Can We Learn to Listen?

Flipping through the monthly missalette to pass the time, back in the days when I was a child and Mass seemed to last forever, I’d sing the songs in my head and read the prayers on the back.  One prayer struck me so much that I committed it to memory.

I haven’t thought of it much in recent years but it came to me suddenly today–perhaps through the prompting of the Holy Spirit?  It’s a prayer we could all use in these troubled times.

prayer-to-be-a-better-listenerwe-do-not-really-listen-to-each-other-god-at-least-not-all-the-time-instead-of-true-dialogue-we-carry-on-two-parallel-monologues-i-talk-my-companion-talks-but-what

When I think of conversations nowadays online interactions come to mind.  Much of our discourse on important matters is virtual now.  We listen with our eyes and minds and not our ears as we read the posts and comments and articles in our feeds.  But don’t we still fall prey to the same errors the prayer mentions?  Haven’t we all read something too quickly and made uncharitable assumptions in our rush to respond?  Have we thought about the feelings of the person reading our witty, snarky comebacks?  Are we listening and trying to learn or simply planning our next salvo?  Are we having conversations–exchanges of ideas–or are we fighting battles with words as our weapons?

God comes to us through the souls we encounter–this we know.  And they encounter Him through us.  Are we allowing ourselves to be channels of His peace, or of something else?

For my part, I am going to say this prayer every morning before I fire up Facebook.  Will you join me?

Open Letter to My Friends Who Want to Repeal ObamaCare

Dear Facebook Friends:

Next time you are tempted to gleefully post about how happy you are to see ObamaCare repealed, I want you to think about the people whose lives are going to be affected dramatically when that happens.  I want you to think about people who are terrified of losing their coverage, who went years uninsured,  who saw doctors only when in dire need, who went bankrupt due to medical bills, who visited the emergency room for care because they didn’t have the money a clinic would have demanded up front, who spent hours researching online and filling out forms and chasing down doctors for signatures to get prescription medication payment assistance, who figured out which of their medications they could forgo in a given month, who held their breath in the pharmacy drive-through line while they waited to hear the terrible total.

You are entitled to your opinion and the ACA isn’t perfect, but it’s sure better than the nothing many people had before it was passed.  You can suggest changes and discuss drawbacks and talk policy without appearing to be enthusiastic about the fact that millions of Americans stand to lose their care and that some of them are going to die.

Consider, please, how it makes me (and others) feel when I see people who are supposed to be my friends celebrating the fact that my family may soon be without health insurance and thus effectively without care.  In my posts on this topic in the past I have always been careful to affirm my friends who told me that the implementation of the ACA had caused them difficulties like higher premiums and changes in doctors.  I was always sympathetic and willing to concede the imperfections in the ACA, as evidenced by my many honest posts  (which I will link at the end).  I agreed that improvement–although not repeal–was needed.

Remember that there are suffering people who see your Facebook posts, people who are frightened, for whom this isn’t about politics or partisanship or finances but about staying alive.  Remember that, and if you care about those people, watch the tone of your posts.

Your friend,

A Once and Possibly Future Uninsured American

My previous posts on ObamaCare:

The $64,000 Question, Answered

Who Are the Uninsured?

Uninsured No More

ObamaCare Update

ObamaCare Update 2

ObamaCare:  My Latest Update

ObamaCare Revisited

More on Our Journey to Health, Brought to You by Obamacare

It’s Good to Be Insured: An ObamaCare Update

Obamacare in Practice:  An Update

Catholic to My Toes

Twelve years ago, dismayed at all the misunderstandings and hatefulness I was seeing among Catholics over the Presidential election, I decided to write a column about it for the East Tennessee Catholic.  I thought I could dispel those misunderstandings and the hatefulness would cease.

Boy, was I wrong, wrong, wrong.

I was on bed rest (Lorelei was born just after Election Day) when the reactions to that well-intentioned column started coming in, but if I hadn’t been I might have taken to my bed anyway.  And if I had seen where we we’d find ourselves twelve years down the road, I might have never gotten up again.

Already today I’ve received tweets hashtagged hypocrite, babykiller, and cafeteriaCatholic.  It’s just another day in an election season during which I’ve been unfriended by an actual family member, deemed excommunicated by the friend of a friend, and attacked in a public Facebook post by someone I thought was a friend, all because I shared political articles that they didn’t agree with.

