Friday, December 30, 2011

Non-Catholic relatives and the "hard stuff"

My fiance and I are both converts to Catholicism. My family is a mix of non-practicing Catholic/Protestant while his is a mix of Protestant and Jewish. In addition, we both have friends on various journeys of faith. As we are both pretty orthodox in thinking and in practice, disbelief about our lifestyle does come up, as well as questions about our opinions on various topics. Because there often is a lack of understanding, sometimes, seemingly innocuous questions come off as endless at best and difficult at worst. How do we face it? Here are some tips.
  1. Don't assume everything is oppositional: Not every question requires a drawn out defense of Catholic teaching and practice. Most of the time, even cradle Catholics don't always understand aspects of Catholic living, especially when it comes to issues of morality. When it comes to living out the Church's teachings on sexuality, for example, people may have an image of the Duggars or another extremely conservative family with many children, a stay-at-home mom who homeschools, where girls aren't encouraged to have a career, etc.* They may not understand that it is possible to live a modern lifestyle while also obeying the Church's teachings.
  2. Be honest about what you don't know: As a convert, I had to do a lot of intense study in order to figure out whether Catholicism was right for me. As such, I often am the "Catholic resource" for both Catholic and non-Catholic family and friends. However, there is still much I don't know. I can't pretend to be an expert on everything and I know that people don't expect me to be. Also, honesty may encourage others to look up different things themselves so that they can better understand.
  3. Laugh it off: While we may know our faith pretty well, some aspects of Catholicism seem downright strange to people. Whether it's our stereotype about "no sex but drink as much as you want"**, taking your temperature every day and analyzing your body to decide when it's OK to have sex, why the old ladies still put Kleenex on their heads, and why, out of all our strict morals, timeliness is not one of them, we seem absolutely crazy. Laughing it off and noting that, "We Catholics can be crazy some times" helps break tension and puts all parties at ease. It also gives us humility: while it's not easy having to explain so much about our faith, it's also not easy to see your otherwise intelligent son/daughter/friend make decisions that drive you batty.
  4. Preach always, use words if necessary: Often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, this quote serves as a reminder to be a good example without getting preachy. No one wants to hear long-winded explanations about the origin of misconceptions and why one has to be stupid to believe them without looking at sources. That's both condescending and arrogant, two things no self-respecting Christian should become. What helps is to live our lives according to the Gospel and to be compassionate and understanding while living with integrity. That impresses people and inspires them. Another way to look at it is that you attract more with honey than with vinegar.
  5. Acknowledge faults: Yes, the child abuse scandal is horrible. Yes, clergy and laity alike have done horrible, horrible things in the name of God/Jesus/the Holy Mother/the Church. Yes, women were oppressed, leaders did endorse slavery of Africans/Native Americans, Muslims/Jews/Protestants/non-believers were burned at the stake on orders from Catholic leaders. No, a torn mother should not have been excommunicated for seeking an abortion for her nine-year-old little girl who was raped by her stepfather and pregnant with twins (if anything, the rapist should have been excommunicated). Yes, the Rwandan Hutu priests who had all their Tutsi parishioners killed during the genocide were in the wrong. We can still believe our Church is true, point out misconceptions and defend our teachings while admitting that those who worked for or otherwise represented our faith have done horrible things. One virtue we stress, even to the point of having a Sacrament for, is accountability. I do not apologize for acts I have not committed personally so, no, it's not my responsibility to atone for those sins. At the same time, I will not pretend the earthly representation of the Church is blameless. It is a sin to lie.
  6. Sometimes, you just can't discuss it: Even if people agree with you on everything else, there are certain issues that are just extremely touchy. Yes, I'm talking about sex again. While I'm willing to discuss my choices if people are simply curious and want some education, I'm not going to answer snide comments or extreme emotion, especially when I have a tendency to get really emotional about certain topics. I understand that I will probably never see eye to eye with my family and friends on most things related to sex and fertility. On those issues, I simply have to do what my fiance and I think is best for ourselves, each other and our relationship with God. Other people may not understand and that's OK.
  7. The choice to convert sets you apart: I'm guessing that, when our parents held us in their arms on the days we were born, neither set dreamed, "Maybe, one day, he/she is going to become a Catholic and do great things for God!" While our families did leave the choice of religious practice up to us, they never imagined that Catholicism would factor in. My dad jokes that it was my "teenage rebellion" whereas others, while they appreciate the significance it has for us, still scratch their heads about it. In our society, religion is still seen as something chosen for you by your parents while the image of liberal, intellectually curious people is seen as tied to secularist beliefs. Especially as I tend to espouse a politically progressive stance and come off as a strident feminist, people often get confused when they find out I espouse traditional Catholic beliefs as well. While, in the eyes of serious, educated Catholics, orthodoxy can go with liberal politics and an egalitarian perspective on gender, they don't seem to blend well in the eyes of others. Again, a lengthy lesson in apologetics is not the answer. People do have misconceptions and may be shocked that you'd choose the faith. Be gentle
  8. Pray, hope, and don't worry: Padre Pio was onto something when he said this. It's natural to want others to share in your faith and the joy that it gives you. However, worrying about your loved ones' salvation, constantly bringing up faith related matters, and trying to get people to agree with you is just not going to work. You believe God is an omnipotent being, right? Leave those concerns to Him. He'll take care of it.
Living the faith is not easy. All you can do is be the best example you can be and pray to God for the rest.

Genetic Counseling-OK for Catholics?

This post is more personal than anything else. I'll admit, I have not consulted the Catechism or USCCB (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) about this, so if you're looking for something more official, this isn't it. However, as my fiance and I both carry an interesting set of genetics, it's been suggested by friends and family that we undergo genetic counseling. I've come to the conclusion that such can be licit for Catholics, as long as it's for knowledge only.

I would like to undergo it, simply to understand the health history of our families better. If we are carrying risks for certain disorders, knowing how likely we are to pass certain traits can help me better prepare if we did have a child with any of those disorders. For me, it would be like learning that your child has Down's Syndrome (in the womb). It would help me better prepare for the future and learn what resources exist for children with different disorders. This would help me understand whether I'd likely have to stay home (as opposed to taking maternity leave and returning to work), hire medical attendants, or figure out special education, as well as how early a child I have can be tested for certain things.

However, there are certain recommendations I'd never be able to take as a Catholic. One, I can't decide to simply not have children if I'm married. While I am allowed to use fertility awareness as a method of birth control, I still have to enter into marriage open to having a biological child (so, no, I can't get sterilized and neither can my husband). If I happen to not have children by mere circumstance, I'm not obligated to put in extra effort (whether through pills or adoption). I simply have to be open-regardless of what my genetics tell me.

I also cannot terminate a pregnancy. As a Catholic, that's self-explanatory. While I do have options if my life and the baby's life were in danger (and the doctors can only save me), I can't directly kill a child within my womb. This isn't simply religious teaching for me, it's an ethical one. While some may say it's more merciful or that you can't expect parents to change their lives so drastically, it's not an acceptable decision for me. Every life is worth living and, in an age where people with disabilities can live longer, happier, productive lives than ever before, there really is no excuse for certain disorders. Also, a child or adult can become disabled later in life. The difference here is that I'd have time to prepare and make arrangements.

In addition, I can't go through extraordinary means to have a kid. Assisted reproductive technologies (different from treatments that simply stimulate ovaries or increase sperm production) are also not allowed for any reason. Some genetic counselors suggest in vitro fertilization so that only healthy embryos would be selected for implantation. As in vitro is forbidden and it would mean that unhealthy embryos would be destroyed, I can't licitly choose that as an option.

It sounds like there are a lot of restraints for me to plan a family, even with genetic counseling. However, choosing to have a child is a sign of hope for the future. I would have my child regardless of whether or not he or she had disabilities. I choose to love any child that comes into my house, biologically or not, simply because I believe that there is a future for anyone who lives on this planet. At the same time, with this love, I'd choose to be prepared so that I could be the best parent I could be. So, yes, I do think genetic counseling can be licit for Catholic couples, so long as they abide by moral responsibilities in terms of family planning.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

In a Catholic wedding......

The things the Church could care less about:

1. Whether or not you change your name: Women are not obligated to change their family names in the Catholic Church. In fact, Catholic documents feature the name a woman was born with, regardless of whether or not she changes her name. In Latin American cultures, women actually keep their names and couples pass both on to their children. If you want to change your name, change it, but you don't have to.

2. What color dress you wear: White dresses do not mean the woman is a virgin. In fact, in our society, most women wear them whether or not they are virgins or otherwise committed to chastity. It was a custom made popular by a queen and most Catholics didn't wear white simply because they could not afford it. If you want to wear a white dress, fine, but it isn't mandated by any Catholic tradition. Wear any color dress you want. Just make sure it's modest.

3. Being "given away": Contrary to popular belief, women are NOT given away in Catholic weddings. The bride and groom are ministers of the Sacrament, which means the priest is simply witnessing (he does perform a Sacramental role in consecrating the Eucharist if you have a Mass but during the vows, it's all the bride and groom). While the Church lets fathers escort the bride or parents escort both spouses if that's what they choose, they would actually prefer for the bride and groom to walk together. Marriage should be a free choice made by both spouses so being "given away" runs contrary to our beliefs.

