30 April 2014

In Memory of Her – Janet Kalven

Janet Kalven: In Memory of Her
Janet for WATER website
WATER extends sincere sympathy to the Grail, both national and international, to her family and friends on the death of beloved Janet Kalven at the age of 100. We join a huge chorus of those who sing alleluias for her life and work, her commitment and her friendship. Long may her memory inspire us to work for justice and to love well.
Janet was born on May 21,1913, of German/Russian Jewish parents who lived comfortably in Chicago. She and her brother Harry experienced city club and country club life that they both found tiresome. Harry went on to a distinguished career in law, while Janet became an equally distinguished educator and a member of the Grail.
Janet studied the “Great Books” at the University of Chicago where she was later a teaching assistant in the famous program run by Mortimer Adler and Robert Hutchins. Her intellectual work propelled this reason-oriented woman to convert to Catholicism in the days of Jacques Maritain. Through a liberal Catholic campus organization, she met the Grail in 1940, and eventually decided that life in a women’s community, though not as a nun, appealed to her.
In a memoir that doubles as a history, Janet wrote the story of the Grail in the United States with the expressive title Women Breaking Boundaries: A Grail Journey, 1940-1995She describes her own exciting opportunities of travel and work abroad, sharing with Grail members around the world, running educational programs, and developing land and building projects.
She chronicles the Grail’s story from a Catholic women’s group founded in the Netherlands by Jacques van Ginnekin, a Jesuit priest, to an international, ecumenical women’s community that is “committed to spiritual search, social transformation, global solidarity, ecological sustainability, and the release of women’s creative energy throughout the world…bonded in action, solidarity, and faith, working in 17 countries, as individuals and Grail groups, interconnecting regionally, nationally and internationally” ( It is a story well worth reading, a group well worth knowing.
The Grail, its U.S. headquarters Grailville, and Janet have played a vital role in the history of women and religion. In 1972, she was part of the organizing group for the conference “Women Exploring Theology” at Grailville, which was a springboard for feminist work in religion. Scholars and activists gathered in Loveland, Ohio, for a meeting that participants including Judith Plaskow (who wrote her famous myth “The Coming of Lilith” there) and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza cite as pivotal in their own lives and formative for the field. Janet’s creative efforts and commitment to self-directed forms of education brought college women together for Semester at Grailville in the early 1970s.
Janet created the space for Seminary Quarter at Grailville (1974-1978). Dozens of young women who were ministers and theologians in training spent six weeks in a living/learning community of feminist pedagogy with leading feminists in the field and the active accompaniment of the Grail women. It was in part because of the inspiration of the SQAG experience that Marie Fortune set up the FaithTrust Institute, Jeannette Stokes built the Center for Women and Ministry in the South, and Mary E. Hunt co-founded WATER, the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual. Women were empowered in those programs to study, speak out, create, manage, and expect the world of one another and ourselves. It took.
In 1982, Janet and Mary Imelda Buckley, a Grail member who taught at St. John’s University, hosted “Women’s Spirit Bonding,” a landmark conference for “136 women, two very small girls, and one man for a week of feminist theologizing” at Grailville. Another hundred people were turned away for lack of space. It was a meeting characterized by diversity unto conflict, collaboration and new insights, hard questions over lovely meals, eclectic liturgies and a shared recognition that we had to learn to work together if we were to bring about justice in the world. No one who attended was ever the same again.
Janet appreciated her various faith traditions. She grew from “religious certainty to religious search” as she put it. We are, she claimed, “fast women in a slow church” as the Roman Catholic institution fell woefully behind the spiritual richness of its own women. The Grail was noted for its religious art, liturgical innovation, and strong social justice commitment despite the kyriarchy’s recalcitrance. Janet was active through the Grail Women’s Task Force in the Women-Church movement, finding like-minded, like-hearted colleagues there with whom to expand her community.
In later years, Janet moved from her longtime house at Grailville to a converted school building in Cincinnati which she and other creative friends helped rehab into affordable housing for women. She took out her first mortgage well into her 80s for a classroom turned into a comfortable condo. Janet was committed to living in community so she loved that the school’s corridors were converted into common spaces. She remained active at Grailville on land use even after she moved to the city.
Nearly 101, Janet died peacefully in Milford, Ohio near Cincinnati, on April 24, 2013. To say that hers was a life well lived is to understate the importance of a veritable force of nature, a dear friend, a skilled educator, a generous and wise mentor.
May she rest in the peace that she worked for in this world, confident that her friends and colleagues carry on in her style and spirit.
The Grail invites all friends to celebrate Janet’s entry into new life on Sunday, June 1st, 2 p.m., in the Grailville Oratory, 932 O’Bannonville Road, Loveland, Ohio 45140.  Janet requested a Mass of Christian Burial that will be preceded by a short “Circle of Remembrance.” Burial will follow in the Grailville Cemetery.

