It's Religious Freedom, Stupid

The Catholic Church is supposed to proclaim the truth, not reflect the culture.
So IT DOES NOT MATTER if every single Catholic woman in America uses artificial birth control. (They don’t, by the way.  And that 98% figure that the media is flinging around is . . . shall we say . . . imprecise.  I’ll write about that another time.)
I’d say 98% of us Catholics have been unkind, have been dishonest, have yelled at our kids, have in general failed to live good Christian lives, some more than others.  Because, you know, we are human.  Does that mean the Church is supposed to fold and say those things aren’t sinful anymore?
This debate is not about reproductive freedom (that’s the liberal spin).  It’s not about the fact that most Catholics dissent from the Church’s teachings (that’s the media spin).  It’s not even really about President Obama being in a war against religion (that’s the conservative spin).  No, what this is about is freedom of religion.  It’s about the Constitution.  Is about the dismantling of a right that is absolutely intrinsic to what it means to be an American.  That’s why many progressive Catholics, erstwhile supporters of the President and his health care plan, are outraged.  This is so foundational that the lack of uproar among the Catholics in the pews–indeed, among people in general–astonishes me.
Don’t people remember their American history classes from grade school?  You know, the ones in which we all learned about people coming to this country to be free to practice their religion without government interference?  What if President Obama wanted to mandate (as has happened in France) that Muslim girls stop wearing their headscarves in public schools.  I don’t wear a headscarf.  The practice does not make any sense to me personally.  Some argue that it is demeaning to women.  But I would be furious if anyone tried to legislate against it and I bet a lot of others would as well.
Is it a problem that this disconnect between Church teaching on artificial contraception and the practice of most Catholics exists?  You bet it is.  There’s blame enough to go around, and I’ll write about that elsewhere so as not to cloud the issue.
American freedoms have already been eroded in the name of the “War on Terrorism.”  Do liberals really want to join in stripping away more of the rights on which this country was built?

Music and Memories


Humor me–listen to the song first.
I’ve spent the last couple of hours indulging in a rare occupation for me–listening to music.  I don’t own an iPod (well, I have an iPhone now but I don’t use it for that).  I usually don’t turn on the car radio.  My CDs, cassettes, and records are all gone.  If I want music, I usually sing.  And not surprisingly I suppose, what I really like to hear is SILENCE.
But I was feeling tired of my usual computer occupations, and it was too cold to go out, and our resident babysitters have their own social lives nowadays so going out on a date was out of the question anyway, so I decided to play with Spotify, which I was totally thrilled with when I first got it but forgot all about after a day or two because I just never think of listening to music.  I discovered Pandora before anyone else I knew and I don’t ever listen to it either.  But I digress.
I created a playlist with songs from my college days.  Now, I have a kick ass memory, at least when it comes to things that happened 20 years or more ago.  My high school friends know to call me if there is anything they want to know about the good old days.  Seriously, I can literally recall my entire high school class schedule, period by period, teacher by teacher, classroom by classroom.  So I don’t NEED music to remember.
But there’s nothing like a special song for taking you back to a particular moment in time.  I hear “St. Elmo’s Fire” and I’m a lonely homesick Freshman listening obsessively to the soundtrack of the last movie my friends and I saw together right before I left for Georgetown.  “How Will I Know?” comes on and I’m singing with my roommate and we are wondering how, with our complete lack of boyfriend experience, we WILL know?  Then it’s “Get into the Groove” and we’re dancing in our friend Tom’s room after saying the prayer to St. Jude, our pre-exam ritual certain to get us all passing grades.    The Georgia Satellites break out with “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” and I’m deep in the throes of first (and only) love, struggling to live up to previously untested ideals.  Love and anger, fear and joy, laughter and tears, hellos and good-byes–I feel them all again when I hear the songs.
I haven’t forgotten what HAPPENED when I was 18, 19, 20 . . . but sometimes I forget how it FELT.  But, as Trisha sings, the song remembers.

