Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, August 16, 2018


About a week and a half ago, I was asked to help sing at a wedding. It was a Catholic wedding, but not a Mass, and there wasn't even much music. However, the bride had requested an Alleluia, and not just any Alleluia, but, for reasons that were personally and culturally significant, Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, like so:

I only know one verse of Hallelujuah, the one that goes:
I heard a stern and secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord,
But you don't really go for music, do ya?
It goes like this: the fourth, the fifth,
The minor chord, the major shift,
da da da da da da da, Hallelujah!
But it didn't matter what words I knew, because not only did the bride want to sing the verses herself, but they weren't the original words, and they weren't in English.

Friends, I have given up trying to be a liturgical crusader, a cause that used to be very important to me. I won't justify musical innovation on grounds of liturgy; it's clearly an abuse. But right now my role seems to be not advocacy, but obedience to anything not morally suspect, and I've stopped putting my energies into trying to introduce Gregorian chant, and into simply singing what I'm given as excellently as possible. As it was, this request was okayed by the presider and relayed to me by the bemused pianist, and we figured out how to make it work with as much dignity and as little embarrassment as possible to the bride, an amateur in all senses of the word.

Also a week and a half ago, I sat on my bed staring at my NFP chart, trying to figure out why my period seemed to be late.

When the first niggling feeling that things were not on time began, various dramatic possibilities flitted through my mind. Perhaps I'd just take a day away to absorb this huge new development, and just come home whenever I felt like it. Let Darwin figure out what was going on himself. Maybe I'd just sit in my room and cry. Maybe I'd bear it bravely for several days until I was certain, but how would I break the news to Darwin?

And then I actually looked at my chart, which I usually update at night, in the dim lamplight, while trying to nurse baby to sleep, and realized that my life hack of updating my chart on the back of an old chart because I hadn't gotten around to ordering new ones had failed me when I'd somehow skipped from day 17 to day 19. I wasn't quite late, yet. I simply wasn't on the day I thought I was, which had repercussions for me in a month in which I'd had a cold and had used mucus-thickening cough syrup. And there was no one to blame but myself.

"You goddamn idiot," I said to myself. "You GODDAMN idiot."

Which was a lie, actually, as the one thing I hadn't done in the scenario was sin.

That afternoon when Darwin came home and kissed me as I stood over the stove stirring a pot while a child hung on my leg, and asked, "How's it going today?", I didn't make a dramatic fuss or bear up bravely by myself. I said, "Actually, let's step out on the porch," and we shut the door on the protesting child as I explained.

"Trust the biology," he said. "You recorded the signs, right? What does it matter what day it is if the signs were correct?"

"I know," I said, "but if I was off a day, maybe I was seeing what I thought I should be seeing? I was sure at the time, but now... I even thought we were waiting a extra day, but my count was off, and the cough syrup..."

We pondered, quietly. Recall that when we talk about NFP, or the difficulties thereof, we're only ever talking about sex. What would it have mattered what the signs were, if we didn't act on them? Why didn't we always build in an extra day? Why put ourselves through this stress? But did we even need to stress if we'd followed the signs correctly?

A day passed. Two days passed. I spent my nights awake, mostly in prayer. Help me get through this, Lord. Please, please, guard my blood pressure. Help me deal with giving birth at age 40, with veins and stupid support hose I thought I'd never have to wear again. Help me deal with the school year, and my Confirmation class, in the midst of nausea and fatigue. Help me run my household and not neglect my children and husband. Help Darwin. Help me deal with the scorn, the snickering, as I have children number 7 and 8 in less than two years. Help me weather the contempt even of my fellow Catholics who will take my failure as one more feather in their anti-Humanae Vitae cap, who demand more honesty and proof that NFP isn't all happy clap-trap and then seize on any honesty as evidence that the teaching itself is wrong.

And so I began to make changes. I took my vitamin and stopped taking sugar in my tea. Darwin and I walked a mile each day. I started trying to cut out one of the baby's feedings at night. And still I waited: day 29, day 30.

