A friend of mine recently sent my children a collection of puppets and a doll. The doll is Snow White, and her skirt can be flipped up to reveal an upside-down Queen, poison apple in hand.
It didn't take long for my older daughter to become enamored with the Snow White/Queen doll. Soon she was weaving a play involving the Queen and me--I was to play Jesus.
QUEEN: Jesus, eat this apple! JESUS: (Leaning head forward, moving jaw up and down.) Om nom nom! (Jesus' eyes roll back and he dies in his chair.) QUEEN: Okay, eat this apple again so you're not dead. JESUS: (Eats apple again and smiles.) All better. QUEEN: Now come on, we're going for a walk. Pick up your cross. (Queen and Jesus walk across the room. Jesus buckles under the weight of the invisible cross.) Now put your cross down. (Jesus lays his cross down with a loud grunt.) Lay down. (Jesus scoots the Lincoln Logs out of the way with his foot and lays down.) No, put your arms out like this. (Queen positions Jesus' arms so they're stretched outward.) Now eat the apple so you die on the cross. (Jesus eats the apple and dies.) Wake up! Get up, boy! (Jesus rises.)
So what if the Queen were God? What if she were Jesus' parent, and she intended for him to die, and he obeyed her? Is that the kind of God Christians believe in (setting aside God's assigned gender for a moment)? Is it possible to imagine this Queen as benevolent? Is it possible to imagine God as evil?
What this play suggests to me that perhaps no one is all good or bad--not even God.
Thea, a baby in the womb is the song of its parents, a composition revealed movement by movement by you, o Holy Muse. Inspire expecting parents to look beyond mere expectations toward your untapped vision of what might be. Amen.
Nine months ago, I gave birth to my second daughter. Nine months before that, I had little idea that I was about to conceive another child. In each of these nine-month periods, my world changed radically. Eighteen months ago, I had one awesome child. Then, nine months ago, there were two. Nine months ago, I had an office job and I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area--my husband and I had no plans in place for anything else. Now I am living a life that, for all my creativity, I couldn't have imagined. I live in the Sonoran desert. I've published my first book. I've become an Episcopalian in the midst of a beautiful Christian community. I have found greater peace than I ever anticipated in my prayer life as a Benedictine Canon novice. This evening I am filled with gratitude and hope for the blessings I experience in each moment. And I wonder, with great hope, what shall be brought to birth in my life next.
In my almost thirty-two years as a Roman Catholic, I have never been prouder of any pope. Granted, I've only encountered three in my lifetime, but I am also a student of Christian history. You stand out among your predecessors.
You have rocked the entire world with your embodied proclamations of the good news. You kiss the wounds of the sick. You share tables with those who have neither tables of their own nor food to put on them. You warn your clergy again and again against the glamour of clericalism. Your love is abundant, like Christ's was and is, and I have seen it have a multiplying effect, even (perhaps especially) among non-Roman Catholics.
I am tremendously grateful to God for your faithful, living witness to the teachings of Jesus. Your heart is wide open, and I feel quite certain that if I happened to walk into your midst, you would smile and greet me with the warmth of an old friend, and I would greet you likewise.
I need to confess something to you. On February 16, 2014, God willing, I will leave my cloak of Roman Catholic identity behind in order to be received as a member of the Episcopal Church.
Despite having spent my entire life as a devoted (albeit flawed) Roman Catholic, I cannot remain Roman Catholic any longer. Because despite the gospel of Jesus you now proclaim miraculously through your very body, and despite the many ways in which I encounter Christ's presence through your holy example, I'm afraid there is at least one way in which you, like most if not all of your predecessors, have failed to hear the voice of God and heed it: in the calling of thousands upon thousands of women around the world to ordained ministry.
I was able to name my own God-given call to ordained ministry thirteen years ago. I was still a teenager then. I am close with several Roman Catholic women who share the same call. Yet you, like your papal predecessors, have dismissed even the possibility that women might be called to ordained ministry.
I don't understand this hardness of heart. Not from you.
What I do understand is how hard it can be to hear God's earnest whispers when so much of one's culture screams against it. My favorite psalm is Psalm 51, because it is a perpetual invitation to be changed, transformed, turned around:
Create in me a clean heart, o God. ... Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.
I suspect this psalm is as dear to you as it is to me. Please, then, let God's whispers reach your ear through my meager words: God calls some women to serve as ordained ministers. That the Roman Catholic hierarchy refuses to acknowledge this (or even to discuss it) is gravely sinful. It is presumptuous to deny God's calling to those whom God has chosen.
