Sunday, November 22, 2009

Show me what real faith looks like

I am a recovering Catholic. I have survived every sacrament, five years of Catholic school, numerous Catholic funerals and the brutal regimens of wearing a uniform, overseen by strict nuns who were not averse to using physical punishment.

My sister was yanked out of school one day after a nun pulled her and another child to the front of the classroom and slapped them both right across the face. Then the entire class was told they could not tell anyone what had just happened. Naturally my mom got a number of calls that night from other parents upset about what happened. She was out of uniform the next day and at the public school.

As an institution designed to provide spiritual guidance, the Catholic Church has had some horrific failures. Looking back over the years we can see the Crusades, the Inquisition, the colonialization of the American west with its subjugation of American Indians. In recent history, the proliferation of pedophile priests without any Church intervention has caused not only loss of millions of dollars but also a loss of spiritual leadership.

In Spanish, there is a phrase, sin verguenza, which literally translates to “without shame.” The Catholic Church has become a sin verguenza. After all this history of untold pain and suffering they have entered new territory of creating the same kind of pain for gays and lesbians through the electoral process.

After the loss of Prop 8 in California, it was revealed that the current archbishop of San Francisco, George H. Niederauer, began this plot against gay people. In previous work as a priest, Niederauer was in Utah and formed relationships with his Mormon brethren. From this unholy alliance sprung Prop 8.

We know the outcome of this effort. Then the spawn of Prop 8 in Maine, Question 1, appeared with the same antagonists, same ending. Now the Catholics have thrown a big tantrum in Washington D.C. saying they will pull themselves away from their $10 million dollars worth of contracts to feed and house the poor, if, gasp, the District allows gay marriage. This recovering Catholic cannot help but wonder if they had spent half as much energy dealing with their flock of pedophiles how many lives would have been spared?

A few years back during my time in New Mexico, there was a huge controversy between the Church and the arts community in Santa Fe.

When we had first moved there, the controversy at that time was the grand jury testimony of the Archbishop of Albuquerque. The holy man had fathered a child with a parishioner and had full knowledge of the rampant pedophilia occurring in northern New Mexico.

In fact, a high number of priests who were known pedophiles were sent to pray their way out of this problem at a retreat in the Jemez mountains. When they were “cured” they were released to do the lord’s work in New Mexico with the Archbishop’s blessing. I bet you know what happened then.

The Archbishop testified to the grand jury that, yes, he knew about these problems. But he thought that hitting a priest and having an abortion were greater sins.

(A brief background is here from the NY Times.)

Gloria - Virgin Mary artNow with this as a backdrop, an exhibit comes to Santa Fe with this picture in it. It is a representation of the Virgin of Guadalupe. She is a mestiza, brown skinned woman in all representations, who showed herself to a Mexican Indian. Long considered the patron saint of the Americans, some of the locals went nuts.

That’s a polite way of saying it.

The artist, Alma Lopez, is a lesbian living in Los Angeles. The fact that a lesbian would put bare breasts in a picture of the Virgin made some people apoplectic. She had threats made to her life. The curator of the show, Tey Marianna Nunn, was set upon by the mobs in Santa Fe as if she were Frankenstein and the mobs had pitchforks and torches. There were community forums, people who had known each other all their lives stopped talking to each other. There were out in the open brawls between men and women, traditionalists v progressives. Many lives were threatened.

Myself, I tried to instigate a few counter protests. If there were attempts to shut down the exhibit, CyberArte: Tradition Meets Technology, the feminists would chain ourselves to the front door and then take our tops off as a sign of solidarity. OK, not everyone thought the topless part was such a good idea.

In December of that year, I went to Mexico, to the border city of Ciudad Juarez, for the feast day of the Virgin, Dec 12. I had heard about this event for years and finally drove down to see it.

Gloria - feast day virginWhat I saw in Mexico were true expressions of faith and commitment to her service by thousands of people. I am sure I was the only one in the Plaza that night who even knew Alma Lopez or cared about her art. What was important was their faith in her.

Reverential looks, lips moving in silent prayer, many groups dancing to show their devotion to the Goddess of the Americas on her special day. People sat in the Cathedral for hours until the midnight hour so they could sing “Las Mañanitas” , our version of Happy Birthday. What was controversy for men who wear hats with the Virgin on it was irrelevant to these faithful.

So as the Catholic Church in DC continues to weep and wail and gnash its teeth, I wonder how the poor, the homeless, those suffering who the church is supposed to be serving, how do they feel that they are about to be tossed out because of some unknown gay and lesbian people who want their rights. Seems like another overreaction to me.

But then I don’t know how I could expect anything different from men who plotted for years to attack us over our marriages and thought a picture was more important than true belief and acts of faith. After all I am a recovering Catholic. We have been slapped too many times by this church. That won’t stop me from performing real acts of kindness. It shouldn’t stop any of us from showing our kindness and having a generosity of spirit.

Catholics (and Mormons) may think they are blocking our way but ultimately our acts of faith – faith in our cause, faith in ourselves – will get us to the finish line as equal citizens. Yes we have had setbacks but we haven’t lost our faith.

Artist Alma Lopez has her own blog and says her new married name Alma Lopez Gaspar de Alba. She writes that:

Alicia and I are working on editing a publication of essays titled Our Lady of Controversy: Alma Lopez’s Irreverent Apparition. Please read more about the Our Lady image and the controversy on my website at http://www.almalopez.com or http://www.almalopez.net. Either address leads you to the same site.

If you are an artists (or if you know an artist, please forward) who has created an image using the icon of the Virgen of Guadalupe, please submit your work for consideration to be included in the DVD which will accompany this book.

This publication with DVD will be published by the University of Texas Press (Chicana Matters Series) in the Fall of 2010.

Gloria promo for Alma's book


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