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Archive for November, 2012

The Hindsight of an ex-Catholic

Posted in Editorials, Personal Essays on November 29th, 2012

When you’re a kid, you never question the whole faith thing – God’s in heaven and He’s…She’s always got her eye on you. I’d give anything to feel that way again.

As child and as a teenager my faith was very strong. After reading about Leah Libresco’s Confirmation, I find myself reflecting on my own and how much I looked forward so it. I would finally be initiated into the Church, and I saw it as an important step towards adulthood. They told me it would mean an indelible mark on my soul. The oil the Bishop would anoint my forehead with would be clear, but it would leave a mark – invisible and indelible, I thought. I was so excited to make a commitment to Christ, to live by the Beatitudes, to engage in the Works of Mercy. It was so beautiful.

I remember my confirmation day in November of 1996. I was one month shy of my fourteenth birthday. I wore a white skirt suit. I remembered the etiquette as I had been taught in my preparation classes, I would hand the priest a card with my confirmation name on it (Margaret, more after my late grandmother than the Saint), he would hand it to the Bishop, the bishop would anoint my forehead with oil and say, “be sealed with the gift of the holy spirit.” Then we would shake hands and both of us would say “Peace Be With You.” My godfather was my sponsor, and as we approached the altar, him walking behind me with a hand on my shoulder, I noticed that none of my classmates were shaking hands with the Bishop. Well, I’m going to! I thought, This only happens once, might as well do it the right way. And so after the Bishop had anointed my head, I reached out to shake hands and said “Peace Be With You.” He smiled and did the same, and then I realized why he hadn’t been doing this for everyone. His hand was dripping with oil. And now mine was too.

I thought it was kind of funny, that my eagerness and joy almost ruined my new suit, and I was all smiles as I headed back to the pew to sit with the rest of my family. The tissues in my mother’s purse and my Dad’s good handkerchief were enough to save me from any lasting grease stains. I felt relieved and blessed.

The happiness of my Confirmation Day stayed with me for years. It was what kept me from leaving the Church for a long time. The indelible mark on my soul. But eventually, I thought, well I guess I’m just taking this mark with me – into Unitarian Universalism and wherever I would go from there.

It’s been eight years since my last confession, or since I have received communion. I signed the book on my Unitarian Universalist congregation in January of 2009. But my faith in the Catholic idea of God has receded into a set of morals grounded in Catholic social teachings, the UU Seven Principles and a vague spiritual longing. I struggle with the term “agnostic,” because I long for spiritual connection, and I still find comfort in prayer, even if I don’t believe that it works the way I was taught it does as a child.

I’ve come to realize that the more time passes, the deeper my anger and outrage at the Catholic Church’s moral failings. I am incredulous as to why people I know and love stay in the Church and speechless to those who decide to join.

Lennon Cihak has courage beyond his years for refusing to back down on his support for gay rights, even in the face of not being allowed confirmation. This is exactly what is supposed to happen – no organization should have to accept members who do not believe in its principles. I’m glad that attention is being drawn to the teachings everyday Catholics are expected to live by. But it’s difficult to watch the rejection of a teenage boy by his own community for standing up for love and equal rights. It’s that disconnect – seeing someone punished for speaking for justice that makes me angry.

Savita Halappanavar’s senseless death is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. She was 31, married, and hoping to have her first child. But she died when doctors refused to remove the fetus she was miscarrying. It’s hard to find words to write about this. I think about my own future, and about my friends who want children, and how this could happen again at any Catholic hospital in the United States. No one should ever forget her, or stop being haunted by what happened, because this should never happen again.

The more distance I put between myself and the church, the more I clearly I can see it. At first, I thought, what happened to the church I loved so much? But in reality, I could not actually see it for what it is. I didn’t know about the depths the church went to cover up child raping priests. I didn’t understand that women die in septic wards all the time in South America because they are denied contraception and abortion because of the Catholic Church’s influence. I had an inkling that masturbation probably wouldn’t send me to Hell, but I gave no thought to how the church’s warped teachings on sexuality would effect a gay or trans* teenager. My excuse is that I was thirteen years old. What’s yours?

Skyfall Fail: Why the “Step One – Be Attractive” Meme is Wrong

Posted in Editorials on November 27th, 2012

This post contains spoilers!

Skyfall was mostly enjoyable, but there was a scene that left me feeling very uneasy.