Please, for God's sake, don't allow whatever is lacking in me cause you to be deaf to what God is speaking to you through me in this moment. If anyone with the authority to effect gospel change in the Roman Catholic Church can hear this prophetic word, I believe you can.
Please, open your heart and listen for the sake of my daughters, who will grow up in the midst of your legacy even if they never set foot in a Roman Catholic church.
Please, listen. Listen because you know better than almost anyone that God speaks prophetically through those who are marginalized, women included.
Please, I beg you from the bottom of my heart, listen--allow yourself to be importuned by me, just like the judge was importuned by the widow, or like Jesus was importuned by the woman begging for scraps. You and I both know what happened in those latter two instances. If Jesus' mind could be changed, surely yours can.
I believe that the world-wide turning of hearts to God, if you listened in this one way and acted accordingly, would be a miracle of biblical proportion.
With blessings and love in the One who creates, redeems, and sanctifies all the world,
M. Kate Allen
This letter originally appeared at parentwin.com, where I am a regular contributor on topics of religion. The letter went viral among my Facebook friends and received more discussion and shares there than anything else I've every written, anywhere. A friend of mine encouraged me to mail it to Pope Francis. I did. If he responds, I will share his response here. (Unless he asks me not to.)
While sipping a hot cup of Ten Ren King's tea and chatting with a dear friend from the San Francisco Bay Area on Facebook, my friend wrote this to me: "kate, I am so happy for you - it seems your life is developing in amazing ways" (NB: The editor in me would like to capitalize and punctuate that sentence, but the friend in me knows better.) My friend is right, you know. I'm struck by how very much my life has changed in a very, very short period of time. I started this blog/site two years ago today. I wrote this:
Hurrah! Thanks to the inspiration of a dear friend of mine, Noach, I have planted the seed of this blog (and broader website). I hope it will yield many vibrant, lush, delicious fruits, and perhaps yield some long-lasting connections in the process.
Is it any surprise that the same friend who helped me plant this seed of a website and blog is now bursting with joy for me at what has risen up from the dark, fertile soil of my dreams and yearning? I look back at the woman I was in 2012--a first time mom; an office manager at a small synagogue; a frustrated, well-educated, sad, and increasingly jaded Roman Catholic--and I see someone who knew that 2012 was a beginning rather than an end. I had no real idea of where the road would lead, but I knew I would be creating the road for myself as I went along, and that I would visit some unusual and unfamiliar places along the way. My mantra lately, when folks ask me how I like Arizona, is, "I never thought I'd like living in the desert." But I do. My family is happy here. My husband has a job in which he thrives. I'm able to be at home with my girls for now, do fun-to-me gigs, and write to my heart's content. And finally, at long last, I get to be a both-feet-all-the-way-in member of a religious community in which I am valued, period--no strings attached, no hidden agendas, no glass ceiling. I love this community so much that my heart aches, as if it might burst. It's like being home again, but it's more than that. I'm not just part of the beauty that is my new community; I'm becoming a leader in bringing forth that beauty. Me. A woman. A thirty-something from Ohio who very early on learned to shut up and take it when something or someone wasn't good enough, even when what was good enough was within my reach, and even when what wasn't good enough was sanctioned by my religious leaders. Two years later, in 2014, I find myself in the midst of imperfect, beautiful people, and just by being my own imperfect self, I am amazing. I am vibrant. I am what I was searching for two years ago. It just took being planted in a fertile garden, free of choking weeds, for me to see myself stretched up tall and completely radiant for the first time.
If you're like me, you're just not ready for the red and green and tinsel cropping up at Target, Starbucks, and the grocery store. I want to go, "Hey, don'tcha know there's all kinds of cool stuff that goes on for a couple of months before Christmas ever arrives?"
I invite you to try out the following this year, not to ditch your family traditions, but to expand them.
Thanksgiving/Chanukah: This year, for the first time (and the last time for 77,000 years, according to one source, Thanksgiving and the first day of Chanukah coincide. This year, as you finalize your Thanksgiving day menu, consider a few Jewish specialties, like latkesor matzo ball soup.
Pro-tip: matzo ball soup can be made in minutes using a handy-dandy pre-made dry mix in the Jewish section of your grocery store.) When you and your family and friends are gathered around the Thanksgiving dinner table, share the story of the miracle of Chanukah, in which an oil lamp with only enough oil for one night lasted eight nights, providing ongoing light in darkness. Chanukah is an eight-day Jewish feast of enduring, miraculous light--telling this story is is a great time to light the first candle of eight of your menorah, if you have one, or perhaps the first of other candles you have on your table. Allow this to be your segue into a giving of thanks by each person around the table.
