Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On Reverse Racism and Wishful Thinking, or On Being White

When I was a little girl, I used to pretend I wasn't white.  Did any of the rest of you do that?  My name was Gabriella Romero, I was Hispanic (not from a particular country; I was just Hispanic), and my hair looked like this. Sure, I was probably influenced by Sesame Street, Ghostwriter, and other such shows that made a point of racial/ethnic diversity.  But even more than that was my firsthand experience of tightly knit families with a strong cultural identity.

According to Wikipedia (which quotes the US Census Bureau), my hometown is made up of approximately 25% White, 23% Hispanic/Latino, 20% Indian (from India), 10% African American, 8% Asian, and 14% Misc/Other.  So it's no surprise that my grammar school graduating class of 24 had about even numbers of Puerto Rican, Punjabi Indian, Filipino, with maybe twice as many whites as any one other group.  My best friend from the middle school years, Shevy, is so Indian that in her extended family, only the kids speak English or wear street clothes in the house (and even then, only sometimes).  When Alyssa first came over from the Philippines at age four, she and I became friends despite the language barrier, so thoroughly that our immediate families come to each other's extended family gatherings.  Distant Filipino "relatives" I don't even recognize (and I have a pretty good memory for faces) have come up to me and said, "Hi, Claire, how are you? How's college in Ohio? You're almost done, right?" (Note that this is the only English they'd speak at a given party).

Many of the friends I made at youth group were Hispanic (let's be honest: most of the friends I made at youth group were Boriqua!), which just showed me another side of what I was missing.  My high school had a large Haitian population, and I received what I felt were high compliments when these girls welcomed me as one of their own.  In short: I lived in the thick of the racial/ethnic melting pot, and I loved every second of it!

Enter college.  I don't know the exact statistics for my alma mater, but I think it's safe to say that the campus is at least 85% white (and that's being generous to the minorities).  I learned that diversity doesn't have to mean that you're not white, and found out quite a lot about ways of life in different parts of the United States.  But I was still aware of how ridiculously, unrealistically white our campus was.

It's not that I spend a lot of time in ethnically diverse communities anymore, even though I'm back home where such communities exist.  Part of my desire for a cultural identity has been met in my discovery of Catholic culture, something that has belonged to me all along.  It helps, too, that I now know how to cook a few signature Polish dishes, so I feel like I at least have that going for me.

But I'm still white.  There is a satirical blog called Stuff White People Like.  It is absolutely hilarious, well-written, and remarkably accurate.  And I cannot read it.  It makes me downright uncomfortable with being white.  I have actually caught myself trying to change who I naturally am because it fits into the stereotype so effectively mocked on that site.  A few weeks ago, when I was in LA, I found myself very irked by the system of "White Points" that Aaron applied to things (e.g., shopping at Trader Joe's, buying organic), though his comments were very funny and were appreciated by all around us.

Which brings me to a realization: Some part of me, deep down, is actually uncomfortable with the fact that I'm white!  On one level, I relish my whiteness.  I know intellectually that I have it easy because racism won't really ever be a factor in my life.  I also thoroughly enjoy European things - cultures, food, languages, their whole way of life.  And a lot of the stereotypically white activities are things that I /do/ really enjoy.  Heck, I'm more attracted to white men.  But on the other hand, there is a beauty and a mystery and a coolness that comes with being, well, not white, that I will never know.  Perhaps it's just the allure of the exotic.  But whatever it is, I need to let it go.  Because I am white, and I always will be white.  And it's about time I got over it.

EDIT: I have learned that reverse racism is quite a bit more ridiculous than what I've described, but I'm not changing the URL.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

On Traditionalists, Secret Meetings, and Being Spoiled

After a thoroughly enjoyable evening drinking homemade margaritas and watching Live Free and Die Hard at my friend's house (Casa Santa Ynes), the housemates went to bed and the visiting trads stayed up to talk.  What began as simple conversation quickly turned into a meeting of the minds of the LA traditionalists (all of whom, of course, belong to what I am led to believe is the only orthodox parish in the diocese), who intend to soon become formally recognized as a group, possibly a chapter of Juventutem.  The conversation and the company were both enjoyable, but I was reminded overwhelmingly of one thing:  I am so spoiled!

