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August 28, 2015 at 11:04 am Leave a comment

More than A Monologue

I am very excited to be speaking as part of a panel at the first gathering of a four-part conference entitled “More Than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church” that is being hosted this fall by Fordham University, Union Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School, and Fairfield University. The first part of the conference, “Learning to Listen: Voices of Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church,” will take place this coming Friday, September 16th, at the Lincoln Center Campus of Fordham University (for more information or to register for the event, visit their website here).

One of the stated goals of this conference is to “raise awareness about the impact of church teachings and public stances of the lives of LGBT people,” and as those of you who have followed my writings in the past now, this is something I feel really passionate about.  With all of its teachings, but especially its teachings on LGBT people, I feel that the Church has a responsibility to think through the varied and complex ways in which its teachings can cause hurt or harm in the individual lives of its members. I hope that this conference will be a place where present and former Catholics can come together and begin asking the difficult questions about the “unintended side effects” of Church teachings on LGBT lives.

Even in advance of the event, I’m incredibly grateful to be given the opportunity to add my voice to this conversation. It’s an important, tough, complicated, emotionally and politically loaded, and extremely vital conversation. I hope that those in the New York area with an interest in joining me in this conversation will consider joining me at this event!

September 11, 2011 at 9:19 pm Leave a comment

WWDDD? Some thoughts on Dorothy Day and May 1, 2011

Yesterday was May 1stInternational Workers’ Day – and the 78th anniversary of the founding of the Catholic Worker. It was 78 years ago that Dorothy Day and a handful of others stood in Union Square and sold the first copies of the Catholic Worker newspaper for a penny apiece.

I’ve been fascinated with Dorothy Day since being introduced to her writings in college. I credit her with making my politics what they are today and often joke that it’s her “fault” that I stayed Catholic as long as I did. I still frequently use her writings to challenge myself, to shake myself out of complacency, to remind myself of the persistent need to work to create a more just world. And because it was May 1st, I had Dorothy Day on the brain for much of the day yesterday.  It’s no surprise, then, that when the news broke last night about the death of Osama bin Laden, and I was trying to make sense of my somber reaction in relation to the elation, jubilation, even glee expressed by others on facebook, on the news, on twitter, my mind came back to Dorothy Day. What would Dorothy think of all this, I wondered? I tried to imagine her, if she were still alive today, taking in the news, and perhaps sitting down at a desk not far from ground zero, where thousands gathered last night to celebrate bin Laden’s death, to write an editorial for the Catholic Worker about the event.

What I pictured her writing was this: We cannot rejoice over the death of bin Laden. All deaths, and especially all deaths brought about by violent means, are to be mourned, not only because of the loss of a life but because violent deaths remind us of how unbelievably broken our world is, our world that Christ tries over and over again to redeem through us, the members of His Mystical Body.  The only way for “justice” to come about is for us all to start treating each other as if each of us is Christ – to recognize the dignity in all other people and to resist any and every social structure, process, or interaction that undermines that dignity, including and especially war.

This would all be written in the context of a larger critique of U.S. foreign policy in general, of course. Dorothy Day wrote tirelessly against war in her day, including during World War II – so I think we can be confident that, were she alive today, she would have used her editorial desk to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with a persistence that most of us who oppose these wars, weary after almost a decade, lack. Given that yesterday was the Catholic Worker’s anniversary, I imagine she might have used the anniversary issue of the paper to take stock of the Catholic Worker’s mission in light of the current state of things – she might have even published an editorial yesterday about the need to stop the wars, and it wouldn’t have been out of character for her to remind her readers that bin Laden, and all our “enemies,” like all of us, are children of God.

This 1938 editorial is typical of Day’s writings on war. “As long as men trust to the use of force,” she wrote, “only a superior, a more savage and brutal force will overcome the enemy. We use his own weapons, and we must make sure our own force is more savage, more bestial than his own. As long we are trusting to force—we are praying for a victory by force.” Force can only beget more force. Violence can only beget violence. Rather than victory, Day insisted, we should be praying – and working – for peace.  “We are not praying for victory for Franco in Spain, a victory won with the aid of Mussolini’s son who gets a thrill out of bombing; with the aid of Mussolini who is opposing the Holy Father in his pronouncements on “racism”; with the aid of Hitler who persecutes the church in Germany. Nor are we praying for victory for the loyalists whose Anarchist, Communist and anti-God leaders are trying to destroy religion. We are praying for the Spanish people—all of them our brothers in Christ—all of them Temples of the Holy Ghost, all of them members or potential members of the Mystical Body of Christ.”

