Monday, 25 March 2019

Captain Marvel Vs Wonder Woman

When I googled Captain Marvel versus Wonder Woman, it turned out most of the world wants to know who would win in a fight. That is not, however, my burning concern. I was more interested in figuring out why I liked Wonder Woman when I found Captain Marvel so annoying.

On the surface, they are very similar. They are both gorgeous female superheroes who seem to be sending rather clichĂ©d feminist messages: “Girls, you can do it! You don’t have to have a man or be a man to be significant! You are stronger then you think!” Even though I consider myself a Catholic feminist, I am capable of noticing when feminist messages are used to sell movies... Captain Marvel came out on International Women’s Day.

But to me, Captain Marvel detracts from an authentic feminist message. Maybe it was the acting, or maybe it was the original story, but it seemed to me that in order for Carol Danvers to be a superhero, she had to be cold, emotionless and just powerful. It was practically impossible to relate to her. I could admire her beauty without feeling like I could empathize with her in the slightest, because she seemed so detached. I think that’s what some people think it takes for a woman to succeed, to be strong.

But strength doesn’t mean becoming a robot, or so focussed on achieving our goals or proving ourselves that we forget to be real. Our emotions and sensitivity are a part of our strength and we don’t need to deny them. Not only that, being authentic, acknowledging our weaknesses and working alongside others whom we trust can be a wonderful way to be wholly who we are.

Wonder Woman on the other hand seemed so much more real, in the way she related to people, in her passion for justice and truth and people. Was it just the acting? (Gal Gadot fangirl alert) Or the story? I’m not sure. I loved how she was sensitive and aware of the people and the needs around her, how she didn’t seem to feel the need to prove herself because it wasn’t about her. She was a woman on a mission, with a heart on fire for a better world. Her struggle was believing that people could do evil, and yet be worth saving. Now that is a deep and very relatable struggle. (Although I wasn’t too fond of the long drawn out fight scene at the end of Wonder Woman that could have greatly benefited from being a fraction of the length.)

 What did Carol Danvers struggle with? The hurdle she had to cross seemed overly simplistic – people didn’t believe in her, didn’t think she could do it because she was a girl, and she just had to GET UP AGAIN. Come on, I expect a little more from movies made in the 21st century. Not that people doubting us isn’t a reality, but isn’t there more to it? Where does that inner strength and belief come from? Where does our power come from? How do we tap into it? What is it for? Apparently no one else had those questions or were looking for stronger analogies from Captain Marvel. Instead we are just supposed to cheer because she GOT UP, and hey, she is now SUPER POWERFUL and also NOW SHE FIGURED OUT SHE CAN FLY. Wait, what?

Both movies had something to offer though. They both portrayed women as more than a part of a man’s story, more than sidekicks or love interests, or seductresses or sirens. Every woman has a unique role to play in the salvation of the world. For some, part of that role is that of a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a homemaker. For some, it is as consecrated singles, mothers and sisters to the world. But being a mother, a sister and a wife does not mean there are not other ways God is calling women to step up, just as for men, being husbands, fathers, and brothers, does not mean they do not have other work to do in the world too.


Some women will take on political roles, some will use their gifts, strengths and training in science, medicine, the arts, writing, teaching, speaking, creating, forming, inspiring, challenging and building. We need to help women to find and follow God’s call for their lives. Movies with strong female leads help us remember that many women need to be encouraged to be all they were created to be.

All in all, although Captain Marvel wasn’t terrible, it was very forgettable (I’m stretching to remember it now, a couple of weeks after watching it), whereas I’d be willing to recommend Wonder Woman, and even watch it a third time. And if we’re looking for messages about strong women that we can relate to, I’d give Captain Marvel a pass, and watch Wonder Woman. Or even better, Hidden Figures.

Related Reading 

Don't Be Afraid of Strong Women: A Reflection on Wonder Woman

I’m a Catholic Feminist – What Does That Even Mean?

The Subtle and Appealing Evil of Thanos

Why 'Finding Dory' Made Me Cry

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

We Belong to Each Other

This morning I was waiting at a train station (something one does a lot of when one has a fiancé in a different city) and contemplating the early morning masses of humanity going about their day. A few feet away from me was a group of men and women, squatting on the ground close to the train tracks. Their voices were raised in raucous banter and laughter, and they seemed to me unfamiliar and uncouth.

