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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

refugee-march-14

That’s what a Facebook friend of mine asked the other day.  It’s no secret that there are lots of liberal Christians but in recent years they’ve been loath to use the Bible to make political points.  The reasons are many, ranging from a strong belief in the separation of Church and State all the way to simply being on the side of an issue that Scripture doesn’t support (which is why faith should transcend party for Catholics, just saying).

But in the present heady moment the “liberals” have all the Scripture on their side, and pretty explicitly too.  Conservative Christians suddenly find themselves in the uncomfortable and unfamiliar position of being targeted by the very pointed words of Christ when they try to defend the recent Executive Order.

Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’  Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’” ~ Matthew 25:41-45

So perhaps it’s very natural that religious folks who lean liberal politically are excited to be able to demonstrate that they read the Bible too, and that they’ve taken these parts of it to heart.  Many American religious leaders have been quick to speak out against the Executive Order, which actually violates the religious freedom of American Christians who are called to welcome the stranger and are being prevented from doing so.

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When our first child was a baby, 25 years ago, I had very specific ideas about Christmas that went along with my ideas about being a perfect mother.

From time to time when I was a child, my mother would suggest we should cut back on Christmas gift giving and concentrate instead on the true meaning of Christmas.  At which point we kids would raise a chorus of protests.  (Never happened, naturally.)

I thought to conquer materialism on the front end, by buying just a few well-chosen presents.  And that first year, it worked.  Between us and Santa, baby Emily received about $50 worth of well-chosen gifts.  My memories of that Christmas are idyllic:  Christmas dishes displayed in the china cabinet, Celtic Christmas music in the background, a baby in red velvet eating apple cinnamon bread, Midnight Mass, a day spent showing off Emily to adoring family members.

emily-christmas-baby

Of course it escalated from there.  And I didn’t count on extended family who didn’t want to get with the program.  Eventually several relatives who wanted the kids to get lots of presents but didn’t know what to buy them started sending me so much money I could hardly figure out how to spend it all, resulting in a veritable mountain of gifts under our tree each year.

That’s not to say that we ever left Christ out of Christmas. Presents were important, no doubt, but I don’t think our kids have ever forgotten the reason for the season.

The way we keep Advent has a lot to do with this, I think.  Two weeks before Christmas, the only signs of the season apparent are our Advent wreath and a few other candles here and there.  Our preparations build slowly–the other decorations will go up next weekend, probably, and the tree just a few days before Christmas.  We hold off on hosting any sort of gatherings until just a few days before Christmas or ideally even afterwards, waiting to start celebrating until the Guest of honor has arrived!

Religious decorations are given pride of place in our home.  Yes, we have Santas and trees, but my favorite Santa shows that he knows his proper place in the celebration.

christmas-santa

Christmas really begins for us on Christmas Eve, when we attend Mass as a family.  Not Midnight Mass, which doesn’t work for us at this point, but an evening Mass which we traditionally follow with a dinner out before coming home to one of my favorite Christmas rituals.

Every Christmas Eve, each child gets one present to open and it is always a Christmas book.  So the last thing the kids do before going to bed to talk and dream of Santa and presents is listen to me reading them Christmas stories, both the new ones and old favorites, most of which relate to the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas Day is all presents and dinner and family and more presents, but one way we avoid having it turn into a materialistic free-for-all is that in our family presents are opened one at a time, youngest to oldest, until everyone finishes.  The kids are excited to see the happiness of the other members of the family upon opening gifts.  We do this in the morning and then we do it all again after dinner with the extended family–almost twenty people taking turns.  It takes HOURS.  It teaches patience.  And in the exchange of gifts and the love they represent we commemorate God’s gift of Christ to us, always recalling that God Himself is Love.

This post is part of the Siena Sisters’ CWBN Blog Hop.  You can read other posts by clicking here.

 

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sjs mary 2

Three of my kids in front of the statue of the Blessed Mother at St. Joseph School

I’m a Catholic school veteran—16 years all told.    I sent my three oldest children to the same parochial grade school I attended.  Catholic schools have Religion class every day along with Math, English, and Social Studies, and that’s great—but what’s even better are the little ways in which faith is part of EVERY class, the way that it can be talked about or brought to life at any moment.  Even more than actual religious education, this to me is the gift and the value of attending a Catholic school.