Then, when you awake the day after Thanksgiving, consider just staying home. Really. Eating latkes with cranberry sauce for breakfast while sipping home-brewed coffee and wearing fuzzy slippers is a far gentler holiday practice than trampling your neighbor at 3 a.m. to get through store doors. Consider continuing your candle-lighting through the eight days of Chanukah, saying a silent prayer as you light them if you aren't familiar with the Hebrew prayers.
Next, Advent, as in, advent-ure! That's right--before you pull out your tubs of Christmas glitz, try cutting a few boughs from an evergreen (places that sell Christmas trees may give these away for free, if you don't have any evergreens of your own) and fashion an Advent wreath with your kids.
Each Sunday, beginning December 1, light one of the candles. Sing a verse of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" or "People Look East" with your kids. Invite them into conversation about what the dawning of light means. Refer back to the Chanukah ritual, if you used it. You might ask:
Why do we want light when it's dark? What are examples of darkness we experience? What are ways that we can bring light to dark places?
Allow Advent to be the season of quiet, pregnant anticipation that it's intended to be--because if you do, the glimmer and dazzle of Christmas Eve's light and the bright clamor of Christmas morning will shine and ring out for you in a whole new way. This post was originally featured at parentwin.com.
A week ago yesterday, I had the privilege of witnessing the baptism of a little girl--not more than five years old--in my church community. At St. Columba, baptisms of children most often take place in the midst of Sunday Mass, a ritual choice that affirms that baptism isn't just an act of/for an individual, but an act of/for a faith community.
The little girl's baptism reminded me of why I opted not to have my daughter baptized as an infant. Instead of being invited to take part in the life of the community by going through baptism, my daughter was invited into the community by entrance into the child catechumenate. My daughter is, at not quite two years old, a catechumen--a journeyer and increasingly critical learner--moving toward acceptance of baptism into Christ.
Why would a parent choose the catechumenate over infant baptism?
Some contemporary Catholic theologians would argue that not to baptize an infant is to fail to put faith in God's ability to grace all humans, regardless of the ability for a person to say yes, I choose this. For me, however, the question isn't about doubting God's grace. In fact, I would argue that God graces all of creation with an abundance beyond human imagining. If that is so, then baptism is not for God's sake, but for the sake of those baptized. If that is the case, then the ability to remember the experience of baptism is of great importance indeed--not to become "more graced" but to be shaped by the richness of memoried identity.
It is simple: almost universally, a baby fails to remember its infancy. A child or adult may remember a life-changing experience her whole life. Our vividest memories are the stuff of our personal stories. To be told who I am is one part of my identity, but I am not merely who I am told that I am; I am also who I choose to be. I am who I actively embody in smell, taste, touch, sight, and sound. If I remember the dark, breath-taking plunge into water; if I remember the sweet fragrance and moist touch of oil on my forehead, eyelids, ears, lips, hands, feet, and heart; if I remember my first taste of a morsel of baked bread and the warmth of wine; then I will remember that I have become Christ, from the cleansing, enveloping, womb of water to precious healing oil gently applied to food and drink to sate hunger and thirst.
I remember my baptism in one way--as someone who went through it without memory of it and who experiences it vicariously through the baptisms of others. That has become meaningful ever since I first experienced symbol-rich liturgy eleven years ago; it is also meaningful because I have been privileged to study the many facets liturgy at length as a graduate and doctoral student. I discovered my baptism as a profound event in my life two decades after it occurred.
For my daughter? I want her to know what it means to become Christ as she is becoming Christ. I want her to have her very own memories of being baptized, not just think about what her baptism must have been like as she watches others go through it. I want her to know--without having to jump through mental hoops--what baptism is as it washes over her, and to feel its enormous power as it soaks into her skin.
I can hardly wait to stand by my daughter when/if she chooses to be baptized. You will never have met a prouder mama on that day--ever.
What are your thoughts on baptism?If your child or godchild was baptized as an infant, what are your thoughts/memories on it now? If you were baptized as an infant, how does your baptism resonate or not in your life? If you have memories of your baptism, how do those impact your life?All experiences are welcome here.
I've been writing about my daughter since she was in the womb; you can find those reflections in my mommy blog. Working on the Life. Love. Liturgy. website has diverted my attention away from the mommy blog, but I realize that the two sites intersect in a number of ways. Feel free to wander over and take a look. For now I'm keeping the two sites separated because what I write on the mommy blog is pretty kid-specific, but I may just cross-link them to one another. Whadya think?
Thanks as always for reading along. The baby says hi from my lap!
