Category Archives: beliefs

After 50 – Another View

I’ve been pondering on a couple of articles I read lately.  In Aging while female is not your worst nightmare,  Lori Day poignantly describes the impact of ageism – summing it up in these words:

“The wisdom that comes with age has little value to anyone but those possessing it, because wisdom is another word for old, and old is what no one wants to be.”

I remember my mother talking about feeling like she wasn’t heard, at meetings,  interacting with sales clerks, and even in groups of friends.  She was much older than 50 when it happened to her, but she was frustrated and indignant.  Often, it was that thing that happens to all women sometimes – Mom would be in a meeting, she’d suggest something, and no one would say anything.  Five minutes later, someone younger, or male, would suggest it and suddenly everyone thinks it’s a great idea.  It used to drive her crazy.

But at least Mom gave me advance notice.  I knew this was coming someday.  Day, who is 51 or 52, bemoans the fact that no one warned her.

“I’m looking at perhaps three more decades of my life that will be shaped to some degree by not only misogyny, but by the intersection of misogyny and ageism. That’s a whole bunch of years I never gave the slightest thought to when I was younger. No older woman ever demanded that I think about the fact that it would eventually happen to me. No one asked that I care about it, respond to it, and recognize the unfairness of what can sometimes feel like a one-way feminist street.”

She ends the article with a call to action:

“Let’s stick together. Let’s make a conscious effort to stop putting down older women to set oneself apart from them and from an inevitable form of bigotry that cannot presently be escaped.”

Good advice.

Then I read this article.  Women Over 50 are Invisible? I Must Have Missed the Memo.  Erica Jagger challenges the narrative that aging brings a new level of discrimination.  She says:

“I could look at myself and see a middle-aged, cash-strapped, over-worked, and occasionally overwrought single mom. OR I could see a survivor who shed her Stepford Wife shell and now isn’t letting anyone dictate how she should live, who she should date, or what kind of sex she should have.”

She attributes her sense of well-being, despite being 52, to her attitude.

“Shrugging off society’s death knell to mature women takes audacity, something every 50-plus woman needs if she doesn’t want to go gently into that good night. Feeling invisible stems less from one’s appearance, and more from the value we put on other people’s often shallow judgments of middle-aged women. I think it’s my refusal to listen to the messages telling me I’ve passed my expiration date, and my determination to create a brilliant second act, that makes me seem younger than my years.”

So I’ve been pondering these articles and my own experience, thinking about the women I know, and trying to figure out where I stand.  I think…

Fifty is not actually old.  It may be the beginning of the crone stage of life, but just barely.  At 50, I began to celebrate life.  I realized that I really could do anything I wanted, without seeking anyone’s approval or permission.  I took risks and made life changing decisions.

In my 50’s, I grew into myself.  If something didn’t work out, I quit doing it and tried something different.  I spoke up and spoke out (not that I was exactly shy and inhibited before) and I expanded my world.

But I also remember being 35 and in graduate school.   In the middle of class, some older woman would raise her hand and I would roll my eyes, thinking, ‘Here we go again,” as she started a long and slightly off-topic tale of her experiences.    I felt bad for doing it.  I did.  But sheesh.  This woman (and there was more than one of her) had a story for every single situation, you know?   Being old doesn’t automatically confer wisdom or make all your words golden and not every occasion has to be a sharing opportunity.

I’m almost 60.  Well, just turned 59 – same thing.  My life is super good – I have a career I love, with enough variety to keep me happy.   I live with my partner, who I love.  He’s fun and interesting, and we’re comfortable with each other.   We have enough money to cover all our needs and many of our wants.   I have delightful friends, who I enjoy; activities that keep me busy and are rewarding.  I have amazing grandchildren, and even though one of my daughters lives very far away, we’re still close, and thank goodness, we live in the age of Skype and air travel.

I would not trade any part of my life for a chance to be younger.  It took me 59 years to get here, and I have no desire to go back to being 40 or 30 or 20 – and, absolutely-no-way-in-hell, not a teenager.

