Bob Schwartz

Category: Women

Vatican Newspaper Essays Say Women Should Preach at Mass

Calvi Alessandro, detto il Sordino, Caterina esorta Gregorio XI a tornare a Roma, sec. XVIII.jpg

When the news seems to suggest we may be moving backwards, the news seems to suggest we may be moving forward.

Vatican newspaper essays say women should preach at Mass
By David Gibson, Religion News Service:

A series of essays in the semiofficial Vatican newspaper is urging the Catholic Church to allow women to preach from the pulpit at Mass, a role that has been reserved almost exclusively to the all-male priesthood for nearly 800 years.

“This topic is a delicate one, but I believe it is urgent that we address it,” Enzo Bianchi, leader of an ecumenical religious community in northern Italy and a popular Catholic commentator, wrote in his article in L’Osservatore Romano.

“Certainly for faithful lay people in general, but above all for women, this would constitute a fundamental change in their participation in church life,” said Bianchi, who called such a move a “decisive path” for responding to widespread calls — including by Pope Francis — to find ways to give women a greater role in the church….

So what will Pope Francis do?

The pontiff has repeatedly called for women to have a greater role in the church, but he has also reiterated the ban against ordaining women as priests and has warned against “clericalizing” women by trying to make them cardinals or to focus on promoting them to higher church offices.

Then again, that the Vatican’s own newspaper would dedicate so much space to the issue of women preachers is intriguing, said Massimo Faggioli, a church historian at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

“I think it is a big signal,” he said.

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The News and the Wheel

The Wheel - Jerry Garcia

The wheel is turning
and you can’t slow down
You can’t let go
and you can’t hold on
You can’t go back
and you can’t stand still
If the thunder don’t get you
then the lightning will

The Wheel
Jerry Garcia

If you are still listening to, watching, or reading the news, oh boy. If the world seems out of balance, that’s not just the news talking. That’s the way it is.

Thousands of U.S. troops sent to fight Ebola. No troops but planes and bombs to fight thuggish madmen disguised as religious fanatics whose organizational name we can’t keep straight. Honored gladiators beating their wives and children. Police shooting the people they are sworn to protect. The most powerful legislature in the world doing nothing when something is called for, something when nothing is called for, and blabbering on when silence is golden. Rampant use of destructive drugs, demonizing of less destructive drugs. Speaking of drugs, powerful pharmaceuticals interrupting your entertainment with the news that they can cure you, but may also kill you, harshly and slowly. And that’s just for starters.

Every time that wheel turn round
bound to cover just a little more ground

Won’t you try just a little bit harder
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more?
Won’t you try just a little bit harder?
Couldn’t you try just a little bit more?

Breathe. If it seems like madness, that’s because it is. But it’s our madness and we just have to live with it. Being strong and smart will move us forward, but it’s never enough. Being strong and smart will not, for example, cure our madness, and like those very high-tech pharmaceutical drugs, can do more harm than good. Misplaced confidence in our strength and our brains is like putting a thumb on the scale. Which is no way to get in balance.

The Torah and the Supreme Court: Tazria and Scalia

Women of the Supreme Court

This week the portion of the Torah read in Jewish communities is Tazria (Leviticus 12:1–13:59). This week the Supreme Court heard arguments in the widely reported Hobby Lobby case. There is a significant but not obvious connection between the two.

Leviticus is the one of the Five Books of Moses that has the least action and the most rules. Lots of rules about the behavior of the Jewish people. In the thousands of years since those rules flowed into the processes of cultural and social oral tradition, and in the thousands of years since those traditions were set down in writing, different Jewish people and communities have determined which to honor and which to ignore. Those decisions are based on what exactly one thinks these rules are: God-given and inviolable, or ancient and subject to temporizing to suit modern philosophy and life. We should not wear clothing made from two different fabrics, Leviticus says. Non-literal interpretations of this have been conceived for centuries, but it says what it says, or rather, God says what God says. But what’s so wrong about a wrinkle-free, 60/40 cotton-poly blend shirt?

