Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Anita Caspary, Feminist Nun

What an unlikely life: born in rural South Dakota in 1915, she earned a doctorate in English at Stanford University in 1948 and went on to lead her order, the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to sever ties with the Vatican.


Her rebellion started with obedience to the mandate of Vatican II for all Catholic religious to match their ministry to the needs of the modern world.

She and the IHMs came to the conclusion that they needed to stop wearing the habit and to leave any teaching jobs where they had 60 to 80 students in a classroom. They decided a teachable limit was 40 students. They also decided their nuns should be allowed to complete their BA degrees before starting to teach.

Cardinal McIntyre, archbishop of the Los Angeles diocese, was furious about these uppity nuns.

By that time, Anita had become president of Immaculate Heart College in LA and then Superior of her order, which stood up to pressure from him to keep teaching for low pay and heavy work loads.

In retaliation, McIntyre made sure that wealthy Catholic donors withdrew their support from the order's college. It closed in 1980.

The sisters formed a new order, the Immaculate Heart Community, which includes both Protestants and men among its 160 members today.

Anita wrote her story in 2003, Witness to Integrity: The Crisis of the Immaculate Heart Community of California (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press). I treasure my signed copy.

When I met her, she was a fiery 85, still giving lectures and speaking out for women in the Roman Catholic Church. In recent years she attended the annual IHM lectures in a wheelchair, still gracious and highly respected.

My father too was born in South Dakota, in Trent in 1914. about 130 miles from Herrick, where Anita was born in 1915.

His ambitions were waylaid by the Depression and alcoholism. Hers were fulfilled by her faith and determination.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sex in the Church

Sexuality has never been an easy topic within Christianity. It's hard to balance spirit and body.

The Feminist Agenda Network (F.A.N.) in the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii tackled this subject Oct. 14-15 at Claremont Presbyterian Church an hour east of Los Angeles.

"Building for the Future: Institutions, Sexuality, and Justice" in the Presbyterian Church USA was the title of F.A.N.'s working retreat.

Around thirty women got together for a retreat led by Kate Ott, associate professor of Christian Social Ethics at Drew Theological University in New Jersey.

The approval last May of a vote in Minneapolis in 2010 set in motion big changes in the PCUSA: persons who have life partners of the same gender can now be ordained pastors. And persons who are pastors can now be open about having a same-sex committed relationship.

It's not going to be easy to understand and implement this new policy. Actually, it asks every church member to rethink her/his views on sexuality.

Kate started us out with the question, "What is 'Christian' sexuality?"

We looked at a sheet defining "holistic sexuality" as including sensuality, intimacy, sexual identity, sexual health & reproduction, and sexualization. From birth to death, sexuality is present in all our interactions, Kate said.

That reminded me of Carolyn Heilbrun writing that there is a sexual energy "between any friends who share a passion for their work and for a body of political ideas" (Writing a Woman's Life, p. 108).

Ott asked us what a sexually health church would be like in terms of its staff and volunteers, its care and healing ministry, its Christian education, and its policies.

She told us to go back to our churches and ask, "Do we have a safe church policy?"

The June isue of Colloquy will include an article on sexually healthy seminaries.

Kate chose the encounter between Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman begging for help for her sick daughter (Mark 5 1-20 and Matthew 15) as important for our attention.

Jesus rebuffs her twice, but she persists. He has interacted with women, with Gentiles, and with foreigners before, but in this case the woman is three times removed from him--by gender, by ethnicity, and by religious differences. His limited time is for the House of Israel, not for everyone who crowds around him.

Nevertheless, she persists and in doing so teaches Jesus that the limits raised by his ministry caused injustice.

"God changed--he grew a little bit," Kate said, asking us to think how we sometimes behave the way Jesus did on this occasion.

"We parcel out our resources," she said. "Monetary resources, our time and our energy..."

Like him, we need to change. "Our preferencing of whom we represent" is not good.

Women's goals or sexual identity can't be our only justice-seeking goal. We need to work holistically--not be closed to environmental issues and racial issues, for example.

Jerri Rodewald explained that the synod used to have a Women's Advocacy group; that was followed by the White Glove Mafea, a forerunner of F.A.N. The goal of all three organizations was to address women's concerns within the Presbyterian Church.

I was delighted to meet these women from Ventura County, Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and as far north as San Rafael. Good music, good food, and lots of laughter.

Many are retired, but Kate quoted theologian Letty Russell as saying, "No one really retires; they rewire."

See photos: https://picasaweb.google.com/102150538747404124091/FANOctober2011?authkey=Gv1sRgCP_N--qb_cmU9wE#

Friday, October 7, 2011

Eleven plus Three

The three women awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace today bring the total number of women winners of this prize to 14 since the beginning in 1901.

They are:

Baroness Bertha von Suttner, Germany, 1905, peace activist.

Jane Addams, US, 1931, for leadership of the International Congress of Women in 1915, an effort to end World War I.

Emily Green Balch, 1946, for her work through the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom to stop World War I.

Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, 1976, for their work to end violence between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland.

Mother Theresa, 1979, for her charity work. She was born of Albanian parents.

Alva Myrdal, Mexico, 1982, for her work on nuclear disarmament.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma, 1991, for her nonviolent work against the brutal government of Myanmar. She is the first Buddhist woman to win the prize.

Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Guatamala, 1992, for her work for social justice and respect for the rights of indigenous people.

Jody Williams, US, 1997, for her work to ban landmines.

Shirin Ebadi, Iran, 2003, for her courage in working as a lawyer for human rights in Iran. She was the first Muslim woman to win a Nobel prize.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee (both of Liberia), and Tawakul Karman, Yemen, 2011, for their "non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."

Consider the dates of these prizes: the first three were awarded in 1905, 1931, and 1946 for work toward peace during the period of women's push for the right to vote in the US and Britain.

Those first awards came in 1905, at the height of the suffrage struggle; in 1931, when women's new right to vote caused notice of women, and in 1946, when women had just made major contributions toward fighting and ending World War II.

In each case, an award came when women were noisy in the public sphere.

No prizes came for another 30 years until 1976, when women's demands for full participation in society and government were again very loud.

Challenge to readers: Which women would have won the prize in earlier centuries, if there had been a Nobel Peace Prize?

Post your answers.

Three for Peace

Hooray for the Nobel Committee in awarding this year's peace prize to three women working for human rights!

Congratulations to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia; Leymah Gbowee, Liberian peace activist, and Tawakul Karman, currently part of the protest occupation in Yemen's capital Sanaa calling for a change of leadership.

The decision honors the peace and democracy in Liberia after civil war and speaks of hope that its larger neighbors, Egypt, Libya, and Syria, will also be able to institute and sustain democracy.

The committee cited Ellen, Leymah, and Tawakul for their "non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."

This is the first time that work for women's rights has been honored with a Nobel Peace Prize.

Thank you for this bold statement that the struggle for women's right to be safe and to work for political change is a contribution to peace.

It reminds the world that human rights include women's rights... that women are human.

To hold us back is to hobble all humanity.