28 April 2014

Notes from April Teleconference with Margaret Mann, "Life is Tough, Deal with It"

Notes from

WATER's Feminist Conversations in Religion Series Presents

Margaret Mann, “Life is Tough, Deal with It”
Wednesday, April 8, 2014
1 pm – 2 pm EST

WATER thanks Margaret Mann, a longtime friend, for her candid, smart, and spiritual contribution to this series. Several people remarked that it was so wonderful! Please feel free to share with friends.
What follows is:
a. Margaret’s presentation, including a section from her book
b. WATER’s notes of the Q+A/discussion section
Her book, A Dramatically Different Direction, can be purchased from her website,, or from Amazon. It is an inspiring and motivating read.

Remarks by Margaret Mann:

Good morning. I want to thank my very good friend Mary for inviting me to do this and for being a great friend for the last 30 years or so.

“On March 1, 1997, when I was fifty-two years old, I went out to dinner with friends. Four months later I returned home in a wheel­ chair. A blood vessel had burst inside my spinal cord, leaving me instantly paralyzed from the waist down. I now use a wheelchair full time.

In the years since, that blood vessel has taken my mind, body, and spirit on a journey I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams. In a split second, my life took off in a dramatically different direction than I thought it was headed. When my life turned upside down, I was forced to learn how to make sense of senseless random events and to learn how to rebuild a satisfying life. I was forced to learn what it is like to be disabled, how to circumvent hostile environments, and how to endure ridiculous government policies.

My coping skills were forged in a multicultural crucible. I am a Caucasian/Apache woman raised in Hawai'i by a Zen Buddhist. I am also a lifelong lesbian with a passion for civil rights. Before the burst blood vessel, I had a long career as a community organizer working in the national offices of women's organizations in Washington, DC. The inspiration for my recovery has come from my Buddhist practice and also from author Byron Katie in A Thousand Names far Joy; both have taught me that you will suffer in life to the same degree you wish things were different. I could wish that I were not in pain 24-7, or that I could once again walk along the beach and feel the water wash over my feet. I could wish that my income had not been cut in half. I could wish that I were still independent, living and working where I pleased. I could wish all these things and suffer magnificently ...but I choose not to.

Everything about my disability has been a lesson in how nothing stays the same (the Buddhist notion of impermanence). At age fifty-two, I thought I was at the height of my career and would continue to earn a good income until I retired some years in the future. But you never know.

It also became clear to me since my life was altered by that little blood vessel that there really is no inherent value to any given experience. Is it better to be able-bodied or disabled? I know now that we simply get to choose how we will feel about everything that happens. You could choose to think your life is ruined by being paralyzed and suffer marvelously...or you could think of it, as I do, as a fascinating turn of events that teaches you something new every minute. You get to choose. By letting go of the story of what was and embracing what is, you won't suffer quite as much. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I think I finally got it.” (pp. xi-xii)

But you never know…since I have been in the wheelchair I have broken five bones in my legs at separate times, had a recurrence of breast cancer, my gall bladder removed, my thyroid removed, a pump installed twice in my abdomen, two surgeries just last year to fix a mistake made earlier in the year and yet here I am, happy as a clam, living a good life in Hawaii. I think life is a hoot! I live on Social Security and live well, I travel, I have all I need of material things, I go out to eat a lot. I am in pain 24/7 and you would never know unless I told you. Life is good.