On Saturday morning, day 31 of the cycle, Darwin and I walked downtown, and we talked about facing the reality of an unexpected, geriatric pregnancy. How would the household need to be structured during these months? What should I cut out from my schedule, if anything? How could he get home early each night? How could we help each other through this? We were anxious, scared even, but we looked to the future and even bandied about some baby names.

That afternoon, right before I walked out the door to go to the wedding, I started bleeding: not the spotty bleeding of implantation or the old, tissue-heavy blood of miscarriage (both of which I know), but the true, brilliant, lifeblood of a period. Darwin had been right: trust the biology. And God be praised for his mercy, and for letting the mother of seven children languish.

At the wedding, I sang the refrain of Hallelujah for the congregation, trying to walk an appropriate line between style and occasion. The glowing bride belted out the verses to her grinning bridegroom as the pianist slowed down as much as he could and looked to me to bring him in on the refrain. The presider waited patiently, having worked with the couple for a year to bring the wedding to fruition. He knew, as I should have known, that concessions are made for the weak, not the strong, and that the sacrament is the sacrament whether or not the music meets my taste.

Back in the choir loft, I listened to the questions before the vows:
Have you come here to enter into Marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?                   
Are you prepared, as you follow the path of Marriage, to love and honor each other for as long as you both shall live?                   
Are you prepared to accept children lovingly from God and to bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?
Yes, I thought. Yes, we entered into marriage without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly, and we work hard, daily, to keep our marriage uncoerced, free, and wholehearted. Yes, we were prepared to love and honor each other, even in a time of stress. Yes, we were prepared to accept children lovingly from God, even when his timing was not ours. We had been ready to accept! We had been put to the test, and we had not blamed each other or turned cold or lashed out, but had prepared to receive good from the hand of the Lord. We  had turned to each other for support and comfort, not knowing what the future would hold, only knowing that whatever happened, we would face it together.

We took another walk in the evening, to a local wine bar. We discussed concrete changes we would make, now that we'd been given a reprieve. No more haphazard charting on the back of paper charts, with only one set of tired eyes looking at the data -- time to download a charting app to reduce as much as possible the human error of recording the wrong day. We discussed whether we should spring for a fertility monitor, but decided against it at this moment, as, in the end, the biology had been correct. We talked about how it would look to enter a maintenance mode to avoid a possibly complicated and hazardous pregnancy as I get older. We cast our discussion forward for the first time to that next hurdle, menopause. "I never thought I'd say this," I said, "but I wish I were 55. How cool would that be?"

At other times in our marriage, we've been called upon to accept an unexpected pregnancy. Our table is populated with unexpected olive shoots -- not all surprise pregnancies, but children whose personalities and gifts exceed anything we could have expected based on their parents' limitations. But this time, this time the cup passed from us, and for that I sing a blessed and broken Hallelujah.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Why I Still Believe In A Church Run By Evil Men

In the latest news cycle relating to abuse and the Catholic Church, a Pennsylvania grand jury has released a massive report looking into abuse in various dioceses within the state. Over the course of 70 years (primarily from the 1960s through the 1990s) 300+ priests abused over a thousand children, while bishops of the dioceses in question tried to secure silence to "avoid scandal" and far too often transferred known abusers to new assignments where they would have the opportunity to abuse again. Among the bishops who was responsible for such transfers was Cardinal Wuerl, now archbishop of Washington DC, who just finished expressing himself to be Shocked! Shocked! that his predecessor Cardinal McCarrick was himself an abuser of children, seminarians, and priests, whose victims previous dioceses had attempt to buy silence from via settlements.

But it is not just Wuerl. It is not just McCarrick. It is not just 'liberals' or 'conservatives' or any other group one faction or another might want to see as at fault. A number of bishops, past and current. clearly have not acted in what most of us normal people would consider to be minimal virtue and human decency when confronted with people in their charge who committed unspeakable crimes. A number of bishops decided to be institutional men rather than men of God.

