Friday, 18 September 2015

My doubt in the men of the Church grew stronger than my faith in them.

To John Pavlovitz from Lisa Owen.  

I read with gratitude your human and soulful rewrite of  the Apostle’s Creed.

Soon I'll turn sixty and as this milestone draws near, I’ve made the momentous and heartbreaking decision to leave my Church.

Here I am the second last girl in the second row from the left. It was also my second year of school at St.Clement's, Bulleen. So many twos and later I'll be talking about the Second Vatican Council!

We borrowed the St.John's, Heidelberg supper rooms until our new school was built. Standing n the doorway was our one and only teacher for the first year of St.Clements. Though not much taller than me, she was force to be reckoned with. It was either 1961 or '62. There's that two again!

My life was all about being Catholic: Mass once a week, sometimes more; Catholic Primary School, Secondary School, Teacher’s College and then teaching in Catholic Schools. I also went on to become a business woman and activist and then, while running a Youth Mass Group playing rock music, writing our own prayers and improvising the Gospel. The oldies hated it but the church was always full of young people. I broke ranks by marrying a non-Catholic and adopted two Korean children who came to Mass with me every Sunday as well as going to Catholic schools.

My dedication to and faith in Catholicism was nourished by a devoted family, my parish community and inspirational nuns who shared with me their very well informed thoughts and ideas as well as the writings of the great philosophers and saints of the Church.

But the Church I was born into was about to face the most radical change of its 2,000 year history. The Second Vatican Council, which took place during the time of the sixties Peace Movement, brought with it the promise of a new, invigorated church, inspired by the influence of two visionaries. Pope John XX111 and Pope Paul V1 hoped to modernise Catholic teaching, giving it renewed impetus and meaning.

Recognising that the Peace Movement reflected an historic shift within our modern spiritual consciousness, the two Popes, John and Paul, determined to reassess the rigid culture and staunch teachings of the Catholic Church, hoping to move us toward a freer, more inclusive, more Christ-like and humane spirituality, while at the same time inspiring the world with Christ's core values of love, inclusion, acceptance, forgiveness and peace. These core values had inspired many of the Church's saints to bring love into the world and inspired an even greater number of ordinary folk to do good works of charity and compassion.

As my mother said at last year's Christmas dinner, our faith inspired us to support each other and to try to give solace and hope to those who were suffering. In a harsh world we provided a safe harbour of goodness and light, expecting nothing in return. Little did she know she was training me to become a Greenie!

One can see in this picture that these two inspired and saintly Popes, definitely had their work cut out for them!

Despite the overwhelming nature of the task of Vatican 2, when I was nine years old, many initiatives were being implemented in parish communities around the world. This is St.Clement of Rome Church, my family's parish in Bulleen. I was married in front of that alter and our daughter was Baptised there.

It was built according to the new Vatican 2 design in the round, physically manifesting a radical re-think of the experience of the Mass, with the congregation radiating in a circle out from the alter. The Cardinals of Vatican 2 wanted us to think of each other as the metaphorical body of Christ. The aim was to facilitate a move away from the falsely perceived  'magical' rite of the Mass and power structure of the Church's hierarchy, replacing it with an egalitarian, inclusive gathering 'around the table' of our spiritual 'family'.

 It was hoped that we would pray for and grow in love with each other as an intrinsic part of the spiritual mystery of the birth, death and resurrection of Christ. We were to become equal with the clergy which would lead to a raising of the status of the laity. I think part of the idea, was to relieve the clergy of much of the managerial, administration and 'non clerical' ministeries.

I was in awe of our magnificent new church, which is one of the most beautiful of it's kind anywhere in the world.

But that was over fifty years ago and though Vatican 2 made a promising start, the conservative 'Pharisees' in the Church soon began to react and finally put their collective foot down.

We used to joke that in this picture of the Vatican 2 Synod there are many dresses but no women. Both Popes had hoped to modernise the dress code and deal with the Church's horrendous gender inequality but unfortunately they failed on both counts.

Despite the foot stomping of the Church's conservative traditionalists, there was a brief flowering of freedom, debate and inclusion and during that short time, my faith grew strong and optimistic. For about twenty years, the church progressed harmoniously, or so it seemed to me, with greater laity participation in the Mass and in  the running of parishes. Women were invited to read scripture at Mass and to hand out the Eucharist.

Then suddenly, for reasons I don’t understand though I suspect it had something to do with power, the fear of losing it and the neurosis and emotional dysfunction within the culture of the Church, the hierarchy of the church performed an amazing back flip. It was a tremendous, collective, conservative knee jerk. To this day my father's knee is still jerking... which is very sad considering he was one of the early instigators of the push to raise the status of the laity within the Church. He even helped to start a group called The Redemptorist Lay Community.

Dad's explanation for, in my opinion, the Church's 'retreat from sanity' was that the gentle swell of openness within the church instigated by the Second Vatican Council grew into an out of control tidal wave of change, that had to be stopped.

So, just as this young adult in her twenties was being inspired by a bright new, spirit filled Church community, the old men in dresses decided to shift the goal posts! I felt betrayed and abandoned by both my father and my church.

The laity was still included in the saying of the Mass but we were warned not to discuss the issues of women priests, dying with dignity (euthanasia), same sex marriage, along with many other issues.

The very popular rite of Communal Penance was stopped and any criticism of the Church or it's teachings, frowned upon. This reaction became the pattern of the Church throughout my adult life. Each time the laity began to grow in 'power' (if you  could call it 'power' ) and with it perhaps a little less conservative, the men in charge (in dresses) would perform another collective knee jerk.