Jean Shinoda Bolen said in her book Close to the Bone that every cancer patient is taken on a journey close to the bone, stripping away all the pretense and illusion. I propose that every event in our lives that change things dramatically take us on the same trip. You think you know what your life is about and then Boom! Things are not the same anymore. You can’t walk, you can’t talk after a stroke, you can’t think straight after a whack on the head, you have a baby and you will not have a free moment to yourself for years, you contract diabetes and are face with having your foot amputated. You never know what is going to happen to you.

I make the point in my book that you will suffer in life to the same degree you wish things were different. Well, over the years I have realized that all suffering, just as the Buddha taught, is caused by wishing things were different and hanging on to the original idea. So when some tragedy strikes your life, who you were has disappeared and who you are about to become is rising up before you. Hanging on to the disappearing self will cause you to suffer. Expectations limit the possibilities. Hanging on to what was limits what could come your way. Giving up the expectations unleashes your energy to explore the future. Hanging on just makes you miserable in the present.

The present is a wonderful place to be, it is where everything is happening. You just have to open your eyes and see it. I was sitting by the ocean the other day and friend was going on and on about how badly her mother had treated her when she was child. This woman was in her early 60s…I said to her when was the last time your mother was mean to you? She thought about a minute and said well she has been dead since 1992 and we actually patched things up when I was in my 30s so about 30 years ago. I said Let it go, what difference does it make now, you are retired, happily married, have two great children and we are sitting by the beautiful ocean in Hawaii and you are getting all worked up about what happened 30 years ago. Wake up!

My brother is fond of telling stories about our father and how mean he was to him. I suggested that he could start telling people how wonderful our father was and my brother was horrified. If he did the energy around those stories would be changed and he would have to give up part of his identity. No wonder he was horrified.

I routinely ask my counseling clients when they tell me they are depressed, unhappy or down in the dumps because their partner left them or they got fired or whatever the tragedy du jour may be, is anything happening to you this moment? Is your partner yelling at you this moment? Are you being fired this moment? Of course the answer is always no…why then are you upset? They are upset because they are living in the past and hanging on to what they wished was reality.

I saw a video of Bryon Katie talking with Oprah. Oprah’s mother had recently passed away and she was talking about how sad she was. Katie said why are you sad? Oprah repeated slightly incredulous that her mother died. Katie said I know your mother died and what you need to know is she is never coming back, you will never talk with her again, you will never see her again, and that is the reality. Oprah was shocked! Katie said you are sad because you wish she hadn’t died, but she is very dead. Katie asked her, did you like your mother? Yes, said Oprah I loved her very much and we were very close. Why then are you not celebrating her life and telling everyone how wonderful she was? If you accept the reality that you will never see her again then the only thing left to do is celebrate. 

So, people have asked me, do this mean that you just lay down and let life roll over you? Do I mean that you can have no opinion, take no action, or want for a better world? No, it means take a good hard look at what the reality of the situation is and take action on it. Give up wasting your energy on wishing it wasn’t so.

I was recently asked to co-facilitate a 12 week workshop on Sexuality Education for older adults and the coordinator wants me to take on her  27 year old son who lives at home with his parents, has no job and is remarkable unambitious. At the facilitator training he always wanted to interpret the material as if his opinion was better explanation than presented by the trainers. It was not. On one hand I do not want this doofus co-facilitating with me on the other hand the program standard insist there be diverse co-facilitators and he is the only straight male with the training. I get to choose to be miserable and fuss and insist that I will not teach this class under these circumstances…or could I instead face the reality of the situation and drop my objection and take on this kid and teach him a few things about facilitating. And once I do, not look back and revisit or regret my decision. And as I do not know much about a young man’s sexuality, he could have much to teach me as well. I get to choose.