Bond meets Sévérine in a swank casino and tells her that “it takes a certain type of woman to wear a backless dress with a Beretta 70 strapped to her thigh.” Through their conversation it is revealed that she was kidnapped into the sex trade as a young girl. Bond promises to help her escape if she will lead him to her boss. She tells him to meet her on her boat. The appointed time arrives and he is not there.

Sévérine appears to be taking a shower of angst when he steps into the shower, naked. He tells her “I like you better without your Beretta.” “I feel naked without it,” she replies.

The scene was disturbingly creepy on several levels. Forbes (to my suprise) and The Vagenda point out how the power dynamic here makes it questionable as to whether or not Sévérine could consent. This is important, but not the first thing I thought of.

Even if we grant that Sévérine wanted to have sex with Bond, why would someone supposedly as skilled at getting laid as he supposedly is SNEAK UP ON A RAPE VICTIM IN THE SHOWER?!. He couldn’t have waited for her in her room, in his infinitely flattering swim trunks? Or left her a note that she could meet him up on deck for a nightcap in the moonlight?

Could he have refrained from commenting on and eroticizing that she was now disarmed and could not escape?

There was an SNL skit once where it is explained that a man can avoid being accused of sexual harassment by

Be Handsome..

Be Attractive..

and Don’t Be Unattractive.

Dudes on the internet are especially fond of this and have narrowed it down into a constant drumbeat of “Step One – Be Attractive, Step Two – Don’t Be Unattractive” whenever a woman complains about a man’s creepy or boundary crossing behavior.

But the feminist critique of Bond’s behavior in Skyfall is evident as to why this is really poor reasoning. No one is denying the hunkiness of Daniel Craig. It’s just incredibly unsettling that the movie portrays sneaking up on sexual assault victims in the shower as the height of romance, or at all acceptable with anyone you don’t already know very well.

I’m not totally sold on the argument that Sévérine wasn’t capable of consenting at all. And as last nights on Earth go, she didn’t appear to have a bad one. But creepiness isn’t sexy, and Sévérine’s apparent consent isn’t a pass for Bond or the movie’s creators. James Bond – symbol of sexual prowess – should probably know better. Master of seduction doesn’t mean master of the implication.

A Brief Thought Before Black Friday

Posted in Editorials on November 22nd, 2012

There is no war on Christmas.

Okay, hold on, that’s a lie. There is a War on Christmas, but there are not the combatants you think there are.

Everyone has heard about hordes of Atheists trying to quash the wonder that is Christmas by turning it into some sort of happy cultural-sensitivity bullshit festival. That’s not true. Atheists like getting together on cold days the same as anyone else. Every culture on Earth has a holiday to get through the shitty months of their climate. I’m not going to belittle Christmas. Christians have done a good enough job of that, as have retailers.

Firstly: If you’re not in Church, you’ve already messed up. It’s Christ’s mass. Gift-giving traditionally occurs on the Epiphany, observing the night the Magi came to Bethlehem and presented their gifts to the King of Kings (And Lord of Lords). Of course, you might be descended from some group of joyless Protestants, and even refuse to observe that holiday, but that’s a gripe for another day.

Secondly, if you’re giving gifts, you’re probably letting them take over your holiday. People shuffle into the stores and obediently wait their turn to be fleeced by retailers. It’s degrading, and no one likes it. The customers get up early for door-busters. The associates have to trundle to work and break their asses. The managers get chest-pains fussing about numbers. The people who made the product are… well, let’s be honest, effectively slaves.

Thirdly, one day of the year is not a good platform for proselytizing. “Keep Christ in Christmas” stickers merely remind everyone else that Christians are joyless jerks that want to arrange society to their pre-conceived notions. We really need to re-think this holiday entirely.

If you’re on facebook, you’ve seen the little messages circulating that say you should shop locally. That’s a start, as you cannot quit consumerism cold-turkey. There are a huge number of stores that would like your business. They are probably more expensive than the big box stores, but here’s the solution to that sticky wicket… buy less stuff. A lot of products are made for Black Friday and have fewer features, or are intentionally lower-quality, so forget about it.

Also, if you must buy things, and that locally-produced lemon-zest soap is just too silly, buy board games. Why? Because even the first thing you do with a gift is you try it out. You can set up the board game and play with the recipient, and because you have a whole day off, you actually have the time to enjoy the board game with them. They can wear the sweater or play Field-Duty of Heroes IX any other day of the year… and buy it on their own.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Wounded White Privilege

Posted in Editorials on November 15th, 2012

I haven’t done much gloating about last week’s election results. My feelings are more of relief and gladness that we can talk about topics other than the horse race. But in reading the post-election coverage about how so many conservatives who are in a state of shock because they were so certain they would win, I have noticed something disturbing. The undercurrent of racism and hate makes it difficult for me to be gleeful about conservatives loss. It would feel like taunting an injured but still dangerous animal.