First off, I wasn't a trad before Summorum Pontificum, so I've never had to contend with being truly on the fringes of the Church, sometimes sharing that borderline with heretics; just about every trad I know has a fierce love for Rome and for Holy Mother Church.  Secondly, when I was in Steubenville, hard at work behind the scenes to bring the Traditional Latin Mass to Franciscan University, it was not because I was spiritually starving and had no place to go for the feast I so greatly desired; it was simply because I knew that it was for the greater good of the Church at large that the University, so known for her Catholicity, should embrace the holy father's desires for the Church (also because if Steubenville didn't adopt the TLM, many would take it as confirmation that charismatic and traditional are antithetical, which is clearly false).  But, again, it was not that no TLM was available; the Pittsburgh Latin Mass Community was only 45mins away, and there were always people to carpool with.  On top of which, when the work began to get really taxing, they brought Ryan in to officially do the traddy job I'd been unofficially doing (and so much more) - which left me to just relax and enjoy the ride!

Then, upon coming home to Jersey, I found a home (rather unexpectedly) at my local Institute of Christ the King parish.  Once the novelty of this place being a haven of the traditional way wore off, I began to see my parish as very much like a small country chapel: We have enough families to remain viable, but we're still a small parish, with a small building, and only so much in the way of means, so even the big feasts are done on a smaller scale, and more humbly.  But it's still so beautiful.

         A related point is that, because my parish is a bit of a hike, I attend daily Mass at various local novus ordo parishes.  But because I don't belong to those parish communities, I simply pray there the best I can without thought of how to effect change for the better, because that's simply not my place (and makes praying a whole lot more straightforward, too).

The final element that has spoiled me is my involvement in the Spirit and Truth young adult community.  Not only have these people been phenomenal friends and a necessary support system for my Christian journey, but the group is contemporary in setting, and charismatic insofar as its leaders' personal spiritualities.  Yet despite conditions that might seem averse to traditional liturgical practices, I've been privileged to witness a grassroots movement towards the very things I grew to love by immersing myself in traditional Liturgy.  And I haven't even tried to draw others there to tradition, even by prayer; I've just united my heart to God and been patient.

What I realized upon listening to these new trad friends talk is that I have been so spoiled!  By putting me in a ministerial position from which I could not complain freely to my friends, He taught me prudence of speech even among my friends (not that these trads are more guilty of novus ordo bashing than any other trads I know and love)!  By putting me under obedience to administrators who were more hesitant to embrace the traditions that have stolen my heart, He taught me patience (because look at the progress that's been made, and without making enemies in the process)! By drawing my non-trad friends unexpectedly toward things traditional, He taught me hope (and reinforced the patience).

But most importantly, He's taught me to trust.  I've learned by now the way He works in me, and I am thrilled that he's not calling me to be a mover and a shaker at present.  He's just calling me to step back and love (and perhaps to smooth the wrinkles that even well-meaning zeal can cause).

And I couldn't be happier.  Spoil me and call me to simply love others all You want, Lord.  It's one of my favorite ways to do Your Will.  :)

Monday, June 8, 2009

On Dancing

My first dance was our eighth grade graduation dance (remember: in 8th grade, I thought I was ghetto, and so did just about everyone around me, though most of them were actually more ghetto than I). I'd never danced before save for line dances at parties and pretending to be a nightclub singer in the privacy of my room.  A few songs into the dance, my Indian best friend came over to me and said, "Claire.  Stop.  Like this."  My first dance lesson.

High school had dances, too, but it was also high school, so the sensuality and laziness of the bump and grind method, compounded by the fact that I didn't know anyone who danced to anything other than hip-hop (or sometimes techno, but techno was never my scene) and my inability to do the "I'm a white person who can't dance so I'll do dumb funny things like the Shopping Cart and the Lawn Mower" dance moves (for the record: I love these dances and am somewhat jealous of those of you who pull them off so well)...  that was a long clause.  What I'm trying to say is that I enjoyed dancing, but I mostly danced because that's what you were supposed to do at dances and it was fun, but that was about that.

Enter college, and swing dancing.  At this point I'd had one (long and painful) dance lesson with Dad on vacation, in which the only thing I learned was how to stop trying to lead and just follow the man - which is assuredly the most important dance skill I've ever learned.  My unproved belief that I was a good dancer was here tested for the first time, as I swing danced with many guys of varying skill levels without ever being completely bewildered.

In college also entered the charismatic renewal, which (among many other things) brought the concept of praise dancing - that is, of worshipping the Lord by dancing (to, say, praise and worship music) in addition to or in place of singing.  The pertinent detail here is that dancing became an activity not just of good, clean fun but of using my body to praise the Lord.  There's only so much variety in different types of dancing, so soon all dancing I did felt like praise in its own way.