At this holy time of year—and by “time of year” I mean Advent, not Christmas—my thoughts always turn to early December mornings at St. Joseph School.  The whole school went to Mass every morning—our sanctuary revealed by the opening of a curtain, our pews a cafeteria full of folding chairs.  And afterwards we filed out—all 200 of us—and gathered in the front hall of the school.

I remember mornings as darker in those days.  Certainly they were colder, and with wall radiators providing the only heat we shivered in our red cardigans.  But what happened on those Advent mornings was a source of light and warmth to me.

There was—still is—a little elevated area next to the office, full of rocks (that we were forbidden to play with and always did), with a statue of the Blessed Virgin in the middle.  During the Advent season, Mary was joined by a tree, a cedar tree I believe, that served as a Jesse Tree during Advent and, briefly, as a Christmas tree right before the winter break.

Jesse was King David’s father, and Jesus was descended (by adoption) from David’s line.  The Jesse Tree custom involves the hanging of a different ornament on the tree each day, and the reading of a Bible verse.  The ornaments and verses tell the story of Jesus’ ancestors and foreshadow the coming Messiah.  The way I remember it, the first one every year was a stump, and the verse was something like, “A new root springs from the stump of Jesse.”

One of the big girls (in my memory they are adults, even though now I realize they were just little girls, eighth graders) would hold up the felt ornaments for all of us to see as the verse was read.  Then Sister Janice (our principal) would start one of the Advent songs—The King of Glory, On Jordan’s Bank, or O Come O Come Emmanuel.   We all knew them by heart.  And we’d walk slowly back to our classrooms, singing as we went.

I don’t know how everyone else felt about it, but to me it was magical.  I looked forward to it every year.   So when my three big kids were little, we cut out and colored our own Jesse Tree ornaments.  For many years, we hung an ornament on my favorite house plant each evening before supper.  We lost the ornaments when our house burned down, but Lorelei and William willingly colored a new set  so that we could continue the tradition for years to come.

This post originally appeared on my friend Lacy’s blog.  If you are looking for Christmas gifts, you should check out her handmade necklaces here.

 

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I’m not sure I’ve mentioned to y’all that I plan to homeschool Lorelei next year.  She’s going to be in fourth grade, and I’ve done that before, so I already have a lot of resources, and I’ve slowly been gathering others over the last several months.

There was one place I was stuck, though, and it’s kind of an important place!  I couldn’t find a religion book that I liked.

The religion book I used for Jake and Teddy was actually my own religion book from way back in 1976-1977. (Yes, I saved those kinds of things and I’m glad!) While it’s true that catechesis in the 1970s was a mess, this book was pretty good.  St. Joseph’s School switched to a new program the following year–I still have that book–and it was dreadful, practically content-free.  But this one covered all the basic fourth grade stuff–Commandments, Beatitudes, Works of Mercy, and more–that is still being taught in fourth grade today.

And because I was using it for William in 2011, and it was in his backpack in the living room of what we now call “the burned down house,” it’s gone forever.

But you can find anything on the internet, right?  But I couldn’t remember the name of this book.  I knew what it looked like, and roughly when it was published, and what grade it was for, that’s all.  And no book that looked like that EVER appeared, not once, in many, many months of off-and-on searching.  I even asked the school if they had a record of what book we used back then–no dice.  I conducted research on Catholic publishing companies and looked up every book that was published around that time. My head swam with publishing companies (Sadlier, Benziger, Loyola) and their various programs.  Nope.  I spent hours on this, y’all.  I really had my heart set on that book.

Surely, you ask, there are plenty of other fourth grade Catholic religion textbooks out there?  Why, yes, yes, there are.  But I didn’t want to risk an old one that I hadn’t seen before because, as I mention above, many of the ones that were around back then were just bad.  And I don’t like the modern ones I’ve seen which are too jam-packed with information and fill-in-the-blank pages.  (Honestly, I just don’t like modern textbooks.)  What I liked about this one is that it was very simple with short chapters that I could then expand on.