Were she alive today, reflecting on yesterday’s events, I like to think that Dorothy Day might have recycled her words, still so relevant some 73 years later:

We are not praying for victory. We are praying for the American people, the Afghani people, and the Iraqi people – all of them our brothers (and sisters!) in Christ – all of them Temples of the Holy Ghost, all of them members or potential members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

May 2, 2011 at 11:22 pm 3 comments

the writer who doesn’t write

It’s been so long since I last wrote a blog post, it’s embarrassing. I know it’s common in the blogosphere to start a blog, be enthusiastic about it for a bit, and then let it slip to the bottom of the to-do list until it’s all but forgotten.

But I shouldn’t – or really, can’t – let that happen with this blog. See, I call myself a writer. And what kind of a writer am I if I don’t write?  I say I have things to say that people need to hear, but if I only ever say them to the couple of people who hear me speak on a daily basis, what good do I do?  It’s easy to list the things that keep me from writing – my brain overworked by school, my body exhausted by the little demands of daily life, a feeling of helplessness in the face of so much injustice – but these are poor excuses. If I’m a writer, I have to write.  If I’ve got something to say that the world needs to hear, I must say it. I need to make writing, and posting my writings on this blog, a priority again. So stay tuned!

March 16, 2011 at 2:39 pm 1 comment

The Bullies Aren’t Just Kids. And sometimes, they speak in God’s name.

For weeks now, I’ve been thinking nearly constantly about the climate for LGBTQ people in our country. It’s hard not to: the recent media attention given to suicides of LGBTQ youth, most of whom had been bullied in their middle and high schools, has gotten a lot of people talking about it. The responses have been varied – from everyday folks reaching out to bullied youth via You Tube to tell them that it gets better, to discussion on television shows from public figures like Ellen DeGeneres, Anderson Cooper, and a whole host of celebrities appearing on Larry King Live, about what causes bullying and what we should be doing about it.

But the few responses that have struck me the most have been from those who have called out the American public – namely public religious and political figures – for modeling the very bullying behavior we, as a nation, are acting so surprised and perplexed over. Comedian Sarah Silverman had a particularly pointed video message for America in which she said:

Dear America: When you tell gay Americans that they can’t serve their country openly or marry the person that they love, you’re telling that to kids, too. So don’t be f***ing shocked and wonder where all these bullies are coming from that are torturing young kids and driving them to kill themselves because they’re different. They learned it from watching you.

Similarly, in a video commentary/PSA for the Trevor Project, queer ally, activist, and comedian Kathy Griffin quipped:

So let’s talk about these bullies. I just don’t think they came up with this anti-gay bias on their own. They weren’t born with it. The politicians, so-called religious leaders, and pundits who have made careers out of saying that being gay is wrong, or immoral, or that gays are somehow less than, they all have blood on their hands. Yes, all you anti-gay public figures, and you know who you are, you have the blood of these dead teens on your hands. Remember trickle-down economics back in the ‘80s? Well this is just trickle down homophobia.

What Silverman and Griffin both point to here is an idea that Catholics should find it easy to get behind – that when something is wrong with part of a society, it tends to have ramifications throughout. Put differently, when one part of the body is hurting, does the rest of the body not feel its pain? When one part of the body is infected by hateful, biased rhetoric, would we not expect this infection to spread to other parts of the body?

It was with all this on my mind that I opened an email this past week from Cody Maynus, a student at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN, telling about an incident at the University in which a group of GLBTQ and allied students, who wore rainbow pins and ribbons to Mass to stand in solidarity with GLBTQ Catholics, were denied communion by the Archbishop of Minneapolis/St. Paul.

The back story to this incident is that Archibishop Nienstedt recently worked with the other bishops in Minnesota to produce and distribute 400,000 DVDs aimed at Catholic households across the state detailing the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage. According to this Associated Press article, the DVD included a call by Archbishop Neinstedt for a public vote to amend the Minnesota Constitution to define marriage on strictly heterosexual terms. There have been several moves by Catholics to express their displeasure over this campaign, including an organized movement to return the DVDs to the archdiocese.

The 25 or so members of the St. John’s University/College of St. Benedict community (including students, sisters and one monk) who decided to wear rainbow ribbons and pins to the mass that the Archbishop, didn’t seem to think of their act as political per se. One student, Elizabeth Gleich, told reporters that they were simply hoping to make a statement, both to the Archbishop, that they disagreed with the DVD campaign, and to LGBTQ Catholics, that they were in solidarity with them. The Archbishop, however, saw things differently, and decided to deny them communion. Archdiocesan spokesman Dennis McGrath told reporters, “[The rainbow is] a symbol of the GLBT movement en masse, and it was intended as a protest. It was pretty obvious.”