Potok, who is white, said he believes there is “a large subset of white people in this country who feel that they are losing everything they know, that the country their forefathers built has somehow been stolen from them.”

I can’t relate to this. Not in the least. I certainly benefit from white privilege. I am committed to being anti-racist. But white privilege can warp and change when it intersects with class, gender, sexuality, and nationality/ethnicity. It’s the latter I’ve been thinking about this week.

When I think about my racial privilege as a white woman with Latina heritage, I think about passing and how sometimes other white people challenge my identity.

“How can someone with your last name celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?”

“You aren’t what I expected. I thought you’d be more, you know [does imitation of Carmen Miranda] ‘Ay! Yi! Yi!’ …authentic.”

It feels disorienting and irritating. My family is real, and there are millions like mine. You don’t get to erase us or deny we exist because of your racist fears about interracial or inter-ethnic marriage, or petulance about losing an election.

they are losing everything they know, that the country their forefathers built has somehow been stolen from them.

My “forefathers” were immigrants from South America, Eastern and Western Europe. Some of them faced racism or antisemitism. To be alive during a time when the people in power are starting not to be monolithic or bigoted validates everything I know. This is the America that my family has built.

Politics Matter

Posted in Editorials on November 13th, 2012

Last week in his election night victory speech, President Obama said, (emphasis added)

I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics that tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests. But if you “ever
get the chance to talk to folks who turned out at our rallies and crowded along a rope line in a high school gym, or saw folks working late in a campaign office in some tiny county far away from home, you’ll discover something else.

You’ll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organizer who’s working his way through college and wants to make sure every child has that same opportunity. You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift. You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse who’s working the phones late at night to make sure that no one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home.

That’s why we do this. That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.

That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.

This portion of his speech really resonated with me. I’ve written before about my frustrations with people who can’t be bothered to vote. It’s important to talk about why politics matter, and that it’s okay to disagree. Disagreement, even vehement disagreement means we care about what’s important.

Mitt Romney’s Insightful Hurricane Sandy Comments

Posted in Editorials, Personal Essays on November 2nd, 2012

I feel like one of the luckiest women alive. Adam and I got through Sandy in our apartment. We didn’t lose power or water, even the cable and internet stayed on the whole time. There were several downed trees in our neighborhood, but none hit our building or our car. Our families have also fared well, even though they lost some services, they are not in any danger. Public transportation is slowly coming back and we’ve been able to get to our jobs after a few days of telecommuting.

On Wednesday, I was driving through part of Long Island to check on family, and drop off some supplies at a food bank I heard was running low. I was listening to NPR and I heard Mitt Romney say,

We come together in times like this and we want to make sure that they have a speedy and quick recovery from their financial and in many cases, personal loss.

I started laughing and crying at the same time. I’m glad I was stopped at one of the few working stop lights in Nassau County because I think I might have lost control of the car otherwise.

financial and in many cases, personal loss.”

Dozens of people are dead. And Mitt Romney is hoping we recover from our financial loss before he even mentions those killed, or the people running out of food, water, gas, and prescription medicine. There’s a water treatment plant that serves 500,000 people that’s teetering on the edge of shutting down. But, hey! Mitt Romney is sorry for your financial loss! Doesn’t that make you feel better?

P.S. If you live on Long Island or in Queens and you want to help, here’s some places I know that need it:

Long Island Cares of Freeport Food Pantry at 84 Pine Street in Freeport needs baby diapers, infant formula, cereal, fruit cups, fruit juice, and other kinds of ready to eat food (granola bars, cans or pouches of tuna fish, peanut butter, crackers, etc). They are open Monday – Friday 8am – 4pm also this Saturday 11/3 and Sunday 11/4 only, they will be open from 9am – 12 noon.

Powhatan Democratic Club in Astoria

Donate: blankets, shirts, socks, sweaters, jackets, sneakers, Non-Perishable Food (such as Canned Soup, Canned Food)

Drop-off location: Powhatan Democratic Club 41-05 Newtown Road, Astoria Friday night 6:30pm-8:30pm
Saturday 1:30pm-4:30pm Sunday 12pm-3pm

The Merrick Fire Department is having a food/clothing drive for everyone in need. If you have items to donate you can go to: Friendship Firehouse, 2075 Meadowbrook Road, Merrick every day between 9 am and 9 pm.