Confronted with this, I've seen some people announce that they can't belong to a Church which can't safeguard children, a Church in which too many of the bishops have so severely fallen short.

I myself am not going anywhere. Indeed, having read all this horrific stuff, I'll be in church with my family tomorrow evening, because it's the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.

What's wrong with me? Why do I continue to belong to a church obviously run by evil men?

If my reason for belonging to the Church was that I thought the people running it were exclusively good people, I would have been gone a long time ago. This is the tragedy and the beauty of Church. Its truth does not come from the people running it. Its truth comes from God. The people running the church here on earth are usually so flawed, so small, so wicked. But these flawed and sometimes wicked people do not define the Church. I don't show up to church because I believe in the bishops, or in my parish priest, or in the pope. I show up because I believe that God, that perfect, infinite, all powerful being, revealed Himself to sad and flawed humanity, and offers His body and blood every day upon the altar for us in the Eucharist.

Does this mean that we need to fatalistically accept that the Church cannot improve? Far from it. Every one of us, as Christians, has a duty to follow the commands of the Jesus who said that rather than that one should corrupt one of these little ones, "It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea."

We must end this reflexive attempt to "avoid scandal" at the expense of putting more innocents in danger. We must tell the truth about the evils done. We must punish those who have by act or omission perpetuated abuse. We must, as Christ's Church, strive to act as Christ would have us do: the Christ who could be both forgiving but also furious against injustice. But we should not leave.

“Do you also want to leave?”

“Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Trailer Madness, or, How I Spent My Summer

Late last night, the Very Young Artists finished up their massive project: a shot-for-shot remake of the trailer for The Last Jedi.
For comparison, here's the actual trailer.

Back when I was a kid, we spent our summers trying to come up with ideas for secret clubs, or running around barefoot outside. The youth nowadays are more sophisticated. It helps, of course, to be massively organized, have a lot of siblings and spare time, and be able to ride herd on recalcitrant actors. All the kids (and the neighbor) are here except the 4.5yo, because that's a hard age.

Filmmaking is a lot of work! Sitting here by me on the desk is a clipboard with detailed filming info: number of shots in the trailer, length of shot, who's in each shot, lines, props, etc. Some of the filming was done in January, so our Rey was shivering outside wrapped in a huge jacket between takes. (Note, also, the three modes of Rey: Rey, Big Rey, and Mini-Rey.) This weekend's big filming push, which yielded 30 of the 80+ shots, involved sprinkler work, clear fishing line, Lego construction, painting, color editing, greenscreen editing, voiceovers, a forgotten pair of glasses, and trying to coax the baby to reach out his hands. (I'm reminded of something I read about filming little Kirsten Dunst's scenes in Interview with the Vampire, which involved isolated bits of getting a reaction from a child with appropriate techniques like "think of your dead pet", which were then edited together with other shots to give those bits of acting a very different final slant for the movie.)

I'm impressed by the ingenuity the kids showed in finding filming locations, making backgrounds, approximating scenes for which they couldn't match the special effects (a quantity of ground red chalk went into the making of this film), and learning about color editing and voice-overs. Everything was shot on location in our house or in the yard, and the costumes were found in our closets or sewn in our own costume shop. The props are courtesy of our lightsaber/Lego collection. We did buy the trailer music, but almost everything else is homegrown.

Starting up school again is going to be such a drag, even though I'm nowhere near as focused a taskmaster as the 14yo director.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Don't Bet on Total Victory

"We're going to have to do some crazy discounting and drive prices down in order to take out the competition," a sales leader explained in a recent meeting.

"That'll drive the profit out of the category. Start discounting all that money away and it won't come back."

"Just in the short term. Once the competition goes under, we can stop all the promotions and make good money."

It's a good theory. But here's the problem: You probably won't reach the point where there's no competition and so you get to turn the market more profitably again. Even if the current competition goes under, if you try to take advantage of the situation by pushing prices up, that will likely result in new competition entering the market. It is much easier to drive prices down than it is to build them back up again, so it's really important to think trice (and then again) before starting a price war. And starting a price war because you think you can drive the competition out of business and then use your virtual monopoly to build prices back up again? You are kidding yourself. You don't get profitable monopolies unless the government is enforcing them.