4. Men being "providers": The Church leaves the choice up to the couple. In his encyclical Mulieribus Dignitatem, JP2 praised women who had careers. While a couple needs to be open to having children and we do have teachings regarding abortion and contraception (no on abortion and only NFP as birth control), the choices about how to raise a family are left to the couple. If man working, woman staying at home works for a couple/family, that's fine. If not, that's fine too. You have to do what you're called to do and that choice is going to be different for each couple.

5. If you like sex: Actually, the Church wants you to like sex, so long as it's not illicit sex. You can use natural methods of birth control (they do work, as long as you're using it properly/no cheating, though none is 100% and you have to be very diligent). Outside of that, as long as you're not degrading your spouse or violating commandments (such as adultery-so no threesomes or "open marriages"), do whatever you want. The Song of Songs is in the Bible, right? Besides, if God didn't want us to enjoy sex, why is it the hardest thing to wait till you're actually married to make love to your spouse?

6. Engagement rings: Again, that's a society thing. It may actually be more responsible to not buy an engagement ring, due to vicious mineral conflicts and the state of the economy. I do have an heirloom ring and he also has a ring (a manly Catholic one, too). What, men can't wear engagement rings too? Show me the exact verse in the Bible or Catechism/piece of Canon Law. I don't think any Pope has made an infallible statement.

7. Needing to finance a huge shindig: Like engagement rings, it may actually be more responsible to not have a huge party. Should you be reasonably stable? Yes, that would be prudent. I don't want to be living paycheck to paycheck. I also don't think I should wait till I can afford a designer gown and an open bar (besides, I don't want people getting drunk at my wedding). Also, people get so swept up in luxury and elaborate plans that they forget the actual significance. If you don't have a ton of money, you can still have a beautiful and simple ceremony. In fact, it may be more profound than one swept in luxury.

Harsh words or tough love?

When my future spouse and I went to Mass over the summer, the priest spoke of how people should not expect to simply do what they want in terms of getting married in the Church or baptizing their babies (like changing key words in vows, using music not suitable, or having people who don't meet basic criteria serve as godparents). He even went as far as to say, "No, you're a narcissist," when describing the attitudes. At first, I thought he was harsh but now, while I wouldn't come out and say someone is a narcissist, I feel I understand his frustration. At a time when 2/3 of Catholics don't even know the fundamentals of their faith and most simply "go through the motions" when it comes to Sacraments, I think a bit of tough love is needed.

It's not necessarily the fault of the parishioners. They can't be blamed for a couple generations of poor Catholic education. However, I do think we have the responsibility of changing the way we handle Sacraments in most parishes. When it comes to such enormous steps as marriage and the baptism of one's child, people need to be prepared. I think that, when a couple comes to a priest with either request, a conversation about the couple's faith, motivations, and knowledge should take place. If a couple needs to work on any, I'd recommend that they take an accelerated course on Catholicism in addition to pre-marriage and pre-baptism classes. I also believe a couple should be active in the parish and develop their spiritual lives. If they're not willing to do this, they shouldn't be allowed to get married in the Catholic Church and they shouldn't raise their kids Catholic.

Of course, when you mention this, people say, "But they should be happy! It's their choice!" No one is stopping these people from "being happy." If they want to get married, they can do so in a civil ceremony. They can have kids and have whatever secular ceremony they feel appropriate (some couples do secular naming ceremonies for their kids). However, Catholic Sacraments are rites, not rights, of passage and come with responsibilities to God as well as to the community. When you commit to one person in marriage in the Catholic Church, you are promising to help that person get into heaven and you're promising to uphold Christ's command for marriage. That's not something you can take lightly. When you have your baby baptized in the Church, you're promising to keep that child away from evil and help them on their path to God (you're also making sure your child is bound to Catholic teaching). If you can't do these things or don't even believe in these things, why would you do them?

Marriage and raising families are both adult decisions. The decisions you make about either of these things need to be ones you are willing to follow through on, regardless of what others say. You need to be able to do both for the right reasons. If you don't believe in the significance behind the Sacraments of both, why would you be dishonest with yourself and go through with them? People need to be honest about what they believe and if all they see in the Church is an opportunity for a party and a pretty backdrop, as well as an excuse to avoid Grandma's guilt trips, then no, they shouldn't be allowed to go through with such an enormous step within the building. The Church will guide you if you seek it, but it won't bend over backward for you. If you can't make yourself believe in the core teachings, that's fine. Just have a little integrity when you're planning the biggest events of your life.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Empowered, Female, and Catholic

I am here to proclaim that yes, I am empowered, female and Catholic and that I intend to take over the world with nothing less than my charming smile. OK, I'm slightly kidding (about the charming smile part) but I do intend to live my life, a life pleasing to God and full of adventure, with or without everyone else's commentary.

It never ceases to amazed me that people's definition of "female empowerment' consists of conforming to someone else's norms. As a Catholic and a feminist, I feel I hear no end to it. First, I get criticism for wanting a traveling career, then I get criticism for being young and engaged (in what people see as a fairly young relationship). I get criticism for following the Church's teachings, yet for not necessarily wanting a "traditional" wedding and emphasizing egalitarian principles, values, and symbols. I just don't understand.

It amazes me that we tell our kids to break the norm, to not be like everyone else and that following the crowd can be dangerous ("If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?), yet, as adults, we interrogate those who choose not to conform. The sad thing is, most of these decisions we criticize are decisions that really have no effect and certainly no harm on the general population and usually, they are also personal decisions. For me, I choose to break the norm about certain things because I have been forced to consider what my values are and, if something does not reflect them or contradicts them, I am not maintaining a superficial image to please people. I still have to walk with integrity and do what's best by God, myself, and my future family.

The fact that I do make these choices makes me empowered. I refuse to let the crowd dictate my decisions, even if some members of that crowd are people I love very much. I believe in God, I believe that He gave us His Son and His Church, I also believe He made male and female in His image (Her image?), equal before Him. I've vowed to live my life, my vocation of marriage, and my career according to these principles. Why should the small things in my life not follow?

If I didn't truly believe in these ideals, I would not choose it. As I have, however, no one can say that it wasn't my choice.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

My pet peeves as a woman

1. Any comment made about my body: Seriously, when did my figure become like the weather? Positive or negative, no comment is needed unless from my spouse as a compliment or from my doctor as a concern. If it's good, well, I'd rather you compliment my mind. If it's bad, do what your mama says, "If you can't say anything nice, zip it".

2. "You look like you're in high school!" : Any comment about me looking younger pisses me off. When you're young, no one takes you seriously and either treats you like a little kid or a piece of ass. As someone who worked her ass off to get through college, it makes me want to spit in your face. I've spent my entire life working to be defined as more than just my face and it makes me hate being both young and female. No, I don't want to look younger when I'm older. Older women are gorgeous and they're taken seriously. Besides, I've got my man and I won him over in jeans and a T-shirt, if you're really that concerned. Again, zip it.

3. "How will you have a family?" : Would you ask a man this question? Absolutely not. My family decisions lie between me, God, and my (soon to be) husband, who, by the way, is completely supportive of my ideas. I would love to have kids one day and I do want to do what's best for them. At the same time, I fail to see how following my dreams makes me selfish, especially if it allows me to teach my kids that, yes, there is a world out there. Besides, in this economy, it's vital.

4. Any criticism about my wedding plans: If you think I'm wearing a dress that prevents me from using the toilet by myself, you're messed up. If I am neither 3 nor 93, nor in a serious accident or ill, I will continue to using the toilet by myself. I'm sorry ladies, it creeps me out that this is socially acceptable. In addition, why is it a big deal if I wear a white dress? I am an orthodox Catholic, that's all you need to know about my sex life. You wouldn't ask my husband about his or demand he show his purity. Again, me, hubby, God. Take a note from Salt 'n' Pepa and remember that it's none of your business.

5. References to the state of my womb: If I'm pissed, I'm pissed and it has nothing to do with the state of my endometrial lining. I don't say a guy is pissed because he's not getting any or because his testosterone is too high. Further, if you're the one pissing me off, it's your fault I'm angry. I am emotional but I also come by it honestly and both males and females in my family are. It has nothing to do with the time of the month. In addition, everyone gets pissed once in awhile. We are only human.

6. Assumptions made about desires for children: Yes, I want them. Only two. Maybe three (if I adopt a foster kid). People fail to understand, I work with 27 of them. I love them dearly. At the same time, they make me realize that I am not ready for parenthood. I love children. I am just not ready for the sleepless nights, the fights, the never being able to take your eyes of them, and the constant fear of something happening to them. I also am not in a good place financially. I also want time to get used to being married. We also want to travel, go to school, and do stuff. It doesn't mean I'm not following my faith, it doesn't mean I'm not feminine. I just think it's irresponsible to become a parent when we have things we want to do and when we're not in a good place to support them.

7. Being treated differently: I'm not talking about politeness, I think we should support that. I also like it when my companion gets my chair for me. However, don't call me things like, "Little lady," "Sweetie," and "Honey" if you don't know me, that's creepy/condescending. Don't touch me for any reason if you're not close to me. Don't change my title just because of my age and marital status (if a guy gets to stay "Mr." or "Sir", why can't I be "Ma'am" or "Ms."?). Don't think that a ring is the only thing stopping you from treating me like a human being. Also, if you touch me and I don't know you/like you, I will kick your ass. And you will cry.

