Friday, July 29, 2011

out of town

Visiting family, after a death, then on probably I won't write again until Aug. 10. Then we'll muse on the difference between "Catholic" and "Roman Catholic." Should be fun!
Blessings, Ginny

Monday, July 18, 2011

Developing that "Renegade" persona

I discovered early on that theologians, and officials of Christian churches, frequently quoted passages from Aquinas in setting forth their teachings. This is especially true with moral issues, and has been since well before the Council of Trent (mid 15th century). It seemed to me however that I found different passages appeared to say slightly different things. When I began reading his Summa from page 1, skipping nothing, certain concepts like God, human nature and grace were clearly fundamental to his work as a whole. When I read later parts, in view of what he'd said earlier -- as this style was meant to be read, a very distinct picture emerged. My doctoral dissertation was forming now; I would provide a view of Moral Theology in Aquinas based very much on grace as a dimension of human nature itself -- human nature as re-created in and through Jesus the Christ. Grace, for Aquinas, was not a hypodermic needle to enable heroic moral acts and/or virtues, but the guidance, wisdom and strength of the Indwelling Spirit promised and sent by Jesus the Christ -- 3rd Person of the Trinity -- always available and accessible to human beings who seek that guidance, wisdom and strength.

This is in direct opposition to any number of brilliant theologians' views on grace, to say nothing of popes and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It also makes moral decisions a matter of seeking the good, not simply blind obedience to the rules. I was most certainly a renegade by this time!

Of course, by this time I was also extremely active with groups seeking significant reforms in the Roman Church, and with Women's Ordination Conference. I became -- and remain -- deeply involved with a church community truly pursued and persecuted by the Vatican. These dearly loved sisters and brothers eventually formed another independent Catholic church and, nearly 10 years later, members still increase daily. One co-pastor was the pastor (yes, a properly-ordained Catholic priest) of the earlier church, the other is a married woman ordained through the Old Catholic Church about 8 years ago. Several other women in the parish have since been ordained -- through the Old Catholic Church or the Roman Catholic Womenpriests organization -- and gone on to new, vital ministries and communities. Social justice has been a basic constituent to the community since its formation (and as the original community), and their city benefits from this daily. This is pursuing the good -- the ultimate moral goal for Aquinas.

The problem with becoming a Renegade is that one only becomes more deeply open to being a Renegade. I realize, for instance, that not every "Pauline" letter was authored by the apostle. Some (including the most damning towards women) were written pseudonymously by his disciples, and their disciples -- 2 generations removed from Paul himself. I relish the list of women towards the end of his letter to the Romans, which includes reference to Junia (female) as "prominent among the apostles." I'm at ease with Mary Magdalene as a prominent, and wealthy, woman rather than a prostitute; in fact, it's satisfying to realize that she was in fact an apostle -- defined among the Jews of Jesus' time as "one sent by the master for a specific task." (John 21: "Go, tell my disciples..." Jesus, the Master, sends Mary -- apostle -- to complete a specific task. Of course, I love knowing that the Eastern Church has always elevated her and celebrated her as "apostle to the apostles."

And so, Renegade that I am, I muse on life, God, faith, etc. with a viewpoint, and occasional conclusion, that can upset the religious apple carts of those around me. Some damn me, some thank me, some laugh and say "What took you so long?" But the musing continues...usually on very real and human complexities. And my husband and I enjoy my renegade-ness, the quality that sought -- with mischief and laughter -- to make a statement even with my car...which sports 2 women's ordination bumperstickers and a license plate that reads "WMNPST 1" (here in IL, in Wisc. it was "WMNPRST"). My husband loves being at the wheel when people wave, honk...even stop to talk to us about church reforms...I guess he's become a renegade too! :D

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Genesis of a Renegade Theologian

I didn't start out to become a theologian -- let alone a renegade one! My intention was much more humble, and mainstream: Finish my bachelor degree in Religious Studies and teach religion in an elementary school. It was my professors, and overgrown "curiosity bump" that lured me on to "bigger and better" things...

In my very first Systematic Theology class, Br. Michael asked us what it would do to our faith if scientists found, and proved, that they had the body of Jesus. Well, gee, they couldn't -- Catholic teaching is a bodily resurrection! What kind of body, he asked. Read over the accounts. My first response was that I believed Jesus the Christ - 2nd person of the Trinity - was raised, and so it wouldn't affect my faith. With some thought, and the responses of others in the class, that developed a bit more. Later that fall he had additional challenges for us. For instance, what if Jesus never performed any miracles? The gospel accounts mirror those in the Hebrew Scriptures where prophets offered miracle feedings, control over nature and even raising from the dead as proofs that they were indeed sent by God, and speaking God's message. This one led me to my first step towards becoming a theologian. I found and pondered the passage: Jesus "could do no miracles there, only curing a few people, because of their little faith." Could it be, I asked Br. Michael, that a "miracle" and a "cure" -- two different words in both Hebrew and Greek -- are quite distinct? If someone watches as Jesus gives sight to a blind person, and that observation produces a life-changing encounter with God for that observer, isn't that the miracle, rather than the cure (which might, or might not, have any God encounter involved with it)? We processed this idea together for months.

Later, I took my first Moral Theology class, and had my first exploration into the work of Thomas Aquinas -- who became my hero by the end of my first semester of graduate school. Right away, with Br. Bob's help, I grasped the importance of the difference between a human act and the act of a human. I saw tremendous implications for concepts like sin, grace, guilt, intention and more. Oh yes -- I was now thoroughly hooked! With my professors, advisor and even the department head urging me to go on, get my doctorate in theology and teach at the college level, and some very shattering life changes around me, it seemed like a ridiculous idea....yet a year later I was choosing among three excellent universities offering scholarships for master's work. One year later, Marquette offered me advanced placement in their doctoral program in theology, along with a full scholarship and 3-year teaching assistant post. Here, I thrived in an environment where I was expected to contribute to the theological conversation, and found professors who probed and challenged and encouraged my questions, no matter how "out of line" those questions might be.

That's when I began the move towards being a "renegade" theologian. But...more on that in posting #2... :)