I finally found one that seemed similar in content (by looking at a screenshot of the Table of Contents) to the one I remembered.  I thought I could maybe try to make do.  But when I went to order it on Amazon it was about $25–kind of a lot to spend for an unknown.  I searched for it again and found some really cheap copies put up by someone who did not even bother to include a picture of the cover.  So that’s what I ordered.

Have you figured out the punchline yet?  We came home from a short vacation yesterday and my package was waiting for me.  As I tore open the bag I saw not the book I was expecting but the ONE I HAD BEEN LOOKING FOR.  Apparently, it was just a different edition of the one I thought I was ordering.  Some of the material has been rearranged, and of course it has a different cover.  And to sweeten the pot, it’s not written in (which of course mine was) AND it’s a teacher edition with all kinds of other good stuff at the end.

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So that’s a propitious omen for my return to homeschooling.  I look forward to sharing my other adventures with you this year!

For more of my writings on homeschooling, see below:

Old-Fashioned Homeschooling

Homeschooling for Dummies

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I know how I lucky I am to live in a country where my freedom to worship however I wish is guaranteed.  I take that for granted and I find it hard to realize that people are still persecuted to the point of death for their beliefs in other parts of the world even though I know it’s true.

Still, the constant Catholic-bashing gets me down, y’all.  It hurts when I go to the happy little Facebook group I belong to that’s supposed to be about celebrating my hometown with lots of nostalgic posts and read this: “I don’t see how anyone can believe in a religion that is so self-indulgent.”  Or when a local news channel chooses to juxtapose the joyful news of a new Pope with one about settling an abuse lawsuit.  Or when I attempt to point out in yet another Facebook thread that there are plenty of pedophiles in Protestant churches (and in schools, and sports organizations, and other places) and am told that clearly I am just trying to minimize the evil of the abuse and the cover up.

Living in the Bible Belt, I have dealt with misunderstandings and prejudices about my faith for my entire life.  I’ve heard that I’ll be going to Hell because a sprinkling Baptism isn’t good enough.  I’ve come out of Mass to find sensationalistic pamphlets purportedly penned by ex-priests and ex-nuns who know the “truth” about the Church shoved under my windshield wipers.  I’ve  been told lies about my faith to my face and have had my explanations flatly contradicted or ignored.

When people come to my door and ask if I have a church family I experience a moment of trepidation and discomfort when I tell them that I’m Catholic because of the thoughts I am pretty sure will be going through their heads.  When William was chanting “Habemus Papam” in the office of his public school last week and asking me if everyone at school knew about the Pope, I was afraid of what people might say to him.  He hasn’t experienced religious prejudice yet.

My Catholic faith is the very core of who I am, and when you bash the Church in which I firmly believe, you are bashing me.  Questions are wonderful.  I welcome the opportunity to discuss, explain–even debate.  I don’t believe that all religions are equal, but I do believe that people’s beliefs, whatever they may be, are worthy of respect.  Someone else said it better than me, y’all:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

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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.

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I think the Internet’s pretty awesome, really I do. It’s great to be able to settle dinnertime arguments and answer children’s millions of questions with a click of an iPhone button. It’s way convenient not have to travel down to the library to check out a book or look in the encyclopedia when I want to learn something new. And it’s great to be able to go into greater depth on the issues I care about without having to rely on only the nightly news or the daily paper.

Do you sense a “but” coming? You are right, and it’s a big one.

BUT a lot of what you read on the Internet is–NEWS FLASH–not true. Or it’s incomplete. Or slanted. Or out of context.

My freshman year at Georgetown my history professor introduced us to an idea I had never considered before. He said that you can’t take the accuracy of historical accounts for granted. He said you have to consider who wrote the account and when, and what personal or cultural biases might have influenced what he chose to include, what he left out, what conclusions he drew. For our final paper, we had to pick a controversial historical figure and read several sources for information, picking from different eras. We were to discuss why each authority presented what he did, and then reach our own conclusion about our subject.

I had grown up thinking–most of us did, I imagine–that if I read or watched the news each day I pretty much knew what was going on in the world. If Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings said it, you felt like you could trust them. Remember little Virginia O’Hanlon, who asked the editor of The New York Sun about the existence of Santa Claus, because her papa told her: “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so”?