Rarely do I say anything about what my friends post on their own Facebook walls–with the rare exception being to offer a Snopes link to correct a blatant untruth.  I have never unfriended someone because I disagreed with their views. I welcome respectful discussion and try to learn from others and to at least understand why they believe what they do.

I’m a bad Catholic, of course.  I fall short on an hourly basis.  But I’m NOT a cafeteria Catholic.  Ask anyone who knows me and pore over every word I’ve written and try to find an example of any time I have EVER dissented from Church teaching.  You’ll need more than good luck and a magnifying glass because you won’t find anything.

The friend who attacked me on Facebook accused me of being a “Democrat down to my toes.”  I’ll write more about party affiliation another time, perhaps, but what I am down to my toes is CATHOLIC.  That’s my core, that’s my worldview, and EVERYTHING I believe and the way I try to live my life–including my political life–springs from that.

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More Than a Feeling

https://lesliesholly.wordpress.com/2015/03/22/more-than-a-feeling/  #love
Like most people, I routinely share pictures I consider to be cute or profound on my Facebook wall.  Sometimes I’m surprised by the lack of attention paid to something I found particularly noteworthy; other times one picture gets more likes than I expected.  And who knows how much any of this has to do with the value of the pictures themselves versus those mysterious and ever-changing Facebook algorithms?
Still, the picture above resonated with more people than the usual random post.  I shared it almost off-handedly–I can’t even remember whose wall I found it on–and it had been shared so many times before it got to me that I can’t find an original creator to credit it to.
I related to this picture because it conveys a powerful message about what love IS and what it ISN’T.  Love is ACTION, not FEELING.
Those romantic and mushy feelings we all enjoy at the beginning of a relationship are wonderful.  And I promise you that after 25 years I still have those feelings for my husband.  But not all the time.
The strength of your love for someone shows in how you care for them when you are not feeling mushy or romantic AT ALL.  When I’m feeling angry and resentful towards my husband and yet I still get his medicines together for him in the morning (and don’t add arsenic), that’s love.  When I wash the clothes he needs in the morning which he put in the hamper at bedtime, that’s love.  When I go outside in the rain to roll up the windows of his car, even though we just had a fight, that’s love.
If you have been married any length of time, you know these things.  If you haven’t gotten married yet, you had better learn them now.  Romance can only take you so far.  Flowers and candlelight are great and I still like them, but having the capacity and the will to ACT loving when you just aren’t feeling it is what will enable a relationship to endure.

Praying with Facebook

Facebook is a lot of things to a lot of people.  It has the power to unite and to divide, to heal and to injure.  It sounds ridiculous, no doubt, to non-users, but its effect on my life has been profound.  But one of its most surprising and beneficial effects has been its impact on my prayer life.

I would like to be one of those people who gets up half an hour early to pray, who has a home shrine, who walks in labyrinths and attends adoration weekly.  I wish I could work up the energy to attend Mass more than once a week and find the time to go on a retreat.  Maybe some day I will be one of those people.

Still, one thing I do try to do, every single day, is pray for other people.  But you know how it kind of becomes a reflex to tell someone you will pray for them, and you say a prayer then, but later you more or less forget about it?  I always did that, and I felt bad about it.  As I said my nightly prayers I would find myself saying something like, “For all those people I said I would pray for.”  I know God can sort it all out, but I still felt guilty and thoughtless.

But the thing about Facebook is that you see daily the friend or acquaintance for whom you have promised to pray.  Not only has my circle of friends widened thanks to Facebook, so that I have more friends to pray for, and more of THEIR friends to pray for when they ask me to, but I see regular updates which remind me to keep that person’s intention in my prayers.  And I feel myself drawing closer in spirit to the people I am praying for.

After what we went through last year, I KNOW the power of prayer to lift people up.  But the benefits are not all on the receiver’s end.  I find myself feeling almost excited about saying my nightly prayers now, as I make an effort to go through and think about each person I have promised to pray for, and ask God for the special blessings each one needs.  If I fall asleep before I finish–it does happen–I don’t just feel guilty, I feel disappointed.  I never really thought of prayer as something to enjoy before, and now I do.