The Tazria portion begins:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people thus: When a woman at childbirth bears a male, she shall be unclean seven days; she shall be unclean as at the time of her menstrual infirmity. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. She shall remain in a state of blood purification for thirty-three days: she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary until her period of purification is completed. If she bears a female, she shall be unclean two weeks as during her menstruation, and she shall remain in a state of blood purification for sixty-six days.

On the completion of her period of purification, for either son or daughter, she shall bring to the priest, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. He shall offer it before the Lord and make expiation on her behalf; she shall then be clean from her flow of blood. Such are the rituals concerning her who bears a child, male or female. If, however, her means do not suffice for a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. The priest shall make expiation on her behalf, and she shall be clean.

 The attitude toward and treatment of this passage in a modern context ranges widely, depending on belief sets. Some express wholesale acceptance and obedience (except for the sheep and bird sacrifice). Some faithfully regard it as God’s word, but pass it through interpretive filters suitable for the times. Some see it as a reflection of ancient people making sense of the mysteries of God and life.

One of those mysteries, of course, is women. Especially for men. Especially for the strange and foreign ways that women “work”. No matter your ideology, no matter how much the passage is accepted or spun, it is not hard to read meaning. Women are different. Some of that difference renders them unclean, even if that part is functionally essential (e.g., sex, birth). That uncleanness can be fixed, but it will cost you (e.g., lambs, pigeons).

The Hobby Lobby cases (Kathleen Sibelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services v. Hobby Lobby; Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius) concern the interaction of two federal laws: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), which aims to protect Americans from intrusion on their religious lives, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which, among other things, requires employers to offer health insurance that includes coverage for contraception. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the religious right of companies such as Hobby Lobby, which has Christian objections to providing that coverage, overcomes the particular requirement of the ACA.

The big legal issues are complex and significant. One arises every time religion is in the mix: we protect religion in this country, both in its expression and establishment, but in a nominally secular country, that is bound to clash with civil rights that may contravene religious belief. This isn’t easy to resolve, but resolve it we do. If, for example, your religion happens to believe that people of color are lesser human beings, and you are “commanded” to treat them accordingly, you still cannot follow that faith in the public square or the marketplace.

The other big legal issue is whether a company such as Hobby Lobby is a “person” able to enjoy religious liberties in the first place. We’ve seen this come up before and will again. Citizens United is the most recent and famous case deciding that enterprises may enjoy free speech, First Amendment rights, just as you do. Then there is Mitt Romney, former presidential candidate, who will forever be identified with his own legal interpretation of the issue: “Corporations are people, my friend.”

Besides these, the Hobby Lobby case is widely viewed as being about women, because practically it is. The ACA requirement that health insurance include contraceptives for women is a practically and realistically sound policy. A large majority of women use contraceptives, either for health reasons or, more frequently, to prevent conceiving as a result of sex. Preventing conception has a number of advantages, including avoiding unwanted or unplanned pregnancies. An advantage of this is that women do have sex, and do want to avoid pregnancy. It’s that basic. And then there’s this: many of those women who want to prevent conception are having sex with men.

The transcript of oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case shows, as usual, a deeply divided court. Beyond the interesting central arguments concerning religious freedom and the personhood of corporations, there is a subtle subtext (some might say not so subtle). To a certain extent, the law, and arguments about it, are clinical. To the greatest extent possible, questions about impact are subservient to questions about the law itself: what it says, what was intended, how it works with other laws and with the Constitution. The rule of law prevails over the rule of people, and if the impact is unfair or disproportionate but still constitutional and legal, well, change the law.

But that has never been, will never be, and can never be how it works. Everyone—judges, lawyers, litigants, citizens—comes to the table with histories, psyches, lives, all the riches and trash we can carry. That’s how a case that seems about one thing can be, at least in small part, about another. That’s how the Hobby Lobby case is about women, something the three women on the Supreme Court without question get, something the six men may or may not.

Do read the transcript of the argument and maybe a few of the almost one hundred appellate briefs filed in the cases. In the arguments, you won’t find any express misunderstanding of the lives and impact of the case on women, though you may if you read between the lines. The briefs, which come from just about every corner of American society and politics, are a little clearer on how this is about women in ways that are not just incidental.

This brings us back to Tazria. It is easy to dismiss the passage as archaic, particularly for those who have found ways to work through or around it. Similarly, you may consider the Hobby Lobby case one about important and respectable religious and legal doctrines, and it is.