But as I watched them, I remembered something I saw recently as a response to the Christchurch shooting. It was a quote from Mother Teresa that said:

"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."

It was easy for me to read that quote, and nod sententiously. "Yes, those people have forgotten that we belong to each other, that we are responsible for each other, that the 'other' is not the enemy. When will they learn?" It can be hard for me to understand how anyone can reach a place where they could even consider wanting to end the life of another. I'm not like that.

But this morning as I looked at those people, I realized it starts with suspicion, with fear. And I too was also looking at them as 'the other', foreign to me, strange to me, and disconnected with my life and my reality. I stepped back and looked at my own subconscious prejudices. I look at people who seem educated or dressed like me as more valuable, more connected with me. And the others? They weren't mine. I was more likely to look at them with suspicion, watch my bags, keep my distance.

In that moment, I tried to look at them differently. Sure, they were loud, they related to each other differently than I would relate to my friends or family. But though they had come from a different world than mine, they were also just waiting for a train. They felt hungry, tired and thirsty. They had common jokes and friends they could joke around with. They had hopes, and desires, and fears, and problems.

And on a deeper level, they were made by the same God who loved me into being and has been directing my life. They were as worthy of love and salvation as I was. They were made for love, as I was.

If Jesus is true for anyone anywhere, then Jesus is true for everyone everywhere.

And if that is true, that has an impact on the way I see and treat people. They are no longer disconnected, unrelated to me. They are mine too, as they are His.

What about those who are not just innocent bystanders going about their own lives? What if they are BAD PEOPLE? What about the man in the train staring at me a little too long? What about the aggressive beggars? What about those who treat me with suspicion because of my faith? Even those who don't consider themselves MY friends, who may want to cheat me, or abuse me, or just ignore me - those too are my brothers and sisters. It doesn't mean I support or excuse evil. But I still see the perpetrator as salvageable, as one who deep down is made for good, made for love, made for heaven. If Christianity is all about redemption, then we have no enemies of flesh and blood. If we fight, we fight with weapons of love. We are not overcome by evil. but we overcome evil with good. And all those who do the same, are connected with the same God of love.

"If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" Matt 5:47

One morning's reflection won't change everything, but it's a start.

Stretch my heart, Lord, so I can love as you love, so I can see the world as You see it. Let peace begin with me.

Monday, 11 March 2019

I Found Out Why I'm Furious!

Just kidding, I'm rarely furious. I do however have a variety of other emotions, which pop up randomly and derail my peace of mind and heart. What do I do when that happens? Well, typically, I look at my calendar to check what time of month it is. Hormones can affect a lot, as many women and the people they are closest to know all too well. (Pro tip: Kindly inform your family members and significant others about when PMS is due for holier and happier relationships.)

But sometimes it isn't about hormones.

Have you ever had something happen to you, something seemingly small, a comment, an interaction, a change in plans, that seem to release a disproportionate flood of emotions?

Okay I realize I'm being too vague. Here are some real life examples.

Auntie: Did you notice that you have pimples on your face? You should try (some home remedy).
Friend: [WAVE OF ANGER that she is able to hold in briefly before venting at me]
Me: Yeah, you know aunties sometimes make personal comments, I'm sure she doesn't realize that it's rude.
Friend (practically in tears): That's not an excuse! What a horrible thing to say! I can't take any more of these rude personal comments about my appearance and my weight!

Some team member or person I'm working with: Hey Sue. We need to talk.
Me: (Outwardly) Okay. Let me know when.

Someone: (Raises their voice and accuses me of something, unfair or not).
Me: (Shaky mess and shaky voice and internal withdrawal but trying not to show it)

They're called triggers and we all have them. Something someone says or does makes us feel threatened, scared, rejected, abandoned, unsafe, ashamed, embarrassed, alone. Sometimes it's the things someone DOESN'T do that trigger negative emotions. Sometimes it's a mild criticism, an insult, someone's opinion or attitude, sometimes even the expression on someone's face.

Where do these negative emotions come from?

