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Friday, March 12, 2010

O, be some other name!

That line, of course, is from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, written in the 1600s:

JULIET says:
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
Yes, I know. What matters is what something is, not what it is called.

I've been thinking about this as I've considered this story about Rabba Sara Hurwitz.

Here's the story in a nutshell (as it were):
Hurwitz, an Orthodox Jew and one of three leaders of an Orthodox congregation in Riverdale, was ordained last year by Rabbi Avi Weiss. At the time the Jewish world took note, though it wasn’t until she was given the titular equivalent of rabbi that the controversy really began.

At her ordination last year, Hurwitz was given a newly-created title, the acronym Mahara”t, which stands for Manhigah Hilchatit Ruchanit Toranit, “Leader in Halakha [Law], Spirituality and Torah,” but it never caught on in the wider Jewish world. It was a term no one had ever heard before, and it was difficult to remember.

In addition, many women (and some men) argued that there’s something offensive about giving a woman a different title than accrues to the men who complete the same course of study.

As Hurwitz recounted, “When I walked into a funeral home, it was easier to say ‘rabbi’ than explain what a maharat is and go through the whole discussion.” So her mentor, Rabbi Avi Weiss, announced early this year that henceforth Hurwitz would be known as Rabba (It’s actually the term most Israeli women rabbis use for themselves, though it’s largely unknown outside of Israel.).

But the head of Agudath Israel, the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) denominational body in the United States, put Weiss in cherem—a kind of communal excommunication—for giving Hurwitz the rabbi-equivalent title this winter.

“These developments represent a radical and dangerous departure from Jewish tradition,” the organization said in a prepared statement, “and must be condemned in the strongest terms.” Any congregation served by a woman in a rabbinic position, they said, cannot be considered Orthodox.

Rabbi Weiss has struck a deal with the Rabbinical Council of America and agreed to stop conferring the title “rabba,” though Agudath remains unsatisfied. Whether or not Hurwitz will keep her title remains to be seen.
A "radical and dangerous departure," eh? which "must be condemned in the strongest terms".

And you thought the Anglican Communion had problems!

Mind you, her title is not "Rabbi" but the feminine equivalent of the title.

So, taking a cue from Mr. Shakespeare, does it really matter what her title is, as long as she's able to fully function in her role?

As you consider that question, allow me to point out that there are, I think, parallels in other issues.

A few years ago, one of the members of my congregation, whom I dearly love, said to me, "Elizabeth, I understand your passion for marriage equality, and I want you and Barbara to have full access to all your civil rights, but (you knew there was a 'but' in that, didn't you?), the problem is the word 'marriage'. If you had all the same rights, would you be satisfied with some other word for it?"

I looked at him, sighed and asked, "Would you?"

I hate to be simplistic, but I think both issues have to do with the prevailing religious and cultural paradigms of power. Both are very male, very heterocentrist, and firmly fixed in the psyche of our religion and society.

On one level, it's all pretty silly, isn't it? I mean, Shakespeare is right, isn't he? In the end, what difference does it make, really? What matters is what something is, not what it is called. Isn't that right?

So, to argue from the other side of the question, what difference does it make if Sara Horowitz is called "Rabbi"? What matters is what something is, not what it is called. Goose/Gander, Sauce/Title . . . . .

Just the other day, I got a call from a friend who retired to a diocese in the Southwestern part of the country. She's finally found an Episcopal church that suits her and is just settling in. The rector has hired a woman as his assistant who is reportedly "young and filled with enthusiasm and energy."

I asked for her name, thinking I might know her. "It's a small church, after all."

I heard my friend sigh deeply. The long silence was heavy.

"Father Kate," she said.

Now it was my turn to be silent. "Excuse me?" I said, finally.

"Oh, yes," said my friend, "No joke. It's Father Kate."

Oye vey!

Then again, isn't this like the communion wafer calling the matzoh bread flat?

'Father' - for centuries and in many places, still - is the Christian version of 'Rabbi'. Both terms that have exclusively male characteristics in their DNA.

Indeed, the little joke I sometimes make is that the church is the only place I can go and put on a long, white dress and be in traditional men's clothes. Every Sunday is, in its own way, a little liturgical drag show.

