“‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him. ‘For all who live by the sword will die by the sword.'”

– Matthew 26:52

I cannot believe the news today. According to the BBC, the US CIA has been operating a drone base in Saudi Arabia for two years: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-21350437

To this, all I can say is, “Who do we (Americans) think we are?” Do we truly fancy ourselves God? Do we really think it’s acceptable to send these killing machines to places where war has not even been declared?

It’s hard to believe that drone usage has increased exponentially under the administration of our Nobel Peace laureate president Obama. It’s likewise hard (for me) to understand all those voices that have come out defending drone warfare. While they may reduce American casualties in the short term, these drones – which can and do make mistakes – continue to kill innocent civilians abroad. As for us, I firmly believe that the age of American exceptionalism is over. He who lives by the drone will die by the drone. It’s only a matter of time before these machines which we so casually use will be used against us.

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According to Rui Dai, our liberal, secular culture isn’t the main reason more North American young people are turning away from religion. It’s conservative culture.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rui-dai/why-young-people-are-beco_b_1594786.html

Secularism Gone too Far?

November 4, 2011

The province of Quebec prohibits religious worship in any government spaces. Is this a case of secularism gone too far? How does one balance the desire for a secular society with the freedom to practice one’s religion openly? Where do we draw the line. And my personal question is…why couldn’t secularism entail embracing all religious traditions rather than none?

Read the article from Canada’s National Post here:

http://life.nationalpost.com/2011/11/03/quebec%E2%80%99s-new-secular-norm-fines-for-worship/

I’m a child of the ’80’s. This means I grew up not only with My Little Pony and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but also with the recent memory of the feminist movement. As a teenager I read my Alice Walker and Naomi Woolf along with magazines like Bust and Sassy; during my undergraduate years I reached for the classic writings of Betty Friedan and Simone de Beauvoir, and then went back even further to the writings of early English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (mother to Mary Shelley, famed writer of Frankenstein).  For me, the definition of feminism was simple and uncontroversial: the simple idea that women are human beings whose basic dignity and worth are equal to that of men.
The milieu in which we currently find ourselves in 2011 is very different from that of the 80’s, the 90’s, or even the early 2000’s. Suddenly, the media inform us that we are in a “post-feminist” era, that all bridges have been crossed, that complete equality has been achieved, that there is nothing to do but pursue our careers and have our children and bop along to Lady Gaga on the radio. The feminist movement – along with the Civil Rights and anti-war movements – have been relegated to the top shelf among so many other crumpled papers of our history. It’s not what the world needs right now, they say; or at least, it’s not what the world needs most.
Sorry, but I’m not convinced.
As The Feminist Breeder points out in her recent article on feminism in the 21st century, we are living in an age when “the f-word” has become something of a dirty word, wrongly interpreted as implying a man-bashing attitude or a separatist stance. The Feminist Breeder informs us that this definition is totally inaccurate and has been put forth by the Rush Limbaughs of the world in order to undermine women, who are still struggling to maintain the gains achieved in the 70’s and push for true equality.
Just remember,” the feminist breeder tells us,  “when you say you hate feminists, or simply deny being a feminist, you’re telling the world you don’t think women deserve full humanity. Is that the message you want to send?”
That is certainly not the message that I want to send. And for this reason I can’t help but cringe whenever I hear that dreaded word “post-feminist.”
I’ll be a post-feminist when it’s no longer true that women, despite performing 66% of the world’s work and producing 50% of the world’s food, only earn 10% of the income and own 1% of the property.
I’ll be a post-feminist when it’s not longer the case that only 25 CEOs of the Fortune 1000 companies are women.
I’ll be a post-feminist when sexual assault and domestic violence are universally viewed and treated as a heinous crime, not an unfortunate shame.
I’ll be a post-feminist when the media and advertising industries stop telling us that only young and beautiful women have any social worth (and that to maintain our worth we must do whatever we can to maintain our youth and beauty at all costs).
I’ll be a post-feminist when I no longer have to shout for my voice to be heard.
I’ll be a post-feminist in a post-patriarchy.
And I’m afraid, my dear friends, that we are still a long way away from that.

