Holy Mary (is My Homegirl), Mother of GIFs

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Editor’s Note: Now that TJP assistant editor Tim O’Brien has picked himself up off the floor, he’s ready for Part 2 of our interview with the (still anonymous) creator of the hugely popular tumblr, Mary is My Homegirl‘ (MIMHG).

And if you missed Part 1

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Tim:  Aaaaaaaand we’re back. You know, I thought maybe we ought to warm up again with something easy, but then I thought… nah. Now, I’m just being honest here, but I gotta say that as a future priests this kinda weirds me out:

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MIMHG: Ha! Well, it weirds me out too. It’s one of the main reasons I’m not a communion minister – the moment of eucharistic reception is too high-pressure for me. I tried to receive on the tongue as a child and I always got really nervous, which is just a eucharistic mishap waiting to happen. I thought it was the holier way to receive, but it became this huge hindrance to me receiving the host reverently. Moral of the story: as long as you’re receiving the eucharist on the regular and with reverence, no one way is better.

Tim: Couldn’t agree more. Can I stay with theological topics for a few questions here? It seems to me that MIMHG has built a real community, one that’s really based around humor, but also around your ability to name things that are relevant to a lot of people. I mean, if I can gush for a second, your site has this great ability to be self-deprecating and honest, funny and prayerful and pious all in one place. What I want to ask out of that is whether you think that’s also a healthy model for a Church community, an ecclesiology

MIMHG: I don’t think I’m building any sort of community as much as I’m just part of a larger community of young Catholics. Obviously this community would in no way be constitutive of Church – the Church isn’t like the Mickey Mouse Club where we all have cultural touchstones which hold us together (as a wise moral theologian once explained to me).  But maybe communities like these help to build up the Church.  I think that humorous sites like my tumblr and Eye of the Tiber, or Catholic cultural commentary sites like The Jesuit Post, or theology and spirituality blogs do a great job of connecting young Catholics, aiding in reflection and constructive discussion of issues in our faith, and, most of all, affirming both our Catholic identity and our engagement with (pop) culture. I can’t tell you how much I longed for sites like these years ago as I was struggling with my own faith and identity before grad school; I thought I would never be pious enough to study theology, let alone smart enough. I had no role models. Maybe I’m helping to provide young Catholics with one honest example of being Catholic, in all my imperfection and ongoing growth.  I guess that’s the theme of my tumblr: I’m Catholic, I’m an academic, I’m a young woman trying to navigate life today, please laugh with me as I deal with the ridiculous aspects of this journey.

Tim: Communities that build up the Church. Excellent. That’s certainly one of the things we hope this site does. Relatedly, some of your posts reflect the frustrations of trying to find a spiritual home, a parish community, as a young person. What’s that been like for you? Any signs of hope? (Kinda thinking of this one…)

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MIMHG: Part of the issue is locale. I miss the parish I attended as a master’s student, which was in a different city than where I study now. I grew so much there, attended with people I’d known for years and who grew with me. It was a hard transition. Of course, that post is wishful thinking – I’ll never find a perfect parish, because I know that such a niche spiritual community, while it was great at that point in my life, could never fulfill all my needs now. No parish could. I’m trying to see the positive aspects of my situation now; I like seeing more older people, I like seeing the families, I even like seeing the kids who scream and run down the aisle. It reminds me that there’s life outside of my study carrel, the library, my department, and my own theological bubble. That can only be a good thing.

Tim: It’s true, being in a parish is so helpful in reminding me that not everybody is going through what I’m going through. But be honest now, is MIMHG your secret effort to preserve the awesome hilarity of Catholic subculture?

MIMHG: I’m not the secret agenda type. It’s not so much an effort to preserve as an effort to highlight and reflect on life in Catholic subculture – and that’s just how I see it, as a subculture within the larger academic and American culture, not a separate culture. And so by using references from other “cultures” – pop culture and nerd culture – I guess I’m validating the common experiences of growing up Catholic, of working through your faith as an adult, of and of studying it in-depth as a scholar. I can only imagine the tumblr is popular because it fills that niche.

Tim: Speaking of working through your faith as an adult, while I was doing “research” for this interview every now and then I’d come across something like this:  

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Tim:  And they would never fail to make me laugh. But it also made me think that there might be a funny story you can tell about the awkwardness of being a theology student and flirting and trying to find somebody to date. Anything?