Christians Who AREN'T

I’m updating and reposting this today because four years later a U.S. Senator felt it was appropriate, whether joking or not, to “pray” this prayer for our President at the Faith and Freedom conference held on June 9, 2016.So I’m taking my son and his girlfriend to the mall this morning, and find myself behind a car with the bumper sticker above.  Looks like a nice Christian sentiment, right?  Especially considering it was accompanied by one of those Christian fish symbols some people put on their cars (there was one on my late lamented Durango!).
I’m sorry to say, though, that in my experience many people who wear their Christianity on their sleeves (or on the back of their cars, as it were) frequently don’t appear to live up to the ideals they claim to espouse.  This is certainly a case in point.  A quick Google (by my son, not me–I was driving!) let us know the heart of this so-called Christian:  May his days be few; may another take his office!
Yes, that’s right!  The “Christian” in the car ahead of me wants us to pray that our President will die!
Lest you jump in and suggest the words are figurative, or that it means his days as POTUS should be few, go Google yourself some Bible commentary like I did, all of which made it quite clear that it is literal death that this Scripture describes.
Asking God to kill people you don’t like is not Christian, folks.  You are the kind of “Christians” that give the rest of us a bad name.  You know, those of us who are trying (and failing, because we are human) to do all that stuff that Jesus actually said?  Stuff like “Love your enemies, do good to those who hurt you, bless those who persecute you, turn the other cheek, forgive your brother 70 times 7 times, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  Don’t ask me for the chapter and verse–I’m Catholic, you know–but He said those things and you know He did.  WWJD about those bumper stickers?  Rip them off your smug little cars and tell you to get that plank out of your eye so you don’t have a wreck, I’m guessing.
You call yourself a Christian?  Then pray, REALLY pray, for your President.  Pray that he exercises wise leadership.  Pray that his heart changes on certain issues–yes, like abortion.  Pray, if you don’t like him, for wise leaders to arise to replace him.  Pray for your country.  But don’t pray for anyone’s death and then dare to call yourself a Christian.
You call yourself a Christian- (1)
Since I’ve decided to revisit this post, I am linking up with #WorthRevisit this week!  Visit the hosts of this weekly linkup at Theology is a Verb and Reconciled to You.

Fireproof

We use fire as a metaphor for life experience all the time. Garth Brooks sings about “standing outside the fire.” At Mass we sing of God strengthening us “like gold that’s tested in fire.” Only a little while I ago I was writing about the flames of experience, referencing William Blake.
Not surprisingly, I think about fire a lot.   I’ve experienced its power, which is amazing and frightening.  I think about all the things we had–a houseful of furniture, keepsakes, clothes, household goods–and I say to John, “Where did it all GO?”  Because it’s not just there, damaged–it’s GONE, all of it, unrecognizable for the most part.
So when we use fire as a metaphor, I wonder if we really know what we are saying.  See, here’s the thing about fire–it doesn’t just destroy, it CONSUMES.  Sure, fire is transformative, and it may “temper” some things, but most things it transforms into ashes.
Some of us may be made stronger and better through the trials we undergo in this life, but I think we need to be more understanding of those who are consumed and destroyed by them.
FIRE consumes