Can young people make a difference in the world? Environmentalist Rosa Kouri asserts that it is still possible:

http://rabble.ca/news/2011/09/beyond-cultural-fabric-baby-boomers-youth-and-political-engagement

On Living in Wartime

September 9, 2011

The simple truth is

That WWIII started

9/11/2001

 – Elfie S. Raymond

It was a bright and sunny Tuesday morning, and I was still lazing around in bed, taking in the late-summer warmth. I was eighteen years old and had just started my freshman year at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY, just a forty-minute train ride away from Manhattan. I was filled with excitement, having met a group of formidably intelligent first-year students and registered for classes I’d never dreamed of taking in high school, like Surrealist Poetry and Anthropology of Religion. I was filled with anticipation; cool things were going to be happening this year.Then, the call came. It was my mother, and her voice was panicked.

“Jeannine, Jeannine, a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center!” she cried.

I did not panic. In fact, I did not react at all. A plane had flown into the World Trade Center. Okay. The idea that thousands of people- or even one person- had died due to this event somehow escaped me.

“Okay, well, it must have been some pilot error, right? Or-”

“You don’t understand. A plane has crashed into the building. There’s going to be a war…”

And then, the phone went dead. I tried calling back, but I couldn’t get through.

It was then that I started to wake up. I threw on some clothes and shoes and ran out from my dorm from the main administrative building where Geraldine, the quiet white-haired woman who staffed the desk, was sitting with a glum expression on her face. She merely pointed me in the direction of the television, where already a small group had gathered. I stared blankly at the screen, unable to comprehend the images that flashed before me. Another plane hitting the second tower. Both buildings filled with smoke. Panicked reporters describing the scene behind them, then shouting, “I’m getting out of here” and running away as wind blew rubble toward the camera. And- this was the worst…People the size of ants falling down from the highest windows of the building. Preferring to be smashed to the ground than burned alive.

This could not be happening. All right, maybe it could happen in some of the far-off places I’d read about in my high school history books, but not in the United States, just a short train ride away from where I was standing. This was the kind of thing that only happens to other people. Right?

I don’t recall much of what went on at Sarah Lawrence that day. Classes were cancelled, of course. The administration had scheduled some big event- I don’t remember what; it involved outside visitors rather than students – and there were plenty of snacks set out on long tables covered with fancy white cloths. When we got tired of watching the minute-by-minute coverage of the “Attack on America” we stepped outside and sat on the lawn, slowly eating this food without tasting it. There was an eerie silence over the campus, and what struck me as most bitterly ironic was the brilliant blueness of the sky- really it was too blue, chemical-blue, special-effect-in-the-movie blue. I just couldn’t believe that only a few miles south of where I now sat, hundreds of not thousands of people were being burned alive. And there was nothing that I could do about it.

I don’t remember much else from that day. At some point I went to the library and started sending emails (I’d only just set up my first email account and learned how to use it one week prior) to everyone I knew – my few friends whose email addresses I knew, my wonderful high school guidance counsellor, who’d urged me to write to her once I’d started school. “Are you all right?” I asked them, even though none of them lived in New York. It didn’t matter. This was an event that affected all of us.

Like so many others I was struck by the New York City mayor’s strength and courage in this terrible moment. Like so many others I was disappointed by our president’s angry, vengeful promise to “hunt down” the people responsible. There were few words of consolation for this violent act. Only the promise of more violence. I remember feeling queasy in subsequent days and weeks as I observed the subsequent changes- the Patriot Act, the formation of the Department of Homeland Security, the plans for a war in Afghanistan. My mind was torn. I just could not believe it–Our country was at war? It was a reality that I just didn’t want to accept. A few weeks later, I found myself joining a group of Sarah Lawrence students and boarding a bus to Washington, DC, a city I’d only visited once before on my eighth grade class trip. But as I listened to my fellow protesters’ chants of “War is not the answer” and observed their “Down with Bush” signs, I felt that everyone was oversimplifying an issue that was too complex for any of us hippie college freshmen to understand. Of course I didn’t want a war. Just because three thousand innocent people had died in New York, why should more innocent people have to die in Afghanistan? At the same time…We could not just sit back and do nothing. We had been attacked by people who had reduced their understanding of the world to ideology and symbol; we could not leave them space to do it again. Was there any way to confront the people who had done us this harm and resolve this conflict without resorting to a simple “eye for an eye” solution? I could not think of an answer. Ten years have gone by, and I still can’t think of a satisfactory answer.