I've gotten some flap about my email. "motherkaeton@ . . .". There's a long story to that, which I won't go into here, but bottom line, it was a little joke between Ms. Conroy and me, having a little something to do with how 'mother' has become half a word.

It's not so funny to some of my friends and colleagues - almost exclusively women - who have raised more than an eyebrow of surprise and/or distress.

Part of the problem lies in the title 'priest'. I mean, male or female, Bishops are called "Bishop Jones." Deacons, too, and chaplains, as well as doctors, lawyers, judges, mayors and military personnel enjoy a gender-free title that can easily precede their first name or surname.

No one is called "Priest Smith."

I always introduce myself as "Elizabeth". The parents at St. Paul's long ago wanted some kind of title for the children to use so as to convey a sign of respect. So, we settled on "Reverend Elizabeth". Sounds warmer and is more grammatically correct than "Reverend Kaeton."

Sometimes, in very formal circumstances, I'm called "Dr. Kaeton". But mostly, it's 'Elizabeth' - which is what God calls me. It's also what my mother insisted I be called which people - usually those I've just met (and mostly men, come to think of it) - try to turn into a nickname like "Liz" or "Betty".

If you dare break my mother's hard and fast rule and try to "diminish" (in her words) my name, well, I can only warn you that you will have to deal with her in the afterlife - or risk that her spirit might just come to wherever you are and smack you right upside the head.

All kidding aside, there is something about a threat to the dominant power paradigm in all this that keeps niggling at me.

I keep hearing the words of Frederick Douglass, abolitionist and women's suffragist. I haven't thought it quite through just yet, so I'll leave you with his words:
"Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle.

The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing.

If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters."

"This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."
"Power concedes nothing without a demand.
It never did and it never will."

Is all this controversy about a title the surface or presenting issue of a deeper power struggle? Or, to coin a phrase from Shakespeare, is this 'much ado about nothing'?

Indeed, as Juliette says:
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
Except, of course, when the name of the rose is 'Inequality', from the variety of 'Prejudice' in the Garden of Patriarchy.

19 comments:

Jane Ellen+ said...

Two things:
1. Of course, names matter. And gender associations matter. Otherwise some of the snarkier of my brothers and sisters would not feel the need to pull out "priestess" for an ordained woman-- and intend to disparage thereby.

2. There is at least one. Priest Joanne is a wonderful cleric serving God in Burlington, WI.

Bill said...

I had a small taste of this some years back when I was first diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Apparently this particular ailment is predominantly found in women. When I went to Muhlenberg Medical Center, I was directed to a waiting room with a sign that read Endocrinology (whatever that may be). I immediately noticed that I was the only male in the waiting area. After sitting for a while I went to one of the wall racks and started looking through all the pamphlets related to hypothyroidism. Every one had pictures of women and text talking about the female gender. Was I in the right room?? The magazine rack was piled high with mags on glamour, style, etc. Not even one issue of Field & Stream with a picture of a large mouth bass dancing on the end of a line. I felt out of place and somewhat uncomfortable. Then I started to get the looks from the other patients. Looks like, Are you lost or something? Apparently because of the very low percentage of men coming down with thyroid problems, the “powers that be” didn’t want to spend the money on producing separate pamphlets for men. The same logic held true for the available magazines. I had stepped into women’s country and didn’t know it. Then I started to worry. If this is predominantly a women’s issue and all the literature is aimed at women, would they really know anything about how this would affect the male of the species. It was no fun stepping into a situation where because of my sex, I felt out of place and vulnerable. It didn’t help when I finally saw the doctor and he decided to drag in four interns to see the male hypothyroid patient. Some years later when diagnosed with something far more serious, I was relieved that at least I had something specific to males. I had come down with prostate cancer. Oh, did I mention that I’m not quite sane.

the Rev. Susan Church said...

And Im "Mother Church" though not the only one. There is another Mother Church in Michigan!

Kirkepiscatoid said...

What I have noticed is some female priests don't care for "Mother" but to go "first name only" makes them look "less" in comparison to "Father"--and what do we want to teach the children?

I suppose everyone could be quasi Lutheran and go with "pastor" but to me priests are more than just pastors. It IS a dilemma.

it's margaret said...

