"Vigorously told deceptions and battle scenes." ~Publishers Weekly review of Eolyn

"The characters are at their best when the events engulfing them are at their worst." ~Publishers Weekly review of High Maga

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Old Pope, New Pope

Pope Francis won the hearts of the people in St. Peter's
Square almost instantly with his humble demeanor.
Yesterday, a series of random events came together in such a way as to allow me to witness the announcement of the new Pope live, as it unfolded in Rome.

Not that I was in Rome, mind you.  I was in my parents' kitchen. But still, this is the fourth Pope I have seen elected in my lifetime, and the first where I happened to tune in just as the white smoke was billowing out of that skinny tin chimney.

Mom and I had planned to go shopping after lunch at my parents'.  But the arrival of a repair man to attend to their dysfunctional phone changed those plans. While the landline was being fixed, I opened up my iPhone app for the Kansas City Star, and we saw the breaking news:  white smoke from the Vatican, posted only six minutes before.  Mom turned on the TV, and another moment in history unfolded before our eyes.

It's been interesting to watch the on-line dialogue following the announcement of the election of Jorge Bergoglio as the next leader of one of the world's largest churches.  Ever the optimist myself, I am rather happy the Vatican has at least stepped outside of Europe and picked their next man from the great continent of South America.  I like his demonstrated commitment to the cause of the poor, and the humility he has expressed in both his lifestyle and his opening address as the newly elected Pope.

Legend or history?  Conspiracy theorists say that after a woman
was unwittingly elected Pope in the 9th century, rituals
were established to ensure all new electees had
the proper (and presumably more holy) set of genitals.
Everyone is speculating over his choice of name:  Francis, presumably reflecting a dedication to the mission and life of St. Francis of Assis, a man reknowned for his devotion to the cause of the poor, and to all the living creatures of the natural world.

Of course, this handful of promising notes is not enough for many people. There is much anger being expressed because Bergoglio is conservative on precisely the issues one would expect a Catholic Pope to be conservative.  He objects to abortion, for example, and does not approve of gay marriage. 

Nonetheless, he also represents a step forward in ways few people seemed to expect from the Church at this time.  For my part, although I am bound to disagree with many aspects of his doctrine, I have to admit I was impressed with the unassuming way in which Pope Francis shared this moment of transition with his adoring crowd on St. Peter's Square.  I also hope he renews the focus on social justice, which I think has been one of the Church's strongest points of leadership since Vatican II.

Most of all, I'm curious to see how this new papacy unfolds. 

Because all life is, in one way or another, related to my novels, I couldn't help but remember the wizard Tzeremond as Cardinal Bergoglio accepted this grave and noble responsibility for the spiritual lives of millions of people worldwide. 

Another image that reminds me of the
wizard Tzeremond.  The road to perdition
is paved with good intentions.
Tzeremond, like Bergoglio, is humble, dedicated, and keen of mind. Although he is Eolyn's greatest antagonist, he is an honest and even good man, from a certain perspective.  In writing Tzeremond's character, I knew he never once doubted the truth of his convictions, even as those convictions led him to preside over one of the most terrible injustices in the history of Moisehén: the annihilation of the Magas.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the influence of my Catholic childhood on the story of Eolyn also came up today while in conference call with editor Eric T. Reynolds and Thomas Vandenberg, who will do the cover art for High Maga

One of the earliest memories of growing up as a girl in the Catholic Church was the moment in which it hit home that I could never be a priest.  This seemed a terribly unfair situation, especially since I was certain I could be a much better priest than any of the priests I knew. Although I eventually came to the conclusion I was not called to a religious life of any sort, I have no doubt this early moment was one of the seeds that eventually gave rise to Eolyn and her struggle to practice magic in a world where magic is forbidden to all women, and controlled by men.

Once in a great while, I've questioned the relevance of Eolyn's story to the modern world.  I like to believe the women's movement of the 1960s and 70s has brought us a long way from the reality of Medieval Europe (which, by the way, was not all that different from the reality of the US in the 1950s, or the reality of the conservative elements of the Republican Party in 2013).  I like to imagine that younger readers, especially, won't "get" the idea that a particular right or path to power might be forbidden to women just because they are women. 

Unfortunately, reality has a way of preventing me from sinking into this myth, with a constant stream of events little and big; in the news, and in the lives of my friends, students, and family. So much is left to be done, and defending what precious ground we have won in the last few decades is an unending battle. 

I may not live to see a Catholic woman priest,
but a Lutheran woman priest presided over
the funeral of my maternal grandmother.
She gave one of the best and most heart-felt
funeral sermons I have ever heard. 
Yesterday was one of those days, despite (or perhaps because of) the emotion and excitement of the announcement of a new and hopefully different kind of Pope.

It has been about 1700 years since women were banished from the leadership of the Church.  Since then, women have gotten around this prohibition by finding countless creative ways to serve the Church's most noble missions, and to contribute positively to its spiritual ministry.  Yet women are still second-rate citizens in the eyes of the Vatican, subordinate to all men and incapable of coming as close to God as the red-robed bishops and their white-robed leader standing on the balconies of St. Peter's. 

The pomp and celebration was exciting, the new Pope inspiring in his origins and humility. Still the news was sad somehow, and incomplete. We were reminded, in bold relief, that a Church led by only half of its community can never be anything more than half a Church.

This is also one of the core themes of Eolyn.  We need men's leadership, but we need women's leadership as well, equally and fully, in all walks of life, in all our human endeavors. 

When I was a little girl, I dreamed that in my lifetime I would see women priests in the Catholic Church.  I have let go of that dream in the years gone by, having come to terms with the fact that it is far too unrealistic, that the Church needs another 500 years, perhaps another 1000, to catch up with the 21st century. 

Of course, I may be happily proven wrong someday.  After all, it was once said -- not so long ago -- that a Latin American Jesuit could never be elected Pope. 

Seventeen hundred years later, something is still wrong with
this picture. . .