We all get to choose each moment of the day. You don’t have to have a tragedy to practice letting go. Look at what makes you angry. I can bet without knowing what it is that you are desperately hanging on to a wish that things were different. Look to see what that is, let go of the wish, and then take action on the reality presented there.

The trick of course is how you know what the reality is. I use meditation as my reality preceptor. I focus on my feelings in meditation, where is it charged with extra energy? I breathe in and out, in and out, and let my consciousness drift all around the problem. I know myself well, I know that challenges to my ego are problematic to me and that I have trouble believing anyone else knows as much as I do…a dialog sets in, on one hand it says, you know how to facilitate a workshop, done it dozens of time, one the other hand, every time you have set your ego aside and let some new experience happen it has been good thing. So, come on, let go of that ego and co-facilitate the workshop with the young man and stop calling him a doofus.

Easy to say now but the road here was bumpy and long. I was raised in Hawaii by man who embraced Zen Buddhism when I was child. My father was a mixed race man, Caucasian and Apache. He was raised by his Native American mother who threw over her native beliefs for spiritualism of the 20’s in California. My mother was Caucasian raised by the daughter and granddaughter of Baptist ministers who never questioned one thing about her beliefs. My mother was religion-neutral, I asked her once what her belief was, and she said simply that she believed in God and that was it.

I only went to church once as a child. My Baptist grandmother came to live with us and we all went to a Baptist services that met in the cafeteria at the elementary school. My grandmother was from Maine but this congregation was definitely Southern. My dark-skinned father was clearly not welcome, my grandmother was embarrassed, and we never went again.

In high school, I made friends with a girl who parents had been sent here as missionaries, in the 1960’s  from Texas no less. Her mother asked me if I would agree to read the New Testament. I agreed and read the whole thing in a little red leather bound copy with tissue thin pages. We discussed it when I had finished. She, of course, was hoping that I would be born again with the reading of God’s holy word and embrace Jesus as my lord and savior. Well, I said it was an interesting story but how some man dying for my sins 1,960 years ago made no sense to me. We talked about a lot of other things and finally she said that she was amazed for a heathen (her word exactly) like me could be so kind and decent and Christian like without believing in Jesus. This was the first time she had ever lived outside of her little Texas town the first time she met people who were not Christians. I wish I had kept track of her, I bet she returned to the little Texas town a very different woman.

My father shared his insights on Buddhism and the world at talks at the dinner table. Of course at 12 years old I would roll my eyes and hope this was a short talk. Years later, though. I would hear echoes of his dharma talks at other dharma talks I attended with Buddhist teachers. He taught me early on about becoming one with the world by teaching me to shoot a bow and arrow. He instructed me to pull the string back to my chin and hold it until I felt at one with the universe before I let the arrow fly. Really good lesson in getting in touch with your chi….he also signed me and my brother up for karate classes. The old Japanese man sensei, a man of few words, had a stick that he would whack you with across the shoulders while you stood in meditation, all the classes together in rows in our chi, hand inside fist, everyone quiet and not moving. We learned in our lessons how to never meet force with force, we learned instead how to step aside and use our opponent’s energy against them. Like the archery lesson we learned to channel our chi so that we were at one with the universe. Powerful lessons for a young girl.  But this really didn’t hit home until I was 47 years old.

