Every once in a while I read an article that not only is theologically astute and very well written, but also is compassionate to us all, both as readers and as the subjects of the discourse. Daniel Walden’s “Gender, Sex, and Other Nonsense” (March) is such an article. It first clarifies the terms in question. Then it situates the subject of gender within the framework of the truth of each of our lives, and the responsibility we have to take charge of our own life story as an integral part of the creative process. This article has opened up a new horizon for me in terms of how I think about sex and gender.
Issues around sex and gender are contentious, demanding critical and empathetic exchange, as the tone and outworking of Daniel Walden’s extensive article reveals—if only my longtime friend and colleague, Paul Griffiths, will allow it (“Gender & Identity,” May). Walden explores the way we need to attempt to articulate who it is we have become, but missing the exploratory tone, Griffiths contends he is asserting “ownership” of something hidden—the very antithesis of exploring.
If Griffiths missed the tentative and probing tone, Walden’s citations of Herbert McCabe should have alerted him. Enough to say that Griffiths misread a text, imposing an ideology on an article he could have corrected rather than excoriated—as we all need our friends to do.
David B. Burrell, CSC
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Ind.
MINISTRY IN MINDS
Thank you immensely for the article by Daniel Walden. I found it truly moving, theologically rich, and deeply challenging to those of us in pastoral care. I will do my best to keep it in mind as I find myself ministering to transgender people.
I wonder if Walden’s analysis of the way we tell our own stories might be useful in analyzing other issues. One I have in mind is invisible disability. There is a significantly higher number of people with conditions like autism-spectrum disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc., than any of us will ever know.
To tell other people what our lives mean is to draw them deeper into ourselves, and to listen to what someone tells us their life means is to be drawn deeper into the mystery of both their humanity and humanity’s maker. To impose upon another the meaning of their life is, by contrast, a kind of pretense at divinity. It is to tell another person something that only God can tell them.
I wonder if this might help us listen to those who express pain caused by the way we treat their disability. As someone who believes he has ADHD, I often feel crushed when I express some of my executive-function issues and am not answered in an affirming way; those who have ASD have expressed similar pain to me. This is often couched in religious terms: “Why can’t you sit still and pray?” Thank the Lord people with disabilities are not condemned in the same way that transgender people are, but they often express this in small ways.
THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE REPROBATE
In his superb essay “A Providentialism Without God” (April), Eugene McCarraher writes, “Jesus informs the crowd that God sends the sun and rain on the righteous and the reprobate alike.” Jesus, however, also gave us the “parable of the talents” (Mt 26: 14–36). In this teaching, the Master gives talents “to each [servant] according to his ability.” The one receiving ten talents recognizes his gift, uses it fully, and is amply and appropriately rewarded. The servant receiving one talent buries it, is duly disciplined, and is thrown “into the outer darkness.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightly points out in The Cost of Discipleship, God’s gifts are always free, but using them wisely is costly. Because we Christians vacillate on paying the cost, our society will always be dystopian, with or without meritocracy.
Spencer F. Stopa
A POETRY PERSON
I am not a poetry person. But over the past year or so I have been waiting impatiently for the next issue of Commonweal and finding myself reading the poetry first! Most poems I read over and over again—either trying to understand the poem or understanding all too well. Diane Scharper’s poem “El Niño” (April) is one of the latter. My mom died on November 9, 2009. The night before, I knew she was looking at me for the last time and that these were to be her last words. She asked me if she was dying. I held her hand through the night knowing the next day she would be gone. I never told anyone this for fear of grief in reliving that moment. “El Niño” has given me the courage to do so. I, too, look for my mom, in the sweetness of each day.
What a remarkable poem! Maybe I am a poetry person after all.