In my last post I invited questions and stories about wedding preparation, and Erin M. asked me to address the following:
I wonder whether you could speak about the importance of family in the premarital process. Several of my friends/co-workers struggled with family throughout the premarital process. And these struggles created long-lasting rifts in families. I was fortunate to survive the premarital process relatively unscathed and enjoy a good relationship with my family/husband's family.
Erin picked up on one of the most difficult aspect of planning any major life ritual: finding ways to include and honor the experiences, memories, values, and desires of all those who are closest to the bridal couple. Erin asked about family in particular, so I'll limit this post to that, and offer a few points to consider when difficulties with family members arise.
The first thing for a bridal couple to realize in wedding preparation is that rituals matter, because rituals say worlds about what we believe and value in life. Rituals such as weddings are iconic of relationship dynamics, and rituals tell us what matters to those who prepare them. Often the preparation for a ritual is even more difficult to manage than the ritual itself, because the preparation period is the time when decisions are made about what will happen, who will have a role to play, and what the most important roles will be. It's easy, then, for insecurities about relationships and perceptions of shared values to surface in the process of preparing for a wedding. More about that below.
The second thing to consider is who will pay for the wedding. Weddings are often considerably more expensive than what the bridal couple can afford without going into a great deal of debt. With the question of money comes the question of power: if the bridal couple accepts an offer by parents (or others) to help pay for the wedding, those offering to help pay may feel a sense of entitlement about how the wedding ritual is to be prepared. Is it right for parents or other financial donors to expect to be able to shape the wedding? Well: yes. And no.
If the bridal couple wants to be able to shape the wedding without having consider the input of someone who has offered to subsidize the wedding, the bridal couple should seriously consider the possibility of having a "non-glamorous wedding." Just figuring in the cost of catering, a reception hall, a wedding site, an officiant, the clothing (yes, the clothing!), the rings, and a photographer, your "bare-bones" wedding budget can cost over $10,000. The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is closer to $20,000. With most couples getting married in their twenties, it's obvious that budgets like this are well outside what newlyweds can afford. If you want to avoid having your wedding paid for by someone else, you'll have to challenge the norms that the U.S. wedding industry has established and find other ways to make your Big Day as special and beautiful as you want it. Personally, I think this is a great idea; I think it's also the very best way to make your wedding your own while still honoring those you love.
If the bridal couple accepts the financial assistance of parents or others, they'll very likely have to face to engage in some difficult conversations. The key to handling conflict with parents and other family members, especially if they are helping you pay for your wedding, is to be honest from the very beginning about how much say you're willing to give them in the wedding preparation. If someone is helping you cover the cost of your wedding, they absolutely have a right to know what role they'll have in planning the wedding, and if you want that role to be minimal, they also have every right to withdraw their financial support. You may end up being forced, for lack of funds, to have the non-glamorous wedding I mention above; but "glamorous" should not be your end goal. "Loving," "beautiful," and "meaningful" should be your end goal.
There will always be conflict the bridal couple cannot anticipate. It may turn out that the bride's parents are uncomfortable with the groom, or vice versa. It may also turn out that the groom's family isn't comfortable with the bride's family, or vice versa. Below I offer a few practical do's and don't's to smoothing over any conflicts, potential or actual, whether they're money-related or relationship-related.
Don't wait till the wedding rehearsal to get your closest family members all in one room. Do have both sets of parents over for dinner at the same time. Make their favorite foods. Share with them how much they mean to you and how glad you are that they're going to be there to share in your Big Day. It will mean the world to them, and will shape how they feel and act once the Big Day arrives.
Don't wait till you have a request to make of your future in-laws to talk to them by phone, e-mail, or in person. Do make an effort to talk to them just for the sake of talking with them. You'll be spending a lot of time talking with them for the rest of your married life, and now's the time to build relationships with them. I always noticed growing up that my dad had a really friendly, easy-going relationship with my mom's dad--it's part of what made our family so strong.
Don't forget that, in the end, your wedding day will be just the beginning of the rest of your life, and most of the minute ritual details of your wedding will be forgotten. Do remember at every planning stage to approach and shape your wedding in a way that honors the people you want to have around throughout your married life, especially family members. Finding the perfect dress or the most dashing shade for the tuxedo vest won't matter; honoring those you love and creating meaningful ways for them to honor you will matter. That brings me to one more point:
Don't forget that the reason your family wants to be involved is because they love you. Do remember that the roles you give them throughout the wedding preparation and the Big Day will, in part, show them how much they mean to you.
In the end, the love and care the bridal couple demonstrates for those who share in their wedding day--and the love those people show for the couple--is what really matters.
If you have questions or stories to share about wedding preparation, you are more than welcome to leave a comment below! I look forward to hearing from you. Audience participation is encouraged!