At the end of the day, whether the statement the students were making was political or not is, to me, not the point. The point is that Archbishop Neinstedt, through his DVD campaign and through the act of denying GLBTQ and allied students communion, is contributing to the anti-gay rhetoric that is plaguing our country and having drastic, even deadly effects. Imagine being a 13-year-old kid and being gay, or questioning your sexuality, and coming home after being bullied at school to find your parents watching a DVD in which some of the most revered men in your faith tradition are railing against gay marriage. Bullying and anti-gay talk isn’t just following you home from school via facebook at this point, but it’s coming at you from people who you have been taught to respect, to trust, and to view as carriers of God’s truth. Can you imagine how such a message would make you feel? And at the same time, many of the kids who are bullying you at school are coming home to see this same message, and from it, they take away a sense of divine justification for their actions. To then read in the news that the Archbishop has denied the Eucharist – the source and summit of our faith – to those who stand in solidarity with LGBTQ Catholics, only further reinforces this idea that the bullies are right, that gay people are somehow less than, less important, less deserving of God’s love and the love of God’s people, than straight people.

Public figures with anti-gay messages are bullies, too. They bully with their words, and with their actions designed to publicly reprimand and exclude those who don’t conform to their ideas of what’s right. And as hard as it might be to hear it, our religious authorities are part of this group. If we care about the well-being of LGBTQ youth, and we want the bullying in schools to stop, we have to tell the grown-up bullies to stop, too.

Whether you’re feeling dissatisfied, angry, concerned, sad, or outraged, there are things you can do to take action. Please consider writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper expressing your concern, as a Catholic, over the stance of Catholic officials on LGBTQ issues. Make a You Tube video, write a blog post, or do something to make a public statement to LGBTQ youth – and adults – that the views of the hierarchy do not represent the views of all Catholics, and that there many Catholics out there who love these youth as the beautiful children of God that they are. Wear a rainbow ribbon to show your support and solidarity. While these actions may be seen as inappropriately political by the Catholic hierarchy, I challenge you to remember that in a climate like this, silence – interpreted as assenting to the Church’s words and actions – is just as political and just as powerful a statement.

Note: This piece originally appeared on From the Pews in the Back on October 13, 2010.

October 13, 2010 at 10:15 am 4 comments

National Coming Out Day: We Are More

I delivered the following reflection at Harvard Divinity School five years ago, on October 12, 2005 at the National Coming Out Day noon service hosted by Faith For All, the Div school’s LGBTQIA group. It was my first National Coming Out Day as an out queer person, and my first year at HDS.  A lot has changed since then in terms of how I identify – my religious identity, sense of calling, and scholarly identity, for instance, have changed in varying degrees – but there is still a lot in this piece that resonates with me today.  So in honor of Coming Out Day 2010, please enjoy this guest post from my five-years-ago self!

We are more.

We are more than any one identity.  We in this community have many different ways of identifying our gender and sexuality, and while we celebrate these identities this week in honor of Coming Out Day, it is important to remember that we are more

My story of my own identity and self-understanding is a story of continually coming out as being more than just one identity.  My first strong sense of my own identity was as a Catholic—I was born into a Catholic family, baptized in the Catholic Church as an infant, and raised in the church.  But I have continually had to realize that to identify as Catholic has often meant having others misconceive my own beliefs, convictions, and spirituality.  I am Catholic—but I am more.

I first started to articulate this complexity of identity when I was 10 years old and I came out as a feminist, after being told that I couldn’t serve as an acolyte at my church because I was a girl.  I came out as a social and political progressive in college because I couldn’t stand the thought that people assumed that because I was Catholic, I was also a political conservative—when in reality, just the opposite was true—because I was Catholic, I felt (and still feel) that radical social justice for the poor and other oppressed people is of highest importance.  I came out as a religious intellectual in college as well, though many of my fellow people of faith saw this as a surefire way to lose my Christian identity.  I also came out at this time as having a call to ministry, maybe even ordained ministry—which in itself is a pretty radical thing for a Catholic woman to do.  I have of course struggled to articulate all of these aspects of my identity as being a cohesive whole, because there are elements of it that seem, to many people, to be contradictory.