Distrust of the mainstream media started before the Internet, of course, but has accelerated since. Now everyone can be an expert, and no one has to give up any cherished opinion because, after all, one can fine website after website to support any position or point of view. Far from educating us, it’s actually entrenching us further in willful ignorance.

I am that obnoxious person who will actually write you back to refute the email you just sent me saying that President Obama canceled the National Day of Prayer or that President Bush has the lowest I.Q. of any president in the last 50 years. I’ll send you the link from snopes.com to prove it. I’ll post it in the comments if you put it on Facebook and I might just blog about it too. That’s because truth is important and in the days of instant information overload, it’s in short supply.

Essentially, most of us are intellectually lazy.  And also we are accustomed to thinking that if we read a published account, especially if it’s on a mainstream website like AOL, it’s true.  Few of us realize how the very issues of importance are decided upon for us by the media.  We read what they want us to read, how they want to present it, and they are no longer driven by a quest for truth but rather by a quest for page views.  Any time I read something that is stirring up a lot of comments and controversy, I am immediately suspicious of it and start to delve further.

A good example is a story that made the rounds a few months ago that Pope Benedict said that “Gay marriage is a threat to humanity’s future.”  Long story short, that’s not what he said.  Creative reuse of one or two comments he made in a long speech created the impression that not only did he say that, but it was all he said or cared about.  But even in these deceptive stores, they include hyperlinks that can lead to the truth if you try hard enough.  Eventually I was able to find out when and to whom the remarks were made, and then I went to the Vatican website and read the whole speech myself.  That way I did not have to rely on AOL to tell me what to think.  I could think for myself.

(Side note to my Catholic readers: Do I seriously need to tell you that Huffpost News isn’t the best source for the facts about Catholicism?  Might I suggest the USCCB website, or the Catechism, or the Vatican website, or at the very least that you read the original source material for yourself before allowing your view of your own faith to be influenced by the media, which is at best ignorant and at worst hostile about religion?)

Same thing with the recent talk about how 98% of Catholic women use birth control.  That figure comes from a study, supposedly.  Much back-clicking finally yielded that study itself, so that I could see that the much-bandied statistic is inaccurate.

Or there was the whole Kirk Cameron-is-a-bigot “scandal,” which looks a bit different if you actually watch the interview in which his remarks were made or read the entire transcript, as I took the time to do.

Or there’s the perception that people with children need to keep them under perpetual lockdown because of all those people stealing kids out there? (As I told my mother yesterday, “If it happened all the time it wouldn’t be news.”)

Or there’s the email I received yesterday containing allegations that President Obama is a Muslim, or a Marxist, or both.

I cannot say this often enough:  consider your source.  Consider your source.  CONSIDER YOUR SOURCE!  What bias does it have?  Can it speak authoritatively to the topic?  What advantage does it gain by portraying the “facts” in a certain light?  Wherever possible, read the speech yourself (the whole speech).  Watch the video yourself (the whole thing).  Check a reputable, fact-checking site.  The Internet helps lies to spread like wildfire, but don’t forget that it also provides the tools you need to refute them.

There are always going to be stories that cannot be confirmed this way–ones in which, for example, eyewitnesses give conflicting accounts.  Or maybe you don’t have time to read the entire Affordable Care Act (although I am seriously considering making the attempt).  In such cases you should read several sources.  Factcheck.org is a good choice if you want to avoid bias.  I find it helpful to read sources with opposing viewpoints so I see both sides of the story before forming an opinion.

Does this sound exhausting?  Sometimes it is.  Sometimes I see an inaccuracy or misrepresentation on Facebook that I know is going to take more than a quick trip to Snopes to investigate but I still do it.  You can make it easier for me and other truth-seekers if you do the same, BEFORE you post that interesting article that supports what you were thinking already.  You can check Snopes, or look at Factcheck.org.  You can take a few minutes to click back to that article’s original source and read it and THINK FOR YOURSELF.  And if you are too intellectually lazy to do those things, you can choose not to forward or repost.

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