MIMGH: Most of those stories are already told in my posts! I’ll expand on one: I’ve learned to just tell strangers that I’m a historian, since things tend to get weird when I mention theology. As a seminarian, I’m sure you know what I mean. So I told a guy at a bar that I studied religious history and he began to rip apart Catholicism, arguing how the Church was responsible for the worst evils in history, and so on. I’ve never seen such passion for a topic before. And so I obviously had to tell him, “Actually, I’m a practicing Catholic and I study Catholic history.” He sputtered a bit, changed the topic, and asked me out anyway. I declined.

Tim: Ha!  Yes, I do know what you mean.  (Also, I am incredulous that he asked you out anyway.) Okay, while we’re on the topic of being a woman doing Catholic theology I wanted to ask you a more serious question about feminism… it may or may not have come from this:

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Tim: I love the sequence here, but I thought the topic deserved some genuine thought, too.  So, are there any resources you find helpful in negotiating your own Catholic, feminist identity? What obstacles, if any, do you find particularly challenging?

MIMHG: Well, I’m not a very educated feminist; I’ve never taken a course in gender studies or feminist theology. I do believe, however, and grew up believing, that men and women are equal; in that sense I consider myself a feminist. I see this as completely in line with Catholic teaching. But, as you can imagine, I had a really difficult time as a teen and young adult reconciling this understanding with some aspects of Catholicism that might seem at-odds with it. In time I came to realize that, just as I didn’t have the ultimate solution to the issue, neither did feminist writers nor, for that matter, did the Church, as it continues to be guided by the Holy Spirit on this and other issues.  There are some wonderful, faithful Catholic women writing on this topic who are much more knowledgable than I am at Women In Theology. I would recommend reading their work. As for me, when it comes to the issue of gender I try to read feminist authors with a critical lens, listen to the Pope and the Magisterium with a humble and charitable ear, and always speak truth in love (to break the Catholic stereotype and quote Scripture). As for obstacles, I think that I needed to let go of my own preconceived notions of what it means to be feminist and what it means to be Catholic before I could be comfortable calling myself both (or either, for that matter).

Tim: Really well put.  Yes, it really does take a lot of letting go before we can embrace something newer and deeper.  Maybe that rings so true to me because that kind of letting go is right at the heart of the Spiritual Exercises… speaking of which… you stole this straight from the Spiritual Exercises, didn’t you?! 

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MIMHG: No, I just sassified your Exercises for you. Which, on further reflection, might not have been an improvement. Now I’m imagining Ignatius of Loyola wearing a fabulous scarf while leading the Exercises. That’s definitely going to mess people up on retreat. Sorry!

Tim: Not at all! Ignatius in a scarf… now I’m scarred for life. Kidding! Okay we’re almost done, but before we go I have to ask what your personal 3 favorite posts are.  Can you tell us?

MIMHG:  These have all been in my head for years, tumblr just gave me a way to share the ideas with more than just my family or friends.  Number one:

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MIMHG: Number two:

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MIMHG: And number three:

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Tim: Oh my goodness.  Perfection.  Is there anything else to ask?  Oh yes, any idea where the site is headed in the future?  Cool plans?

MIMHG: I have no idea where the site is headed. I’ll probably add more non-gif material, maybe more links. But my doctoral program keeps me pretty busy and it obviously comes first. Sooner or later I’m sure I’ll run out of post ideas, just as I’m sure the novelty of my tumblr will wear off and the entire tumblr gif fad will run its course. It will end eventually, hopefully on a good note, and we’ll all find other ways to procrastinate.

Tim: Well I don’t know about that, I plan on checking MIMHG from my MacBook “Seraphim” in heaven.  But we better let you get back to studying (= making more gifs).  Last thing, is there a question you wish we asked? Anything?

MIMHG: I can’t think of anything I wish you’d asked but didn’t – but there’s a lot I’m glad you didn’t ask!

Tim: Not fair. Now I’m going to be left wondering what those questions were! Regardless, this has been wonderful – you’ve been so generous with your time and honesty and with your great sense of humor. And, on behalf of all the other Catholic grad students who are not-so-secretly-jealous we didn’t think of this first, thanks for making us laugh.

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Editor’s Note: One more time, don’t forget to read Part 1 of our interview.  The gifs in this interview are all from MIMHG, you can find them here: (1) Communion on Tongue, (2) Good Parish,  (3) Awkward Flirting, (4) Feminist Rants(5) Sassy Spiritual Exercises, and the three favorites: Nestorius, Confession, and Sisters, Sisters.

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