Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Nurture and Challenge Your Spirit With Joan Chittister: Part I

Hundreds of excited, chattering women poured out of the lecture hall at Regis College last Monday, and headed like lemings for the ladies room.

Inspired by the prophetic call they had just heard from Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B., prophet not yet martyred, the women, seeing the usual long line stretching out from the door of their gendered destination, spilled over and flooded the men’s room without hesitation.

We had been told we needed to create a new world, because patriarchy was killing all of us and our planet. And we had heard that we needed to cooperate in order to do this effectively, men and women together—no blaming or shaming.

Women flooding the men’s room made me chuckle. How many times have I stood in long lines watching men next door whip in, pee and whip out—no line? What was wrong with female bladders, or was it the hauling up and down of our clothing instead of a simple zip zip?

But this day the unabashed action of women seemed to me not to be about either bladder desperation or long-awaited revenge or even, god forbid, the famous organ envy Freud made part of the female psyche. No, this felt like a sign of spiritual empowerment—eagerness to abandon rigid and divisive categories for the sake of a gospel of interconnectedness, inclusion and mutuality.

As we all filed happily into the stalls-with-doors, one woman suddenly gave a little shriek and lifted her event program to the side of her face while gesturing with her pointy finger. I glanced over to see a man standing at a urinal. (Now who the heck invented such insults to male modesty?) The woman made a giggly half-hearted attempt to stop the territorial invasion but the women kept coming, undaunted.

Now perhaps I should tell you more about the instigator. Joan Chittister is a Benedictine nun, member of the order of the Benedictine sisters in Erie, PA. She is also a prolific author and sought after speaker. She, or better said Godde’s Spirit through her, invited this revolution. Chittister’s talk was titled “God, Women and the World: Telling the Story Another Way.”

The event was sponsored by Sacred Threads, an organization of spiritual companioning for women through programs and gatherings for education, sharing and re-imagining.

Chittister, after disclaiming a “too effulgent” introduction, requested house lights so she could see her audience:mostly women, mostly edging into aging, likely mostly Roman Catholic, and all white—alas, but why not? We whities have been both fodder, enablers, and chief benefactors of patriarchal policy, the target for Chittister’s demand for justice.

I have spelled Godde in the Christian feminist way throughout. I don’t know how Joan Chittister would spell it but I know she loves Godde by whatever name. I have put quotation marks around her own exact words and parentheses around mine where possible.

Gazing out at hundreds of faces Chittister told us that this event began as an invitation to come to a coffee break affair with about thirty women. “This is the largest coffee break in history!” I suspect, however, that the original idea inflated after the inviters heard how much this might cost and also how important it was that this message reach large crowds. (Today’s prophets may get silenced but so far their voices continue to reach droves as the, Roman Catholic at least, hierarchy implodes.) Sacred Threads responded, did the good work of promotion, and we grew.

I can not do justice to the hour and a half talk, packed with humor, resource and stats, so I will give highlights I loved. Some of them might not be absolutely correctly noted in spite of my compulsive note taking. Sacred Threads will make a DVD of this talk available for lending purposes, and it will also be available through Joan Chittister's company Benetvision.

In a way Chittister’s ideas were not new to me nor certainly is feminist theology and ecofeminism, but it was lovely to hear such a big celebrity voice in religion asking:

"How can one be a Christian and not a feminist?"

-The creativity required for big change calls for making right hand turns from the left lane—regularly.

-Saints see just what everyone else sees, but see it differently, according to Jonathan Edwards.

-It’s time to make the connections between male-dominated disciplines like theology, philosophy, science, psychology, sociology, education, et. al. that have conspired to make patriarchy successful, ie. it’s no accident that two-thirds of the world’s poor are women. IT’S POLICY.

- According to an essay by Lynn White, the Judaeo-Christian ethic justifies domination policies and thought, not just for humanity but for nature and animals. For example, water is there for my use therefore I can dam it. Animals can be used to research for cosmetics. And in Genesis, the earlier-written story about human sin and hubris in Genesis 2 was placed second, while the grand and beloved later-written Creation story in Genesis 1, “In the beginning.......”, was placed first. Why? It glorifies rank ordering. (The created order is policy disguised as poetry.) We are carefully taught to think in superior and inferior categories.

-Life is not a ladder but a weave, a process of changes. (Quakers call the process unfoldment.) But man (understood but NOT written to include woman) ends up as the crowning glory and gets to dominate nature. Now the Caribbean Sea is being raped, just like so many women in their own homes continue to be raped with the idea that the marriage bond is really bondage. (Latter is my addition as someone who has worked to try to prevent and educate about domestic violence, a clear product of a patriarchal world view. )

-On the creation of Eve: Ezer kenegdo which appears 30 times in scripture is never translated “a helpmate fit for man, Adam" except in Genesis 2:18. What a great ecclesiastical scam. The Hebrew words mean “a power equal to Adam.” How different does that sound from a helpmate FIT for Adam? (No wonder we women have trouble getting ordained!) Does no one notice that there could not have been an Adam without an Eve?

-As to the rib: Adam is ha adam, Hebrew meaning the stuff of humanity. Not until Eve is created do they become full human beings called Adam and Eve. Note!

-The patriarchal world view is sinfully partial, incomplete. “We are thinking with half the human mind and it shows.”

-”Everything written about us was written without us. And they call it theology!” The “us” would include women, Native Americans, African Americans, aborigenes, homosexuals, Iraquis, on and on.

-Science came along to support theology’s platform. Galileo wasn’t arrested for his science but for his theology. “They never even looked in his telescope!”

Read more Chittister wisdom tomorrow on this blog site.