In which I embrace my inner nerd & am publicly branded a Feminist

Where can you go to see a bunch of white people dressed as pirates, wizards, gypsies, fairies, and knights, and wearing black-bangled apparel, pink neon somethings, corsets, nerdy t-shirts, plaid shirts, and kilts without shirts?

The Renaissance Festival. Naturally.

Earlier this fall, my friend Becca and I went to the local Ren Fest. It was my first time, but she’s a regular at Fest, and knows all the performers by name and subject. It’s always more fun to go with someone who knows what they’re doing at these things, someone who loves every aspect of the event. Becca helped me grasp the significance of quarry in the parking lot. Her friend brought me to a weapons shop and I got to hold a couple of swords (which was thrilling for a lifelong fantasy fan who spent way too much time after reading Lord of the Rings and Eragon planning an elaborate hilt design for her sword in the event of an Epic Journey).

Most importantly, Becca steered me to all the best performers:

A guy who starts his performance out slow by juggling fire on a tightrope (I think that’s what he did’ it’s hard to tell through the fingers over my eyes).

Villification Tennis, wherein two teams of two lob insults over the line like off-color whiffle balls (there were plenty of Yo Mama jokes, barely a level above high school hallways, and because they knew how to pander, there were also local references and a sprinkling of nerdy jokes, including a gasp-inducing jab at Firefly).

And… The Tortuga Twins, who were, of course, three grown men using the select audience members to tell the story of… okay, a story of Robin Hood.

Now, Becca and I both dressed up, because that makes everything more fun. I pinned my hair into a crown of braids, she wore the flower crown we gave her back in college for being Queen of the Nerds (alternate titles include Nerd Wrangler or President of English Club), and we both did the flowy clothes thing. This is important to picture, because the poor schmucks lucky audience members the Tortuga Twins pulled up onstage were wearing regular old street clothes. Not a coincidence.

So we sit there in the back of the audience, enjoying the jokes of this PG-rated show (if that’s PG, I’d sure like to see a PG-13 showing) and clapping and hollering along with the performance. The Twins made a comment about Maid Marion saving Robin Hood. We cheered. They said she didn’t need a man to save her; she’s a strong, independent woman. We cheered much louder.

“FEMINISTS!” they shouted back at those of us who cheered at that last one.

Becca and I just about collapsed in laughter. You know you’ve made it when you get publicly identified as a feminist.

Honestly, you don’t claim your education at a women’s college and then walk away thinking, “Yeah, women really aren’t equal to men. We should really just wait around on a Husband to choose us and then follow his direction in all things at all times.” My friend Sara likes to say that “unconventional and controversial are minors you automatically get at [our women’s college].” I like to think I live these minors in my day-to-day life. It’s a goal of mine.

Anyway, now that Becca and I have bonded over the joy of being branded feminists in public, we strive to uphold our reputation as much as possible. Recently, we went to an advance (for our area, at least) screening of Suffragette, the film with Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and a bunch of great actors that’s about the efforts of working women in women’s fight for the vote in England. Feminist moment of the week achieved, we congratulated ourselves. Okay, I jest, but it does seem fitting. Because I’ve been waiting for that film for ages and it was brilliant and I’m a history lover and a (shhh) feminist, I’ll post a review of Suffragette here soon.

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Oh, and because life is weird and wonderful, I got to hop inside a life-size TARDIS that happened to be at a candy store on our way home. The best part is that all the other shoppers were just passing it by like a piece of furniture… until my friend and I, adults that we are, ran inside and started taking pictures. Nerd invasions are always good, my friends. One might even say… fantastic.

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Get out the vote!

Do it! Vote in the midterm elections!

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Vote Democrat- -Republican– Independent– Green Party– Christmas Unicorns– or better yet, just vote your conscience, whether or not that falls along party lines.

Just vote!

I have this crazy idea, that if we (We as American citizens… If you’re from another country and you are able to vote, please do exercise this right as well!) take midterm elections as seriously as we take Presidential elections, our country will be in a much better place to evoke change.

Think about it: The President only has so much power- and that’s a good thing. Checks and balances, keeping government honest. (Honest-ish.)