Those Conversations You Don't Want to Have with Your Kids

William (age 10) hit me with a couple of difficult topics right in a row the other night.  This post is part one.
Many parents struggle with how to talk to their children about where babies come from.  When I was growing up, I had many friends whose parents completely ignored this essential topic, leaving them to be instructed God only knows by who, how, or when.  Lucky for them they got to go to Girl Scout camp with me.  No joke, I drew a diagram and labelled female body parts–they had never even been taught the proper names.
I was raised to call things by their right names.  And when I was four, and my little sister was on the way, my mother showed me pictures of birth, which fascinated me.  I remember getting in trouble for telling a friend how babies got out of stomachs.  Her mother had told her they were all cut out (much less rare nowadays, sadly, but not in the early seventies) and she was upset with me for telling her the truth.  I remember being puzzled as to why this mother, who was by profession a nurse, would lie about this.
When I was seven, my mother took the occasion of my aunt expecting to read me a book entitled Where Do Babies Come From?  It was a simple book with artistic illustrations in soft colors (I hate the cartoony sex ed books that are popular these days).  I remember being extremely skeptical and asking her to show me exactly where it really said the part about how babies are made!
I admired my mother’s approach and saw no reason to deviate from it in the raising of my own kids.  I wanted them to be informed, and I also wanted them to be comfortable asking us anything.  So when Emily was little, I picked up my very own copy of the previously mentioned book at the used bookstore.  Then I waited.  I had always heard that you shouldn’t give kids more information than they were ready for, and to follow their cues.  With two brothers arriving in quick succession, Emily knew plenty about pregnancy at a young age.  Finally, when she was seven, she asked me what the daddy had to do with it.  Voila, I pulled out the book and read it to her.  Then I let her read it again herself.
The hysterical sequel to this was when her Daddy came home, and she was so excited that the first thing she did was to share this information with him, and then demanded that he read her the book as well.  He was horrified but hid it well.  Then she asked us. “Did YOU do that?”
I don’t have as clear a memory of talking to Jake and Teddy–Jake says that Emily actually told him surreptitiously at some point–but I know I read them that same book, and taught them the right words, and answered all their questions.  I recall Jake saying something like, “Well, you must have done it three times, since you have three children.”
This approach was a success with my three big kids.  True, occasionally someone would holler, “Penis!” while standing in line at the grocery store.  And I have been amazed at some of the questions they asked me, without any embarrassment.  But today, they are not shy about saying anything in front of me, which can be disconcerting but is better than the alternative.
So now we come to William.  He’s ten–will be eleven in March–so you would think we would have had this talk by now, right?  I kept waiting for him to ask me the questions that would start us down the path to the conversation.  But here’s the thing about William–besides being extremely innocent for his age (he’s homeschooled and doesn’t have close contact with any other little boys except his cousin) he also doesn’t pick things up unless they concern the topics he is vitally interested in–at the moment, xenomorphs, transformers, Godzilla, and animals.  He knows just about everything there is to know about those subjects.  I have frequently heard him refer to animals mating, and I wondered what he thought that entailed.  I assumed he probably knew a lot–how could he not, in a houseful of teenagers with their computers and movies and uncensored conversations–even though we had never had an official talk.
Because William is so oblivious we often carry on discussions right in front of him and assume he is not paying attention.  So the other night John and I were working and I asked a question that involved the very young mother of a client, who was married to a boy who was not the father of our client.  William wasn’t even in the office but he heard me and started asking questions.  “How could her husband not be her baby’s father?” he asked me.  I said, “Well, she was married, but she had a boyfriend at the same time.”  He mulled this over for a moment and then said, “People don’t mate like animals, do they?  I mean, you just have a baby with someone if you spend a lot of time with them, right?”
I could just feel John cringing at his desk and knew I wasn’t going to have any help in this conversation!  I said, “Actually, people do mate.”  “How?” said William.  Buying time, I asked him, “How do you think animals mate?” “I don’t really know,” he responded. “I know they have to be near each other, and bugs have to actually be touching each other.”
So here’s where I should have been able to reach for my trusty book, right?  Oh wait.
Right.  The book was in the house.  The house that BURNED DOWN.  Damn it.
Flying solo, I started with the part about each parent having a seed that will make the baby and that the seeds have to get together.  “How?” was the natural next question.  So trying to sound completely at ease, I briefly described the process.  “Really?”  he said.  “That sounds disgusting.”
“It sounds strange,” I said.  “I didn’t believe it myself when I first heard it.  But it’s really not disgusting, it’s nice.  It’s something people want to do when they love each other.”
“I still think it sounds disgusting,” he said.  Then he turned to John to continue his discussion of the Cloverfield monster.