Typically it is connected with some wound from the past. Maybe we experienced rejection and criticism from our parents when we were children (the ones who should have made us feel safe and accepted), and now everything makes us feel rejected and criticized. Maybe we were emotionally or physically abused. Maybe we were in a relationship where we were consistently humiliated and disrespected. It could make us feel touchy and overly sensitive, and hear disrespect everywhere. Sometime we may not even remember the original wound, but that doesn't stop us from experiencing its effects.

So what do we typically do with these emotions?

Some of us run away from the situation or person that has triggered them. It can make our circle smaller and smaller because whenever you get close to people it starts happening.

Some of us blame the other person for MAKING us feel that way. "That is not the way" as we say in India. If only that person had behaved more respectfully, sensitively, I would not be having these emotions.

Some of us allow anger and hurt to harden into resentment as we close ourselves off from the person or people who were involved.

Some of us resort to self-shaming and self-blame and come to the conclusion that we are horrible people in every possible way and we deserve to feel that way.

Some of us just think that this is normal life and losing your temper all the time, or regularly feeling fearful or anxious, or having angry confrontations are just the the side effects of being human.

But I want to let you into a secret that may change everything-

God desires us to maintain our peace of heart no matter what, and if God desires it, then it is possible.

So what do we do with all these trigger and emotions that seems to influence so much of our lives and interactions? How do we rediscover peace of mind and peace of heart?

1. Acknowledge that they exist. We need to be able to have the humility to admit that sometimes our emotions are disproportionate to the situation.* Not everything is someone else's fault. Blaming others is a sure way to never start the healing process, or any kind of change or growth.

2. Accept those emotions without identifying with them. Alright, I'm feeling ashamed. But my emotions are not ME. They are just something I'm experiencing. Now what?

3. Be willing to examine them. 'The unexamined life is not worth living.' I've mentioned the Ignatian particular Examen before, but basically this is what it comes down to - a. Step away from the situation. b. Thank God for three specific things. c. Ask the Holy Spirit to examine the depths of your soul. Ask yourself 'Why am I reacting this way? Does this reflect the truth of the situation?' d. Ask God to help you react differently next time. DO THIS EVERY TIME! Journal about it so you remember.

4. Share your conclusions with a spiritual director and/or someone close to you. We often need someone to help us remember the truth.

5. Ask God for healing from the memories or past trauma or wounds that are affecting your current ability to relate to the world. Forgive the people who have wounded you. Speak the truth and the bible verses that remind you of the truth often. (Very often mine is - "God is God and I am not. I am not in charge of everyone else's happiness, holiness and safety - God is. There is no problem too big for God to handle.")

6. Be patient with yourself. You're not the only one. We are all broken and wounded, and sometimes it takes a while to become whole.

7. Be quick to apologize. Even if your negative emotions and reactions stem from past wounds, they still have the ability to hurt the people around you. And if you're willing to apologize and share what's going on, the people close to you will be able to walk with you and be patient with you when you slip up. They may even be able to try to avoid your triggers.

8. Resolve not to act out of your emotions: Just because you're FEELING angry or defensive or scared or resentful, doesn't mean you need to speak angry or defensive or fearful or resentful words. Take some time to respond if you can't respond well in the moment.

For freedom Christ has set us free. But most of us continue to live in slavery to the lies and wounds of the past. Lent is a time for returning to the Lord with all our hearts. It's not always about something we can do for Christ, but allowing Him to do what He wants to do in us.

*That means sometimes negative emotions are useful - if you really are in danger, your emotions may be an indicator that something is very wrong.

Related Reading and Podcasts

Back to the Basics: Lenses and Triggers - Way of the Heart podcast (only 27 minutes)

How Not to Be an Emotional Wreck All the Time (yeah, so, funny story, I wrote this entire blog post before realizing I wrote a very similar post a few weeks ago. Oh well, if I forgot, maybe you did too.)

Identifying Our Triggers

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Seven Rookie Lenten Mistakes

Yes, yes, everyone is posting about Lent, but what to do. I'm Catholic, it's the day before Ash Wednesday, I'm home alone and there are no pancakes to enjoy Shrove Tuesday (aka Pancake Tuesday), so I may as well eat snacks and blog about LENT!