The current, fall 2014 Congressional approval rating (according to a Gallup poll), has the American public’s approval of Congress resting at an appalling (but hardly surprising) 14%, the lowest for a pre-election fall since 1974.

How many times have we heard of a bill “barely” passing through Congress, or the Senate, or not passing at all? Look what happened to Net Neutrality. Whether or not you “like” President Obama, there’s only so much he can do, and only so much our next president can do. It’s not just about passing bills, either. Local laws are important, both for their direct effect in the lives of individual states’ citizens, and for the precedence they set for the rest of the nation.

Oregon has some issues on the ballot this fall that I feel very strongly about, so I was eager to seize my absentee ballot and make my vote count. Public office is a little harder (Here’s where Republican/Democrat comes in handy, because all the candidates’ promises are vague at best. At least I’m familiar with the voting records of the congressmen and senators.). I want to make a difference in my community and have my voice heard, and this is one way to do it.

Mary Poppins throwback

Mary Poppins throwback

Yes, I voted way before Nov. 4 (My brother alleges they send out ballots to feminists first. How thoughtful of “them.”), but it’s not too late for you to go out and vote, if you haven’t already!

One more post about this… Street Harassment (Ick)

I’m the kind of person who does a lot of thinking, writing, talking things over, reading, and thinking and writing some more, before I know my stance on important issues. With this in mind, I plan to revisit a couple of my past posts.

1. Street harassment.

This video on street harassment really clicked with me, but when I read the comments on YouTube, I realized it’s not as simple as I first thought. Not everyone looks at this video and sees the same thing. I understand, and I certainly don’t think the video makers are trying to say street harassment is the only problem women/people of color/other unprivileged groups face, or the biggest, or that straight white women have that hardest time ever (I definitely don’t believe any of that), but street harassment is still a problem. Just because there are other problems out there, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t address this one.

Some of the comments by men in this video seem innocuous, but I think the video does a good job of showing how exhausting it can be to be on the receiving end of an endless stream of comments, day after day– especially when some of the men in the video have a much more threatening presence. It’s the scary comments/actions that make all comments/actions suspect/worrying. Not to mention, all those little “compliments” are uncalled-for, and many of the men got upset when the woman ignored them, as if they felt she owed them a response. Maybe passing someone in the street isn’t the place for getting to know someone?

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This video says everything I’ve been thinking about street harassment this week. Last weekend, I took public transit on my own to a part of the city I’m less familiar with (but a very central part of the city, the theatre district) to visit a friend. Most of the day was a positive experience– but street harassment rattled me. It made me feel unsafe doing normal things like walking down the street with a friend.

The woman in this video didn’t just receive micro-aggressions and other comments; she was followed, for no other reason than that she was a woman. I’ve been followed too, and it’s not just aggravating, it’s deeply unsettling.

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I hate that I feel I have to say this, but we were dressed in jeans and tee shirts, and preoccupied in our own conversation– not inviting outside comment. But there is one thing: Both of us were walking down the street while female. One older man followed us for two and a half blocks, talking, yelling, and singing at us, until we ducked into a bookstore to shake him when ignoring him didn’t work. Another man came up behind us when we left the bookstore and started talking to us about how “pretty” we were, and trying to talk to us until we sped up and walked far enough away from him.

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I was very shaken by this. After that, taking public transit back to my neighborhood alone and in the approaching darkness was alarming rather than routine. I was hyper-alert about my surroundings and my safety. The whole thing made me not want to venture outside my usual places– and that’s just sad.

I won’t let a couple of instances of street harassment get to me. I’m going to keep seeking adventure in small and large ways. I’m going to try out new places and face discomfort head on. And I’m going to continue looking out for my own safety, recognizing that I only have control over my actions, and not others’. By that I mean, I will of course don my Assertive Woman Face as I walk down the street, and stay in well-lit areas, and do all those things that have been ingrained into me for my own safety– but I can’t control when/how others choose to harass me on the street, and I refuse to let fear of that harassment stop me from walking down the sidewalk to get from a restaurant to a bookstore in the afternoon.

classicandrew

Smile! : Street Harassment

When I started this blog a year ago, I set out to write about feminism and wound up talking about writing and cooking instead. When I started writing posts again this fall, I set out to write about webseries and have been talking about feminism ever since. Typical.