On Losing Everything Part Two

On the loss of all we owned, someone commented to me, “You unburdened yourselves.”
True, although not on purpose.  A lot of stuff we lost is better off as ashes, probably.  I wouldn’t have chosen this method of decluttering/downsizing, but it worked.  I don’t have to read that two foot high stack of magazines.  We don’t have to sort through those three boxes of old financial information in the office.  John doesn’t have to make files for that stack of stuff on his desk that he never knew what to do with.  We don’t have to clean out and organize the garage.  We don’t have to clean the house from top to bottom.  I won’t have to stress out over where to put out all the Christmas decorations and it won’t take any time at all to take them down and put them away on Epiphany.
This forced unburdening gives us an opportunity to reflect on our relationship to stuff and how we want it to change or not going forward.  And it’s confusing.  John and I talk about it a lot.  Are we supposed to be learning some kind of lesson from this?  Is it wrong to like having things and to be attached to them?  Should we buy as little as possible?  We are both feeling reluctant right now to get attached to anything.  Should we replace things–books, for example, or collectibles?  Or should we get all new things?  If the book isn’t the book I always had from my childhood, or the one that belonged to my grandmother, would it even be the same?  I have spent so many hours sorting through the clothes that we saved over the years–culling the best garments, sorting them by gender and size.  Since in retrospect all that time was wasted, does that mean I shouldn’t have been doing it in the first place?
So far, I find myself trying hard not to care about the new possessions we are acquiring.  I let other people arrange my furniture.  I told my sister to decide what pictures looked good where.  I let a friend organize my entire kitchen.  I look around this nice house filled with unfamiliar items and feel more like a lucky guest at a great hotel than someone in her own home.  I feel afraid of committing myself to buying things that I might actually come to care about.
Is this a healthy detachment from material goods, or is it a symptom of trauma?
[Six years later, albeit in a considerable more cluttered house, I am still wondering.]

The Lord Will Provide

My husband was the second reader at Mass today.  Of course I always expect to find meaning in the readings or the homily, but hearing John read the following this morning hit eerily close to home:
Brothers and sisters:
I know how to live in humble circumstances;
I know also how to live with abundance.
In every circumstance and in all things
I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry,
of living in abundance and of being in need.
I can do all things in him who strengthens me.
Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.
My God will fully supply whatever you need,
in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.
Was it no more than a coincidence that this would be today’s reading and that John would be the one to read it, almost exactly one month after our house burned down?  I don’t think so.

An Unanswerable Question

Today my six-year-old was crying for her cat, missing since the fire.  And she asked me, “Why did God let this happen?”
All I could say was the truth:  “I don’t know.  That’s one of the things that we won’t understand until we die.”
The other day, someone said to me, “I know God has a plan.  But I think this time He made a mistake!”  I said perhaps this was the devil’s plan.  But really I was only joking.
I believe God has an ultimate plan.  I believe that all things work together for good.  I know that many people believe that everything that happens–bad or good– is part of God’s plan and is therefore willed by Him. But  I DON’T believe for one second that God planned for my house to burn down.  I don’t blame Him, nor do I think it was His will.  It was a random, awful accident, like a whole lot of the bad things that happen to people.
I do believe that God–if we let Him–can take all the tragedies in our lives and incorporate them into His plan.  He enables us to rise from the ashes and to learn and grow and even profit from the trials we go through.  I’m sure that we will look back one day and realize that this terrible time made many things possible, good things that could not have happened otherwise.
I’m not there yet, though.  But the only way out is through, right?