I had nothing to do with religion in my 20’s but in my early 30’s I felt a longing, a calling, a something to make better sense of my purpose for being here. I joined a big steeple Presbyterian Church and was baptized at the 11 o’clock service one Sunday. I cried through the whole thing, very moved by the ancient ritual. The next Sunday I was attending a woman’s retreat and was recruited on to the Synod Committee on Women. Most folks serve years in their church committees and then move up to a Presbytery committee and then maybe never to a Synod but here I was one week a Christian and the next week on a Synod committee. I was happy in the Presbyterian Church, we had a huge choir with paid soloists, all sorts of events and dinners, and I went along happily for years. I moved to Washington DC and eventually wound up at Silver Spring Presbyterian with Margee Iddings. Within three months I was ordained as an Elder and was serving on the Session. The first issue we had to deal with was it became clear that the previous pastor sexually abused several older widows in the church. Margee’s leadership in dealing with that crisis was genius. The second crisis on the heels of the first was the sanctuary was riddled with termites and had to be torn down and rebuilt. I used to joke that I was not sure that the two events were related but they might be.

Margee’s sermons were enlightening and caused me to think deeply about my faith. At one session meeting we were reviewing the application of a flamboyant gay man, self-professed pagan to become a member. A tight assed lawyer who was raised by missionaries opposed the application saying that he must profess Jesus as his lord and savior. I said it doesn’t he must profess Jesus as his only lord and savior and at that moment I realized that I did not want to belong to any church that had membership requirements. It was a slippery slope from deciding who can join to deciding who can be ordained as a minister, who can serve on the session, etc.

Shortly after this I attended the General Assembly of the denomination where the good Christians once again voted down the motion to ordain LGBT folks as ministers. That was it! I was done with this hypocrisy. Hypocrite: anyone who professes to believe in Jesus and his teachings and flagrantly discriminates against anyone.

About this same time my father became ill and I went home for 12 weeks to be with him as he moved from this world to the next. We talked and talked. He reviewed his life, I reviewed my life. He repeated the dharma talks of my youth. It was a most glorious time of my life. I returned home and joined the Mintwood Zendo.

I was now 47 years old. I went on retreat with Bobby Rhodes (Soeng Hyang) of the Providence Zen Center. She gave me a koan about something existing from the beginning of time to end of time, like a cloud, etc. etc. I struggled with it and struggled with it. In a session with her, I said I got it, it is like the Cheshire cat, yes she said like that but without the cat, just the smile I said, and she said yes but without the smile and I got it! I got it! I saw in an instant flash how everything is connected from the beginning of time to the end of time like a cloud, I was this vast network glowing and twinkling. I was breathless and speechless and I started to cry. Just like that, Bobby said, just like that. That sense of connectedness has never left me, that moment irrevocably changed my life.

Is that enlightenment? I don’t know…the lessons continue to come, the challenges continue, and yet through it all I maintain some sense of equilibrium.

One piece missing for me since I left DC in 2003 was community. Until last year I struggled with finding a spiritual home, or a satisfying social network. I was very lonely but kept present about it and tried not suffer and did pretty well. Then last year I went to the Unitarian Church to support a friend who didn’t want to go by herself and I found a spiritual home. The minister is a Chinese gay man raised in the Philippines and who used to be the MCC minister here in Hawaii. He quotes from the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hahn often. He spent some time at Plum Village in France before coming to Hawaii. But the biggest treat is the congregation. We are diverse in age, race, philosophy, gender, No dogma, no creeds, no doxology, and no one god. I love it.


1. A caller asked Margaret to say more about meditation.
Margaret answered that meditation is a way to deal with reality—turning off the messages/mind chatter in mind. The subconscious takes over when the rest shuts down such that the essence of whatever is at hand rises up.

Another caller, a friend of Margaret’s calling from Germany, mentioned the work of Renate Rose—Thich Nhat Hahn: breath in/out; as soon as a thought starts let it go; let go of ego; why am I upset in this moment—sitting quietly—concentrating on breathing in/out and present moment; breathing in the breath of God, breathing out love; enjoying the present moment.

2. A participant called attention to Margaret’s insight that “You will suffer in life to the same degree that you wish things to be different.” She asked how to do help someone without being preachy?
Margaret replied that she helps people understand that it is all thought. She told the story of a client who came to her crying and to whom she told a joke about penguins. The joke distracted the woman from her issues so that In The Moment she was not sad. Instruction not preaching is Margaret’s way. She sometimes uses a caring tone to ask, “Is that true?” often getting the answer that it is not at the moment.  