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A short video recently caught my eye, and has been prickling under my skin ever since: Jessica Williams’s piece on The Daily Show regarding street harassment.

Jessica Williams on Catcalls

I’ve read articles about street harassment before, and I always have the same set of reactions to it: Disgust, incredulity– and gratitude that I haven’t had to deal with it. I guess that’s just in big cities, I thought.

Well.

That short, satirical video about catcalling changed my definition of street harassment.

While I consider myself blessed to not have had to deal with truly profane harassment like many of the women on Williams’ segment, I have in fact dealt with catcalls, some more upsetting than others.

Any time you are walking down the street and someone yells/hollers/whistles/comments/speaks to you a) in a way that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, and b) stems from your gender/race/sex/etc.— that is street harassment.

Look, if you see me walking down the street, go ahead and smile and wave. Say “hi” in passing (I live in places where it’s very common to give a smile and a “nice day, isn’t it?” to strangers; in New York City, that would be weird). If you’re lost or I look injured, by all means say something. If I’m wearing a t-shirt with your favorite band, you can say, “I love Bastille!” and move on. But if the only reason you’re talking to me is because I just happen to be a woman, don’t.

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What do I mean by this? During the summer, I spent 2 months at home after traveling through Europe. On numerous occasions, I received a shout or comment when I was just working in the garden or walking my dog. Once, I got out of my car at home and a guy on a bike hung around the edge of my parents’ property watching me and trying to catch my attention, until I ignored him long enough.

What I think is the really insidious aspect of street harassment is that a lot of the time, it feels like I should be flattered. Flattered by the attention, flattered by the implied compliment, flattered because how else should I react to various comments? But I never walk away from being addressed or shouted at, and feel cheered up; instead, I walk away feeling uncomfortable and bothered with something I can’t articulate.

Sexist comments, comments about my body, even strangers who strike up conversations on the street and act like I owe it to them to respond to them– it’s street harassment.

I don't know who this person is, but kudos, sir.

I don’t know who this person is, but kudos, sir.

In Europe, I had many, many experiences of sitting on a street corner, writing or just resting from the weight of my enormous backpack, and random guys would come up and strike a conversation with me. Now, I’m talking about men 10-20 years older than myself, different nationalities than me, while I was a single young woman who didn’t speak the language. The whole basis for their striking up a conversation with me was that I was a woman- and a woman alone. I felt extremely vulnerable, and wasn’t entirely comfortable with the situation, but they were these perfectly nice guys. I would walk away from the encounters feeling rattled and thinking, What gives you the right to come up and demand a conversation with me? Why do you act lie I owe you anything? I don’t know you! I’m a polite person, and so what they got from the conversation was me smiling and nodding but not being especially eager to continue the conversation. Invariably, they would make passive-aggressive arguments about how they weren’t the “kind of guy” a “girl like me” talked to (I have no idea what that means).

I’m guessing these guys have no idea what it’s like to be a woman traveling alone, always alert for the possibility of danger. When I’m looking out for my safety, having strangers approach me on the street or shout at me is very disconcerting. I’m not saying I don’t want people to talk to me, ever. I love meeting new people. But there’s a time and a place for everything. If we’re in the same tour group, the same hostel, looking at the same piece of art at a museum, something that isn’t you drawing me into conversation on the street when I’m minding my own business, then by all means strike up a conversation if you’re interested.

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I don’t know if I’m making my point well here. It’s hard to take these things apart and examine them rationally, when I’m affected primarily because of how they make me feel. The biggest thing, I think, is safety and location: If you approach a woman in this situation, could you make her feel unsafe?

Even here at school, at a women’s university, I’ve been heckled by a car full of guys– and of course, I’ve experienced guys shouting at me from cars in every city I’ve lived in. Talking with my girl friends, the consensus seems to be that this is so normal it doesn’t even merit talking about. Why talk about something that always happens? It’s like talking about getting poor quality food at the school cafeteria. Why bother?

