Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Me Standing on the Spot I've Been Given Right Now: Nothing Much to Say

I'm sorry for my silence of late, reader-friends. One of those times when I'm acutely aware that any words I have to say about anything at all just don't count for much. They come from a person made voiceless by systems of power, privilege, influence that have never intended to see some folks count at all.

At age 65, I'm the kind of person, I discover, who can encounter a young woman jogging with her dogs in the park this morning who does not like the fact that my hyperactive tiny dogs bark at her large ones, and who calls me a f——g moron whose ass she intends to beat if she ever sees me again.

All in a heartbeat this happens, and I learn the lesson of my nobodiness in the most crucially scathing way possible, one fine and peaceful summer morning as I'm simply walking through the dew-spangled grass with the scent of glossy abelia hanging heavy in the air, minding my own little beeswax.

Out gay singer Matt Alber, who grew up in Kansas and Missouri, last year at Lincoln Center: 

Long ago, I used to want to be a country singer, before I found out you couldn't be gay and do it at the same time. No one told me that.

Long ago, I used to want to be a Catholic theologian, before I found out you couldn't be gay and do it at the same time. No one told me that.

No one told me that you couldn't be gay and a Catholic theologian, if you were openly gay and chose to affirm your God-given identity, to acknowledge your loving, life-giving, committed relationship with another gay person. No one told me that the price of surviving as a Catholic theologian was choosing to play the twisted closet games that are mandatory in Catholic institutions for those who want to exist in peace within those institutions — twisted mandatory closet games for priests, nuns, bishops, cardinals, abbots, popes who are gay, twisted mandatory closet games for lay employees of Catholic institutions, who have no rights within those institutions, particularly when they're LGBT.

No place for you in Catholic institutions if you're openly, unapologetically gay and if you don't pretend and hide and lie and every now and again mount nasty attacks on other gay folks, open and self-accepting ones, to provide a smokescreen for your own self and your own life, to give you an additional fillip of security within Catholic institutions.

The Catholic church is not at all a welcoming place for those who are gay (for that matter, neither are many other Christian churches, including the hyper-masculinized churches of the Reformation that long since ditched the valuable female imagery — Mother and Sister Earth— running all through the new papal encyclical Laudato Si'. The persistence of that and other "feminine" imagery in Catholic culture but not Protestant culture has everything to do with the Catholic church's long history of according religious women, many of them powerful, brilliant spiritual thinkers, a space within Catholic culture which has never been accorded to women by the hyper-masculinized churches of the Reformation, especially their evangelical wing.)

Despite its longstanding choice to grant a certain place to religious women, and despite the gender-inclusive symbols and language this choice has generated for centuries within Catholic culture, Catholic culture remains irredeemably heterosexist. It has, in fact, gotten more this way in response to the movements for women's and LGBT rights in the 20th and 21st century, and is likely to become even more so following the upcoming synod on the family. The handwriting is already on the wall in the documents prepared for discussion at the synod, which continue the game-playing with the lives of LGBT Catholics, continue pretending that LGBT Catholics simply do not exist or matter or bear any pain at all for having long been targeted and attacked by the Catholic hierarchy.

With the geographic center of Catholic culture shifting demographically to the developing sector of the planet and above all to Africa, there is very little hope for the church at this point in history to shed its life-constricting, gospel-denying skin of heterosexism (which is to say, to shed its system of entitlement for heterosexual males). The documents prepared for discussion at the synod on the family provide no hope at all that the pastoral leaders of the church intend to critique the anti-gospel heterosexism of Catholic culture. 

All indicators suggest that the upcoming synod will not be a kairotic occasion for the Catholic church to acknowledge the manifold ways in which heterosexism, with the unmerited power and privilege it accords heterosexual males and its belief that women should be subordinated to men and gay folks excluded from the order of creation, does very serious damage to the church itself and to the world at large.

So, to repeat the point, I'm tired, and not persuaded I have much to say about anything at all that's of much value to anyone at all. I've had my say about Laudato Si' and its shocking (but predictable) obtuseness regarding matters of gender, even as the encylical is saturated with "feminine" imagery, even as it asserts that we can solve the life-threatening ecological problems that now threaten the planet only if we craft "a conversation which includes everyone" (¶ 14) — and then makes no effort at all to include in that conversation the voices of women or openly gay human beings.

I'm tired of the pretending. I'm tired of pretending that we're involved in a new and inclusive conversation when the same old straight white male talking heads continue to function as the privileged interpreters of papal statements in the Catholic media in the U.S. And when they invite no one new into their privileged conversations, no one whom they've excluded for a very long time now. And when they never find any way at all to recognize or acknowledge the unmerited power and privilege their sexual orientation (and their race) has long given them in their role of papal interpreters par excellence.

And when they pretend that no one of any consequence has spoken as people raise serious and important questions about what "a conversation which includes everyone" would look like if we took seriously the challenge fully to include women in the governance of the Catholic church, and to welcome LGBT human beings. When people suggest that these issues matter intently for an encyclical which asserts that an inclusive conversation is necessary for the healing of the world, they're treated, in Catholic conversation spaces regulated by the usual talking heads, as if the walls have rudely voiced an opinion.

For that matter, I'm tired of the way in which the same old straight white male talking heads have for so long dominated the discussion of race in this country. Having grown up in the segregated society of the American South in the 1950s and 1960s and having seen the revolution that followed the choice of the federal government to dismantle the system of legal segregation, I'm exhausted at discovering in the past week all over again how little that revolution has affected the thinking of large swathes of the American public, who remain bitterly opposed to opening the door for the full inclusion of people of color in the social and economic structures of American society.

I feel as if I have been speaking out a long time now — about matters of race, about matters of gender and sexual orientation — and my words have meant little at all to anyone. And surely this is because I myself matter very little at all.

Unlike Matt Alber, who had the good sense to realize that he couldn't be gay and a country singer at the same time, I have exhibited a total lack of sense in imagining that there might be a place for me in the Catholic church as a gay person who has also been educated as a theologian. There is no place for gay folks in the Catholic church. Not as it's presently configured. 

Not unless one agrees to pretend and to play nasty, self-defeating games. 

This is where I am on this 24th June 2015, reader-friends, two days before the 67th anniversary of my parents' marriage (and what would be my brother's 64th birthday if we were alive today), and I apologize for being in this querulous, unproductive, sad-sack spot. I can't seem to stand anyplace else, though, since this is the place that has been handed down to me by the Lords and Ladies of Gravitas who make such decisions on behalf of the rest of us hapless fools who have the misfortune to be born into the world said Lords and Ladies own and rule.

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