Saturday, February 13, 2010

Edith Stein Conference 2010, part 1

:This weekend was the annual Edith Stein Conference, which is put on by the idND club to bring speakers to campus to address issues of interpersonal relationships, sexuality, and identity from a Catholic perspective. I went last year and enjoyed it very much. However, made the fatal mistake of not blogging about it, so my memories are vague. I'm determined not to do the same this year, so here I am camped out on the couch, blogging away!

I missed Friday's talks last year due to my scheduling and this year was the same. Between lab meeting, a TA walkthrough, and Bioseminar, my Friday afternoon was packed! I intended to make it to this morning's first presentation, but I was, frankly, slothful this morning and didn't get there in time. The first presentation I made it to ended up being something I wouldn't have chosen for myself, but it turned out to be great. The speaker was Mother Dolores Hart, the abbess of a Benedictine abbey in Connecticut. She spoke about her former life as an actress, both on film and on Broadway, and how she was able to continue her vocation in acting even after she joined the Benedictines. (She had been in two movies with Elvis Presley, and I particularly appreciated her description of Elvis as "a lovely man.")

Mother Dolores' background in acting was evident in her bearing and presence. Listening to her was like listening to a favorite older aunt recalling her life. While still a successful actress, she had come to know the Mother of the abbey, and she was invited to spend a vacation with the nuns. In spite of wanting to continue her career, she found herself drawn more and more to the cloister. She eventually could not ignore the call of God and entered religious life. However, she still maintained contacts and friendships from her Hollywood life, and these friends, after they had come to spend time at the abbey, gave money to build a theater there. During the annual "Abbey Fest", which is well attended by the locals, the sisters put on plays there - everything from Shakespeare to Sartre. In recent years they have even put on musicals with kids from the community. It was really wonderful listening to her story and thinking about how she was able to integrate two callings as seemingly disparate as acting and religious life. I'm thinking in particular about my own life, and my two conflicting calls to academic life and motherhood.

After Mother Dolores' talk, it was time for lunch, and I met up with my DH at Chipotle for a nice break. Coming back I was a little startled to see a group of maybe 20 people, whom I didn't recognize from the morning's talk, standing in a circle reading aloud and applauding each other. The subject matter ("let us define our own love") made it evident to me that these people were probably not in agreement with the aims of ESC. They were passing out slips of paper which stated that their purpose was to read "queer poetry" to protest the afternoon's speaker, Melinda Selmys, a lesbian turned Catholic who was going to lecture on homosexuality. It also became evident that the poems were what most people would call obscene. One of the conference organizers announced that the next talk would start soon, only to be shouted down by a "poet" who read a line and loudly emphasized the word "c**k." This in the presence of children. I was feeling quite upset and wondered if they would disrupt the talk.

I caught up with a fellow grad student inside the auditorium and we chatted a little bit about the disturbance outside. I struck up a conversation with a student sitting in front of me, who told me he was gay. "At least they could have picked some good gay poetry," he quipped. "Not exactly Oscar Wilde, is it?" I replied, smiling. "Or 'Glory be to God for dappled things,'" he said. "I probably won't agree with everything this speaker says, but what they are doing doesn't do anything except make people angrier."

(This is getting lengthy, and it's dinnertime, so you will hear all about the speaker in the next post!)

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