Songs of Innocence and of Experience


When I was in college, I opted to pursue an Honors degree in English.  Part of the requirement for this was to write a sort of mini-thesis that incorporated some concept that one could trace through several different works and then defend before two professors and a peer.
In the Liberal Arts Seminar that consumed most of my freshman year, I had been introduced to the pre-Romantic poet William Blake and his Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, books of poetry that he illustrated with his own woodcuts.  The idea that we all start out life innocent (think Adam and Eve in Paradise) but then inevitably have to pass through the fires of experience seemed to keep turning up over and over in the books I read throughout college.  Blake’s vision wasn’t entirely bleak, thankfully, since he implied that if one learned from the experience, “organized innocence” –wisdom–would result.
So in my paper I talked about innocence, experience, and wisdom in Blake’s poetry, in William Wordsworth’s Prelude, in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and in Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield.  I defended it successfully, and I got that Honors degree.  Did I understand what I was writing about?  Probably not.
But most people who have made it to (ahem!) middle age would understand, and they wouldn’t need an Honors degree to do it, either.  Because by now all of us have passed through the inescapable fires of experience, and we hope that we are at least a little wiser.
Last night I attended a production of  The Fantasticks, the longest-running musical EVER, put on by the KCHS Theatre Department.  My son Jake played El Gallo.  Twenty-seven years ago, my husband played Amos Babcock Bellamy.  He admits that he and his friends didn’t really understand the play then, and Jake admits that he and his friends don’t really understand it now.  Our younger kids attended with us last night, and they enjoyed it, but they didn’t comprehend it.
How could they, when it is an extended metaphor about innocence, experience, and wisdom, and when you are in high school you don’t know or believe any of that.  Who doesn’t want to believe that first love will last forever?  Who wants to think that being buffeted and scarred by the world not only confers benefits but is actually necessary to growth?  Who wouldn’t rather stay in the garden forever, with no need for eventual redemption?
I started crying last night as soon as Jake appeared onstage singing  Try to Remember at the opening of the play.  Part of that had to do with parental pride and my feelings about my son, but part of it sprang from the sadness of knowing (as the song says) that “without a hurt the heart is hollow.”  The play has a happy ending of sorts, but still I saw my husband wiping his eyes at the end.  Because even though we both know that innocence comes to an end, that experience is unavoidable, that the wisdom we’ve gained since we were in high school is valuable, irreplaceable–we wish it didn’t have to be that way.


Thank you to Palo for the beautiful featured image.

What Makes a Writer?

I was a “writer” long before I could put pen to paper to form legible words.  I remember dictating stories to my mother when I was about four, and illustrating them afterwards.  “The Girl with the Hat” was my first composition; I believe my mother has it tucked away in my baby book.  I seem to recall it was about a poor girl who wore a big hat everywhere, even keeping it after her fortunes changed and she became a queen.  I also remember that everyone lived for many years, Bible style, and that they were buried at the end in caves.  Happily ever after didn’t cover enough territory, I guess.
What kind of writer I am is hard to put into words.  I wrote prize-winning poems in grade school, but I’m no poet.   Before I graduated from high school I had written–in longhand–two books, which brought great delight to my classmates and my sister but had no hope of being fit for publication.  I wrote some really good X-Files fanfiction, but I don’t have the desire–nor, I think, the ability–to create my own characters and breathe life into them.   In college I could crank out two grade A papers in about three hours, but there’s not much use for that skill in post-academic life.   I edited my high school paper, was a correspondent for the Catholic press for years, and of course wrote a column on life issues, but I don’t really burn with a desire to seek truth, journalist fashion.
Certain “great writer” requirements are missing from my make up, I fear.  I did not have a tragic childhood and I am not living a terrible life (yes, it’s difficult some times, but I’ve come to know that it is in the nature of life to be difficult!).  And I just don’t have that drive that makes some people (like my daughter Emily, whom I think of as a “real” writer) write constantly, filling up notebooks with stories and quotations and story ideas and possible character names.
I always feel a little sheepish when people praise my writing, because there is no virtue in it, no hard work.  I write as naturally as I breathe.  I never had to go back and polish my college papers after writing them (which drove my roommate, who spent hours coming up with just the right words, crazy)  but I no more deserve acclaim for that than for having blue eyes.  And maybe that’s the issue–essentially I am too lazy to be a “real” writer, who spends hours writing every day, honing her craft, whether she has any writing “assignment” or not.
All I know is that I am comfortable with a pen in hand (or with fingers on keyboard); that to write a gooddecent grammatical sentence is effortless; that I love writing and editing anything, even grant proposals or letters to clients.  And perhaps most important, that when I am upset about something, writing about it is a natural instinct–even if I never actually write down the words, I narrate them in my head as though I were writing them.  Many times when I sit down to write something I am really just “recording” what I have already composed internally.
All of the foregoing probably explains why blogging is a perfect medium for me–I can write about what I want, in whatever form I want, whenever I want, and I even get occasional feedback, which I love.  Thanks for indulging me.