It can’t be said often enough: Men don’t get it and they can’t. They don’t know what it’s like to menstruate or be capable of bearing children or of having children. They don’t know what’s it like to be treated as unclean because of all of that, and then to be hypocritically treated as enjoyable and useful for those very same reasons. They don’t know how it feels to have some very simple means of adjusting all that, and then to have those means treated as something both profound and trivial, but not important.

Men don’t know, even if they are at the pinnacle, writing scripture or dispensing justice. So pleading ignorance, a little humility, a little learning, and a little compassion might be in order.

Shavuot and Ruth

Chagall - Naomi and Her Beautiful Daughters

Today is the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. It is said so often that Shavuot is “lesser known” that maybe it is now better known for being lesser known.

Its low profile outside the Jewish communities doesn’t mean it is insignificant, or that a host of meanings and traditions aren’t attached.

Shavuot began as an agricultural celebration. The name literally means Festival of Weeks, one of the three pilgrimage holidays, along with Passover and Sukkot. The Bible commands the counting of the omer, the days from the second day of Passover. After seven weeks, on the fiftieth day, a grain offering is to be made at the Temple. As a harvest celebration, Shavuot is also known as the Day of the First Fruits. If you’re into borrowing food traditions, Shavuot is a dairy holiday, and cheese blintzes and cheesecake are always appropriate.

Shavuot also celebrates the giving of the Ten Commandments and the Torah, the central event in Jewish life. Some make the case that dating this event on Shavuot is biblical. But attaching this event to the holiday seems more a matter of tradition than biblical precision. After the destruction of the Temple, agricultural pilgrimages ended.  This new tradition arose, a tradition that remains at the heart of the modern Shavuot celebration. Among the observances, some people gather and stay up all night reading the Torah, along with other scripture and literature.

There is a holiday calendar mashup surrounding Shavuot. Shavuot and Christian Pentecost often fall within a few days of each other—this year Shavuot starting on the evening of May 14 and Pentecost on Sunday May 19.

There are some holidays on the Jewish and Christian calendars that based on history and theology have a real and important relationship, such as Passover and Easter. There are holidays that may coincide on the calendar but have little to do with one another. And then there are Shavuot and Pentecost, which have an usual relationship.

To begin with, the holidays share the same name, sort of. As a festival marking seven weeks, Shavuot became known as Pentecost among Greek-speaking Jews, because it marks the “fiftieth” day from the second day of Passover.

Pentecost is a major feast on the Christian liturgical calendar. It represents the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and others, on the fiftieth day (Pentecost) after Easter. It is often considered the birthday of the Church.

It is relatively straightforward to deal with the nexus between the events of Holy Week and Passover. There is evidence in the Gospels, and the weight of opinion is that the Last Supper was indeed a Passover meal. But the dueling Pentecosts, and the attempts to harmonize them, have caused nothing but confusion.

It is certain that the Jews of Jesus’ time would have celebrated the agricultural holiday of Shavuot. But beyond this, we have Christians who try to make the case that Christian Pentecost is “historically and symbolically” related to Shavuot, though it isn’t clear exactly how. On the other side, there are a few Jewish writers who claim that the name Pentecost was unknown to Jews, even Greek speakers, and that the name was given to Shavuot by Christians.

Finally, there is this coincidence. In Reform Judaism, youth confirmation is often held on Shavuot, in recognition of the giving of the Torah. In many Christian denominations, youth confirmation is held on Pentecost, in recognition of the work of the Holy Spirit.

If you take a big picture view, you can probably connect the dots and come up with a relationship between Shavuot (Pentecost) and Pentecost. This is especially tempting when the two holidays coincide so closely. But they are two distinct holiday, and harmonizing is a stretch.

As far as Shavuot traditions, maybe the most heart-lifting is reading the Book of Ruth. Separate from its religious meaning, this is a great piece of literature, a short story about unyielding devotion, commitment and loyalty to family—and one of the first and most famous to affirm the family of women. It is the touching antidote to every caustic mother-in-law joke that has ever been told.