Whether you're super-Catholic, Catholic but not obsessively so, a non-Catholic Christian who appreciates the roots of the Lenten disciplines, or even a non-Christian who likes the idea of Lent, you may have been thinking of doing something to commemorate this season. What's wrong with getting some discipline in your life, right? But here are some ways you CAN do it wrong.


Giving up things to feel good about yourself

The whole point of Lent is to turn back to God. If giving up stuff just gives us a pleasant sense of accomplishment, then perhaps we should rethink why we're doing what we're doing. Our egos are so good at feeding themselves on seemingly good things. I've found that one way to combat this is to give up something that sounds stupid to other people, but which you know you need, like giving up staying up late playing video games, or giving up using cuss words when you're on the roads. "What, you need to wait till LENT to give those up?" Whatever, lady, you don't know my weaknesses. But you're unlikely to boast about those things, even to yourself.


Giving up things only to replace them with other things

Classic mistake - give up Facebook, and become a Youtube addict. Give up movies and get hooked on novels. We're just replacing one addictive time-wasting habit with another. Instead, make sure you are not just taking something away, but putting something good in. Every time I feel the hunger, the ache of missing this thing, I will read a few lines of a spiritual book, or say a decade of the Rosary and intercede for someone, or listen to a Gospel song, or listen to a Christian podcast.


Giving up things as a matter of habit

Ah, it's Lent, time to put away the alcohol and give up meat. Though there is nothing wrong with those particular sacrifices, the danger of doing it out of habit, is that it stops cutting through our layers of sin and reaching our hearts. Any religious practise can lose it's power if we start treating it casually or with indifference. Instead ask God, 'What are the parts of my heart that need to change and come back to you? How can I cut away the things that are stopping me from living a more intentionally loving life?'


Being really vague about Lenten practices

This year for Lent, I'm going to give up negativity and selfishness. Wonderful! And how are you planning to do that? A lot of people have been sharing Pope Francis' quote about giving up indifference for Lent, saying that our fast from alcohol or candy won't make a difference unless it helps more than yourself. But it may be easy to use that as an excuse NOT to give up anything concrete, or to do anything that is hard on our own mortal flesh. But fasting from harsh words and fasting from food are connected. We are embodied spirits, so when we give up something that we feel a physical desire for, it helps weaken our attachment to mental, emotional and spiritually harmful acts as well. It is basically learning to say no to yourself for a greater good, something most of us don't do very often.


Forgetting that Lent is about fasting AND prayer AND almsgiving

With all the cool lists of innovative things to give up, we can get overly focussed on what we're giving up, and forget that we should be paying as much attention to coming back to God through our prayer and almsgiving. Of course, all three are connected. We give up unhealthy attachments to the short-term satisfaction of food, drink, and leisure in order to give our hearts more fully to and find a deeper joy in God, and He moves us to pour ourselves out for others, like He did. John Chrysostom who said: “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”


Doing things that are too easy or too hard

The best practices to choose are the ones you hear God calling you to in prayer, and that are hard enough that they push you and stretch you, but not so hard that they break you. If you're not feeling your sacrifice at all, and not even missing the thing you gave up, maybe you should take on something more. I read a cool idea - ask yourself to complete this sentence: "I am a good Christian except when...." and you will find the area you need to work on.


Being more focussed on your personal Lenten plan that you miss God's plan for you this Lent

If giving up coffee makes you bad-tempered with your annoying kids, then perhaps consider the possibility that God is asking you to give up your sacrifice for the sake of your family. If an unexpected suffering just happens to you this Lent, perhaps in the form of sickness, pregnancy, a family crisis, anxiety or depression, homesickness, or any other unexpected and uncontrollable factor that makes life a little harder to live, consider embracing that suffering as your Lenten sacrifice and offering it up for the sake of others, rather than feeling frustrated because you haven't taken on any REAL Lenten disciplines. The best sacrifice you can offer to the Lord is the sacrifice of your own plans and will. It is also the hardest sacrifice to make. But the Lord always gives us His sweet gift of peace in return.

Have a holy, grace-filled Lent! 'Lent comes providentially, to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.' Pope Francis. I pray that we will all be awake, living fully the life we were called to live.