3. Margaret was asked to talk some about the combination of Eastern and Western techniques for managing pain, for seeing the world. The moderator said that she gets how they work on their own, but asked how Margate puts them together?

Margaret answered that Western medicine is good at certain things especially technology (replace a heart etc.) but that western medical people tend to look at people in parts not as whole. Western medicine is good at things that need acute care—broken hip, for example. But many western doctors do not acknowledge that the mind has anything to do with what’s happening. Eastern approaches take care of the rest of it. All religions have some form of meditation that is helpful in mind-body medicine. Jon Kabat-Zinn uses meditation as part of cancer treatment. Margaret noted that if one dwells on how horrible cancer is you’ll probably die of it!

Margaret referred to the Rev. Margee Iddings’ sessions and sermons, which Margaret said, did not sound preachy. She urged people to cut out pictures from magazines, paste them on cards and take them home to be with the person pictures for the next week, to pray with/for them.

4. A caller said she was struck by Margaret’s courage, her insistence on practicing openness to new life that streams in when we surrender, the inevitable suffering that comes before harvest of joy. She asked Margaret about any thoughts on engagement in social justice work.

Margaret allowed as to how some of the most dedicated/effective civil rights activists are Buddhist clergy. Accepting the Buddhist path does not mean not taking action. She told how the gay marriage battle in Honolulu included the religious right being angry but being met by pro-marriage clergy who sang “Amazing Grace.” Margaret reported that it was effective, transforming the space with song and eventually the marriage equality bill passed so now there is gay marriage in Hawaii.

5. The moderator asked about people who are stuck. What do you say to people who feel stuck in life? In conversation with a woman who was in a job she didn’t like, the moderator referred to Margaret’s book, suggesting that whining about a job was so different from dealing with major life disruptions. Still, what would Margaret say to her as a counselor?

Margaret connected being stuck with fear. She would ask: What are you fearful about? What is the worst thing that can happen? Trust that the world is good.

Thank you again to Margaret Mann. This audio recording is on our website, .

The next WATER Teleconference will be Tuesday, May 13, 2104, 1PM EDT with Cynthia Tootle on”Greeting the Goddess.” Email "Register Me Teleconference" to by Monday, May 12, 2014 in order to receive dial-in information.

Information on all WATER activities can be found on our website at

22 April 2014

Women of Dignity/WATER Retreat June 13-15, 2014

Holy Wholly Holy 3
The Women of DignityUSA and Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual
(WATER) team up for a third retreat led by lesbian and queer women. This year we
will focus on holiness, sainthood—our own and other’s—and how we get there. The
weekend will include prayer, quiet, recreation, celebration, and conversation.
Women saints will guide our way. Wholly holy women will emerge.
Our weekend will run from 6:00 PM Friday when we gather for dinner through the conclusion of lunch on Sunday at 1:00 PM. The fee includes six meals, snacks,
beverages and all costs associated with participation in the retreat. There are both
commuter and residential rates. All sleeping rooms have double beds and private baths.
The Retreat and Conference Center has plenty of parking for those choosing to
drive. For those who will travel by train or plane, we will provide information on
ground transportation from BWI airport along with your registration confirmation.
For more information contact or