I loved these beautiful windows at St.Joseph's Church in the seaside city of Warrnambool, Victoria where David I came to live in 1982. There's that two again!

At certain times of the year, when the sun was at the right angle, they'd light up the church, revealing very human faces, some of whom looked authentically Middle Eastern. Installed in 1954 about eleven years before the Second Vatican Council, these world renowned lead light windows cost the good, hard working people of St.Joseph's Parish the enormous sum of two thousand pounds ( $40,000 in today's money). Those good people were steeped in the old rigid faith and valiantly resisted change when it reached their isolated shores. My father used to say, the Catholic Church is alive and well and living in Warrnambool. It was ironic that he rejoiced in that which drove me away!

Years later, my journey away from the Church reached a pivotal moment. We (the progressive minority) knew Church scholars had been working on our beloved rite for a number of years and, optimistically, we hoped that the language of the new Mass would be more gender inclusive…or even gender neutral. Alas, it was not to be. Instead, the language is now even more focused on a masculine God. The priests were not happy about the change but still they adopted it like good, frightened little robots.

Today, I’ve finally accepted that the Church is broken and I can’t fix it. I can’t even try to help fix it. I can’t even hope that it will ever be fixed…despite our magnanimous and inspirational new Pope Francis.

The Church is broken and my faith, or should say my faith i the church, is broken with it.

Maybe it's crazy to hold on to ones spiritual beliefs with absolute, incontrovertible assurance, although, my husband thinks I’m a little bit crazy (just enough to make me interesting). Most of us, if we're honest, have some doubt. We hang in there because our belief generally outweighs the doubt but in the end, I was worn down by the ever present men on high and the women who supported them and the culture of silent obedience (we could question some things but not expect anything to change...not until another Vatican Council...maybe Pope Francis will call one.).

My doubt in the men of the Church grew stronger than my faith in them and quite suddenly, it all seemed far too absurd and ridiculously obsolete. My daughter said that it had become embarrassing to sit beside me at Mass, because I'd sit on the pew, pulling faces, rolling my eyes and quietly groaning. It was an outward sign of my frustration, anger and sense of betrayal. Without any doubt I know that God would not want me to attend Mass, if it caused me such emotional discomfort.

The sex abuse scandals and the Church’s response to them and the consequent cataclysmic damage that’s been visited upon families and whole communities, was in the end enough to drive me away.

That and the fact that women are treated as lesser beings, not equal, not priestly, not credible. We were taught that Mary, Jesus' mother, had changed the status of Jewish women. Strange that 2,000 years later, there is little difference in the status of women in the Church.

I know we’re all broken. I know we’ve been taught that God is with us in our brokenness but to me, it didn’t look as though those priests, bishops and others who work so hard to maintain the organisation of the church, were in the slightest bit broken and certainly not as broken as the poor children who had their whole lives ruined…nor the families who had been torn apart…nor the communities in remote areas who were decimated by alcohol, drugs, mental illness and suicide. Where was the God of the Church for those people? In the hearts and minds of the victims, the Catholic God had become the embodiment of the devil itself.

I could relate to your version of the Creed, with one exception. You referred to God as ‘He’. We’ve been taught that God is neither male nor female, yet still we refer to God as ‘He'. I believe that until this one seemingly small thing changes, nothing else will. So, just to stir the pot and hopefully make a point, I always refer to God as 'She'.

Now I spend nearly all my time trying, with others, to help save God’s Earth from human destruction. Our beautiful planet may well be the only one in the entire universe brimming with billions of complex and diverse life forms. And so, knowing this, what do human beings do? They continue to wantonly destroy it!

I organise, I write, I meet and I fight the devastation of mining, urbanisation, industrialisation, deforestation, corporatisation, greed, exploitation, factory farming, pollution and waste. I fight for human rights and the rights of all species to exist on a healthy planet. I believe I'm doing what God asks every one of us to do.

Along the way, this determination lead me to realise that unless we change our human laws, we'll never save our only home, the Earth. So, about thirteen years ago I joined the Australian Greens. Though many Greens don't believe in God, I know they're the only political party and global political movement, trying to save Her creation.

As Greens we work to change Australian legislation and to win Government in order to stop our country from persecuting refugees and to fight for the rights of all human beings and all other species. The four tenets upon which we base all our policies are:

Grassroots Democracy
Peace and Non Violence
Social Justice
A Sustainable Environment

The Greens are the only consistently ethical, global political organisation with credible and sustainable human rights and environmental policies.

Thank you for speaking my thoughts and feelings in your version of the Apostle’s Creed. The words  resonated deep in my soul.

‘May God hold you in the palm of Her hand.’

Lisa Owen
Warrnambool, Australia

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Hello. I'm the Growling Grass Frog.

It's hard to believe that these beautiful animals may soon be lost to us and to the Earth. 

The Growling Grass Frog is a permanent resident of the Merri Wetlands near Warrnambool in Victoria, while others visit for a holiday once a year.

The Merri Wetlands Protection Group is a tiny group of local people who fight to stop the industrialisation of this important ecosystem.

With this aim we went to VCAT (civil court) but now we must pay legal fees. That's why we need your help.

Please donate whatever you can.
It's easy to give on-line on the My Cause site but cheaper for us if you directly deposit into the bank account that is listed on the site.

With much gratitude and love,
Lisa Owen
On behalf of the Merri Wetalnd Protection Group