Over this past year, I’ve been in an uncomfortable place of searching and growth. Challenges and life transformations have left me struggling with my own identity, beliefs, and values and I continue to grapple with questions feeling a bit lost in this destructive world of political civil war here in the U.S. Having the privilege to teach, speak, and write publicly about my ideas, I have been particularly focused on is whether I am part of the problem or the solution.
Recently, I was humbled to deliver the 40th Annual Nash Lecture at Campion College; a Catholic Jesuit institution at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada. My visit to Campion was soul feeding. I met incredible scholars, administrators, students, and community members who embraced me with generosity and compassion. I felt overwhelmed — in a positive way — by the spirit of hospitality and friendship and was impressed by the inquisitive, articulate, and respectful students who were enthusiastic to connect with me and further explore their own questions about feminism and faith.
My talk focused on the new feminist revolution in religion exploring the interconnection between feminism and Catholic teachings, the grounding it offers for revolutions, and how technology creates new opportunity for voice. While I always prepare ahead of time, I end up editing until the very last minute based on my interactions and perception of where and to whom I am presenting. As many of us know, speaking from a feminist lens often requires a careful approach if we are to be heard and I often wonder if I am too bold. However, in this particular case, I found myself questioning whether I was bold enough.
I have a particular style when I present in public; I don’t read from a paper or use notes. I use a Prezi with images and key words and focus on speaking from my heart in hopes of connecting with those who generously committed their time to listening to what I have to say. Sometimes I forget to hit on particular ideas as I am moving along in my own thought process and sometimes I am influenced by the facial expressions of the audience. Both were true in this case. But in addition to these, I was also reacting to the many conversations I had at Campion in the days leading up to the lecture.
Jesuit institutions are known for their commitment to social justice; however, Catholic doctrine that is critiqued by a feminist lens is at the heart of their mission. As a self identified Catholic feminist, I am referred to as an oxymoron and critiqued by both Catholics and feminists who argue that if I am one, I cannot be the other. And yet, at Campion College, I was welcomed in the spirit of dialogue. I was touched by the openness to conversation, thoughtful commentary, and the willingness to share personal experience that influences one’s beliefs.
I edited the boldness from my talk in hopes of sharing my ideas in a way that instead of challenging, reflected this spirit of dialogue. Often those of us in a position of privilege share our ideas with particular motivations. We want to share knowledge, inspire, and sometimes we want to change perspectives. We come from a place of assuming we are right, that it is our position that should be adopted; but we do so without consideration for lived experience outside our own.
Shifting my approach left me a bit unsteady and I’ve wondered what I should have said and done differently; because dialogue is also about being true to ourselves. I don’t think we should “agree to disagree;” but rather share our ideas in a respectful way, listen to the perspectives of our dialogue partners, and recognize our opportunities to learn from one another.
If I could go back, I might develop my conversation about God to delve beyond questions of gender and intersectionality to also consider divine characteristics. I would further explore the teaching of complementarity, its impact on gender, sexuality, and LGBTQ issues, and influence on social policy. Finally, as a participant suggested, I would discuss the need to address our hierarchy within nature and acknowledge our responsibility to the Earth and its connection to Catholic social teaching.
Nonetheless, dialogue as revolution is what I learned from my experience at Campion and thus, it was important for me to incorporate that into the lecture. I ended my talk with the idea that Our Lady of Guadalupe is a model of revolutionary dialogue. As she engaged Juan Diego from a place that acknowledged his personhood, oppression, and lived experience, we are each called to approach one another with recognition and compassion for our diversity and its impact on our beliefs and values.
It was through these many conversations that I continued a dialogue with myself about my own role in the divisive nature of our relationships and the need to acknowledge individual identity and lived experience in relation to one’s perspective. Within the Christian tradition, we are committed to the idea of loving our neighbor, and yet, most of us do not know who our neighbors are, what they need, and what they want. Preferential option for the poor should always be placed at the center of our society and compassion should always be placed at the center of our relationships and dialogue. Accordingly, I am challenging myself to place compassion at the center of dialogue in hopes of participating in the revolution that allows me share my ideas while acknowledging, respecting, and listening to my neighbor.
An acknowledgment of gratitude to Shannon, Fr. Sami, Tom, Fr. Jeff, Jose, Mike, Kelly, Brenda, Anna, Michelle, and Tasha.
Gina Messina, Ph.D. is an American feminist scholar, Catholic theologian, activist, and mom. She serves as Associate Professor and Department Chair of Religious Studies at Ursuline College and is co-founder of . She has written for the Huffington Post and is author or editor of five books including Jesus in the White House: Make Humanity Great Again and Women Religion Revolution. Messina is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives of women around the globe. Messina is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter @GMessinaPhD, Instagram: @GinaMessinaPhD, Facebook, and her website ginamessina.com.