Our Kingdom, Our Country

I cannot shake this piece by Deborah Kampmeier.  Each segment is profound, but I keep pondering her fierce opening, because I find it difficult, unsettling, confusing.  I find myself not sufficiently decided, maybe valueless, maybe wishy-washy, or spineless, or just too lazy to connect with my own deeply held truth. 

Kampmeier states:

My body is in a rage, a fury, a storm of hate. So fucking sick of all this talk about uniting our country, about having compassion for Trump supporters. I don’t want to find common ground. I don’t want to build fucking bridges.  That’s like saying I have to marry my rapist and carry his fucking child to term.  I don’t care to live with my rapist.  I don’t care to ever see him again.  I do not want to open my door and invite my rapist to sit at my table or shove his cock back in my mouth or cunt or ass. No, I am not building fucking bridges.  Yes, build a fucking wall, but not between Mexico and me.  Between me and you mother fucking racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, misogynistic rapists, and the rest of you who condone them.  Stay out of my home.  I have no interest in sharing a country with you.

I’m still hesitant to call myself a Catholic convert, maybe simply because I remain unbaptized until later this year, but maybe because being a convert is supposed to create in one a profound conviction. I think of the famous Catholic convert Dorothy Day, of her certainty that led to profound actions that helped so many.  Maybe she was afraid at times, but in my mind Dorothy Day, post-conversion at least, was never afraid.  In my mind at least, Deborah Kampmeier is never afraid.  She knows her truth, she will ferociously fight for it, and she will sacrifice without hesitation for it.  

She will listen too, but some things are non-negotiable.

I read Kampmeier’s piece and I thought about my developing faith and the commitment I am moving towards.  Reading the gospels, I am inspired again and again by Jesus’s commitment to nonviolence, to the disenfranchised, to self-reflection, to human autonomy, and to the assertion that while our actions matter and have results and consequences, we all live by divine grace.  Reading the gospels, I hear a call for unity, for sacrifice, for reaching outside ourselves, for taking great risks, knowing that although we may not have worldly comfort, we are held.

From this place, I initially rejected Kampmeier’s words.  But they stayed with me.  For days, they echoed.  They haunted me because they were true. “When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.” (Adrienne Rich, Women and Honor: Some Notes on LyingOn Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966–1978).

One out of six women is a survivor of a completed or attempted rape (RAINN). One in three women have been a victim of physical violence carried out by an intimate partner (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).  

The Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) is a wonderful piece of legislation that gives federal funds to help protect against intimate partner violence.  Importantly, it provides on the ground support to counselors and shelters, amongst many other things. I don’t think I thoroughly understood this until this weekend, when the amazing woman leading the training at our local battered women’s shelter said “VAWA pays my salary.” As the saying goes, knowledge is only rumor until it lives in the muscle.  

I think of Jesus’s call to care for the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, the orphans, the widows.  I think of how he picked up no stone when the patriarchy brought the adulteress before him (the male offender in the crime is of course missing), how his request for self reflection led others to also remain empty handed.

Joe Biden was instrumental in getting VAWA first introduced and then reauthorized. Conservative Republicans were against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Folks like Senator Burr of my home state of North Carolina voted against it. And then people re-elected him.  People re-elected many of the others who refused to offer support for this invaluable piece of legislation.  

No, I am not building fucking bridges.  Yes, build a fucking wall, but not between Mexico and me.  Between me and you mother fucking racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, misogynistic rapists, and the rest of you who condone them.  Stay out of my home.  I have no interest in sharing a country with you.

I believe in working with people who think differently than me.  I believe in communication, in trying to see one another, in trying to enter into a covenant of shared values that is just and compassionate, that does the human spirit justice, cares for our earth, and generally makes life better for folks than if such a covenant did not exist. 

Sometimes I think I should let this “woman stuff” go. I should really just focus on the environment, I think, that’s where we can all come together and collaborate in practical, applied steps to create a world where we can physically live in harmony.  If we focus on these practical efforts to preserve our lived environment, we’ll come to know and understand each other, we’ll work together.  The sexual violence, the racism, the hatred of the other will simply evaporate.

Then I hear calls like the one in Kampmeier’s powerful prose, and I realize, no we cannot with these wounds in our hearts and bodies and psyches, stand beside our brothers and sisters who commit violence against us and heal through working together. Working together will never be enough.  We have worked together through how many social movements, we have built how many bridges, and still the violence remains perpetuated and denied.  

Repentance must come before reconciliation.

The systems of violence that teach some people that other people do not have bodily autonomy or rights of their own are the same systems of violence that teach us our earth can be scorched and contaminated without any repercussion to us.  

I cannot let the “woman stuff” go.

