Stuck in the Middle Ages? Women in the Catholic Church

How did women, whom Jesus treated as equals, become second class Christians? Why have they retained this inferior status until today, especially in the Roman Catholic church? When will it change? A book I recently read, Women in Christianity by the Swiss born theologian and Roman Catholic priest Hans Küng, an emeritus professor at the University of Tübingen in Germany, gives some answers — and leaves one big question open.

In earliest Christianity gender differences didn't affect life in the church, which back then was nothing but a community of free and equal people. But with the institutionalization of the church hierarchical structures replaced egalitarian relationships. Add to that a devaluation of education especially for women in late antiquity, and we have a perfect storm that reduced women to their biology. Going forth, men dominated in all areas of public life and usually in the home, too.

In the Middle Ages, the sexuality-averse teachings of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas only solidified things. Like Aristotle before them, these two men saw women as deficient relative to men. Though the Protestant churches developed in more fortunate ways, the Roman Catholic church has been stuck in that paradigm created hundreds of years ago. Küng speaks of a mediaeval Roman Catholic hierarchy "which has remained mediaeval down to the twentieth century." True to the ideals of Augustine and  Thomas, it "propagates celibacy for the clergy even in the face of thousands of parishes without pastors, and wants to tie sexual  pleasure in the sphere of marriage to the procreation of children."

Küng writes precisely and clearly, yet I found Women in Christianity hard to read. The book packs 2,000 years of gender relations in the church into 100 pages, and it's an emotional challenge. At the end of his book, Küng, whom the Vatican barred from teaching at Roman Catholic universities in the 1970s, urges Rome to rethink its stance on a number of issues. Hardly surprisingly, his proposals include to end the requirement of celibacy for priests and to admit women to the priesthood. The renowned theologian points out that he first suggested these amendments in 1976. In the almost forty years since then, Rome hasn't even blinked.

The question is: what will it take to make the change happen?

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Women in Christianity
By Hans Küng. 140 pp. Bloomsbury Academic

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Visions of Editors

Recently I stumbled upon Visions of Mary, a war story by Joseph Richardson. The book begins in a present day emergency room in Tennessee: a doctor, a good guy who takes his work seriously, fights to establish the identity of a man who was found wandering about in a snow storm. The M.D.'s questions bring up memories of World War II in the disoriented patient. Thanks to the lost man's recollections we eventually learn that he is Colonel John Stone, an American war hero.

The colonel tells the physician how he enlisted and became a pilot, how he married his sweetheart, Mary, and how he almost died when the Japanese shot down his plane, the "China Doll," in the last months of the war. After the attack, Stone and his men found themselves on a raft in the middle of a shark infested nowhere called the Pacific. Without food, water and radio connection their death seemed imminent.

The men's fight for survival is where the book turns exciting: plunged into this crisis, each character  reveals his personality. Stone keeps the cool head he is told to possess from the beginning; tough, charming Bledsoe turns out to have a philosophical mind; Skip who has risen through the army ranks because of his political connections initially wants to behave like the selfish brat we assume him to be but matures slightly towards the end.

Visions of Mary got me thinking about books, authors and editors. For while the novel hooked me initially —  I liked the physician and the stubborn Alzheimer's patient — chapters 3 to 15 dragged on with detailed descriptions of life in the army. They taught me a lot about pilot training, the mechanics of air planes and the needs of soldiers starving for women. But they left me craving action.

My writer's hat is off to any man or woman who can complete a 350 page manuscript and see it through to publication be it with Simon and Schuster or Knopf or with a print on demand publisher. Yet, as a reader, I hate to see a good story wasted.

Richardson's novel could have done with tightening and restructuring. A passionate editor might have suggested to focus on the 130 pages including and following the crash of the "China Doll" and to intersperse this story with back flashes to incorporate some though not all of the exposition from the first 200 pages.

Was there an editor? Did he not take his job seriously? I don't know. But what I believe is this: every patient needs a doctor who cares, and every book needs an editor. Richardson's book deserves a good one.

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Visions of Mary
A Novel of One Man's War.
By Joseph Richardson. 356 pp. Two Harbors Press.

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All About Speed. And Driven

New story is out:

Racing the Dream, a profile of Edward Loh, editor-in-chief at Motor Trend. The article was published today in USC Trojan Family Magazine.

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Elephants and Peek-a-Boo! Hollywood Features Itself

Lights, camera, action! The Hollywood sign seen from Hollywood Blvd

Los Angeles does a lousy job of preserving its heritage, and the district of Hollywood, LA's prime tourist destination, is a perfect example of this failure.

Hollywood's dominant feature is a mall at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue that was opened in 2001. The shopping and entertainment center dwarfs the Roosevelt Hotel, the El Capitan Theater, Grauman's Chinese Theater — now actually TCL Chinese Theater, after the company that bought it a few months back — and whatever else may be left of the classical Hollywood. In a pile-it-on mixture of styles and forms, the complex boasts postmodern glass fronts, roof tops reminiscent of bunkers from World War II and elephant statues perched upon voluptuous columns. The site has Las Vegas feel to it. But while such eclecticism might amuse me anywhere in Nevada, I find it eerie everywhere else. I don't want LA to look like Vegas.

That said, last time I was in Hollywood I came across the peek-a-boo above: the iconic Hollywood sign sandwiched between the roof top of an orange city bus and a pedestrian bridge in the mall. Add to that the row of spotlights, the woman taking a picture and the five figures walking across the structure, and what we have is a movie set: Lights, camera, action! Hollywood features itself.

By the way of self-reference: after some research I learned that the elephants in the mall are a tribute to Hollywood, too. They are replicas of figures used for the movie Intolerance released in 1916. LA, we learn, has its own way of preserving heritage.

Image below: Gary Minnaert, Wikimedia Commons


Las Vegas or LA? Hollywood and Highland Center.

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Puppets and Purse Strings

New story is out:

Puppets and Purse Strings, published in Pasadena Weekly today.

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“You Want Them Off Your Head”

New story is out:

Professional nit pickers, published in Pasadena Weekly.

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“No Traces”: The Low Profile of Peter Zwetkoff

Years ago, when I was working as a reporter in Austria, I asked the composer Peter Zwetkoff whether he would let me profile him for the newspaper. The man was appalled. He shook his head and gave me a look so intense it scared me. "Bloss keine Spuren," he said, talking as quietly as he always did but with a determination that put an instant halt to further inquiries. Bloss keine Spuren. No traces.

Peter Zwetkoff was born in Bulgaria in 1925. He grew up in a village just outside of Innsbruck, Austria. As a teenager, Zwetkoff joined the resistance against Hitler. Gestapo men arrested him repeatedly and tortured him. As of the mid nineteen-fifties Zwetkoff lived in Germany where he worked as a freelance composer for a radio station. Peter Zwetkoff died on May 17, in Baden-Baden, Germany.

Searching the web for documentation on Zwetkoff yesterday, I came up almost empty-handed. I found a page on Wikipedia and entries in various music and film databases. But there isn't much else, just an obituary written by a friend of Zwetkoff's, the Austrian novelist Erich Hackl. Zwetkoff had continued to keep a low profile.

No traces: our conversation occurred in a small pub in Vienna, about twenty years ago. This was long before Facebook and bare-it-all blogs, before we entered the age of collective exhibitionism. During the past years, I have often wondered how suicidal we must seem to those who have been shaped by regimes of terror. I have also thought how privileged we are if we have lived our lives without knowing what dictatorship feels like.

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