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The Politics of Email

The quotation “Never discuss politics or religion in polite company” has been repeated so often that its original source is long forgotten.  And nowadays the wisdom of this advice goes unheeded, especially, I find, when email is involved.

Please don’t get me wrong:  I enjoy civil discussion on those topics, but that is hard to come by.  Tempers grow heated and no one’s views are changed.  Many of us would do well to remember that according to Emily Post (and who should know better than she?):  “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”  So we avoid politics and religion in conversation in order to avoid making other feel uncomfortable.  I, for one, feel intensely uncomfortable when (in polite company, which doesn’t necessarily mean  your nearest and dearest friends and family, though perhaps it should) political ideas with which I disagree are loudly voiced in my presence.  I don’t want to get into an argument, so I usually try to stay quiet, unless my opinion is directly requested.
But what constitutes “polite company” online?  When is it okay to write about politics and religion and when is it not?
Emily Post is no longer with us, but I have my own ideas on this topic, so here goes:
Rather obviously, if you have a blog, write what you want.  People can choose to read or not, and to join in the conversation or not.  People should feel free to disagree with anything written on a blog, and to comment thereupon, as long as they do so politely (which of course should apply to anyone anytime they disagree with anyone ANYWHERE!).
On Facebook, I consider a person’s Wall to be their personal space.  Therefore, they should be able to post anything they wish there.  Again, you have the ability to hide certain posts or even unfriend them if you find them offensive.  While I post religious and political items on my Wall, I try not to post things that are inflammatory.  I realize some of my Facebook friends may be offended by my very opinions, but I try not to express them in an offensive way.
If I post something on my Wall, I should expect that others may comment on it.  When friends of mine post things I disagree with, I almost always just stay away. (Of course this depends on the person and on how reasonable and calm I perceive that they are.)  If I am not going to change their minds, I don’t wish to alienate them or start a fight.  One exception is when they have posted something demonstrably false, and then I may post the Snopes link, although even that seems to irritate some people.  Or sometimes people WANT a discussion, and then I will weigh in.  And I actually love when people comment on my political and religious posts, because I have a lot of friends who disagree with me, but who know how to have a civil discussion, and since I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like that in real life, I think it’s great!  Maybe I will learn something from them, and maybe, just maybe, I may make them think a little too!
Now that I’ve been all reasonable, it’s time for the rant.  I DO NOT LIKE IT when people send me political or religious or both combined (which is the worst) emails, especially when I am reasonably certain that they know I am not in full agreement with the sentiments expressed therein (or if they don’t know me well enough to know!). Since I would think by now BECAUSE of what I say on my blog and what I choose to post on my Wall most of my friends should have a fair idea of where I stand on most political and religious issues of importance,  these emails taste of proselytization.
Yes, sending me an email like that (and how many of them are provably false anyway?) is tantamount to knocking on my door and asking if I’ve been saved, or seeking my vote for your political candidate.  Except that those people are strangers, not my friends.
My husband says I am overreacting, and maybe I am. (Feel free to tell me in the comments!)  But when a Catholic friend sends me an email implying that I should vote a certain way in November, I feel that I am being told I am not Catholic enough.  (Am I “Catholic enough”?  That will be a subject of another post!)  That a “real Catholic” can only have one viewpoint.  That if they just give me enough information I am bound to think the same way they think. (Whom did I vote for in the last election?  For whom will I vote this time around?  Take a wild guess and you will probably all be wrong.  More on that in another post.)
Unlike a Facebook post on your own Wall, I interpret an email in my inbox as an opening remark in a conversation.  And if you want to start that conversation by sending me something that isn’t true, or that makes me feel like you are trying to send me some kind of message, or that misinterprets facts (and I do investigate any allegations or assertions that arrive in my inbox), chances are you are going to receive a return email from me with my response to what you have asked that I read or watch.  So if that’s not a conversation you wish to have, please think before you hit send.

Whose Judgment?