Holy Wholly Holy 3

11 April 2014

May 13 Teleconference with Cynthia Tootle

WATER's Feminist Conversations in Religion Series Presents
"Greeting the Goddess"
An hour-long teleconference with
Cynthia Tootle
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
1 pm - 2 pm EDT
Cynthia Lea Tootle is an ordained Interfaith Minister. She studied at the All Faiths Seminary International. She serves currently as an associate minister of the Takoma Park Metaphysical Chapel. Her ministry includes monthly services that honor the Goddess in innovative rituals. Cynthia uses her creativity to develop services and classes that introduce people to many kinds of spiritual practices that open people up to intuitions and spiritual energies.
Cynthia retired after 35 years of working as a civilian engineer and technical manager for the US Department of Army. She has a B.S. in Applied Mathematics from the University of Michigan, College of Engineering, and an M.S. in Management Science from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
The Rev. Tootle lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, filling her spare time with gardening, Yoga, Qi Gong, and making quilts for children in need.
Suggested Reading:Dialogue with the Goddess (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012). Available in paperback and kindle edition from Amazon.
Mary E. Hunt wrote of the book:"Cynthia Tootle offers a prayer book, a wise guide, a conversation, and beautiful images to nurture relationships with the Goddess in Her many splendors. Savor this offering with all of the richness it entails. You, too, can be among Her loves."
          Email "Register Me Teleconference" by Monday, May 12, 2014 in order to receive dial-in information.

Déjà vu All Over Again on Contraception

MaryHuntbio (1)Originally posted for Feminist Studies in Religion 
I was in front of the Supreme Court on March 25, 2014, on a snowy spring morning when the justices heard oral arguments for the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby case about the provision of birth control as part of health care. Maybe it was the miserable weather with wet snow flakes the size of silver dollars that made me wonder what we were doing in 2014 lining up on two sides of a one-dimensional issue. Democracy demands patience, but enough already when it comes to women’s bodies.
Contraception seemed to be settled ethics, if not settled law, until the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, what some call Obamacare, came along. Stung by its very passage in 2010, opponents have focused on contraceptive coverage as a way to whittle away at the new plan. Ironically, it has proved to be more popular than skeptics expected. Millions of previously uninsured people, including young folks who can stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26, benefit from provisions of the law. But for those who would prefer that the government not be involved in health care even if it means millions would be underserved, birth control is their issue of choice, all puns intended.
Birth control seems so last century. Didn’t our mothers and grandmothers struggle for affordable, effective contraception? Isn’t it part of routine health care, standard of practice, for all women of childbearing age? If so, why is it even up for discussion, much less litigation, when it comes to a law that applies to everyone? No one seems concerned about the removal of an appendix so why sweat birth control when it is part of normal insurance coverage?
In two cases before it, the Supreme Court will decide if private companies can plead religious scruples about covering this basic health care for women. The matter of corporations being religious remains opaque—I’ve never seen one receive communion or fast during Ramadan. What concerns me is the backpedaling on women: clearly women’s bodies are somehow beyond the pale, not normatively human, subject to discussion when it comes to health care. I think not.
Fortunately, there are religious resources this time around to counter the conservative narrative. And there are women religious leaders who prioritize this matter even when some of their usually outspoken male counterparts have apparently taken a vow of silence on the issue. The Religious Institute, “a multifaith organization dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society” issued a statement signed by dozens of religious leaders in support of “contraceptive access for all.” Catholics for Choice and many other groups (including WATER) filed an amicus brief arguing that “people of faith support contraceptive access and true religious liberty for all.” The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, made up of several dozen groups, takes a strong stand for access to contraception, including Emergency Contraception.
These groups, along with the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, National Council of Jewish Women, and the Methodist Federation for Social Action, co-sponsored an interfaith worship service and procession to the Supreme Court on the snowy day as a way to articulate faith that includes women’s well being. Speaker after speaker made cogent cases for why conscience matters, how we live religious diversity, why women’s health and especially family planning are so important, and what religious liberty means and doesn’t.
Other religious groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops, rallied by the Becket Fund turn the religious liberty issue on its head. To insist on the religious right to limit women’s choices by refusing to abide by the new health care laws is an odd, not to say pernicious, claim. One might be persuaded that religious liberty were at stake if the question were blood transfusions, but when it comes to contraception there is little doubt that control of women is the primary motivation.
I have often wanted to say that my faith constrains me when it comes to paying for war, the death penalty, and ecological destruction. But in a democracy one makes certain concessions and finds ways to counter the worst impacts of things with which one disagrees. But apparently women’s autonomy, women’s bodies, women’s choices, women’s moral agency, and women’s well being do not warrant such respect by many people. Is it déjà vu or were we naïve to think that anything every changed at all?
I expect to be in front of the Supreme Court on what will probably be a scorching summer day in 2014 when the Supreme Court will reveal its verdict. Signs will wave: “We are the 99% of Catholic women who use birth control”; “If men could get pregnant birth control would be sold in gum ball machines and be bacon flavored.” I will not mind the heat any more than the snow. But I will be extremely disappointed if my intern colleagues and my teenage daughter have to struggle for basic health care coverage ever again.