8. "Don't make such a big deal!": We make up over 50% of the population and we're still under oppression, everywhere we go. We always have to worry about rape and other forms of sexual and violent attack. We do most of the world's work, yet own the least property and make the least pay. We never get political representation and the most uneducated clerics (of all faiths) treat us as servants and agents of sin. Women's health gets overlooked just about everywhere, women's education lags all over the world, and girls are still sold as property or killed at or before birth just for having XX chromosomes. Damned straight, I'm going to make a big deal out of it.

9. "You're pretty, you'll find someone": Or really, anything about "you're pretty." It doesn't and shouldn't matter. Health should matter, because it's your health. Beauty fades or can be easily destroyed by either accident or illness. What matters is my mind, my character. Obviously, I have nothing to worry about, I found someone who values exactly that. The problem is, this assumption makes it seem like men value nothing other than a hot airhead. That does a disservice not only to women, but to men as well. Men do value beauty but the secret is, that applies to inner beauty. This stereotype not only blocks women, it blocks men. How sad is that?

10. Comparing a woman to her friends/sisters: Divide and conquer is an apt proverb here. There is nothing that makes a woman hate other women (and, consequently, herself) more than making her feel she's inadequate. Whether it's not being pretty enough, not having the boobs, the butt, or the ability to win guys with little more than a smile, this is a surefire way to distract women and keep them focused on petty issues. Point? It doesn't and shouldn't matter. Besides, I bet the really pretty girls get tired of not being taken seriously and the girl who gets all the guys may not be that happy.

I am first, a human being

I am happy to be female. I don't deny that I am made in God's image and I don't mind the way I was designed. However, I hate it when people act like my womanhood comes before my personhood. If even St. Paul (who did not argue against defined gender roles) could say that, in the end, there is no male or female, that is how I will live.

My womanhood does not and should not limit my ability to do things, such as travel. My womanhood should not mean that my desires to both have a career and a family are conflicting. My womanhood should not mean that, despite my hard work and education, I receive less payment than a man, yet still pay more for services such as haircuts, health care and dry cleaning. My womanhood should not mean that I have to constantly look over my shoulder, for fear of rape. My womanhood should not mean that my chances of political representation are five times less than the population of people identifying as female. My womanhood should not mean my dreams for the future are limited to a white dress. My womanhood should not mean that insults against me are so terrible, so obscene, you can't say them on TV.

It's hard being feminist and Catholic because, at times, I feel that the world is against me. No one understands why I fight so hard for equality, something I see so little of, despite how far we've come. At the same time, no one understands why I myself would hold to conservative standards. What they don't realize is that these are equally my choices. The only thing I've asked for my entire life is to be taken seriously and treated like a free agent, wherever I am and by whomever I meet. I ask that because, like everyone else, I am a human being, made in the image and likeness of God, saved by the blood of Christ and deserving of everything that a man deserves simply because St. Paul was right. There is nothing that separates us before God.

So, why does so much separate me from other human beings?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The body

A woman's life is tied to her body in a way that a man's simply isn't. People are always analyzing our bodies-whether or not they're beautiful, attractive, healthy (looking) enough to bear a child. It's no secret that our rites of passage involve what I like to call the four M's-menstruation, marriage, motherhood, and menopause. Even today, when we are encouraged to be well educated, have careers and have at least lip service to a political voice (female politicians being treated as they are in the media), the focus is always on the body. Advertisements, celebrity gossip, the well meaning advice of our mothers all still focus on the body.

Yet, when it comes to actually caring for the body, we fall short. Much like a woman's political voice, people pay lip service to the need for better health, especially better women's health but how much of that is actually encouraged? For example, for mothers who just gave birth, especially if they are breastfeeding, doctors advise a slow weight loss. Yet, when a female celebrity gives birth, she's almost encouraged to lose all the weight. How many, "New mom loses 30 pounds in the first month" stories have you seen? Of course, the magazines will sound concerned-until a mom actually doesn't lose the weight like that and they're like, "She admits to letting herself go."

"Letting herself go," my ass. She just gave birth! That's not letting yourself go, that's letting yourself recover! Of course, motherhood is no excuse in our society, we're still expected to be rail thin. Actually, skinny's taking me somewhere. I'm thin. How many times have I heard, "Oh, you're thin! You don't need exercise or healthy foods!" So, because I look small, I don't need to be fit or healthy? Yet, when a woman is larger, even if she DOES eat right and exercise, she faces no end to the criticism. It could be the one day she eats ice cream but, when she does, people are horrified. I could eat ice cream every day, feel like crap, and have the stamina of a 90-year-old woman yet because my body conforms to society, that's OK. Never mind that, even among skinny college kids, they are finding problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other issues people don't think of until you hit your forties. For this, I don't think the issue should just be an "obesity" crisis, it should be a "health" crisis.

Or fertility. Take "control" of your life, even if that "control" means pills that increase your risk of heart attacks, liver problems, and breast cancer, as well as, apparently, making women vulnerable to AIDS. Even if it means horribly invasive surgery that has risk of complications and puts you up for over a month. Even if it means we're the ones bearing the brunt of the responsibility. Even if it means fewer choices when we actually do become pregnant and give birth and stigma no matter what choice you make (I'm not even touching abortion, adoption, single parenthood here-just things like breast vs. bottle or home vs. hospital!). Even if it means doctors who are well-meaning but horribly misguided and who, at some level, have to look after themselves even at the expense of our health.

I'm not even going to get started on the various aspects of the media, sexual preferences or issues like that. The fact of the matter is, this is a huge scourge on our society. A woman's body, like a man's, is a temple. A temple that should be respected, honored, venerated because within that temple contains something more precious: the soul. At the end of the day, the soul is what matters. We need to start acting like it does.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My feminism

I do identify as a feminist. I believe that, world wide, women should have choices. I deserve the rights to pursue education, a career path, money based on my merits alone, protection from violence and fear of harm, and to pursue and form my own friendships and family. I deserve the right to practice my faith, to speak out on issues, and to be treated as a human being, without fear of any sort of retribution. However, aspects of my feminism are variable and don't conform to any sort of model.

I do believe that people should not face persecution for their sexual identity or choices (unless those choices involve a non-consenting partner, that is). I believe homophobia and corresponding bullying/acts of violence are reprehensible. I don't care what people do with their partners. That's their decision. However, I'll admit, I'm not completely condoning. For example, I think promiscuity (irrespective of identity) is irresponsible. In a society that worries about STI's, HIV, and cervical cancer, even protection can't make up for the increased risk. I'll admit, regardless of gender or sexual identity, I think it's selfish and represents and attitude of consumerism with regard to people. We're human beings, not cars to test drive or clothes to try on before you by them. Save that shit for a commitment!

With regard to abortion: I'll admit, I'm pro-choice with regard to desperate circumstances. Rape, incest, life threatening medical complications, impending poverty, excessive youth (see rape and incest for that one) are all circumstances in which I would deem it a necessary evil. Believe me, I don't want the back alley to come back. Nor do I want women to die or face serious complications (mentally, financially, physically) because of a pregnancy. At the same time, I don't think it's right willy-nilly. Yes, the men need to step it up in terms of support. Yes, we need fair policies. I agree with that. Yes, we need more education. No, I don't think late-term abortions are OK (unless really life threatening and the baby isn't viable at all). I know, most people don't like it/want it, and I'm not saying that. However, hearing about the twin selection abortions (where mom decides, "Oh, I'll just have one") or a recent article in which a mom confessed to, "not wanting to move to a cheaper zip code," I have to wonder. I'm not sure this is a direction I want our society going into.

I just can't jump as easily on board with what other feminists authors would claim as feminist sexuality. Part of that is my Catholicism, which I adhere to pretty strictly. At the same time, it's not even about what people do different from me. Like I said, I don't care if a friend has a same-sex partner or that sort of thing (I won't do likewise but it's between them and God). I just can't embrace a vision of sexuality that reduces us to fifteen minutes. Nor can I embrace a vision of bodily autonomy that puts me at war with my offspring.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fertility Awareness and an Interfaith Dialogue

I had learned of fertility awareness in my first foray into Catholicism. When I was converting, I knew that Catholics couldn't use artificial birth control but they could use a natural method. For a long time, I wanted to learn about it, as well. However, my period in Kenya made me question, as I ended up using the pill to help my periods and loved it so much, I figured I'd just stay on it. In addition, seeing women in poverty with eight kids-including one nursing baby and one in utero-made me a tad protective of my lady parts. Of course, then I couldn't take the pill anymore because my doctor was concerned over my liver and then I fell in love with a wonderful Catholic man. I was still nervous, because I didn't really trust condoms (18 instructions-you really going to follow them in the heat of the moment?) and felt I was unprotected. Then, I did my research.

Lo and behold, Planned Parenthood and the University of Maryland both supported Catholic sources saying that fertility awareness methods were effective-as long as you and your spouse (yes, both of you) were diligent. One of my married friends sent me a copy of Taking Charge of Your Fertility (written by a non-Catholic woman who doesn't feel any moral qualms about premarital sex or the use of barriers on fertile days) as well as some charts and a basal body thermometer. I was reading the book on the metro when a Muslim lady approached me and told me, "Oh, that book is awesome! I've been married ten months and it WORKS!!!!!!!!!!"


We had a wonderful conversation about marriage and ended up exchanging numbers. I have to tell you, this woman did me such an act of mercy. Unfortunately, even most Catholics would tell me to use birth control. My own family doesn't know too much about it-my mom once told me it was for couples who need help getting pregnant. Others will say, "What do you call a couple who uses natural birth control? Parents!" Or, "abstention? That's too much to ask of a man!"