So I’m not young.  I’m a crone, and proud of it, but just beginning to come to terms with it.  I don’t quite know what it means yet, or how I will grow into it.

Some thoughts I consider:

1.  It’s ok to need help.  (I know, of course it is.  Particularly if it’s you that needs help, and not me – it’s totally ok for you.)

2.  Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I have to.

3.  It’s ok for other people to figure things out for themselves.  Even if I already “know” the answer.

4.  Sometimes, my right answer is not actually the right answer.

5.  No matter how wise I am, not everyone is obliged to listen to me or agree with me.  It’s up to me to say the things I think need to be said.  I don’t have to make anyone hear me.

6.  It’s ok if someone explains something to me that I already know.  Even if I learned it the hard way, before they were born.   It’s ok to just agree with them.  I don’t always “already know,” and they can’t read my mind.

8.  I am headed toward death.  Seriously.  People my age die all the time and only old people say, “But they were so young!”  If I get to die without a long layover in dementia, I’ll consider myself lucky.

I’ve noticed that as we age, often, we simplify.  We move to smaller places, strip our homes of everything except the most necessary or treasured belongings.

Maybe we strip our egos too, gradually scale down from strong active leader to wise consultant.  From star to supporting character.  Maybe our voices need to become softer so that other people can find their own voices, so they’ll be ready to carry on without us.

I’m not there yet – let me be clear – I’m not stepping aside right now.  Life still has plenty of challenges and surprises for me.  But I am letting go of some things, and feeling ok about it.  Working on figuring out how the “growing old” thing works.

I can almost envision a time of being truly retired.  Maybe not til I’m 80, but someday.  I’ll take a leisurely walk on the beach every morning, read for sheer pleasure, and enjoy all the small moments.   I won’t have a long to-do list to put off doing.  If anyone wants my advice, they’ll have to email me, or call, or come visit.  They’ll have to ask me what I think.

I’ll spend time with loved ones, family and friends.  Maybe I’ll write, or volunteer to read at a nursing home or kindergarten.   I’ll have little projects that will enrich my life without any effort to change the world – and do it content in the knowledge that y’all young people are out there working hard at all the things that matter.

That doesn’t sound so bad.


What I Was Trying to Say about Rape and Blame and Teachers and Teens

I got into a discussion that became an argument yesterday, on Facebook.  I know, I know, that’s a bit ridiculous in itself.    A Facebook argument with people I don’t really know, who don’t know me and don’t have any context for the things I say, is probably not all that productive.   But I began clarifying my thoughts, and that led me to this post today, so maybe it was helpful

It started with this article by Betsy Karasik entitled “The unintended consequences of laws addressing sex between teachers and students.”   But the more popular reference to it was “Sex between students and teachers should not be a crime.”

Background.  Earlier in the week, a judge had released the teacher who raped a 14 year old girl.  The girl killed herself, the rapist served 30 days in jail.  Even when he violated the requirements of the treatment program he was attending, the rapist was not held accountable.   The judge’s comments blamed the victim and revealed a total lack of understanding of how rapists function.    There was a huge outcry against the judge, and, as I write this, it seems possible that both the rapist and the judge may experience some strong consequences.

Then comes Betsy Karasik’s article, suggesting that maybe we shouldn’t criminalize rape when it’s an adolescent and a teacher, that maybe teenage girls aren’t completely victims, that maybe men can’t really help themselves and we’re being unrealistic to expect them to.

Let me be perfectly clear.  I do not agree with her.  Do NOT agree.  Do NOT AGREE.  DO NOT AGREE with her.

Background.  I’m a therapist – mental health – and I work primarily with people who have experienced abuse, particularly sexual abuse.    One in four, or maybe one in three, women experience some kind of sexual assault or molestation.  One in six men.  That’s not always the issue my clients come to therapy to address, and it’s not always *the problem,* but it’s often part of the story.