I remember being shocked in high school European history classes as we learned about the Thirty Years War and the Hundred Years War. I could not understand how any war could last that long. Then again, in more recent times Vietnam lasted twenty years. Now, the War on Terror has lasted ten, with no signs of any resolution in the foreseeable future.

Of course, unlike soldiers and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has been fairly easy for me as an American to lose sight to the reality that the past ten years have been fraught with war. My life has progressed fairly easily: I graduated from Sarah Lawrence, spent the next few years travelling and working abroad, and then started a graduate degree. Over time, I stopped paying attention to the increasing death toll.

I think that one of the main reasons why my attention has wandered is the basic human weakness which leads us to become preoccupied only with people with whom they interact on a day-to-day basis. It’s hard to relate to the violence taking place on the other side of the world on an emotional level. I find myself especially vulnerable to this failing, until I remember that, despite all the money invested in American security, I am not safe. This really is the World War III, and the other problems which the world is facing – economic crisis, environmental problems, depletion of resources – are only making it worse.

I do not say this to instill fear, only to remind myself and others of the capacity for violence which lies in each one of us. Ten years after 9/11, what sort of progress are we making toward peace? Have we started treating people any better? Are we coming any closer to getting past our racial, cultural and ideological differences and respecting people for who they are?

We are living in wartime. And while I still believe that peace really is possible, I also know that we are going to have to wait quite some time before we learn from our mistakes and work to bring that peace about.

Note: this piece was originally published by www.lifeintheusa.com, a website for immigrants and Americans.

Have I been living under a rock, or what??

After a lovely, luxuriant, lackadaisical weekend spent sleeping in, dancing to cumbia music in the park at my friends’ BBQ, sipping bubble tea, conversing with my loved ones and (yes) attending Sunday Mass, I woke up this morning to a great surprise:

My home state has legalized gay marriage!! And just in time for PRIDE week! Yayyyy!!

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/25/nyregion/gay-marriage-approved-by-new-york-senate.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

Of course, the fact that I just noticed this tiny piece of news now (two days after the rest of the world found out) makes me realize that I have a lot to learn if I ever think I’m going to make it in the blogosphere. Lesson #1: Get with it!!

Sadly and embarrassingly for me, I did not learn of this news until this morning, during a telephone conversation with my mother that went something like this:

Me: So, how are you doing?

Mother: I’m okay. I’ve been a little down.

Me: Why?

Mother: Well, I know we disagree on this issue, so there’s not much point in talking about it, but…the gay marriage bill was passed.

Me: Oh… (trying to mask my excitement and elation)

Mother: I mean, it’s just disappointing. Mark Grisanti was against it, and then he changed his mind…

Grisanti, for those unfamiliar with his name, is a Catholic Republican New York State Senator from Buffalo who, after taking an anti-gay marriage stance during his campaign, changed his mind and cast the decisive thirty-third vote in favour of the bill. Now, he is some people’s hero and other people’s villain: http://www.buffalonews.com/city/politics/article468372.ece

For most traditionalist Catholics, he is obviously a villain. In the words of Buffalo’s Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, the bill “leaves us deeply disappointed and troubled…We strongly uphold the Catholic Church’s clear teaching that we always treat our homosexual brothers and sisters with respect, dignity and love…But we just as strongly affirm that marriage is the joining of one man and one woman in a lifelong, loving union that is open to children, ordered for the good of those children and the spouses themselves.”

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of  Brooklyn, New York took a much harsher stance:

http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2011/06/26/2011-06-26_passage_of_gay_nuptials_in_new_york_state_is_another_nail_in_the_coffin_of_marri.html

“We who oppose Same-sex Marriage are not callous to the very real human longings for friendship, affection and belonging that proponents of this legislation espouse as the rational ‘Marriage Equality’…Indeed, we like other New Yorker discuss these issues with our friends, family, co-workers and loved ones who have same-sex attractions. We have in part failed as the proponents of the historical understanding of marriage as that between a man and a woman precisely because we have sought to be sensitive to those who have same-sex attractions. Perhaps we must now speak more forcefully and clearly.”