Back to swing and (occasionally) salsa dancing.  I came quickly to see how these types of partner dancing were an excellent analogy for the spiritual journey.  Let me explain.  My job as the woman in these dancing situations is to follow the man, to do what he tells me to do even though he doesn't use his voice to communicate (I once heard it described as being a rag doll, in a non-derogatory sense).  One of the most exhilarating feelings is always when my mind has no idea what my dance partner just signaled me to do, but by the time I finish thinking that I realize that my body has already done it.  So docility to the Holy Spirit can be easily likened to a dance, since we're all feminine in relation to God.

Now that I'm back home, I've found bar that does salsa lessons and dancing weekly, and have convinced some friends to go with me regularly, so the presence of God is frequently on my mind as I exercise my body.  My attendance at a Filipino-Puerto Rican wedding yesterday only added to the feelings of joy that come with such dance.  Each dance was exhilarating partly because of the dance itself, but even more so because of the love I bore for my dance partner and all those dancing around me.

One final thought: this wedding was on Trinity Sunday, and the priest's homily compared the spiritual life to dancing, but in a different way.  The love of the Holy Trinity is the dance, and the Father sent the Son to us so that He could teach us the steps (as slowly and painstakingly as we might need).  I think the Holy Spirit is what enabled us to keep the steps?  That part's fuzzy.

My point: Dancing as metaphor for the spiritual life.  Think about it.  I like it.  :)

Note: Posted from Seattle, WA, from the offices of My Catholic Faith.  You should check them out, 'cuz they're cool.  And Dr. Curran gave me a free copy of his really cool-looking book on the Mass.  And I'm not saying that just 'cuz he gave it to me for free.  :)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Rant on Homo-judgementalism

Unless you're in those circles that are drawn together precisely because of these issues, anything related to homosexuality is pretty much taboo.  If it NEEDS to be mentioned in a given setting for some reason, it might be glossed over briefly before being left behind in relief.

Why is it that so many of us are so terrified to be perceived as condoning another's public sin?  One dear friend always used to say that he was a much worse person than all these who were publicly living in sin, in reference to his pride and judgement and other interior vices, for which he was so much more responsible. The epic poet Dante would agree. He placed fornicators (including, I would presume, sodomites) in the ninth circle of his hell, the least painful part.  Their sin is so much lesser...

Heck, I would say that even St Augustine would agree.  "Love, and do as thou wilt," was how he summed up the law.  In that order - love first, and /then/ do other things, because when one loves first, everything else will fall in line.

But we're afraid.  I think part of it is that those of us who are theologically orthodox have been so scarred by our more progressive brethren that we're offended to be clumped in with them, afraid to come across as like them.  In an effort to avoid compromising ourselves, we project our prejudices and make our voices known.  And sometimes it is important for our voices to be heard.

But we can't be in ministry mode all the time.  Sometimes, we have to just accept people where they're at.  Is a man living with another man really all that different from a man living with another woman?  If someone is living in some other sinful way, do we feel morally obligated to make it known that their sin discomforts us?  Usually not.

Another college friend was discussing with me tonight two mutual friends who have quite flamboyantly come out of the closet since their graduations a few years ago, and how these men just felt so alone, so shamed into themselves on our conservative Catholic campus.  Sure, it's great that most people around you are striving for holiness with all their being, but how can you strive for holiness if you're barred from ministry positions because an adult you trusted spilled the beans that you struggle with homosexual temptations?  That's a far cry from blatantly living a lifestyle at odds with Church teaching, and yet it's often treated the same way.  Who can blame people with such temptations for holding them in and then exploding once they were allowed to let out that forbidden breath?

In the end, we straight folks fall into the same pernicious trap that ensnares anyone who's faced homosexuality in their own life: placing so much emphasis on the homosexuality that it overshadows absolutely everything else about a person.  It's uncomfortable, but you can live in harmony with those with whom you disagree on important things.  Get used to it and get over it.

That nun.  She really does have it right.  I respect her a lot, and I hope to one day achieve a balance like what she has.  May the Lord bless her, her cousin, all people anywhere on the LGBTQA continuum who feel rejected by Holy Mother Church, and all those in the Church (myself included) who reject them, from time to time).

None of us dare to even hope for heaven save for God's great mercy.  And if it's mercy that brings up both the biggest sinners and the dearest saints, who are we to judge who neeeds His mercy/

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On Busy Weeks and Poor Self-Discipline

My sincerest apologies for the blog silence.  Last week, it was a poor balance of social life with blogging, but this week (so far) it's actually been a surprising excess of free time.  That, plus my sister hooked me on a terrible tv show with some hilariously nerdy writers!  And then I got sucked into the internet.

*Sighs* I really do have things to write.  I just need to sit down and /do/ it...
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