The Substance of Things Hoped For

by Kate Henley Averett

There’s this man who sits in Harvard yard with a poster demanding “9/11 truth NOW.” I’m not sure if he’s there everyday – I suspect not – but he’s there quite often, often enough that he’s become something of a fixture in the landscape for me in my four and a half years of frequent walks through the yard.

I was on one such walk last Tuesday at lunchtime with the kids I nanny for, my wife, and a friend of ours. As we passed the man with the poster, our friend mused, “I wonder what he hopes to accomplish at this point.” The ensuing discussion raised some good points. It had been eight years, and with the new administration in Washington those that were in charge at the time were mostly gone. Even if this man truly believed there was a major conspiracy covering up the “real” events of September 11th, did he actually retain any hope of getting answers? What good did he think his vigil would have?

Yet I couldn’t help but feel a sort of admiration for this man, so I added, “Isn’t there something to be said for standing up and proclaiming your truth even if you think – even if you know – that no one will listen and it will have no effect?”


Fast forward to the next day; while the kids napped I was, courtesy of Google alerts, catching up on all talk Catholic and feminist and/or queer in the blogosphere and beyond. I came across an interview with a former Lutheran pastor who had given up her ordination to convert to Roman Catholicism, having also come to understand women’s ordination as a theological impossibility. She speaks about the importance of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in her reaching this state of understanding, and says, “One must utterly disregard the importance of the nuptial mystery for the economy of salvation in order to make an argument for women’s ordination. If the Church were to ordain women, the entire understanding of the importance of the feminine and masculine in the working out of our salvation would be lost.”

I’ll admit it; my heart sunk when I read this. She’s right, I thought. The Church will never change its theological stance on the inherent differences between men and women. It will never come to the conclusion that masculinity and femininity are anything but essential, inherent, and complementary characteristics that exist at the very core of what makes people not just men and women, but human, the work of God’s hands. The Church can’t change its stance on women’s ordination without changing core aspects of its theology…which it isn’t going to do. And then the most disheartening thought of all crossed my mind: we’re fighting a hopeless fight.


Which brings me right back to the man in the yard. If I think it’s noble of him to keep speaking about something he passionately believes in even if he has little chance of ever being heard, what does it say about me if I give up speaking in favor of women’s ordination when faced with a similarly miniscule hope of success? Should we only speak out against an injustice when we think those in a position of power are listening and receptive to our words? Or, when it comes to speaking truth and seeking justice, should we take the word “accomplish” out of our vocabulary and focus on doing and saying what we feel we must, regardless of the potential outcome?

Kate Henley Averett received her MDiv from Harvard in 2008 but still finds herself walking through the Harvard campus at least a few times a week, often pushing a stroller. As a justice-seeker, queer feminist, trans ally, and fierce proponent of women’s ordination, Kate spends a great deal of her time thinking, talking, and theologizing about gender.

Photo Credit: David Lowenstein


3 Responses

  1. This is exactly what I needed to read tonight; thank you.

    I was having a similar conversation today, admittedly not about women’s ordination, but about my own sort-of in, sort-of out relationship with the Catholic Church, my Catholicism (which for me are two very separate things at this point) and gender — particularly regarding gender transition.

    And, by the end of it, I felt utterly disheartened about ever being able to come back to my Church without compromising myself. I miss it; and it hurts.

    But there’s something about the fact that after everything that’s happened, I’m still calling it MY church. Whether I’m in exile… or exodus… I keep looking back, holding up a model for what I hope the church can be, knowing I may never see it, but hoping… perhaps against all hope, that someday, they’ll get there. Even if I can’t get there with them.

  2. Jeremie,

    Thanks for your comment – I think you may have just done a much better job expressing what I have been feeling than I ever could have. Thank you for it – the feeling of solidarity helps, somehow…


  3. I have seen that man so many times, and had a lot of similar thoughts about him… It was exciting to have an image to relate to so easily. I often have similar thoughts about people with signs, random words, sometimes coherent, sometimes not… but who for some reason have decided to put those words out there.

    And Jeremie… Yeah. Me too. I think the “my church” thing is very powerful… very much the sort of place I’ve been in a lot lately, where much of my behavior might not look “Catholic” in an outwardly recognizable way, but there’s a stubborn language thing– if someone asks me what my religion is, or like saying “my church” that carries over the questions themselves.

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