Here’s a column reprint from 2003, which I was inspired to run today by a Facebook post by my friend Amy Wilson (you can see her here) whom I have known since first grade.  She said:  “The difference between a flower and a weed is judgment.”
It was a rare sunny day, and 9-year-old Jake, 2-year-old William, and I were going for a walk.  As we passed our neighbor’s house, I warned Jake to stay out of her grass because shortly before I had seen it being sprayed with herbicide.
“Why did she do that?” Jake asked me.  “There aren’t any weeds in her grass.”
I pointed to the white clover flowers.  “Those are weeds, Jake.  So are dandelions and buttercups and violets.”
Jake was indignant.  “Those aren’t weeds, Mom!  Those are flowers.”
violets
 
Since I have been known to mow around the buttercups and violets in my own yard and vividly remember crying inconsolably as a child when my uncle sprayed all the dandelions in his yard, I tend to agree with Jake.
I started thinking about what makes a weed a weed and a flower a flower.  Isn’t it all about choice?  I have put buttercups in vases and transplanted violets into my border.  I leave the dandelions in my yard alone, but I pull them up when they appear in the rose garden.  To others, like my neighbor, only cultivated flowers are pretty.
Aren’t unplanned babies a little like weeds, springing up unwished for, disturbing the symmetry of the garden we have planned in our minds?  Some people choose to let the “weed” grow, to see what it blooms into, to see how it alters the pattern of the garden with its unique beauty.  Others remove it quickly–before they have a chance to see how beautiful it can be.
With literal weeds, though, at least we have a consensus.  Even if I choose not to poison them, I know which flowers are supposed to be weeds and which are not.  Under our laws, any unborn baby is a weed unless his mother decides he is a flower.
I recently read about a couple’s experience of expecting a baby with Down Syndrome.  Everyone encouraged them to abort their baby because he wasn’t a perfect specimen,  I don’t use chemicals in my garden, so my roses always get blackspot and most of the leaves fall off.  But the flowers are still pretty, even if they won’t win any prizes.
Like most people, I have been shocked and saddened by the terrible tragedy of Laci and Conner Peterson.  Even though Baby Conner never drew a breath, he has been given the dignity of a name and is mourned throughout the country.  He was Laci’s baby, and we all know that she wanted him.  Conner’s murderer will be charged with homicide, yet women pay physicians to legally kill babies every day.
We must fight to change a culture that says the lives of babies are valuable only on the say-so of their mothers.  We must encourage women to take the chance of allowing “unwelcome weeds” to take root and grow.
dandelions
We have lived in our house only a year and a half, and I haven’t done much gardening yet.  I’ve been waiting to see what would develop.  Last spring a green vine started growing up the side of my porch.  I still don’t know what it’s called, but, like a baby, it grows fast.  I began winding it through and around and under the porch railings.  By midsummer it was like a hedge.  I kept wondering whether I was making a fool of myself, letting some weed grow all over my porch, but my faith was finally rewarded.  In July the vine blossomed with thousands of small, sweet-smelling white flowers.  I would have missed that if I had mercilessly cut it down to the ground.

not mine–uncredited internet photo

Jake’s last word to me on weeds was, “Those are flowers, and flowers can’t be ugly.  All flowers are beautiful.”
As are all babies.
I now know that the vine in question was Sweet Autumn Clematis, and it continued to delight us every summer.