So I’ve spent a lot of time listening to people talk about their experience of abuse.  What happened, what they thought at the time, what they think now, and how they feel.  I’ve got extensive training in a number of approaches to working with trauma, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Processing Therapy, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy.   I can talk all day about trauma and survivors and healing and moving to thriving ~ and will if you get me started.  But I’m going to try to really stay on track here, which means I’m leaving out a lot more than I’m saying.

I believe that when people are abused, two things that happen that contribute greatly to long-term emotional suffering afterwards.   First, we don’t experience our feelings when the trauma is happening.  We’re focused on surviving.  It’s not safe to feel our feelings, we just need to get through the trauma.  And that’s protective.  Numbing out or dissociating protects us from feeling the full impact of what’s happening.

That’s really helpful at the time, and helps us survive.  But.  It creates a whole new set of problems if we’re not able to reclaim the feelings and process them later – and really, who wants to do that??

The second thing that happens, typically, is that the victim ends up feeling like it was their own fault the trauma or abuse happened.   Perpetrators of sexual abuse ~ and our culture in general ~ have a real talent for victim blaming in a way that often completely convinces the victim.   From “I shouldn’t have gone to Walmart at night” to “I should have known better than to go with him,” to “But I wanted it ~ it’s totally my fault ~ I actually started flirting with him!” the victim is convinced something they did caused the abuse.

I don’t believe the victim is ever responsible for getting raped.   People get raped because they cross paths with a rapist at a time when they’re vulnerable.   It is always the rapist’s fault.

But believing that we had some control over the situation sometimes helps people believe that we can keep it from happening again.  It feels protective.  The desire to believe we can keep ourselves safe is really at the heart of lots of victim blaming.

So ~  when I first start working with a client,  often, they’ll say, “Here’s what happened.  I know it wasn’t my fault.”  Then they tell me 35 other things that suggest they’re living their life like they totally think it was their fault.

And at some point, they say, “I know in my head that it wasn’t my fault ~ and that’s what everyone tells me ~ so I don’t know why I still feel like it’s my fault.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

That’s a powerful moment.  The confession “I still feel like it’s my fault” carries a load of shame.

Carl Jung says, “Shame is a soul eating emotion.”  Brené Brown says,  “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”

If I try to convince my client that it wasn’t their fault, that they shouldn’t feel like it was, I am adding to the shame they already carry.  I’m dis-validating their feelings, telling them they’re wrong to feel the way they feel ~ which is part of what helps create the shame in the first place.

It’s more helpful to point out that of course they feel that way, it makes perfect sense, and then begin to look at how that works.

So that’s what I heard when I read Betsy Krasik’s article.  I heard the same thing my clients often say ~ particularly ones who were teenagers when the abuse happened.  “Men can’t control themselves,” “I was mature for my age,” and “I wanted it.  I asked for it.”

I have no idea if Betsy Krasik was speaking from her own experience or other people’s  ~ and I don’t think it matters.   She’s not my client, and I’m not particularly concerned about changing her mind.  But.

It seems like people are responding to Ms. Karasik the same way they dd to the judge who made the victim-blaming comments and the poor decision in sentencing.  As if she should never have voiced the opinion, as if just saying her thoughts out loud was wrong.

Ms. Karasik got the “Asshole of the Day,” award.  Someone said she had “just given a free pass to pedophiles,” as if her article would allow pedophiles to feel justified.    Just for the record, pedophiles don’t need a free pass ~ they act based on their own motivations and already feel justified.

But I think our response to Ms. Karasik adds another layer of shame for people who have those thoughts.  She isn’t a judge; she isn’t making decisions that affect sexual offenders.  She said something that lots of people secretly believe.  If we yell at her and act like she’s awful for saying those things, we pass that shame on to people who have the same questions, carry the same doubt.

We need to refute what Ms. Karasik says.  We need to explain why she’s wrong.  But  we don’t need to act like she’s wrong for saying it.  Lots of people won’t speak up because they *know* it’s *wrong* to feel that way.  But if we can’t talk about it, how do we process those thoughts?  How do we find “the facts of the matter”?