When I was first ordained, I was a chaplain at an Episcopal School of my namesake, and the kids started calling me St. Margaret --and I asked why, and they said, well, it was because I had been ordained! So, I said that they should call me what they called the other priests.... the boys were horrified, and girls ecstatic --and Father Margaret stuck!

Now --when the children need a term of respect, it's Ms. Margaret because the term 'father' doesn't go far in the south....

And I don't do 'mother' cuz I ain't in charge of no nunnery....

Yes, it's all in a name.
I knew a crazy lady in Oregon (no Mother Church, not you!!!) who always used to bow when she first saw me on Sunday mornings and greet me with: Hello Jesus, hello Margaret!

Drove me crazy --but she might be on to something...

David |Dah • veed| said...

Betty, no
Liz, no
But I could see you as an Eliza!

Malcolm+ said...

Of course, before the Catholic Revival, we were pretty much "Mr.," and had it stayed that way, the use of "Mrs., Miss or Ms" would have been an easy switch. "Reverend" as a title is an abomination attached to either name.

For most Affirming Catholics in canada, this has mostly put paid to "Father" because, by and large, our priestly sisters don't seem to much care for "Mother." The former Bishop of Edmonton (Canada) and current Bishop of Christchurch once advocated the use of "Father" for female priests as well.

In any event, I've been contending with this for a bit as we work through the redesign of our diocesan website. One priest is insisting he wants to be "Father Bill Bloggins" vice "The Reverend Bill Bloggins" in the parish listings. ("Bloggins" being the Canadian Navy equivalent of "John Doe.") I'm actually considering listing all the clergy as "Bill Bloggins, Priest" or "Beth Bloggins, Deacon" or "Barbara Bloggins, Bishop" as appropriate.

Jane Ellen+ said...

I was raised in the "Biretta Belt," and all the priests I ever knew were called "Fr. X." I know women who are bothered by the nunnery connotation of "mother," but I find I am not. It is simply the equivalent title for a woman leading a faith community.

These days, many (most) of my parishioners usually use my first name, unadorned; but for those who are more comfortable with a title, "Mother Jane" it is.

Jim said...

I **hope**I am consistent in using "Rev Elizabeth" except on FB where brevity leads me to Rev E. I work on the basis that it is your name, not mine and you get to make the call.I do not have a problem with 'mother' but 'reverend mother' would bother me.

I think the world would be better if we dropped both reverend and father in favor of priest the way most folks use deacon and bishop. but then in Chicago we have been known to use, "Right Reverend Sir" in convention....


FWIW
jimB

Grandmère Mimi said...

All you lovely female priests should be called by your title of preference. Elizabeth, at this point, I'd find it difficult to call you Mother Kaeton, but if you wanted me to, I would.

Mother Church, you made me laugh. Sorry about that. Do you often get teased?

Age has its privileges, and I don't generally call male priests father.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

"Priest Joanne"?? She's got the right to call herself whatever she wants but it just doesn't ring well on my ears. Neither does "Mother" although "Mother Church" is a hoot. Elizabeth is what God calls me so it's okay for everyone else. Besides, my mother insisted on it and I think even God is afraid to contradict her.

Dahveed - A dear friend calls me "Liza". It's the only nickname I allow. I confess, I do love it. (And I never mind it when you call me "Madre")

NorthCountryVicar said...

ressing women priests as "Mother" Did we ever get into trouA very long time ago, after the first "regular" Ordinations of Women to the Priesthood, a small group of us, all, Anglo-Catholic in our theology/spirituality/liturgical style, +Geri Wolf(then a priest), Julia Gatta+, myself and one other woman whose name I'm blanking on, wrote an article for the Dio. of Massachusetts "The Church Militant" with reasoning theological and from Tradition for able!! I agree, where male priests are Father, should be Mother...The title "Father" indeed came from the Religious Life, for monastic priests were held in higher esteem, better Confessors, less likely to bed down the village girls, etc. If there is nothing wrong with "Father" with its history, I find no problem with "Mother"--indeed a good description of many priestly ways of being, and for me, the basis of my early theological argument for women's ordination, "in Persona Christi" after the long tradition of addressing and experience Jesus as Mother...See my article in Nashotah Review(vol.15, Fall, 1975), first in English to source this understanding of the Second Person, from the time of Clement of Alexandria, St. Bernard, St. Anselm, Dame Julian and many others. Mother Ellie it is.
Eleanor McLaughlin+

