High Horses & the Starving Faithful: Thoughts on Sex, God, & Belonging

“That’s a fine looking high horse. What you got in the stable? We’ve got a lot of starving faithful. That looks tasty, that looks plenty. This is hungry work. Take me to church, I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies. I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife. Offer me that deathless death, good God let me give you my life.”

One of my WiT colleagues, Maria McDowell, recently wrote a series of posts regarding the recent confirmation of a man who is avowedly pro-White (or, as they put it, “pro-identity”) into the Orthodox Church. I can’t help but chuckle a little about the language of “pro-identity,” however, considering that I often associate the term ‘identity’ with difference—with racial and ethnic diversity and with LGBTQ equality, whereas the Traditionalist Youth Network is very much about ethnic “purity,” not to mention that they “firmly consider homosexual activity a sin and vigorously oppose its promotion in the public square as an accepted and moral lifestyle.”

I was struck by Maria’s blog post, and what she was responding to, this weekend when I happened to see this, the music video for “Take Me to Church,” the debut single released by the Irish singer-songwriter Hozier.



This video struck me as a powerful illustration of precisely what Maria was responding to, highlighting the kind of violence that “protecting a culture” can very realistically and seriously result in. I especially appreciated Maria’s critique of the dangers of this notion of “protecting a culture,” and wanted to reflect a little bit on the relationship between purity, religion, and sex, amongst some other things, in light of the Hozier song and video…

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Work-Life Balance and Parenting Styles: Bringing Up Bébé

A few days after I wrote my last post on work-life balance in academia, a dialogue broke out between the Catholic Moral Theology blog and Women in Theology about work-life balance in the context of motherhood in academia. My post wasn’t specifically focused on motherhood, though I contextualized my discussion in the dialogue over motherhood in academia, referencing the text Professor Mommy specifically.

As I mentioned to some of the women in my program, I read all of these posts through the lens of having just recently finished Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.1 Although I haven’t personally experienced the stresses of balancing motherhood and academia, as I read the whole dialogue between the blogs, all I could think was: There has to be another way! Maybe, just maybe, we can learn from some of the parenting styles in other parts of the world (like France) and find a better way to balance motherhood (and fatherhood) with the academic lifestyle.

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Selfishness, Selflessness, and the Work-Life Balance in Academia

You haven’t the faintest conception of what I went through with your dear Robert. The ingratitude! It was I who made a man of him! Sacrificed my whole life to him! And what was my reward? Absolute, utter selfishness.

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

Rachel: Maybe Joey’s right. Maybe all good deeds are selfish.
Phoebe: I will find a selfless good deed. ‘Cause I just gave birth to three children and I will not let them be raised in a world where Joey is right.

Friends, “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS” (1998)

Over a weekend earlier this month, I had a text conversation with my brother about the feelings of guilt I was having about not doing more work. I had gotten up in the morning and paid our bills, got together all our tax information to send to the accountant, finally packed up the holiday decorations, and did some cleaning. By mid-afternoon, I was sitting in front of my computer playing games online because I was worn out and lost all motivation to work. When I told my brother what I was doing, he said that I had earned the break. My response? “I still feel guilty about it. There’s so much I could be doing!”

One of the things that I struggle with in graduate school is finding the work-life balance that allows me to be content with the amount of work that I put in and still take time for myself that allows me the space to recharge. I don’t have the answers yet, unfortunately. But I hope that this reflection on gender, Christian selflessness, and work-life balance will raise some ideas in others about how to balance work and life in academia and hopefully start a conversation about things we can do to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

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Trauma, Suffering and Childbirth

It has been now nearly a year since I gave birth to my son.  The pregnancy itself, though within the range of normal and healthy, was a completely miserable experience.  I wanted it to be over as soon as possible and then never wanted to do it again, ever.  When asked about how I was anticipating birth to be, I usually answered that I wasn’t nervous at all.  I didn’t know why everyone kept asking about it since, really, how hard could it be?  It would only last one (or two?) days and I would have a lot of support around me.  What made pregnancy so difficult for me was the monotony of feeling awful and alone nearly every day for nine months.

Fairly late in my pregnancy I had a meeting with a faculty member who was advising me on something related to my dissertation project on the topic of sexual trauma.  At the end of the meeting she said to me, “Speaking of trauma, when are you due?”  I was taken off guard by her comment.  As one who I know takes seriously the horrors of sexual abuse and rape (and as one who has given birth herself), I was surprised by the apparent casualness with which she seemed to equate childbirth and a violent act of personal violation.  It was meant partly as a joke, I know.  And, probably it was not an entirely thoughtful or sensitive one either.  But as I would come to find out, there was something true about it. Continue reading

Work and Family Balance: Some Open Questions

Last week I wrote about Anne-Marie’s Slaughter’s piece “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” In this post, I attempted to highlight the problematic gender assumptions undergirding Slaughter’s argument, the most important one being the uncritical claim that women qua women feel a strong, natural, “maternal” imperative to think about the family/work balance differently, and better, than men naturally do. Continue reading

Women Speak About Natural Family Planning: X’s Story

This is the seventh in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning.  To read previous posts, click here.  To read the post that originally inspired this project, click here.  To read about the purpose of and ground rules for this project, click here.