I think Ms. Krasik did us a service by speaking her mind.  She opens the door to having a real conversation about it with people who secretly think she’s right.  I don’t want to vilify her and shame her for speaking up.  I want to thank her for putting her ideas out there. That’s what I was trying to say on Facebook yesterday.

“If we are going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. To set down those lists of *what we’re supposed to be* is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.”
― Brené Brown

Time to Say No? (Part II)

Having listed some of the more pressing reasons that I may be called to reject Catholicism, I’ll begin to look at the reasons why I don’t want to do that.

I.  All That Mumbo-Jumbo

Recently, I was talking to some friends who aren’t Catholic about some of the issues I have with the church.  One of them said, “Well, the Catholics have all that mumbo-jumbo…”

And I confess, I bristled for a moment.  Some of that mumbo-jumbo is the very thing I love about the church.

My friend went on to talk about the connection between some aspects of Catholicism and the pagan religions that pre-existed Jesus.  After that, we slid rapidly over to saints, recognized and “deleted” ones, so I didn’t have a chance to say ~

“Hang on.  That connection with pagan religions – and Judaism – is part of what I love about Catholicism.”

After all, religion of some sort has been around forever.  It’s not like the Christians came up with the idea of religion.  So why wouldn’t we hang on to whatever traditions and rites we could?  I’ve heard people fuss about that before, as if it proves something bad, but it’s always made perfect sense to me.

Being a martyr for Christianity was one thing – why would people have to give up a celebration around the winter solstice too?  In my mind, the carry-over reflects our connection with the collective unconscious, and I don’t want to lose that.

The other thing that people often mean when they talk about the “mumbo-jumbo” of the Catholic Church is the saints – and I plan to keep them.  No, really, I do.

I’m not giving up St Christopher – I know, we don’t count him anymore, but we really do.  Not giving up St. Therese – not St. Therese of Avila or St. Therese of  Lisieux either one.  Keeping St. Francis of Assisi.  St. Martin de Porres.  St. William.  St. Augustine.  The list goes on and on.

Ok, maybe they’re kind of like imaginary heavenly friends… still.  How could I let go of a saint who in his wild youth says, “O Master, make me chaste – but not yet.”  (St Augustine.)

Or St Therese of Lisieux, who created “the Little Way” – who first said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”  

St. Therese of Avila, who said,  “If this is the way You treat Your friends, no wonder You have so few!” and “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us!” 

Nope, not letting go of them…  

Other “mumbo-jumbo” – sometimes that used to mean the Latin mass, and that’s already gone. I don’t long for those good ole days, so I don’t have to worry about that.

Or, “mumbo-jumbo” can mean the rites and rituals of Catholicism.  Once again, I’m fond of them.   That’s not what bothers me.

I’ll miss the mass.  It’s part of me.

I remember when I was little, maybe 8 or 9, getting up real early in the morning in the summer, riding my bike to 5:00 mass.  Yes, 5:00 in the morning.  Even back then, not a lot of people picked that mass, but some did.  There was something magical about going alone in the quiet pre-dawn…

Those first mass memories were at the Newman Center in Lexington, at U of K.  I loved Father Moore and remember how exciting it was when Vatican II started.

Then we moved to Louisville, and found St. William, back when Ben O’Connor was there.  John and Vince Grenough were still priests, and sometimes we’d say the “Our Father” in sign language.  And the priest from Nigeria, omigosh, I can’t remember his name – Emmanuel, maybe?  Drums were a new experience in church, and we used to sing “If I Had a Hammer…”  Kenny Wade was young and used to wear a peace sign round his neck.


Those are memories to pull out and look at another day.

I get to keep the memories, I know that, but they will not have the same meaning.

Time to Say No?

At church today, Father Tony Gittins, from Chicago, was a guest homilist.  I thought I had heard the name before, and when I google it, I see that he’s renowned for his teachings on discipleship and social justice.  Cool.