Yet, after that conversation and perusal through this book, I too am falling in love. I can actually know what's happening in my body, prevent AND achieve pregnancies, not have any side effects, not spend money (except on software to keep track and on a class, if I feel it necessary), AND my guy HAS to cooperate. I can't imagine a better form of birth control.

My body, my choice. :D

Saturday, October 1, 2011

So, How Did It Happen?

I spent most of my college years thinking my life would be one of travel, a glamourous career, and one spent mostly by myself. If I married at all, it would be later in life, perhaps with adopted children, as I'd be too old to give birth (much like a beloved relative of mine, may he rest in peace). The kind of guy I'd fall for would be likely Catholic, as I still adhere to my faith, yet also somewhat of a hippie. He'd be daring and adventurous, willing to go mountain climbing and surfing with me in dangerous parts of the world. In the quieter aspects of our life, we'd make lattes, do yoga, and play music at open mics. He'd likely be of some type of Mediterranean, as I tended to fall for them, the kind that cooks and enjoys good food, kisses everyone with enthusiasm, has no qualms about alcohol (OK, the northern/mostly Christian Mediterranean type), and has long wild dark hair.

And then God laughed. Hard.

I ended up in a serious relationship my senior year of college. How serious? We announced our engagement very recently. Recently meaning, after six months together. Barely two months after I turned twenty-two. And, while my guy is handsome, intelligent, as much of an urbanite and a willing traveler as I am, he so does not fit the stereotype I just laid out for you. Like me, he has Italian blood, but looks more like the Irish and Scots in his ancestry, with beautiful blue eyes (everyone else had brown eyes). He tends to reserve his affection for people close to him, enjoys good food but wants to learn to cook, isn't a fan of most alcohol, and wears his hair short. He does go to the gym but if I suggest we do yoga together, he looks at me funny. He has many talents but his creativity shows up more in writing and in thought, while my open mic performances will likely remain solo endeavors (once I have time for them). He does enjoy a good chai latte every now and again. Hikes, I could see us doing. Climbing Mount Kenya? Maybe, if we could afford it. Surfing? We like beaches. However, our Italian genes did NOT give us the olive skin they gave to our fathers.

Yet, even though it wasn't what I expected, I'm happy. I had known my companion for a good two years before we ended up together and liked him then. He balances me out in so many ways. For example, while I'm pretty fiery and explosive, he is calm and gentle. While my emotions are tied to my work and my politics, he can detach more easily to analyze situations. While I critique some aspects of my faith, he reminds me why I love it in the first place. We have similar goals and are happy with settling down in the city we love. We love each other, as well as each other's families and friends. The thought of spending my life with him doesn't scare me like marriage did even just last year. Rather, it comforts me.

No longer will it be only my life, but his as well. As such, we will now discuss our adventures on our mutual blog. Check us out at Urban Catholic and follow us to the ends of the earth!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Are You Two Living Together?"

That's a question that's come up pretty frequently. When you're in a serious relationship and thinking about the future, it seems like the natural next step in society. Of course, my companion and I are not. Personally, we're both pretty traditional about that and have decided we can't until marriage. Now, if it was a month beforehand and someone was going to be homeless, the other person would obviously make allowances but no, we're not going to. For this year anyway, I live in a small house (with five other people) and he is finishing school while living on-campus and, even if that weren't our situation, we would not live together.

The main thing is, we do want to follow our faith (something we both chose) and honor our commitment to abstain till marriage (yeah, folks, it's doable but insanely hard as is). Living together would make it harder, even if we were sleeping in separate rooms. Just think about it, even if you're not in the same bedroom, it's still just the two of you, seeing each other get out of the shower, in your PJ's, lots of opportunities to snuggle on the couch......come on, if none of that tempts you, you're probably dead. Waiting is already hard and I've come close to falling several times. Why make it harder?

Faith and traditional morals aside, what if, after all that, it didn't end up working? Breaking up is tough for many couples, can you imagine paying money to break the lease, as well as needing to cough up first/last month's rent and a security deposit, as well as a lease fee and an application fee? Not to mention the stress of moving your stuff out. I know moving already stresses me out. I can't imagine this scenario. I've known both married (but obviously separated) and unmarried couples who've gone through this. Not for me.

Also, if I were to live with someone, without making a serious commitment, to me, that would put the idea of, "well, one of us could just leave," in my subconscious. To me, if I am going to move in with someone, share my daily life with him and he with me, there's no turning back. If you're moving in with me, then you better be prepared to stand with me before God, the law, and all of our family and friends and make a commitment that binds you till the day one of us dies. Because, by the point I'm ready to live with you, I've already decided to love you till the day I die.

Twin Reduction/Selective Reduction

So recently, the NY Times published an article about twin reduction. Of course, with IVF pregnancies, the term "selective reduction" (aborting some babies because there's a lot of them and it would be very high risk to carry them) has been around for awhile. But now, reducing a twin pregnancy to a single pregnancy is becoming a trend. In the article, it mentioned women who remarried later and were hoping for one baby, who didn't want to deal with two teens in their 60's, etc. Something about the article just made my skin crawl.

I'm pro-choice, but in the sense that I think abortion is a necessary evil. I don't like the idea of killing babies, but I also don't want girls cutting themselves up, drinking poisons, or having someone beat them up and cause serious injuries. Also, in cases of rape, incest, mother's health, I think it should be an option. Further, I don't feel it's really my business to tell another woman whether or not she's ready to have a baby.

However, I also don't like the idea that children are commodities and that we can engineer them to be who we want them to be. Aborting a pregnancy because you're really struggling or because something bad happened to you makes sense because you're choosing between two less than ideal situations. Aborting a twin in a healthy pregnancy, where you're otherwise stable, just because you didn't want to deal with extra work sounds callous to me. What will your kid say if you tell them that? It would make sense if their twin was dying but not if their twin was healthy.

For me, it's the same reason aborting babies with Down's Syndrome makes me uncomfortable (since now, more than ever, they have a chance to live happy, healthy, and fulfilled lives). It's the same reason aborting a baby who happens to be a certain gender makes me uncomfortable. Where do we draw the line? Are we going to abort babies who don't look a certain way (which we may be able to know, with increasing technology)? Who don't possess a certain talent? Are we going to turn into Gattaca, where it was looked down on to conceive naturally, for fear it would be genetically inferior?

Of course, some feminists will say, "If you're pro-choice, you have to be for every choice." I don't necessarily agree with that. We're all at different points and there are ways we draw the line. I am pro-choice because I do think there are situations where abortion may be justified and I don't think mothers or doctors should be arrested. However, I think doctors should have ethical guidelines when it comes to anything fertility related. These are babies and potential babies we're talking about. They are not new pairs of shoes, shades of lipstick, or cute handbags. It's one thing to want to plan your family responsibly and to have to make a difficult choice, because of your finances, health, or any other children you may have. It's quite another to decide that you can't love a particular child because it will interfere with your lifestyle somehow. Parenting is hard work, whether single babies or twins, special needs or not (barring ones where pregnancy could pose a huge threat to both mom and baby), boys or girls. If you're not up to it for one, you're not up to it at all.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Oy, veh.........I know I should read the news, but I really don't want to

The only thing so far that has made me smile in the news was reading about how Health and Human Services has finally made gains for women's health, by mandating that insurance companies must cover birth control, breast pumps, counseling for domestic violence, prenatal care, and cancer screenings. Finally! You want us all to be mommies? Make it affordable. I think our peeps are starting to understand that.

In other news.......we're losing our standing which is a bit frightening. Does that mean it's going to be harder for me to find a job? Even though I have a college degree, make it a point to learn languages, and have some programming skills, as well as experience domestically and internationally? Is it going to be hard for my companion to find a job? I know we've got a buffer year, between my year of volunteer service and his last year of college. At the same time, we do have the future to think about.

It angers me that politicians put their own agendas ahead of the needs of their constituents. Their chutzpah (a word some of them can't even say) with regard to "family values" infuriates me. Not only does it bother me that they're willing to discriminate against good friends of mine, it bothers me that the policies they support create immense obstacles for me to start my own. and to plan it responsibly. It bothers me that I hear all this rhetoric of "support the troops" yet, when we were on the verge of default, they didn't seem concerned with the fact that our men and women in dangerous places might not even see a paycheck. It bothers me that none of the "tough on crime" rhetoric seems compatible with preventing crime by strengthening our schools and providing employment. Further, cheap shots at preventative health care, provisions for our elderly, and volunteer programs that provide young people with skills, work, and passion for their communities just make me wonder where their civic commitment is.

Don't even get me started on their claiming Christianity. I don't like the idea of denying anyone Holy Communion but, if you're gonna deny it to somebody, choose these dudes.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Faith and the rest of the world

Today, I received an interesting comment about my faith. I was at my previous job, meeting a coworker today and another coworker had seen the stack of books in my hand. One of them was Karen Armstrong's book The Bible. As soon as my other coworker had examined the books I was carrying, she gave me the following,

"Wow, you must really trust this lady to interpret the Bible for you."

Then, she followed up with how she's never read the Bible.