I think this is worth bothering about. Ideally, yes, I’d prefer not to get yelled at from moving vehicles, and to feel safe on the street. But at a more basic level, a level I can actually control, I think we need to talk about street harassment so women can stop internalizing this toxic nonsense. We need to talk about it so women don’t feel like they have to take it as a compliment even if it makes them feel uncomfortable.

I had a hard time distinguishing incidents to talk about for this post, because like my friends, to some extent I just expect it whenever I go out. That’s sick.

One thing all the women in that Jessica Williams video had in common was that every single one of them had a “bitch face,” and were ready to paste this unyielding glare on their faces at a moment’s notice. I perfected my own glare while studying and traveling abroad; I call it my Assertive American stance or my Confident Woman walk: Head up, shoulders back, eyes meeting those of passersby, chin set, stride brisk and confident. Don’t mess with me, it says, i’m confident and I know what I’m doing.

If there’s one good thing to come from all this, it’s the Bitch Face/ Confident Woman face. Because I am a confident woman.

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Not sure street harassment is all that bad? My experiences are the mildest possible form of this type of harassment. Check out better informed links here.

F-word

I identify myself as a feminist, so it’s a little weird for me to backtrack and remember that it’s not a label everyone is comfortable wearing.

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The only thing keeping me from calling myself a feminist was lack of understanding of what the word meant. Is feminism still a thing, or is it over now that women have the right to vote and work outside the home? Is being called a feminist a good thing? What exactly does it mean to call myself a feminist… and do I want to deal with the negative connotations surrounding the word? What is a feminist?

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Let’s jump back to my first semester at a women’s college. For the first time in my life, I was participating in discussions about equality, diversity, empowerment, and the power of language– I was putting things I had always thought about and considered important into words.

My parents raised me to believe in my own worth, and never pinned me into prescribed gender roles or tried to control what I wanted to do with my life. The women in my life were strong, nurturing, ambitious, successful, and incredibly hard-working. Both my mom and grandma went back to university after having kids; my grandma became a nurse after raising 5 kids, and my mom became a teacher while raising 4 kids. I ran cross-country in the fall, watched romantic comedies at sleep overs in the winter,  hiked along waterfalls in the spring, did folk dancing in the summer, and went away to college at a university a thousand miles away from home. No one ever explicitly talked about feminism, and my mom certainly never hung a picture of Gloria Steinem on the wall at home, but my family always empowered me to be my best, never limited me, and never made me feel I wasn’t equal to my brothers.

Becoming a feminist wasn’t some radical, “she’s gone to college and now she’s an anarchist!” kind of thing, because I was already a feminist. I remember choosing to label myself as a feminist with pride, once I felt I knew what it meant.

So many women and men recoil from the dreaded f-word. “Let’s not bring feminism into this!” I heard a woman say, in response to her friend’s comment that a woman could say herself (instead of being a damsel in distress). I was shocked; how is being an independent woman “bringing feminism” into the discussion?

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Let’s look at what goes into this f-word:

Yes, feminism is still a thing. Less than 100 years ago, American women were granted the right to vote. (Awesome fact: Before American women had universal suffrage, Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress.) After the vote was gained, “second-wave feminism” came in and prized basic rights for women out of the cold white hands of the patriarchy. (Part of the fun of being a feminist is getting to use colorful imagery to make a point.)

Imagine a world where your spouse has complete control over your credit cards and bank account, where many careers are considered out of reach for you solely on the basis of your sex (or skin color, or accent, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and so on– but that’s another, related, story), where your children are seen not as one aspect of your life but as very nearly the only aspect, where you earn less for the work you do than others who do the same quality of work. Many of these are, unfortunately, not hard to imagine, because we (Americans) still have not achieved pay equality.

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Pay equality is a contentious issue, because it’s simply not as cut-and-dry as some statistics suggest. Part of the wage gap comes from more complex issues than just paychecks; there are fewer women leaders in many fields, women workers are sometimes treated unfairly because their employers believe they will become pregnant and leave their jobs, and many women haven’t been taught to be assertive about negotiating their pay the way men have. But the truth is, there shouldn’t be any kind of wage gap– and while that statistic about women being paid 78 cents on the male dollar keeps getting tossed around, when you put race into the equation, it becomes even scarier.