Wishful thinking

Yesterday a Facebook friend was trying to convince others, via her status, that Pepsi was debuting a new can that included the whole Pledge of Allegiance except for the words “under God” (the HEATHENS!).  We were all supposed to put this in our statuses and NEVER EVER drink that devilish drink AGAIN!
Now I know very well by now that 99.9% of such internet claims are lies.  Some are feel-good lies, like all those sappy “inspirational” stories that are mostly just not true or are exaggerated for effect.  I don’t usually bother bursting anyone’s bubble over those.  But others, like this one, damage the reputations of individuals and businesses.  It only takes a few seconds to go to Snopes and check their validity, and so I always do and always will, even if I hated Pepsi and wished the company would go out of business!  Because, you know, truth is important, and if you have to tell lies to bolster your argument (now I’m thinking of political email forwards) then maybe you need to reconsider your position.
Anyway, the Snopes article did mention that the words “under God” are a late addition to the Pledge anyway, which I think I knew but had forgotten.  And since it’s truthful to say that our nation IS under God (because isn’t everything?) I think it’s a fine addition and I’m proud to say it.
However, this got me thinking about the Pledge, and about a practice that you might be surprised that I object to.  Frequently, at gatherings of pro-life folks, the Pledge is recited, with a postscript at the end:  “with liberty and justice for all, born and unborn.”  I don’t like that addition, and I won’t say it.  And you know why?  Because it isn’t true.  And no amount of saying it is going to make it true.
You might argue that even the “with liberty and justice for all”  part isn’t true, you anti-American you!  But even if it isn’t always true, it’s supposed to be.  Our laws support that ideal for the most part, as do our courts.  On the other hand, our laws explicitly reject liberty and justice for the unborn.
When we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, we are pledging allegiance to a government that has said it is okay to abort babies up until the day they are born.  That is simply a fact.  It is a government that has allowed and sanctioned and approved and codified many other things, some that I object to and some that you do.  I love my country and will continue to pledge allegiance to it, but that doesn’t make me blind to its faults, nor is it unpatriotic of me to think some changes are in order.
What do people mean when they say the Pledge in this altered way?  Are they saying that they aren’t really pledging allegiance to this country, but that they will if the abortion laws are changed?  Are they just pretending that what they wish was true is true?  They cannot claim that they are pledging allegiance to some sort of ideal that the flag itself symbolizes, because the pledge makes it quite clear that those reciting it are pledging allegiance to the country as well.
I know pro-lifers well, because I am one.  And I know many of them have worked tirelessly for changes in the country’s abortion laws.  But adding a phrase to the Pledge that amounts to nothing more than wishful thinking is at best pointless and at worst dishonest and counterproductive.

One way to help

Katie’s co-workers at Ackermann PR have asked friends to pass along this link which has information on how people can contribute to a fund to help the family with the financial burdens which they will be facing on top of everything else after Henry’s 37 day hospitalization.
There were close to 500 messages of support from readers when I visited Katie’s personal blog earlier today.  It has since crashed from the overwhelming traffic.  Hundreds more messages are on her Facebook Wall and the wall of the group set up by a friend of Henry’s to pray for his recovery.  Online friends ARE real friends.

Sick of Farmville

I didn’t get what the big deal was when I first started playing Farmville.  It seemed like a poor imitation of Farm Town, which I was already playing and enjoying.  In fact, I still think that most things about Farm Town are superior–the graphics, the speed, the flowers that don’t die, the ability to have others harvest your crops and do your plowing, the interaction with other players.
But I went ahead and joined up, because I’m a good sport and almost always join a game when I’m invited even if I don’t keep playing it.  And when I found that I was still playing after the allure of other games had passed, I started to wonder why.
I think that the attraction of most of the farming/restaurant/build your own town games is similar–it’s the ability to be totally in charge of an environment that you can completely control.  Being able to design your own perfect reality is comforting in the midst of a very out-of-control real life.  Non-players laugh and tell gamers to go plant a real garden or clean their own homes, but real life is a lot messier than online life and sometimes it’s nice to escape for a while.
Farmville’s genius has been its interactive features.  For example, at Christmas everyone got a tree (a “holiday” tree), and neighbors could send presents to put under it.  Every gift could be opened on Christmas and it was exciting to see what was inside.  And gifts were also available through postings on the Facebook News Feed.
But what was fun at first has grown tiresome as Farmville has introduced more and more such interactive projects–stables, chicken coop expansions, nursery barms, easter baskets, puppies that must be fed to grow up and not run away . . . these are only a fraction of the recent offerings.  In order to succeed, you must allow Farmville to post to your newsfeed.  Yes, people who don’t want to see this can hide it, but a lot of them would rather complain.  And obviously you can’t hide those postings on your own feed if you want to find nails or harnesses or valentines, so some days half of what you see are posts from Farmville.
I gave up actively playing Farmville for Lent, but still clicked on the newsfeed postings and couldn’t believe how much time even that took.  In the end, I think what was a strength in marketing Farmville and getting players involved intially has become a weakness as players are suffering Farmville fatigue.  You never know how many gifts you are allowed to send people or how often, and there are so many projects going on that you don’t know where to concentrate your energies.  It gets to be more and more like a job and less and less like a game every day.
I am receiving fewer and fewer Farmville requests, leading me to think others are feeling the same.  As soon as I have a couple of free hours, I want to clean my farm up and then close it for good, as I already did with my cafe and several other games.  I’d rather use that time to blog! 🙂