I'll admit, I became defensive and responded by saying that I'm perfectly capable of reading and interpreting the Bible myself. However, looking back, I have to smile a bit. Here she was, assuming that I must rely on others' Biblical interpretations without coming up with my own, yet admitting ignorance. Of course, I should have asked her, why is this a mark of pride? In a nation and world of intense religious debate, not to mention a plethora of religious influence (in governmental policies, rock music, attitudes about morality and social justice), doesn't that mark you as slightly unprepared? Further, in an age where people need evidence for everything and place a high value on education, why would ignorance of any kind be a good thing? Also, how can you even formulate an opinion if you choose to be ignorant?

Of course, with all of this in mind, I will admit that most of us people of faith will rely on another's interpretation of our scriptures to some degree. Why else do we accept the way our religious services run or embrace certain morals and customs? At the same time, this does not excuse anyone for ignorance. Most religions encourage study and meditation of their holy works and there is plenty of room for interpretation. Our interpretations allow us to discern and make decisions about our lives. We may consult a cleric for questions and advice, yet we have to decide how we can best live in light of our faith. We keep other opinions in mind, but we have to sort through all of them in order to formulate our own.

Sadly, we live in a world where having faith is akin to being at best, an uneducated peon and at worst, an intolerant warmonger. Most religions are meant to be positive forces of change in the world. However, it takes education, skill, confidence, and good will, in order to make that change, regardless of what you choose to believe. Having faith is not the problem. Malevolence, apathy, and willful ignorance are. It's sad that people feel that they can accomplish so much with that very last one.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Thank You, Planned Parenthood!

Over the years, my thoughts about Planned Parenthood have been very conflicted. I always felt uneasy with even the slightest association with abortion, even if they otherwise do great work (sex ed, parenting and adoption referrals, GLBT issues, etc). Of course, after realizing that I am pro-choice, my feelings started to change. I realized that, even if I myself do not agree with abortion, I do like that many of their efforts are bent on reducing abortions. However, they did one great thing for me today. They made me realize it IS possible to adhere to my faith's birth control teachings.

Most people know that Catholics are not allowed artificial contraceptives. Of course, whether this is an outright ban or guidelines is up for debate. However, Catholics are encouraged to use Natural Family Planning to prevent pregnancy. NFP or Fertility Awareness Methods as they are sometimes called, involves closely and diligently tracking your menstrual cycle, to figure out when you are likely to ovulate. Now, women only ovulate a couple days each month, however, sperm can live in a woman's body for five days, so that means a week of not having sex. There are many different methods of tracking fertility, from taking your temperature, charting your cycle on a calendar, or checking fluids for differences. This is OK. However, typical use rates being 75% effective, noting that a lot of the sources I heard from were theologians, and knowing people who use it who have five or more kids didn't inspire a vote of confidence in me.

Yet, when I was reading Planned Parenthood's information, they noted that the effectiveness of Fertility Awareness is dependent on some factors. One, yes, your cycle needs to be regular. Two, it's better if you use multiple methods (taking your temp AND checking fluids AND charting on a calendar) but that also requires an extreme amount of diligence and cooperation from both partners (it helps if you're also monogamous :)). Three, the low effectiveness rate is due to lack of diligence more than anything and, if a combination of methods is used, effectiveness can be up to 99.6% (Phew!!!!). Four, things like breastfeeding can change your ability to read signs but at the same time, exclusive nursing for six months actually helps suppress fertility. Five, you have to be either disciplined enough to abstain for about ten days a month or be OK with using barrier methods (condoms, cervical caps, diaphragms, etc). Six, to actually learn these methods, both partners should take a class. All of this information can be found here.

I cannot tell you how relieved this made me. It's one thing to read from Catholic sources but they do have to say that. To hear this from doctors and professionals who are committed to affirming all women's choices gives me a huge vote of confidence. I had been a fan of it before but I at least wanted to use barriers as a back up. Of course, that choice is still up to me (hey, we do have a conscience clause, right?) but to know that I can use it and it can work by itself, so long as I'm diligent and committed helps me a lot. Obviously, I'd have to be extremely committed and my partner would have to be, but it's nice to know that I can prevent pregnancy and follow my faith's tenets at the same time.

It does bother me that many Catholics have so much animosity towards PP. They are not the type to simply push abortions and pills on women. They also encourage abstinence, obviously have information on NFP/FAM (and even recommend couples go to Catholic hospitals and churches to learn it), have information on body image and actually do help women who choose to raise kids or place them for adoption. Yes, like other organizations and institutions, they have their failings and coverups (which they do rectify) but, as Catholics, I'd like to think we'd understand something about that.

So, thanks again, Planned Parenthood! Thanks for affirming everyone's right to choose. And thanks for making it easier for me to be Catholic!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Don't wait for life to start

So, I have most of the summer to myself. My job has hired so many people, no one can be full time. Most of my friends have "real jobs" and are quite tired at the end of the day. My boyfriend works more hours than I do and, while he's certainly important, I cannot and should not make him my entertainer. Really, apart from looking at housing and some work days, I don't have that much to do. So, what do I do?

Well, I first try and clean up my space. I've found that I'm much more disciplined when my bed is made, my clothes are clean, and everything is in its place. Also, as one roommate is on vacation and the other has just obtained full time employment, it only makes sense that I would tackle most of the cleaning. While I struggled with organization my entire life, I've gotten over the stage of, "It's my place and my parents aren't here to tell me to clean!" I'm not so fond of not being able to find things when I need them. So, I try and pick up my space and maybe wipe down the counters, the bathroom sink, that sort of thing.

I also work out every day. No exceptions. If I'm going to work with kids all year, I should be in shape. I have my P90X kit, along with weight resistance bands, a mat, and a pull up bar, so I simply do a different workout each day. I find it helps me have more energy, better posture and increased confidence. It also helps that I've been eating better. While I am pretty young, I don't want to count on a fast metabolism forever. I also want to be healthy and I like being active. Even when it's too hot, nothing stops me from working out in my air-conditioned apartment.

In addition, I try to work on my music and writing. I always loved to sing and I find that singing is how I pray. While I can't afford to take lessons right now, nothing is stopping me from singing a few songs every day or joining my church choir. In addition, why not take out my guitar and play a few songs or work out of my lesson book? No, I'm not going to be the next big pop star, but it's something I love and something I end up using, so I might as well practice. In addition, why not blog or write my thoughts or stories? It keeps my brain active and helps me clear my mind a bit.

I also take opportunities to make extra cash. Next week, I'm filling in for someone at a friend's company while she's on vacation. It gives me the opportunity to do something constructive, meet people, and make some much needed money. I'll have something to do with my time and I'll be able to pay for a security deposit and a much needed haircut.

I've been finding opportunities to get involved with my church as well. I mentioned choir but they also have Bible studies, service events, and pizza nights. As I won't be doing everything and the kitchen sink next year, I'll have time to actually be a parishioner and not simply a semi-regular Mass attendee (I do attend every Sunday, just not at the same church due to scheduling). My boyfriend has also started attending with me and now it's something we do together. Now that I have the time, why not start getting to know my community?

Waiting for my life to start is a waste of time. If I'm sick of having nothing to do, I listen to my mom's words of the past and find something to do. In fact, I've been able to enjoy some of this quiet time. Not only have I been able to plan and to become more disciplined, I find it restful. I can only imagine I'll pray for this kind of time as soon as my year starts. In the meantime, I'll do all of the above and enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

More young people working multiple jobs........Yes, we're educated too

When we youth complain about our lot in life, the older adults are quick to remind us how "easy" we have it, how they sacrificed to give us a better life, and how we just have to work harder. What these adults don't often realize is that, no, we don't have it easier. In fact, we have it much harder. We have to deal with huge government debts and a swath of problems overseas (caused by these generations of older adults) that we never had to deal with in the past. Now, in this economy, we have to work multiple jobs to survive. According to this article, more of us college graduates are taking multiple part time jobs. Not because we're actors who need the days for auditions, not because we want to live outside of the typical workweek, it's because now, we have to.

Guess what? When we were in high school, applying for colleges, doing sports, music, and community service to have that "well-rounded" application, no one ever imagined this as our lot. While I do believe in the value of a college education (both for the mind and the paycheck in the long run), it is amazing to me that adults in our lives sold us onto college with the idea of making money. Luckily, my parents didn't emphasize that (they just wanted us to be educated), but the parents of so many others did. Further, our teachers would in those "career clusters" we had to participate in. As long as you studied hard, you could make something of yourself.

They didn't tell us it was now more about networking. They didn't tell us that we may have to either afford to work at multiple full-time unpaid internships or do said internship and work at a part time job on top of it to pay the bills. Of course, for the latter, even if you swing the job, you still have to move to a major metropolitan area if you're not already in one. They talk, talk, talk about the importance of a budget, of the need to put money away for retirement, without realizing that there is no retirement. There are no savings, period. Many of us give up our weekends and hopes for vacations so that we can afford our rent. For many of us, moving back home is not an option (nothing in my field back home). What about grad school? I want an MBA-something that requires work experience and something I've been told to let someone else (an employer) pay for. Further, many of my friends who went to grad school or law school suffer even more, due to the increasing amount of debt and the dangers of specialization (study what you want, by any means, but don't pigeonhole yourself too much).

I know I have an opportunity for next year, something I've been very fortunate to have. However, I see the situation of several friends, who either intern (paid) full-time and still have to wait tables, who have applied to nearly 100 places with no interview and no, they won't allow you to follow up anymore, who went to law school and graduated at the top of their game with good internships only to find that no one was hiring lawyers anymore. I have friends who nailed that entry-level job only to find that it doesn't pay quite enough to live and they still need the college job on the weekends (sales associate, restaurant server) in order to even hope for anything extra. Even though they have enough, the economy takes a toll in a different way, the toll of little rest and relaxation.