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raceandgender in the food chain

You’ll notice the figures differ in these two infographics. That’s kind of my point. No one agrees on this, no one agrees on what factors should go into to finding this information, and I certainly don’t know which statistics are accurate. But I have no doubt there is a pay gap among races and genders.

I digress. Yes, feminism is still a thing. Feminism in the media is usually white, middle class, 1st world feminism– but while white middle class women are affected by sexism, it’s important to recognize that being a woman becomes even harder when you’re also a minority, or when you’re considered your husband’s/father’s property, or when you can’t go to elementary school because you’re walking 12 miles to get water for your family. Feminism is about all of these things and more; at its roots, feminism is about equality.

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Man-haters? Sure. Because wanting to be treated equally to men, to be given the same opportunities, to have my opinions and my work respected on their own, without reference to my gender, is man-hating. NO! I have incredible, loving men in my life, and I would never think of them as “bad” or anything like that, simply because they are men. Sexism is a systemic problem on a societal level, not something that every single man carries around like a weapon. Some men are awful sexists. So are some women. Some women are feminists, working for equality– and so are some men. It always seems so incredibly bizarre to me when people (mainly women) say they could never be feminist because they don’t hate men, or because they don’t want to raise women above men. I don’t want to be “above” men! I just want you to look at my abilities and contributions the same way you would if I was a man. 

So if you’re wondering whether or not you are (or want to be) feminist, think about whether you believe women and men are equal in worth, and whether you want to do something about the way our society treats women and men.

Because at the end of the day…

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I finally watched Emma Watson’s UN speech on feminism

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We loved her as Hermione, that whip-smart, mouthy, take-no-shit witch who was best in her year at Hogwarts (and let’s face it, probably the best in at least a decade).

punch love hermioneToday Emma Watson continues to inspire as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. The idea behind that is that she will use her celebrity influence to draw attention to important causes and make a difference. I love it when actors/celebrities do this, because celebrities have so much social currency in the media, and using that power in support of a cause is laudable (and a refreshing change from the usual celebrity gossip).

Emma Watson’s feminist speech launching the He for She campaign for the UN has been zipping around the internet lately, and when I finally got around to watching it, I understood why.

Her speech is clear, heartfelt, thoughtful, and brave. No, she’s not saying anything especially new, but she is saying it well, and she’s presenting it to a larger audience. Here’s the video:

Watson makes very salient points here, but I think the best thing she does is bring her personal experience to the table. This isn’t some abstract discussion of intellectuals or “crazy” feminists. This is a well-known actor describing the way inequality between the sexes affects men and women, and advocating for change.

She talks at length about that label of feminism (shudder) and how it is perceived. Feminism is not and never has been about man-hating. Like Emma Watson, I have great respect and love for the men in my life. Feminism exists because little girls are labeled “bossy” instead of “assertive” or “having leadership skills.” Women getting paid less for the same amount of work as men (especially women minorities). Feminism is about all human beings having equal rights and equal value in our society.

Briefly, Watson mentions women’s roles in supporting each other. I have long been fascinated by the concept of female sisterhood/solidarity, and I plan to devote another post to that subject.

Significantly, the campaign Watson launched is about encouraging men to fight for feminism. The truth is, feminism is, at its core, about equality. Men and boys are oppressed in our culture and society in different ways than women are oppressed. Men are supposed to repress their feelings, to take the lead in all relationships, to go to work instead of stay home with their kids. I know several stay-at-home dads, and I’ve seen how loving they are to their children. Watson didn’t touch on discrimination faced by men of color, but I’ve heard enough– well, we’ve all heard enough, haven’t we, with shootings and police brutality and such– to know that it is very real and very ugly.

Look, the last thing we need to do is start arguing over who is facing the most privilege, or heaven forbid, who is superior. Feminism is not raising women above men, it’s about bringing everyone to the same level in terms of rights, respect, and opportunities. And as Watson states, it’s not just about what our patriarchal society is doing to women; men are hurt by it too.