I most recently added to this list by coming out as a queer woman.  I struggled the most with this aspect of my identity, I think because it presents such a radical challenge, for others but also for myself, of how it fits into my overall identity—I felt for a long time that there was no way that this aspect especially could fit together with everything else without conflicting.  But I came out because I realized that being queer was not in conflict with my spirituality, but rather it was an important part of my spiritual self, and to deny it any longer would be to deny what it is that makes me truly myself, complexities and all.  I am a queer, progressive, feminist, intellectual Catholic woman with a call to ministry.

October 11, 2010 at 8:18 pm 2 comments

It Gets Better

Whilst procrastinating on my work last week, reading feministing–one of my favorite blogs–I came across the most beautiful thing.

It’s called the It Gets Better project, and it was started by Dan Savage and his husband Terry in response to the latest rash of gay teen suicides. Dan and Terry, like many others, reacted by saying “I wish there was something I could do about this.” But rather than stop there, they actually did something, and have given others an outlet to do the same.

The premise of the project is simple – GLBT adults are invited to make a youtube video addressing GLBT/questioning middle and high schoolers with the simple message that “it gets better.” People are responding, and in doing so, creating a virtual community of concerned, caring GLBT adults and allies, providing a virtual safe zone for kids who don’t have a physical one.

I haven’t made a video yet. I plan to. But I have spent some time watching some of the videos that have been posted. One thing that struck me right away in the first two videos I watched – Dan and Terry’s video, and one made by Perez Hilton – was the experience both Dan and Perez described of being bullied at their Catholic high schools. My heart breaks for any kid who is bullied at any school, but there is something especially wrong, in my mind, with this happening in places where Jesus’ message of love and justice is taught alongside other subjects.

I’m also struck by how, despite the bad experiences these men had at their religious high schools (Terry was also mercilessly bullied at a Christian school), there is something so incredibly Christ-like about this project. I like to think that if Jesus were on earth today, this is exactly the kind of thing he would do about the bullying of gay kids and teens – speak out against the injustice, and also do what he could to welcome these youth into his community.

Note: This post originally appeared on From the Pews in the Back on September 29, 2010.

October 9, 2010 at 6:00 pm Leave a comment

How Do I Love?

This piece was originally written for, and published on, From the Pews in the Back.

by Kate Henley Averett

Last week I was negotiating my way to my car in a crowded city parking lot. If you’ve lived in the Boston area, I’m sure you know the kind – where all the spaces are too small and the constant bustle of people makes it nearly impossible to walk, let alone drive, through it. I was juggling my iced coffee, bagel, phone, and keys and trying to get to the car without interrupting the flow of traffic when something stopped me. The car parked next to ours caught my eye. A smile broke over my face as I read the bumper sticker:

“Love is the only solution.” – Dorothy Day

Even in Cambridge, MA, it’s not every day that you see a Dorothy Day bumper sticker. I tossed the keys to my wife so she could start the car while I snapped a picture with my cell phone. “Just when I let her slip out of the forefront of my mind,” I thought to myself, “she shows up in the unlikeliest of places.”

I’ve blogged about her before, so those of you who read the blog regularly may already know that I have a thing about Dorothy Day. I spent my senior year of college immersed in her writings, and was forever changed by the experience. She was my path to the social teachings of the Church, and it was through the challenges her writings gave me that I started to think really seriously about marginalized peoples and what the preferential option for the poor had to do with me, personally and vocationally. And quite frankly, if it wasn’t for her I don’t think I would’ve stayed in the Church as long as I did.

Dorothy showed up again today, although this time in a slightly more predictable way. We were clearing off the bookshelves, packing all of our books in preparation for our imminent move, and I came across my well-loved copy of The Long Loneliness. I bought it used in 2003, and the already well-worn book has since endured multiple readings, layers of notes scribbled in the margins, and a few too many times being wedged into my backpack. Again, I couldn’t help but smile as I carefully found a spot for it among the other books I was loading into the box.

But as usually happens when she works her way further and further into my consciousness, the sweet sense of nostalgia didn’t last long. As Dorothy Day has bounced around in my head this evening, I’m finding myself more and more uneasy. Specifically, I’m struck by just how focused on this move I’ve been these past few weeks, worrying about logistics and planning and nerves about moving and my own physical discomfort, packing our tiny, un-air conditioned apartment in this heat. Whether I’ve been grouchy, anxious, frustrated, or even excited, it’s pretty safe to say that my thoughts have been pretty centered on my self of late.

“Love is the only solution.” I could go on for hours about what, in Dorothy Day’s theology and praxis, love is, but at the very least, it is certainly not self-centered. I sit here thinking about those who have lost their livelihoods on the gulf coast, about displaced people in Haiti whose day-to-day living is so precarious, and countless other examples of those whose discomfort this night is caused not, like my own, by heat and cramped living spaces, but by systemic injustice. What am I doing, right now, that is in any way acting out of love for these people? For any people?