People bemoan the destruction of values, of families. For many of us, values are important but survival comes first. As for families, we're told we should be independent of our families of origin and, even if we wanted to start our own, we're too poor and too unstable to do so. Trust me, God willing my own relationship survives a couple of years, I'd gladly marry my boyfriend and I always wanted to have my kids young. However, a lot of that depends on our ability to draw a steady paycheck. Everyone says the American dream is to give your kids better than what you had. Well, until I can attain something leading to that, I will not partake. Besides, a kid needs parents who are present, not parents who are working four jobs each to survive.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Feminists-Not All One Type

People like to portray feminists as evil. We apparently hate men, hate children, hate our own womanhood, try to be men, destroy families, despise religion (yet, we're also all Wiccans, apparently), and mock any woman who conforms to traditional ideals of femininity. Every feminist apparently worships abortion as a sacrament and seeks to castrate every man on site. Well, as a feminist, a practicing Catholic, and in a loving, respectful, EQUAL relationship with my MALE partner, I'm here to tell you that you're wrong.

First, we have crazies in every bunch so you may see those types of women (however, Wiccans are excluded from the "crazies" part, but that's another post). At the same time, my qualifiers for feminism include the following: do you believe women should have the right to vote and to participate politically? Do you believe women should be paid equally for the same work, for the same quality of work, as well as have opportunities for promotion? Do you think women deserve to be protected legally from crimes such as rape and violence, regardless of her choice of wardrobe or whether or not she's sexually "pure"? Bottom line, do you think women should have the right to make their own choices? If you answered yes, you're a feminist.

What does that mean? It means we come in different shapes and sizes. Some of us come from traditional religious backgrounds and still observe these traditions (hello :)), while it doesn't work for others. Some of us belong to the LGBTQ community while others identify as heterosexual (and sometimes, that changes). Some feminists are MEN (my boyfriend is one:)). Some of us love shopping, fashion, and beauty, others could care less, others are middle of the road. Some vote Democrat, others Republican. Even if we respect a woman's right to choose, many of us have our own feelings about abortion (personally, I'm against it, I just don't want to see women die here, like they do in Kenya). Some of us wait till marriage to have sex, others don't. Some are stay at home moms (whether by choice or circumstance), others have careers. Indeed, some of us are stay at home DADS, and some are not. Some of us are parents, period, others are not. Some are young people, hoping to change the world, others are seasoned veterans. Some of us have backgrounds of military service, while others refuse to partake.

You can't always tell someone's ideology simply by looking. We may appear to you in power suits, summer dresses, jeans and a T-shirt, or our workout wear. Some of us may appear to you in clerical garb and religious habits, or with yarmulkes, hijabs (and other variations of Muslim dress), bindis, and other markers of distinct religious/cultural background. We may appear as your managers, your students, your parents, your politicians, your teachers, your scientists, your waiters, your musicians, or a mix of everything. We may talk about things like sports, the weather

Sunday, June 26, 2011

18-year-olds make me feel old....

I was at my restaurant job yesterday, rolling silverware with the other servers. Most of them were just turning eighteen, off to college and spending their summer working and hanging out with their friends. They were talking about their high school friends, previous travel experiences they took to beef up their college applications, and their adventures with fake ID's. It happens every summer. Each new crop of kids, some of whom used to be seating hosts, is now old enough to become a server and earn the accompanying pile 'o cash they can now spend for fun (those days seem forever ago to me). Old enough to know they're legal adults but young enough to still be protected by their parents, they live in a paradox of youthful arrogance and equally youthful naivete. I should know, I was there at one point (though I never had a fake....).

For the first time, however, I felt old. Not old as in, "My youth is done!" but old as in, that feels so far away from me. While they're thinking of summer parties and saying goodbye to friends and high school sweethearts, I'm looking for a new apartment and planning a budget on a stipend. While they are fretting over majors and focusing more on the social aspect of college, I'm contemplating career moves and grad school. While they can shop simply because they have the extra money, I'm making grocery lists and planning trips to Target to organize my space. While they can't wait to leave their parents, I miss mine. While they've been attending friends' Sweet Sixteens, I've been attending weddings. While they revel in the status of legal adulthood, I'm living an adult's life.

It's amazing to think that a human being can change so much in what seems to be so little. Four years ago, I was like them. I myself could not wait to get out of my small town (best decision I made after become Catholic and going to Kenya). I myself was so sure of things, whether of my dreams to be a doctor or of my high school sweetheart. While I did think of the future, my life was more about school clubs and friends. Of course, that all changed. My dreams changed, my relationship ended, I made new friends, and school clubs started giving way to jobs, internships and travel. I'm in a fairly new relationship now and realizing I made a much better decision this time around. I started living on my own and learned how to deal with banks and leases. While I'm a lot happier in DC, I realized that I do miss my family and coming home to visit is pretty nice. I learned that not making my bed every day just made me feel disorganized and that eating ice cream just because I could was the fastest way to sap my energy and make me need new clothes when I can't afford them. I learned that shit happens and all you can do is clean it yourself, regardless of whether you're the one who left it.

I understand why older adults yearn for that period of youth. You're so sure of yourself, because you do have some innocence, yet you're old enough to have freedom at the same time. For some of these kids, life hasn't complicated things for them yet, not through parental divorce, teen pregnancy, or the death of their friends. You feel the immense power of your youth, protecting you from all evils, feeling sure that nothing will ever happen to you. Yet, while all of this will disappear, it will give way to something greater. A feeling of purpose, a drive to succeed and contribute something worthy, a strength that allows you to pull through the difficulties. Friends who really do have your back, who choose to be loyal to you for no other reason than they simply want to. Maybe, one day, a partner who doesn't care about the loss of your youthful looks but loves you instead for what's inside and vows to stick with you till death do you part. Hopefully, it will give way to a greater capacity to love and to give, a sense of humility about your weaknesses and a sense of confidence about your strength. It is through this growth process that allows young people to become exactly what they wish to be.

That's part of why youth is so amazing. Not because of who you are at that time. It's because it allows you to choose who you will become. That's why we all hope to be forever young.

"Oh, if you just put some makeup on....."

I am not anti-makeup. On the contrary, I do like the ability to hide my zits and show off my eyes and lips. I see it as somewhat artistic and fun. It also never used to be a female only activity. Men in many cultures would do it to show masculinity and power (btw, same with long hair). What I do hate, however, is the expectation that I must wear makeup to look attractive. Especially when that looking attractive determines important decisions such as, you know, your career and your spouse.

I understand the need to look presentable. Even if you were at a party the night before, you should still show up to work clean, well groomed, and ready to hit the deck. That goes for men and women. For an interview, you should take extra time to take care of your hair, make sure your clothes are pressed and that you coordinate appropriately. For a first date, it's good for each party to spend some extra time on their appearance to make a good first impression. However, the expectation we seem to have for women is that they should appear no less than stunning at all times. Whether we face airbrushed ads selling unrelated objects such as cars or celebrities who can afford to have makeup artists, hairdressers, plastic surgeons and personal trainers live with them, we're given the illusion of competition. Rather than competing with our intelligence, our personalities, and our good will, we're competing with our images.

OK, world, how fucked up is that? We tell our little girls that appearance (so long as you're clean and healthy) doesn't matter, that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up and that they shouldn't focus on boys so much. Yet, when these little girls grow up, we're shameless in our hypocrisy. You "need" makeup and constant change of wardrobe to get that job, that guy (what if you don't even like guys?), to impress people. If you're not one of the few natural stunners, then you especially need makeup to "show off those pretty eyes/smile of yours." If there's one thing that makes me doubt our praise of meritocracy (and there are many), it's this one.

Think of how much money we spend, trying to look good. Think of what that money could have been used for. We could be investing that money. We could be using it to pay for our grad school education, to save for a wedding or a house, give it to good charities, or travel. Think of the time we spend fretting over our looks, time that could be spent reading the news, organizing advocacy events, and finding ways to make a difference in our communities.

Makeup in and of itself is not bad. We like to be creative with our appearance. However, our societal attitude toward it is quite disturbing. And that's just putting it mildly.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Why Scots and Italians are awesome......

Before I explain, I just want to say that I think all cultures have their own awesome ideas, artwork, proverbs, expressions, and food. I think all have something to contribute and I'm certainly proud of all of my ancestries, from the Scottish Highlanders, to the English, to the Germans, the Austrian Jews, the Florentines, and the Spaniards. Yet, my Scottish and my Italian that I've felt the strongest pull to. To me, they seem to be fiery, stubborn, proud, romantic, valient peoples who may not be the most powerful in the world but still manage to capture hearts. For some reason, that always resonated with me. Thus, my ode to the Gaelic and garlic that run in my veins. Why so awesome? Well.....

  1. Scots and Italians have the sexiest accents in the world. Seriously. All I need to hear is "Bellissima!" or "my lass" and I'm sold.

  2. They also make amazing music. The hairs on my neck stand up at bagpipes (which they BOTH have) and at well sung classical music. Celtic dance and tarantellas tend to awake something powerful within me. While music has the tendency to move me, the music of my ancestors will forever be special.

  3. We GAVE fashion to the world. Like plaid? You might be wearing a clan's tartan! Boots and handbags? Italians own the world with those!