Of course, Watson is a privileged, well-educated white woman, and as MarinaShutUp points out, this privilege (and, I’d say, Watson’s fame) is the reason so many people in mainstream media are taking note. I do believe we need to make more space for women (and men, Watson would remind us) of every skin color, economic level, native language, sexual orientation, nation, etc. etc., to have their say on equality and feminism. But what Watson is doing is using her celebrity status (and yes, her privilege) to make a difference. Look, she could be sitting around watching AVPM or riding her bike or making cookies or blowing her “Harry Potter” earnings on skydiving and a jukebox collection. Instead, she’s devoting her time to using her celebrity status to draw the attention of everyone who follows celebrity gossip instead of the news, and for those of us who just can’t help but pay attention when Hermione Badass Granger speaks up.

I love reading or watching a strong, clear argument in favor of feminism, because I think feminism is a cause that too often gets convoluted and bogged down by fallacies and ignorance. Too many people are willing to attack feminism without fully understanding what it is and why we need it. Being labeled a “feminist” can be a little alarming, depending on the company, but Emma Watson takes the word and owns it. It’s a courageous and very Hermione thing to do.

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For Everyone Born, a Place at the Table

In church on Sundays, I often find myself reflecting on the power of song. As a reader and a writer, words hold the most weight for me; I am most drawn to songs whose lyrics are rich in meaning. That being said, though I couldn’t tell you anything about the musical composition of a piece, I appreciate the the way that music magnifies the impact of the lyrics, making the song entirely more moving when sung and played than when read. The church I attend at home has lovely if old-fashioned lyrics, but the quality of the singing (no musical accompaniment) is lacking. Mass here at the university, however, is alive with beautiful, resonant music, the kind that fills you up from your bouncing toes to your vibrating lips, your whole body leaning into the music, one with the community.

Last Sunday, we sang this song:

For everyone born, a place at the table,

for everyone born, clean water and bread,

a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,

for everyone born, a star overhead,

and God will delight when we are creators

of justice and joy, compassion and peace:

yes, God will delight when we are creators

of justice, justice and joy!

For woman and man, a place at the table,

revising the roles, deciding the share,

with wisdom and grace, dividing the power,

for woman and man, a system that’s fair,

and God will delight when we are creators

of justice and joy, compassion and peace:

yes, God will delight when we are creators

of justice, justice and joy!

I was staggered by the power of this: How radical, how audacious, to declare for everyone born, a place at the table, to call for a system that’s fair for both women and men. This is one of the most exciting aspects of faith: calling forth the radical notion that everyone, everyone, everyone, is equal and deserving of shelter, safety, sustenance, respect, justice– that God will delight where we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace. The social justice call of the Catholic Church is one of its biggest redeeming factors to me, the drive that keeps me committed to my church despite the lack of woman leaders and its official stance on things like homosexuality. I grew up with this faith, and it comforts and sustains me– or rather, I use my Catholic faith to communicate to God, and God is the One who is my support. The call to social justice, to helping those in need and working for social and economic equality for the most downtrodden, which is being led by the Sisters, is inspiring and exactly what we as humans should be doing. The motto of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet is, Caring for the dear neighbor without distinction. What a wonderful reminder.

When I looked up these lyrics online, I found an additional, optional stanza that celebrates the “rainbow” of diversity across genders and sexualities, a note that is especially powerful in light of Pope Francis’s recent comments about finding balance in the Church. I think it is important to remember that, while the pope sets the tone for the Church, we as individuals have always been called to make moral decisions; I realized long before Pope Francis’s compassionate focus that I was going to treat everybody with love and respect, as is their right as human beings. I do not hold with this nonsense of hating on gay and transgender folk, and anyone and everyone else who does not fit society’s mold. It wasn’t so long ago that women were marginalized by society, and African Americans and Native Americans– and let’s be honest, these groups and many others (immigrants, LBGTQA) are still not receiving fair treatment today.

These are the things I think of when I hear a hymn like “A Place at the Table.” I am reminded of why I love my church, and inspired to work for God to bring justice and compassion into the lives of others. I am thankful to live at a time and a place where people are working hard to make social justice a reality for all. This Sunday, let’s all remember to to our part in making a place at the table for everyone.