormon in a class, but I did not expect the vertigo that I experience when I walk through that door and into a world that I don’t think I belong in any more. That religious life and mindset just doesn’t fit comfortably anymore. It’s like trying to jam my feet into shoes I outgrew a year ago.

The semester has only just started, but I can tell that this is going to be a huge personal challenge. Can I re-enter that world? Do I want to?


September 11, 2009

Finding My Voice as a Feminist

Posted in feminism, feminist theology tagged , , , , , at 6:37 am by Gina Messina

Woman Power

Woman Power

I was introduced to feminism as a freshman high school student and have considered myself a feminist ever since.  Graduating with a BA in Sociology, I chose to focus my career in the social services field working with women.  Feminist Theology first became of interest to me during my decade long career as an advocate for survivors of rape and domestic violence.  Throughout that time I worked with many women who had images of the divine that I found very troubling.  Particularly many women believed that either they were being punished by the divine for some misdeed they had committed or believed that remaining in an abusive relationship was their “cross to bear.” 

After ten years I was experiencing burn out from the high stress of the field and was also very perplexed by the images and questions regarding the divine I had encountered.  I decided to change my career focus and applied to a graduate program in Religious Studies at John Carroll University.  It is a Jesuit University with a strong Catholic foundation.  I was able to explore Feminist Theology, but mainly in a Christian context.  That being said, I focused on feminist hermeneutics, women’s role in the Church, and the problem of suffering for women. 

Within the program I was introduced to many new concepts that I was greatly impacted by, in particular the idea that I could call God “Mother.” It seems ridiculous to me now that I did not challenge God language sooner; however my Catholic upbringing kept me from exploring anything outside God “Father.”  I found myself trying to image God as woman, God as mother, and comprehend what exactly that meant for my own faith. 

  Following the completion of my degree, just before I moved to California to begin the Ph.D. program, I lost my mother to domestic violence.  It was a shocking and devastating moment in my life, and one that informed my overall view of women and suffering and Feminist Theology.

Coming to CGU, I was able to move out of the Catholic box that I had been stuck in all my life.  I had never attended a church that was not Catholic, but here in Claremont I attended a Presbyterian church, and Episcopalian church, and of course Woman Church.   Attending these other types of worship helped to further my journey and once classes began I was exposed to an entire world of Feminist Theology that embraced other religious traditions.  For the first time in my life I began to feel that perhaps Christianity should be abandoned by women all together.  The tradition’s call for women to be passive, meek, and acceptant of suffering is incredibly damaging and lead many women to mistakenly believe that they must remain in abusive situations and suffer as Jesus did, a model that reinforces women being scapegoats.

Rejecting the culture that shapes the abuse for women and glorifies women’s suffering seems to make sense to me now.  It has been difficult for me to separate myself from my Catholic identity; however I feel more strongly than ever that women cannot be liberated by a tradition that perpetuates their abuse and suffering.  That being said, this is not simply a flaw of Christianity, but of all patriarchal traditions.  I find myself now looking towards the Goddess tradition as a source for redemption.  I have changed my God language and now utilize the term divine.  I have rejected the term “Father” as one representative of the divine, not because I do not think that a male can embody the divine, but because it was part of my vocabulary for long that I now feel I should give equal time to the term “Mother.”  In addition, when I think of my own mother and her nurturing ways I truly believe those are the characteristics that exemplify the divine.    

Feminist Theology has led me away from the traditional Western thought of classical dualisms and I now recognize that my personal faith in the divine is open to my interpretation.  I have no longer felt guilt over not connecting with tradition Catholic masses and have found that prayer for me is something very different than what I was raised with.  For me, Feminist Theology has allowed me to experience a relationship with the divine, a relationship that I have not had before in my life.  It is through that relationship that I remain connected to my mother.  In addition, Feminist Theology has given me the strength to move away from a tradition that I feel is inherently damaging to women.