However, I dare to suspect that Grisanti is not a villain to all practicing Catholics (and he himself is a practicing Catholic). The Church is cracking and rippling with the voices of those who want  change. I remember my exceedingly liberal high school chaplain, a priest who founded a nonprofit organization in the early-80’s to help people with AIDS and on more than one occasion spoke openly to the student body in favour of gay rights. And even in the recent Buffalo News article which I’ve posted above, there is a sign that change in the Church might be on the horizon, even if it is all too slow in coming:

…The Rev. Gregory H. Faulhaber, a moral theologian on the faculty at Christ the King Seminary in the Town of  Aurora, said Saturday he thought Grisanti “was doing what is most pragmatic” for a politician.

“He may have felt it was going by with or without him,” Faulhaber said.

But Faulhaber also said he doesn’t believe Grisanti should be banned from church.

 “He certainly is a Catholic, and he is allowed to come to church. As a Catholic, he has an obligation to come to church. As far as whether he has sinned, I would not judge on that. … The Eucharist should not be used as a tool to force people to do something one way or the other.”

Nevertheless, the situation remains very difficult for Catholics who identify as anything other than heterosexual. These Catholics are left with basically three options. The first is to leave the Church, perhaps in favour of a more liberal-minded Christian denomination, perhaps in favour of no religion whatsoever. This is what many of my queer friends have done, as have many of my straight friends who  refuse to associate themselves with an organization which they view as discriminatory and intolerant. The second option is to remain in the Church and follow the mandate that it offers to its LGBTQ membership: to pursue the vocation which it terms “the single life,” i.e. a life of celibacy, or, if they feel called to do so, to become a priest or a nun, which also demands celibacy. (The Catholic Church teaches that there are three vocations which its members can follow: heterosexual marriage (which must be open to children), the single life, and the religious life).  At this point I should make it clear that the Church is not against queer identity/sexuality, or even against queer sex per se, but simply against all  sex that does not hold procreation as its objective. Thus, from the Catholic perspective, a heterosexual couple who live together without being married, or a married heterosexual couple who purposely avoid having children, are “sinners” just as much as a gay couple are. The sin lies in seeking a relationship based on the desire for companionship and love only, rather than based on the desire to “participate in the great enterprise of forming the next generation,” as DiMarzio states in his editorial.

I could point out the logical flaws in this argument (or make the obvious point that it is in fact possible for LGBTQ couples to have children), but for now I won’t do so – that could be a separate post entirely. I could also take up DiMarzio’s statements about the erosion of moral values in our society and the breakdown of the family (which I agree are very serious issues that we as a society should be addressing, but I don’t think that trying to prevent gay marriage is the way to do so) but that, also, is material for a completely separate post. Instead, I’d like to return to the experience of being a queer Catholic (or, for that matter, a heterosexual Catholic who prefers to keep the Church and its teachings out of his/her bedroom). As I’ve said, the first option is to leave the Church; the second is to follow its laws. The third is to go the route of the hypocrites: to remain in the Church, to love the Church, to follow its teachings in so far as they conform to one’s own moral compass…essentially, to be a “cafeteria Catholic,” to take what you like and leave the rest behind.

That is what Mark Grisanti did. That is what, in my own private life and indeed in starting this blog, I have done. That is what so many of my friends – for so many reasons – have done and continue to do.

But is it right?

About a year ago, I discussed this issue with a nonreligious friend who argued that this “cafeteria Catholicism” is not right. It’s hypocrisy – subscribing to one set of ideological beliefs while living according to another. “The Church is never going to change if all these people who don’t agree with it remain part of it and keep perpetuating the system as it is,” she said. “If all these dissenters were to leave, then maybe the Church would wake up and realize that it has to make a change.”

A valid point. However, my answer to this issue was that, frankly, I don’t want to leave the Church. While I may disagree with some of its teachings, I firmly believe that the overall message it preaches is one of justice, mercy and compassion. For me – and I think most of my fellow liberal Catholic dissenters can agree on this point – God is real, and while Catholicism may be deeply flawed, for us it is the best path toward knowing and experiencing the Divine in our everyday lives. We don’t want to leave the Church. We love the Church. We just want it to grow, to change, to become truly representative of the mission Christ started on earth, which we understand as a mission of inclusiveness.

We’re not hypocrites because we remain in the Church. We’re hypocrites because we’re too scared to make our divergent opinions heard, for fear of the rejection and isolation that might occur. But then, maybe I should be more careful with my choice of pronouns. I believe this “we” is getting smaller, as more and more Catholics are daring to critique the Church from the outside. I applaud Mark Grisanti for his courage. May more of us be inspired to follow his example.