NorthCountryVicar said...

ressing women priests as "Mother" Did we ever get into trouA very long time ago, after the first "regular" Ordinations of Women to the Priesthood, a small group of us, all, Anglo-Catholic in our theology/spirituality/liturgical style, +Geri Wolf(then a priest), Julia Gatta+, myself and one other woman whose name I'm blanking on, wrote an article for the Dio. of Massachusetts "The Church Militant" with reasoning theological and from Tradition for able!! I agree, where male priests are Father, should be Mother...The title "Father" indeed came from the Religious Life, for monastic priests were held in higher esteem, better Confessors, less likely to bed down the village girls, etc. If there is nothing wrong with "Father" with its history, I find no problem with "Mother"--indeed a good description of many priestly ways of being, and for me, the basis of my early theological argument for women's ordination, "in Persona Christi" after the long tradition of addressing and experience Jesus as Mother...See my article in Nashotah Review(vol.15, Fall, 1975), first in English to source this understanding of the Second Person, from the time of Clement of Alexandria, St. Bernard, St. Anselm, Dame Julian and many others. Mother Ellie it is.
Eleanor McLaughlin+

David |Dah • veed| said...

Madre Lizabet, you probably never saw when I wrote about our family's surnames over a year ago, but I also mentioned my parent's names.

My mother is Lizabet Alejandra Secor de la Rosa. Everyone calls her Lizabet (Lētsabet). My father is Pedro Xavier Allen Gonzalez, just Pedro for him.

So because we get the first surname of each parent, my siblings and I get these English looking names Allen Secor. I am David Austin Allen Secor. I was an unexpected accident when my folks had thought they were beyond their child rearing years. They tell me that they always wanted me to know that I was beloved, hence David. Austin was the city of my blessed conception, my mother's first journey to the USA, a business trip with my Papá.

Handling titles for women in what were traditionally men's roles is also confusing in Spanish. There are not many women in the Mexican military and the few who are are mainly medical personnel; doctors, dentists and nurses. So their rank is in the masculine form with the feminine definite article; la sergento. But in the church we feminized both parts, hence la obispa, la reverenda, etc. Although Roman Catholics have a tendency to correct us thinking it was a mistake because they cannot fathom a woman in these roles!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mother Ellie - my dear, dear friend of my heart - I remember well both articles and the tempest it caused. I would fight for the right to always have women name their own reality, and your argument has always made perfect sense. That being said, it really doesn't work for me. I've played with "Pastor" but, well, Elizabeth it is.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dahveed - I vaguely remember the article you wrote. I especially remember the "Austin" part. I love the romance of it.

I'm coming to the conclusion that, whatever shakes up the dominant paradigm is a good thing. Maybe it's the combination of "Mother", "La Reverenda", etc., that will help us come to understand that the playing field needs to be leveled - in all aspects of life, but especially in the fields of Gospel work.

Malcolm+ said...

I recall, in my naval career, a discussion with a female officer who hated being called "ma'am" and thought we should all go to the Star Fleet Command practice of referring to all officers as "sir," regardless of sex.

Malcolm+ said...

Oh, and regardless of churchersonship or anything else, a female priest with the surname "Church" simply has to be "Mother Church" - as a male priest surnamed "Christmas" (there were two brothjers in this ecclesiastical province) has to be "Father Christmas."

JCF said...

I didn't get very far "in the process" [Don't get me started! >:-/ *], but if I had, I would have been known as "Father F". Probably most people who know me IRL (but not well) associate me w/ my female appearance (and, well, chromosomes), rather than my GenderQueer ID.

But there's no way I would have been called "Mother." [I don't doubt there's probably some internalized misogyny there...but hey, Life's Too Short to be called anything other than what makes you comfortable, no matter WHO you are!]

Reading histories of 19th c. Britain, it's notable how the British Cardinals are always referred to as "Doctor": Dr Weisman, Dr Manning, Dr Newman. I like it---it would have worked, for me---but I can't see US Episcopalians appreciating the distinction...

[* The Vocation Handbook for my diocese said that a candidate had to "Appreciate the gifts of one's gender" . . . I always wanted to reply "Can I appreciate the gifts of BOTH my genders?" >;-)]