His homily is excellent, of course.  The reading today is about the man with two sons who he asks to go work in his vineyard.  One son says “no,” but goes out and works anyway.  The other son says “yes,” but doesn’t go work.  Jesus asks, “Which son does his father’s will?” 

Father Gittins preaches on it admirably, and actually in a way that might change my life.  But let me give this some context first.

I go to a Catholic church.  

Yes, I’m Catholic.  

I suppose.  

Staying Catholic is increasingly a struggle for me.  

I was raised Catholic, but not in the tradition of American Catholic grade schools, nuns with rulers, and families with 10 children.   My Mama’s Catholicism was more Italian style and, at least in her world, the pope gave his opinion and people agreed – or didn’t.  No hard feelings either way.

I remember her explaining to me that while it was important to listen to the Pope, he was only infallible when he spoke “ex cathedra.” I remember her saying that a pope had only done that three times in the history of the church.  

I understood that if you didn’t agree with him when he spoke ex cathedra, you couldn’t call yourself Catholic.  But the rest of the time, you didn’t necessarily have to agree.

As I write that now, in today’s climate, I find myself wondering – was that really what she said?  And then I remember John Kennedy, our only Catholic president.  I remember how proud we were when someone asked him what he’d do if the pope tried to tell how to decide something based on religion.

I remember him saying that he would have to do what was right for the country, that we wouldn’t “be ruled from Rome,” which was a big fear at the time.  I remember feeling proud, and other Catholics did too.

I had this sense of being Catholic back then as something that I intrinsically was, in almost the same way that Jewish people are Jewish.  I suspect that was very Italian of me.

Ok, so fast forward a bunch of years, and a bunch of experiences.  I know now that being accepted by the Catholic church in America in our time is very conditional. And I guess that’s ok.

So, I go to this Catholic Church that is pretty liberal.  We always have been.  We’re a church I can love, with our inclusive language, ecumenical leanings, commitment to peace and the pursuit of social justice.  Sounds good, right?

Of course, some of our stuff is getting a little shaky these days.  New pope, new Archbishop, and we’re working on keeping a low profile.  Inclusive language is not acceptable and let’s not talk about women being called to serve as pries~~~ shhhh – don’t say it.  Hush.

Yes, really.

But we’ve hung in there so far, and keep looking for ways to adapt and survive.  

I won’t name the church, it doesn’t really matter and I want to give them plausible deniability, cause by the time I finish writing this, they may need to not claim me.

So here we are, this little radical Christian Catholic Church, full of peace and love and inclusion.  This is what it looked like to me today:

We start off with the sign of the cross.  We used to say an inclusive version ~ “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Holy Sanctifier.”  There are other versions too that have been considered acceptable, but~~

~~ but it’s inclusive, it doesn’t make it clear that God’s our Father, not our Mother.  Can’t have that.

So now we don’t say it.  We don’t say anything.  We make the sign of the cross silently, and say what we want to say to ourselves.

How sad is that?

But we have permission to do that.  Thanks.

So we go on, and I notice again that it’s been ages, really ages since we used one of my favorite songs before the readings.  Maybe a year.  Maybe more.  It’s one I love, and we used to do it often, but it seems to be gone.  I wonder if it’s on the not-acceptable-music list.

I let that go, and I’m fine til it’s time for the gospel.  Then our esteemed visitor rises to read the Gospel, and I think ~

“He’s a priest, so he’s allowed to read the Gospel.  The other people we have, our local prophets and preachers, aren’t allowed to do that, and they aren’t allowed to preach.   They’re allowed to stand there while a priest reads the gospel and does some little homily just to remind us all that he has the power and the authority.  Then they can expound on what he says.  But some priest can walk in off the street, and read the gospel himself.”

And i feel a little sick.  

No offense to the visiting priest intended.  It’s the message we send our lay people that bothers me.