X’s Story

When my husband and I graduated from college about 15 years ago, we belonged to a perhaps unusual social group (although not that unusual if you hang around Catholic colleges): we and a bunch of our friends were getting married in our early twenties and were gung-ho for NFP. We had heard lots of talks about the evils of contraception and many testamonials about the wonders NFP did for marriage. Above all we were eager to live as young Catholics who were faithful to the Church.

However, almost all of our cohort of friends, including us, abandoned the practice of NFP within a few years because of the strain to our marriages. This wasn’t the healthy strain and struggle of trying to live virtuously. It was the strain of doing something that was actively hurting our relationships.

For some it was the way it led to poor decisions about when to have children. (One marriage was struggling and close to failing and the couple chose to risk conception so that they could have greater intimacy and bonding during that difficult time in their relationship. The added strain of the child they conceived to the problems they already had was the last straw in their marriage.)

For others it had to do with the inability to work through sexual problems (e.g. painful intercourse) because NFP required long periods of abstinence when they couldn’t do the exercises their therapist was recommending.

For another couple it had to do with the wife’s irregular cycles that would frequently mean going for months without intercourse.

Even now, I know my husband and I would never go back. We have four young kids and are exhausted at the end of most days. The chances for all the stars to align for us to be sexually intimate are rare enough as it is without more days blocked out by the NFP calendar. I don’t think anyone can accuse us of not being open to life (heck, we are even thinking about going for #5), but I think NFP at this point would mean sacrificing the unitive part of our marriage. So we are contracepting for the sake of our marriage.

There are lots of people who have had good experiences with NFP. But there are also a lot of people who have whole heartedly embraced it and had very negative experiences. (And I should add: for some, this has broken their relationship with the Church because of the resentment they feel about this and/or their ongoing sense of being rejected for doing what was best for their marriage.) The Church really needs to listen to the experiences of both groups.

I have found that priests and bishops are quick to trumpet NFP success stories and quick to discount stories where NFP had a negative impact. They assume the couple just wasn’t trying hard enough. Clearly, this is not always the case.

Women Speak About Natural Family Planning: the Papal Birth Control Commission

This is the third in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning.  The first two stories can be read here and here.  For the post that originally inspired this project, click here.  To read about the purpose of and ground rules for this project, click here.

The following was very generously provided to me by Catherine Osborne, a PhD candidate in the history of Christianity at Fordham University.  Several years ago, Osborne co-edited  a sourcebook on American Catholic history entitledAmerican Catholic History: A Documentary Reader An edited version of Patty Crowley‘s 1965 speech to the Papal Birth Control Commission is included in that book.  Osborne sent me Crowley’s speech so that I could post it here on the blog.  Osborne also wrote a brief history of the Papal Birth Control Commission and the Patty Crowley’s participation in it, which appears below.

Patty Crowley and the Papal Birth Control Commission

The history of the Pontifical Commission for the Study of Population, Family and Births (which is usually referred to as the Papal Birth Control Commission (BCC)) isn’t secret at all, but it’s also probably not quite as well known as it should be.

The backstory to the BCC is the Catholic Church’s longstanding opposition to the use of contraception, which was reaffirmed by Pius XI in Casti Connubii (1930) in response to the Anglican Church’s decision to allow it within marriage.  The innovation introduced in Casti Connubii was that the use of ‘rhythm’ was to be allowed–it had not been prior to this.

The debate over contraception was reopened due to the invented of the Pill, but the Second Vatican Council did not take up the question; it was reserved for the specially created BCC, which met five times from 1963 to 1966.  It grew to 72 members over time.

In the last meeting, the four married women members addressed the entire meeting.  Marie Rendu, a Frenchwoman who was a promoter of rhythm, argued that “periodic continence can and does work.”

J.F. Kulanday of New Delhi, India, a nurse as well as a mother, told the commission that based on her surveys of Indian women, “women desire intercourse in marriage.  It binds the husband and wife together…intercourse…keeps their love aflame.”

Colette Potvin, from Canada, mother of five and veteran of three miscarriages and a hysterectomy, later recalled that when it was her turn to speak, “I felt like I was naked up there.  But it seemed to me we hadn’t been asking the right questions at the Commission.  When you die, God is going to say, ‘Did you love?’ He isn’t going to say, “Did you take your temperature?” [Potvin’s speech is excerpted in Robert McClory’s Turning Point: The Inside Story of the Papal Birth Control Commission, 105-106.] Per McClory: ‘A long silence followed [her speech]. It was broken by de Riedmatten: ‘This,’ he said, ‘is why we wanted to have couples on our Commission.'”

Potvin’s survey of 319 French Canadian couples, presented to the Commission, indicated that 7 percent were “fully satisfied with the Church’s current marriage doctrine” while half “found rhythm ‘an anguished and difficult task'” and the great majority said that they did not experience growth “because much of their time ‘is spent in the great struggle to avoid the failure of rhythm.'” (107).

The longest speech was Patty Crowley‘s.  Crowley, along with her husband Pat, were the head of the worldwide Christian Family Movement, and she based her speech partly on the results of a survey of her membership.  To read the post featuring Crowley’s speech, click here.

Ultimately, only four members of the commission dissented from the majority’s conclusion that artificial contraception within marriage should be allowed.  (The majority’s final report to Paul VI, “On Responsible Parenthood,” is included in an appendix in McClory.) Acting against the commission’s rules, Jesuit John Ford and the other three dissenters submitted a so-called ‘minority report’ in favor of retaining the existing teaching.  The result of Paul VI’s decision in favor of the minority position was, of course, Humanae Vitae.