In thinking about unity, I also think about what it means to be entering a church that refuses to ordain women, whose bishops are viscously politically active in fighting a woman’s right to choose even her own birth control.

At the front of my nearest Catholic Church stands St. Anne, Jesus’s grandmother. In her hands she holds a book from which she teaches her daughter (who is destined to become the Holy Mother of God) to read.  In the front of this patriarchal establishment, the image of a grandmother teaching her daughter to read is preserved for centuries in alabaster.  The grandmother of God is literate. The mother of God is literate.  The grandmother of God is a teacher.  They are both two human women. Parishioners pray at their feet. (I acknowledge, for many of them, the leap to reality, to human flesh and blood, is less easy-perhaps impossible-to venerate).

In my own, more modern, Catholic church, a central piece of art consists of three women carved out of marble.  According to scripture, these three women, Mary Magdalene among them, were the three present when our crucified God rose again. A dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, first welcomes one into the worship space.

In Catholicism, I see a tradition that has consistently acknowledged the profound power of women. I see a tradition that has advocated for and admired women’s education. I see a God who will not be turned solely into a man but who remains present in the Holy Trinity of the Christ, the Creator, and the Holy Spirit. This acknowledges the immense size and flow of God, and it does so in a way that never eliminates a woman’s form, a woman’s mind, and a woman’s human strength and limitations from the holy symphony.

All this, of course, also exists under, or within, or in spite of, or perhaps even as a result of the patriarchy that is also the tradition of the Catholic Church.  The patriarchy that sent women who were too pretty, or too single, or too pregnant, to work in laundries where they suffered physical and sexual abuse.  The patriarchy that continues to abuse children and shame women for their sexual choices.  The patriarchy that advocates for laws that lead to women dying instead of pregnancies ending.  The patriarchy that largely turns a blind eye to those dying of AIDS as the result of its contraception policies.

I don’t care to live with my rapist.  I don’t care to ever see him again.  I do not want to open my door and invite my rapist to sit at my table or shove his cock back in my mouth or cunt or ass.

I agree with Kampmeier’s words.  I agree, I do not want to find unity with the hate, the violence, and those who condone (and even celebrate) it.  But I agree with the message of the gospels that I am learning and each time converted by anew. But what does it tell us to do?  Nonviolence, certainly, yes, I will stand by that.  But, what more?

I am not writing to answer that question for anyone.  I am writing to amplify Kampmeier’s fierce cry that she will defend her daughter’s kingdom, her daughter’s country.  

I am a 30 year old woman.  I have a young son and a husband, both of whom I adore.  In my womb I have a child growing, whose gender remains unknown.  I do not believe that this is solely about the female sex.  This is about surfacing from a culture of domination.  I look at my best friends, women, gay men, trans men.  They are my heart, my smile, and indeed often my very breath.  Each day the generosity of their friendship saves me from suffering some small death.  I will defend their kingdom, their country.

This is not abstract. Kampmeier’s piece reminded me of this.  The battered women’s shelter training reminded me of this.  The statistics reminded me of this.  We are all people.  I believe we all make up the body of Christ, each one of us a child of God.

But sometimes this perspective allows us to forget that we are the ones “at-risk,” under attack, called immoral, made illegal.  Or if it is not us, it is our child, our best friend, our partner, our favorite coworker, our neighbor.  Or if we cannot say even that, it is someone, someone who also has the hairs on her head numbered.  

We must keep our vision very clear, and in defending this kingdom, this country, we must be very clear about what does not fit.  There is no “who” who does not fit, but there are behaviors that are absolutely impermissible, just as there are behaviors we ourselves must cultivate.  In our calls for unity, we must holdfast to these truths, rejecting no one, but requiring true repentance (and here I mean a change of heart) in order to allow collaboration.  

My body is a home to violence.  She is not your country, she is mine.  You may visit but you will not take root here.  You have not learned how the darkness feeds.  When you descend into her cavernous depths, she will show you there is nothing to fear.  The walls are damp.  There is the dripping sound of the beginning of time.  And the wailing grief and howling rage of every woman, ever, who can no longer be silenced. These women’s wails are buried here, echoing through generations of DNA. The endless injustices are in every cell of my body.  Dig around for these gems of rage, these gems of fury, these storms of hate.  Dirt and clay under your nails, mud covered body and pubic hair clotted with blood.  This is an excavation. Not to bring light to the darkness but to integrate darkness into the light.  Do not be afraid of my rage.  She is a storm that will clear every lie in her path.  She is not afraid to speak for every woman who has had her tender vulva, clitoris, labia, vagina ripped asunder. She is holding every abandoned piece of self, every single piece of our feminine selves we betrayed in order to survive the patriarchy. Now it must all be reclaimed.

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