So Father Gittins reads the story about the two sons and the conversation Jesus has about the discrepancy between their words and their behavior.  Father says that he read the non-inclusive language version on purpose because it’s important that the story is about sons, not daughters.  He says he’ll expound on that later, but I must have missed that part.

Anyhow, it doesn’t really matter, because I’m taken with the rest of his homily.  Here’s what sticks with me.  

The story is about integrity.  Doing what you say.  Actions that match your words.  And the importance of saying “yes” when you mean “yes,” and “no,” when you mean “no.”  

The story, he says, is about the importance of rethinking things so we are transformed to God’s way of thinking.  

And I begin to ask myself – Can I call myself Catholic with any sense of integrity?

I run down the list of things that Catholics publicly proclaim these days – not just for Catholics, things that they – we? – try to force on everyone.

1.  Marriage is one man + one woman.  

We believe that so strongly that we’re not willing to provide adoption services if we might have to place a child in desperate need of a home with a gay or lesbian couple.  In fact, we’d rather withdraw our funding and not participate at all.

But I have gay and lesbian friends who’ve adopted and I believe they’re wonderful parents, and I believe they should be able to get married in all states.

2.  Getting divorced and remarrying is wrong. 

We Catholics believe this so strongly that in many churches you can’t go to Communion if you’re remarried, or serve on the parish council, or participate fully in the spiritual community. 

By those standards, I am already “beyond the pale.”  Of course, I’m not remarried anymore, but I’m pretty sure that getting divorced a second time doesn’t let me off the hook.

3.  Artificial contraception is wrong.

We Catholics believe this so strongly that we won’t support any sex education that includes any kind of real birth control, not even condoms.  Not even in countries where young women are getting married and pregnant so young that they end up with fistulas.  Not even in countries where children are starving because there are too many mouths to feed.  Not even in countries where HIV is rampant.

Ludicrous, I think this stance is ludicrous.  And possibly evil.  

4.  Abortion is wrong under any circumstances.

We Catholics believe this so strongly that we excommunicated the mother of the nine year old in South America who was raped by her step-father and pregnant with twins, and we excommunicated the doctor who aborted them because she couldn’t have carried them to term and survived.  

We are ok with some women and the occasional child dying, that’s just the way it goes.

Since we don’t believe in artificial contraception, our chances of dying in childbirth go up, but that’s ok.  And it’s ok if we get raped and get pregnant – unfortunate, maybe, but just the way it is. Because once we’re born, women don’t really matter.  So of course –

5.  Women can’t be priests.

Never, never, never.  So much never that if we even say we think it’s wrong, we’re just-about-kind-of excommunicated.  So much never that even thinking some women are called to the priesthood is some kind of sin.

If you think I’m kidding – they’re on the verge of excommunicating Father Roy Bourgeois.  Maybe they already have and I missed it.  As I recall, he preached the homily at a mass for some renegade group of folk who were ordaining a woman.  They don’t want to kick him out – he’s a priest, after all, and they didn’t excommunicate any of the sexually predatory priests.  

But thinking that women should be priests is at least as bad as priests abusing children.

So let me say it publicly, proclaim it from the rafters – I think some women are called to be priests.  I think the Catholic Church is wrong not to recognize this and use the talent of these gifted and compassionate women.

AND – I escort at the abortion clinic, accompanying the patients and their companions down the gauntlet of pray-ers, preachers, and chasers, many of whom are Catholic.  I used to cringe a little when the Catholics marched down from the Cathedral once a month to fill the sidewalk across the street, certain that one day I’d look up and see someone I know.  But I no longer care.

There are lots of other places that I have issues with the Catholic church.  The ways we’ve treated our African-American brothers and sisters is one, but that’s a more subtle discussion.  So is the “God is male” position I think they – we? – take.  

But the five things I’ve listed – Marriage, Divorce, Contraception, Abortion, and Priesthood – are substantive and crystal clear.  I do not believe what the Catholic church teaches.

How can I say I’m Catholic???

Why would I want to??

(to be continued)
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