I know that nothing I can do tonight, from my cluttered living room, can overturn deeply ingrained systems of injustice. But I also know that shutting out the rest of the world while I focus solely on myself is not making me part of the solution. So how do I love, right now? And I mean really love, a Dorothy Day kind of love – not a touchy-feely, romanticized love but the harsh and dreadful, Dostoyevskian kind that Day was so adamant about – a put myself on the line, make myself completely vulnerable for you, blur the boundaries between us until we don’t know where your pain ends and mine begins, kind of love? The kind of love that overwhelms you, knocks you off balance, makes you feel raw? How can I love like this, right here, right now?

July 14, 2010 at 12:21 pm Leave a comment

Greenday, Breakup Songs, and Redemption

by Kate Henley Averett

note: this piece was written for From the Pews in the Back, a blog for which Kate is a frequent contributor.  It was published on that site on 29 June 2010.  View the original article here.

My sister and I were in the car, probably on our way to some family function or another, listening to Anna Nalick’s album “Wreck of the Day” when the title track came on. “I wish this album had been out when we had broken up,” she remarked, referring to a particularly rough breakup with a boyfriend about a year earlier. “This would have totally been my breakup song.”

I knew what she meant. I’d had countless similar experiences, where a song seemed to speak so profoundly to an experience I had had, that they became inextricably linked in my mind. I have a hunch that it’s a Catholic thing – that we’re trained, through the liturgy, through our theology, to find connections between art and life, and that it’s especially the case with music.

Well, it’s been over two months since my most recent breakup – with the Catholic Church – and I’ve finally found my breakup song. At the beginning of June I went to see American Idiot on Broadway. It was an incredible, powerful, moving, and all-around kick-ass show. One song in particular really stuck with me, and I found myself listening to it over and over again in the days after seeing the performance. “21 Guns” is something of the anthem of the show – the cast has performed it on multiple talk shows and, most notably, at this year’s Grammy Awards – and I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m obsessed with it.

Do you know what’s worth fighting for
When it’s not worth dying for
Does it take your breath away
And you feel yourself suffocating?

I hear the opening lyrics to the song and find a chilling comparison to my own words just over two months ago. “I feel like I can’t quite catch my breath. It’s not quite that I can’t breathe, but that I can’t seem to be able to breathe deeply enough, like if I could just get one giant gulp of air in my body would feel better, normal, not so tight, not so heavy.”

Does the pain weigh out the pride
And you look for a place to hide
Did someone break your heart inside
You’re in ruins.

These lyrics hit me right in the gut, because they make me realize that part of the reason it took me so long to leave the Church, and the reason I waited until my heart was broken and I was in ruins, was pride. I had written an essay about how I could never leave the Church, and it was published! And so many people had told me how my words had touched them, strengthened them. I’ll admit it now, that part of the pain I was feeling when I wrote that post was because I felt like a failure. What was wrong with me that I didn’t have the strength to stay, like so many others whose determination, wisdom, and perspective I value and admire? I wanted to be able to stay, like they do. But eventually, the pain did outweigh the pride.

One, 21 guns
Lay down your arms, give up the fight.
One, 21 guns
Throw up your arms into the sky

I know that this song wasn’t written for me. I don’t know what Billie Joe Armstrong had in mind, exactly, when he wrote it, but giving up the struggle to stay in a relationship with a Church that has both nurtured you and torn you down over the course of your lifetime probably wasn’t it. But when I hear these lyrics, I feel vindicated in my decision to leave. I’ve lain down my arms, and given up the fight.

“21 Guns” is my breakup song, two months after the fact. But it’s not one that makes me brood, wallow in the sadness, and mourn the loss. When I crank the volume in my car and belt out the lyrics at the top of my lungs, I feel myself being healed.

July 6, 2010 at 1:17 am Leave a comment

Welcome!

Welcome to my blog!

I am a writer, choreographer, sociologist, theologian, and queer feminist activist from Massachusetts, soon to be relocating to Austin, Texas.

My hope for this blog is that it will be a place where I can share my writings on a number of topics, including politics and public policy, women’s issues, LGBTQ issues, art and media, popular culture, current events, and religion.  It’s my intention that despite the broad range of topics I tackle, the blog won’t feel random and disorganized, but that my personal and distinct point of view will make it coherent – but I fully welcome any feedback as to how I’m doing in this arena.

Thank you for your interest in this blog and my writing.  Enjoy!

July 6, 2010 at 1:04 am 1 comment


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