  4. Good drinks. This particular contribution is why neither Italian nor Scottish Christians feel bad about drinking. If anything, we believe God gave it to us. Like any gift of God, it should be treated with respect, but we can enjoy in moderation. This crosses denominational lines.

  5. We're very tied to our families and communities and we protect our own. That's why it's important for an Italian to know his region and a Scot his clan. With regions come certain foods, flags and dialects. With clans come tunes, tartans and mottos, as well as other benefits (seriously, in America, they'll give you scholarships).

  6. For the Christians, we give the best in Christian theology. The Spanish, Irish and Germans may have a hold on this one as well, but Scotland and Italy are EXTREMELY respected places to study theology. Of course, Italy for Catholicism, Scotland for Protestantism (particularly Calvinism).

  7. Poetry. Who doesn't know Dante or Burns? Oh yeah, and they're both romantic :D

  8. Thistles and sunflowers :D

  9. Interesting cuisines. Haggis, anyone? How about rabbit? Squid?

  10. Due to every conquest in the world, as well as immigration waves and the need to create strong offspring, we can look like just about anyone. In either nation, you'll find beautiful blue eyed, light haired people, as well as beautiful dark haired, dark eyed people of every possible ethnic combination. And we can still call ourselves Scots and Italians.

  11. We don't need to be nation-states to prove ourselves :D

This is a small list of why I am proud of these two nations that compose a part of my heritage.

When bullying becomes dangerous

One of my childhood friends called me a few days ago. I was out, so I asked if I could call her back. She said yes. Later that night, when I got home, I checked my Facebook (as I usually do) and saw that she sent me a message. Her message included a link to news of a court case. From the first couple of lines, I knew it was about a dear friend of hers who committed suicide four years ago. Apparently, the boy was tormented by bullies to the extreme. While teachers had witnessed the event, my friend said that they would simply ask the bullies to calm down. The bullies were respected athletes and the teachers apparently cared more for their reputation than the boy's right to feel safe in a learning environment. Unfortunately, the judge declared that the school had no "special relationship" with the students and that they did not have responsibility in the death of this particular student. In response, my friend has written a petition to the U.S. Secretary of Education, stating a need to clarify teachers' roles in demanding accountability for bullies and making students feel safe. Here is the link to the petition as well as the link to the court case.

This all occurred in my friend's hometown, which unfortunately has a reputation for teen suicides. The reasons for these suicides involve excessive bullying. While I don't know all of the details for each individual student, it seems that there is an extreme lack of oversight into students' interactions. My friend is the daughter of a teacher (one who taught in that area) and is studying to become a teacher herself. Through her studies and her discussions with her mother, she has found that teachers must serve as "first responders" to crisis. While the teachers themselves may not have control of what students do at home, they do have the ability to intervene when a student faces intimidation or harassment. Through this, they have the ability to foster a respectful classroom community. As my friend witnessed, they did not. Due to teachers' authority and responsibility, it is natural that she finds this criminal.

I am asking all of you to please sign my friend's petition. In the U.S., it's obligatory to educate our children, usually by having them attend school 180 days of the year. As such, we expect that our children be safe and that our teachers diffuse any hint of a bad situation. More importantly, we are often taught that education is the great equalizer, the key to allowing others to follow their dreams. Those dreams are in vain if we are simply left with dead children.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

So much and yet so little

My life feels like I'm in a doldrum zone right now. Between the excitement of my college graduation, Americorps offer, and first serious relationship, my last semester was an intense wave of excitement. Before me lies an intense year with Americorps, one that I am sure will challenge me. Right now? Aside from waiting tables, seeing the boyfriend, filling out paperwork, looking for roommates and housing and reading Margaret Atwood novels (courtesy of a roommaate), my life isn't that exciting.

In a way, it is refreshing. I need time and space to breath. I have time to get in shape, to finally restring my guitar properly and play it, to spend time with friends, develop my relationship with my boyfriend, and to make some cash (very little extra). I need time to process the past few months and prepare for the next. Most importantly, I need time to do what I want to do. This fall, I'll be working ten hour days. I'll likely get home around 7, which leaves time to work out, eat dinner, prepare my clothes and lunch for the following day, and get ready for bed (hopefully, some nights I can see the boy). Weekends, I'll want to do my errands, see boy and friends and go to church. I get five days per semester to take sick leave or vacation.

Just writing all that made me feel tired. I'll admit, a part of me wonders if I'm truly cut out for this. I know that, despite my propensity toward stress, I thrive in the midst of chaos. Whether I was working nearly full time while taking upper level classes or studying while working in poor parts of Kenya and braving a four hour commute every day, I ended up succeeding. I want to do this work, I want to see where it leads me, I do want to have this experience. However, like before every big change, I'll admit to feeling nervous.

Why intimate relationships matter

While I do not agree at all with most of those politicians who say they promote family values, I see validity in one of their points. The family is the backbone of society and how we treat and value families is a reflection of what we want our society to look like. For this reason, I tend to focus more on intimate relationships in my blog posts.

Think about it. How you treat your partner and how you expect them to treat you is a reflection of what kind of society you want to live in. Do you want a society directed toward complete equality? Or are you more of a fan of equity (equal in worth and dignity but geared toward different roles)? What kind of family would you like to raise? What kind of community would you like to live in and help shape?

I find this true in my own life. I want a society that values women's place at work as much as at home and shows this through measures such as equal pay, maternity leave, and public support for breastfeeding. I want a society that values men's place in the home as much as at work and encourages this through measures like paternity leave and public support for fathers who choose to spend more time with their kids. I want a society that doesn't simply uphold suburban living as a method of raising good kids but upholds all types of communities, whether they be rural, urban, or suburban. I want a society that encourages community, whether or not it is comprised of a large extended family or simply like-minded folks who strive to help each other. I want a society that truly values families and supports this through supporting quality education, benefits for working poor families, and adequate leisure time for families to enjoy each other. So, why would I not expect this all from my partner?

Maybe I want to live in an urban setting. Maybe I want a good job that allows me to not only survive but to put money aside for things like vacations, my kids' college, etc. Maybe I want to only have two or three kids and focus my resources on raising them well, with opportunities I wasn't able to have growing up and that my parents could only imagine. Maybe I want my girls to see that they have potential and my boys to learn that girls are just as worthy of respect. Maybe I want a man in my life who respects me, who doesn't dismiss certain work as "women's work," and who understands that I will carry the full burden of pregnancy and breastfeeding, even if we split up other acts of child rearing fairly. Maybe I want a man who doesn't care if I make more money than he does and puts more emphasis on his character than on his dick. (Luckily enough, I'm currently with a kind, compassionate, pro-gender equality guy, but I don't want to say anything too soon if ya'll get my drift).

Personal is always political. My personal choices in life are a reflection of my worldview and my worldview is a reflection of my choices. Thus, I do think we need to consider the way we form and treat our own families as an extension of our politics. Families form society. If we want to change things, this is where we start.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I never really considered the aspect of transition from college. I've been paying my own rent for two years now, so that's not new to me. I won't have a "real job" for about a year, depending on what else comes up (companion and I are considering a stint abroad but we'll see). I still feel like I'm enjoying a college summer, due to the fact that I'm still a waitress and, when I'm not working, I'm either hanging out at my place, or enjoying time with my friends and boyfriend. As for my friends having "real lives," a good portion of my friends are considerably older and I've been attending weddings and greeting their new babies for quite some time now. However, I've been feeling the transition nonetheless.

Some of it comes from the fact that, when I obtain my lease for the coming year, I will probably not have college roommates. I will also no longer be tied to living near school. I can live downtown, in areas with good neighborhoods and affordable pricing, near metro stations that will likely take me to work. While my companion and others will still have papers and class schedules, I will be working from morning till evening and have a consistent schedule (for once). Appearance will take a greater priority as I'll have a uniform and be expected to look professional and well groomed at all times (not quite the same as a restaurant uniform). My conduct, which has always mattered to me, will matter even more (dear self, please wash your mouth out with soap.......several times).

I will not be purchasing textbooks this fall. Instead, I've been trying to add some adult pieces of clothing to my wardrobe, with the understanding that dress matters if others will take me seriously. I also need to accommodate for hips I seem to have sprouted overnight. I also have decided to take driving lessons, now that I can change my permanent address, and finally obtain my driver's license.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Christians and Tattoos: Compatible?

For years, I've been playing with the idea of a tattoo. For awhile, I had settled on a red fleur-de-lys, a symbol of both Scotland and Florence (two parts of my ancestry). However, due to the fact that they are both different, I changed my mind and decided on a thistle and a sunflower intertwined. Though I am composed of the blood of about five to six nations, I identify heavily with both my Italian and Scottish ancestry just because they seem to sum up my personality. Fiery, passionate, fierce, hungry for adventure, willing to eat many interesting things (haggis and rabbit, anyone?), lovely music (including bagpipes in BOTH nations), and an appreciation for sexy accents, as well as a healthy dose of stubborn, stubborn, stubborn, it's no wonder that I identify with it and would like to honor my ancestors with some ink in my skin. Of course, Catholic girl that I am, I often hear from Christians who wonder if tattoos are acceptable. Should a good Christian girl participate? Let's see.