In Ruth, the mother-in-law Naomi loses her husband, as her daughters-in-law lose theirs (above, Chagall’s Naomi and Her Beautiful Daughters). Seeming to have little else in common than her sons, Naomi urges them to leave and get married again. One does leave, but Ruth refuses, in words that are sometimes used to signify the power of Ruth’s conversion of faith, but that are a much more universal expression of devotion as solid as that of any marriage:

She then decided to come back from the Plains of Moab with her daughters-in-law, having heard in the Plains of Moab that God had visited his people and given them food. So, with her daughters-in-law, she left the place where she was living and they took the road back to Judah.

Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back, each of you to your mother’s house. May God show you faithful love, as you have done to those who have died and to me. God grant that you may each find happiness with a husband!’ She then kissed them, but they began weeping loudly, and said, ‘No, we shall go back with you to your people.’

‘Go home, daughters,’ Naomi replied. ‘Why come with me? Have I any more sons in my womb to make husbands for you? Go home, daughters, go, for I am now too old to marry again. Even if I said, “I still have a hope: I shall take a husband this very night and shall bear more sons,” would you be prepared to wait for them until they were grown up? Would you refuse to marry for their sake? No, daughters, I am bitterly sorry for your sakes that the hand of God should have been raised against me.’

They started weeping loudly all over again; Orpah then kissed her mother-in-law and went back to her people. But Ruth stayed with her. Naomi then said, ‘Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her god. Go home, too; follow your sister-in-law.’

But Ruth said, ‘Do not press me to leave you and to stop going with you, for wherever you go, I shall go, wherever you live, I shall live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Where you die, I shall die and there I shall be buried. Let God bring unnameable ills on me and worse ills, too, if anything but death should part me from you!’

(Ruth 1:6-17)

Another Reason We Need Assault Weapons

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman
The 1950s were the reel golden age of science fiction movies. Consider the shots above from Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958). It is the story of a rich socialite turned into a giant woman by a giant alien. She seeks revenge on her cheating husband, something made easier by the fact that she is…50 feet tall. (She is also pretty sexy, wrapped in what looks like a few very big sheets, needed because her designer socialite clothes did not grow.)

The sheriff discovers that a pistol is no match for the giant alien, and as you can see, her husband learns that his pistol is useless against her. (She is ultimately stopped when the sheriff shoots an electric transmission tower she is standing next to.) This is an old story and a lesson we should have learned by now: pistols are not effective against aliens, monsters, people turned into monsters, etc.

Assault rifles may do no better, but at least they might give you a fighting chance and a little extra time to escape. The NRA, for some reason, has failed to make this argument. But it is both appealing and rational. The chances of the government turning against all its citizens may be small, but it could happen, and the NRA believes it and promotes the possibility. The chances of alien invasion, experiments gone rogue, the sudden appearance of strange new enemies may be small, but it could happen too.

In that case, would you rather be carrying a pistol, rifle, or shotgun, or do you want some serious firepower? You know the answer.

Romney Needs Women

 


Mitt Romney’s talking about being handed “binders of women,” a quote from the second Presidential debate, is not on its face all that funny, no matter how much it’s gone viral. But as a signal of a bigger picture, it seems to people meaningful.

In the wonderful depths of Mad Men in dealing with personal and social issues of the 1960s, the very first episode of the Emmy-winning series is on point. The execs at Sterling Cooper are about to meet prospective client Menken’s Department Store. In advance, Don Draper asks whether there are any Jews at the agency, and Roger Sterling laughingly doubts it. But at the meeting, there appears “David Cohen from the Art Department”, a nebbish who Roger has actually dug up from the mailroom.

This probably isn’t exactly how it went when Romney realized that as the new chief executive of Massachusetts state government, it would be appropriate to fill some of the jobs with qualified women. But what people are keying on is that it sounds a little like that. Do we have any women around here who are really qualified for these demanding jobs? Does anybody here know where we start to look for them? Hence, the binders of women.

By 2003, Massachusetts had been known for more than two centuries as the home of extraordinary women. While Abigail Adams was long gone, she should have offered a hint of the possibility that one of the most educated and vital states in America might include women of note and achievement. If you believed that they were actually out there, and weren’t some rare and exotic creature like a unicorn. And if you had a clue where to look—outside the mailroom or the binders.