10 April 2014

May 11 Discussion with Victoria Rue

victoria rue
WATER invites you for a discussion on
"Lesbian Queer
Catholic Married Priest -
So What?"
Led by Victoria Rue
Sunday, May 11, 2014
at 11:30AM EDT
Victoria Rue is a professor at San Jose State University in Comparative Religious Studies and Women's Studies. She has a Masters of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York City and a Ph.D from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. She is a theatre writer and director. As a Roman Catholic woman priest she helped to establish three faith communities in the northern California Bay Area.Victoria has published numerous articles, including "This Is My Body" in New Feminist Christianity: Many Voices Many Views, edited by Mary E. Hunt & Diann L. Neu, 2010. Victoria's book, Acting Religious: Theatre as Pedagogy in Religious Studies, was published by Pilgrim Press. In January l988, Victoria was called forth by Dignity NYC to con-celebrate a Mass with an out gay priest on 5th Avenue, across from St. Patrick's Cathedral. In l995 in Oakland, California, she co-founded A Critical Mass: Women Celebrating the Eucharist. In 2005, she was one of four women ordained as priests on a boat on the St. Lawrence Seaway. Victoria and her partner Kathryn Poethig, M.Div., Ph.D., met at Union Theological Seminary. Kathryn is a candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian Church, and is Associate Professor Global Studies at California State University at Monterey Bay. They celebrated their twentieth anniversary of commitment in September 2008 by getting married. For more on Victoria, see her website:
Please reply to with the words “Catholic Lesbian/Queer Women's Discussion” by Friday, May 9, 2014, to receive the phone-in information and a short piece by Victoria on the topic. Then dial in from 11:30 AM until 12:30 PM on Sunday the 11th for what is sure to be a thoughtful conversation.
While other WATER conversations are open to a wider audience, this one is intended for women who are interested in same-sex love from a Catholic lesbian/queer perspective. Please spread the word.
The next conversation will be on Sunday, July 13, 2014 at 11:30 AM EDT.

08 April 2014

Happy Spring from WATER!

It's springtime! Are you ready for renewal and rebirth? We are!
Blossom (1)
Thanks to your support and generosity, WATER is full of life.
After a long winter, spring has come! There are many buds to show for it – rituals, programs, publications, lectures, and collaborations galore. We've been working non-stop and feeling involved and invigorated. Join in!
Did you catch our recent teleconferences with Anne E. Patrick, Jamie Manson, or Margaret Mann? What about contemplative prayer with Hope Bauerlin or Janet Bohren? No? Never fear! Teleconference and contemplative prayer audios, notes, and more upcoming programs are posted on our website for your convenience!
Did you see Mary and Cathy's tribute to Kaye Ashe (¡Presente!) in the National Catholic Reporter? Check it out here!
Your donations support all of these resources, Summer Interns, and more! Come join the party for a feel-good spring, and donate to WATER today!
You put a spring in our step. You are a vital part of this global community. Together, we use feminist religious values to bring about much-needed social change.
We wish you a full and vibrant spring, and plenty of time to stop and smell the flowers!
With Blessings of Spring,
Mary Signature 2011          Diann Signature 2011           Cathy Jaskey Signature Final
Mary E. Hunt            Diann L. Neu                 Cathy Jaskey