Critics draw from a verse in the Old Testament that states, "Do not put tattoo marks on yourself...I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:28 paraphrase). However, while it's easy to take this as a command from God, Leviticus commands many things, such as not to eat pork, not to wear two different fabrics, not to raise two crops on one area and that women were unclean during menstruation. Most Christians today would not bar a menstruating woman from participation during worship, think twice before putting on that cotton-polyester blend shirt, or eschew bacon and some of us environmentalists find that polyculture is much better for the environment.

How did we come to turn our backs on these rules? While Jesus and the apostles were observant Jews, they also expected His message of justice, mercy, and peace to spread to all peoples. Jesus kept the Law in His life but also made statements about how people's actions made them clean or unclean, not necessarily their food choice or their customs. St. Paul took this further by stating that works of the Law do not save people because, if they did, Jesus would not have had to die on a cross for humanity. Thus, it was not necessary for converts to Christianity to essentially become Jewish as well (probably a good thing for adult male converts ;-)). While we honor the place the Law had in our history, we also understand that it was meant for a time when cultural cohesion was literally a life or death situation. Christianity, however, was meant to be universal while the Law was meant for one people.

As a Catholic, this means I can get a tattoo provided that it does not send an anti-Christian message, it doesn't involve poor stewardship of my resources (such as my bank account) and, if I were a minor child, did not involve disobeying my parents. At the same time, I think having tattoos can be positive for a Christian. It shows that Christians are comprised of different peoples, from different backgrounds, cultures, points of view and styles. I can have a tattoo and be a good Christian, just like I can drink responsibly, date, live on my own, hold a politically progressive stance, go to a secular college, play rock music and wear jeans and still be a good Christian. Christianity is not a question of how I look. It's a question of how I live. As long as I work to uphold my principles, I don't think God really cares about the ink in my skin.

Plus, I'm honoring ancestries that produced some of the best in Christian theology, both Catholic and Protestant! So, it can only be a Christian tattoo :)

Not stuck in a role

One of the reasons I was so reluctant to even consider a relationship for a long time was due to the fact that people kept reminding me of "women's roles." I'd hear it from the more traditional crowd who believed women should marry young, have their kids, and let their husband provide. I'd hear it from the liberal crowd who'd say, "Screw it, have your life, your travel and your fun before you settle into that." Of course, my main question was, why can't I have both?

Obviously, marriage and children require sacrifices, sacrifices I can't think of making till I have a steady source of income. Hence, God willing this goes well, I'm putting such a huge decision off for a good couple of years. This will allow me to make sure I'm making a good decision, give me time to really see my companion for who he is and vice versa, and give us time to get on our feet and do things we want to do, like travel. Even if we decide in two or three years that it is something we want, engagement lasts six months to a year in the Catholic Church and, far from simply planning a wedding, it's a time of greater discernment, to ensure that you're making the right choice. My faith doesn't approve of divorce, thus our leaders aren't really big fans of shotgun weddings anymore (which is probably why the American Church is giving so many annulments--to correct for past mistakes).

At the same time, these sacrifices don't have to require either party to fit into gender roles. I made it clear from the beginning that I would never date a man who didn't believe in gender equity. That means, he couldn't assume I'd automatically stay home with the kids, should support me in my career goals as well as other aspects, had to believe women deserved equal pay and had a place in political office, and could not turn up his nose at the idea of a father having a more flexible career (sometimes, you would not believe how hard this is to find in devout Catholic circles). This doesn't mean I never stay at home, as that could depend on whose career is more lucrative vs. whose is more flexible. Yet I have options that my mother probably would not have had. I could work at home. One of us could go part time. Offices are becoming more amenable to things like paid maternity leave and day care (especially for the types of things I'm interested in). Work places are becoming more friendly to breastfeeding moms and to fathers who want to take an active role in their children's lives (whether going home to see a sick child or to take time to attend school plays, sports games, and music performances). I know women who have traveling careers and still have minor children at home. I know Catholic and other Christian couples who have made these choices.

Finally, if anything, I've learned you can never plan surprises. I have liberal friends who declared they would not marry till their mid-thirties, when they had good careers

Friday, June 17, 2011

Thoughts on Careers

I was talking to a friend and coworker of mine the other day. She had started school majoring in International Studies, switched to Environmental Studies, but things happened and she took a break that resulted in her working at the restaurant. Now, a few years later, after working full time and taking classes off and on, she has made the decision to go back to school in her home state and be a nurse. It incorporates many of her interests, will give her an interesting and rewarding career, and put money in her bank account. As she was telling me this, I couldn't help but think.

A lot of us idealists end up majoring in the humanities and social sciences. These are good and worthy pursuits but there are some practical ways to make the world a better place. Health care, engineering, business are some I can think of. The issue is that we seem to be scared off by these, whether due to math or science or due to our feelings about corporations. I'll admit, I've struggled with these feelings myself, having burned out of a pre-med program my freshman year and taking environmental and development courses that, for awhile, soured my view on corporations.

A couple things happened. One, I realized that, despite my burnout, I do have an aptitude for both math and science. I may have to spend more time to truly get something but that's different from not having talent at all. Two, I had a roommate who was a business major and felt I learned a lot from her perspective. Three, the internships I had focused on the need for people in poverty to become financially stable and independent. Four, I am fascinated with finance myself, especially since I've had to learn much in the way of personal finance. Five, depending on who you work for, business school could actually be free. And finally, I'll admit, I want a job that allows me to travel and make a good salary. I do intend to have a family some day and, well, I'm a city chick. Cities are expensive. I tend to go for guys who are into the humanities. You do the math.

In addition, there are a lot of good things I can do in the world of business. I can encourage partnerships between corporations, small businesses, non-profits, and communities. I can aid people in starting small businesses, do work in extending financial literacy education, and help with sustainable practice that respects workers and the environment. I could help market low cost, low tech products that pull people out of poverty (low tech products that allow for higher yields of agriculture, for example). I could aid people in getting access to capital. There are actually quite a few possibilities here.

I'm obviously not jumping the gun yet. However, it does give me an interesting perspective about what I could do with my career. One can still do good things for society, practical things that are needed just as much, while making a good salary. I also want some skills. I need to be able to do something besides write well academically. Speaking languages helps, but I want a skill I can give. And, while money isn't everything, it is nice. Considering I want to pay off my loans, travel the world, live in a city, and, yes, have a family, money is actually very nice.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Our country really is barbaric........

Did you know that the average age of entry into prostitution was 13?

Did you know that, in the U.S., a child can be convicted of prostitution before they're of age to consent to sex?

Did you know that most prostitution in the U.S. is not simply that of an independent worker making a business deal, but resembles more of a domestic violence relationship?

Did you know a foreign victim of human trafficking gets more assistance than an American one?

I did. However, I just saw a documentary called Very Young Girls (find it on Netflix) which was told from the perspective of women who've lived "the life." Even the founder of GEMS, an organization that works heavily with these women, was originally a child prostitute. As someone who majored in International Relations and studied both human rights and youth rights (and who also has friends heavily involved in human trafficking issues), I was aware of the facts. It was quite different to hear about someone's experiences, about how someone

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Should the guy always pay?

I run into this question a lot, especially in conservative, Catholic circles. Within these groups, people are more likely to embrace the model of man as provider, woman as nurturer. Thus, they'll hold guys to the standard of always paying. They consider it a means of courtesy and hold the idea that women should just accept it, regardless of either of their financial situations. Some of my guy friends, just friends, will always pay for a girl simply because that's how they were brought up (this one transcends faith, since one of my guy friends who does this is culturally Jewish). Naturally, if someone insists on doing something nice (provided they don't consider themselves entitled to anything else), the polite thing to do is accept it. However, what do I really think of this idea?

As many know, my conservative beliefs restrict themselves to my personal (not political) beliefs on sexuality. Outside of that, I think women and men can do just about anything and I find that traditional norms constrict us to a mode that may have worked in, well, 19th century England. However, these norms do not work in my relationship. We both entered with a mindset of mutual giving and a general belief in the equality of the sexes. Therefore, if I expect to be treated as his equal, that means I also invest in this relationship both emotionally and financially. It's also my way of doing something for him. We don't go out obsessively but we do like treating one another to dinner, a play, a movie. It's a nice gesture. It doesn't mean I damage his ego or insult his masculinity. In fact, he appreciates it and is just as willing to pick up the tab when it's his turn. If anything, it makes the burden equal and easier to manage.

I don't expect this for the same reason I don't expect, nor want, an engagement ring. To me, they are symbols of a period when women had little say in their station in life, when my father had more of a say in my choice of spouse, when my husband controlled my money, and when I would have been expected to "lay back and think of England" (how about Tuscany, instead?). I don't want a bodyguard/ATM, I want a partner, a companion, someone who takes life's journey alongside me. Someone who supports me in becoming all that I am and encourages a level of independence, simply because it benefits us. I want someone who supports me in having a career that genuinely excites and interests me and allows all of that to spill into our personal life. After all, if he loves me, does he really give a damn who makes more money? Or who pays? Considering that we've talked about this from day one, the answer is a resounding NO.

As I mentioned, I do have friends who pay for every girl, friend or not and insist, even when I offer to pick up the tab or at least pay my share. Naturally, my response is nothing other than a "thank you" because that's the only polite response. Also, in a relationship, if one of you is making bank and the other is living on peanuts, it's only fair that the person who makes more picks up the tab every time. Of course, if the guy-always-paying mode works for you, go ahead. However, there is no one-size-fits-all rule for relationships. People are different and relationships are different. Thus, the way we handle those relationships should be different as well.