It was with this recent set of work drama in mind that I ran into this article from the political realm, the basic thesis of which is that faced with a Trump administration which is willing to break with precedents, the Democrats should 'preserve democracy' by using tactics to create a lasting Democratic majority:
The list of those changes is dizzying. Grant statehood to D.C. and Puerto Rico, and break California in seven, with the goal of adding 16 new Democrats to the Senate. Expand the Supreme Court and the federal courts, packing them with liberal judges. Move to multi-member House districts to roll back the effects of partisan gerrymandering. Pass a new Voting Rights Act, including nationwide automatic voter registration, felon enfranchisement and an end to voter ID laws. Grant citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants, creating a host of new Democratic-leaning voters: “Republicans have always feared that immigration would change the character of American society. Democrats should reward them with their very worst nightmare.”
The theory is that once these tactics have been used to totally wipe out the GOP, it'll be possible to return to a new political 'normal'. Let's leave aside how lousy and destructive a lot of these ideas are in and of themselves: The premise that one party can use them to totally wipe out the competition and then set about rebuilding a nice polite political system is completely unbelievable. One party states only tend to come about when the government is using active repression to keep the other parties down.

We humans tend to think in stories, and stories often have neat endings. The world is put out of joint by an evil force, a band of heroes come together and fight the evil force, they win and the world returns to peace.

Because we think in stories, we want to think that the world can be made to work out in similarly neat terms: We rally against some force, defeat them, and then they're gone and we can go back to living just as we'd like.

However, in business and in politics (probably in other areas of life too, though I'm not thinking of good examples right off) this instinct to achieve the total victory and then be done actually serves us rather ill. Not only will you not get the total victory you're hoping for, in which your opposition ceases to exist and no new force arises to context the ground, but you'll also have to live with the aftereffects of all the things you did in order to try to achieve that total victory.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Pooh Styx

With Disney giving people examples of how not to do a Winnie the Pooh story about the perils of middle age, I thought it was time to reach way back into the archives to one of my youthful compositions.

The Comedy of Pooh
( A tale of redemption )
by Don Grundy

Chapter I
In which Pooh finds himself in a gloomy wood,
is confronted by three strange animals,
and meets an old friend.

Halfway through life’s journey, Pooh found himself in the middle of a gloomy wood. Not a dark, mossy, oak wood, nor yet a dry, sandy, beach wood: It was a gloomy wood. A wood in which melancholy seemed to cover the ground like snow. The gloom increased with every hopeless-sounding gurgle of the stream and every mournful hoot of an owl.

Not the owl, Pooh reminded himself. Owl had died an ignominious death some years before, eventually becoming a decoration in a hunting club. Some of the animals had said it was Christopher Robin’s hunting club. Pooh didn’t care. It’d been years since he’d seen Christopher. He’d dumped them. Besides, Owl could be pretty trying at times.

There was a wind blowing through the trees. A cold, biting, wind. Pooh pulled his hat down over his ears and tightened the belt of his trench coat. “Hellish cold,” he muttered. “I need a smoke.” He shook a cigarette out of his pack and lit up. He stopped, leaning against a tree, and took a couple of long drags. Yes, that was better. Always good for calming the nerves. They said they’d kill you if you smoked them long enough, but who cared? Everyone else was dead. Roo had been shot up in a gang fight a couple years ago, and Kanga had been hit by a bus. Rabbit had ended up in the stew pot, and Eeyore had ended up as dog food. Piglet had got his when the Hundred Aker Wood was bombed during the Blitz. Tigger had disappeared. They said Christopher Robin had bought it during the war, but no one knew for sure.

He tossed the cigarette aside and stepped on it with his booted foot. Nothing worked out. You had to expect that when you were middle-aged.

“Which reminds me,” he said to himself. “Where’s the path?” Looking around him he could see no path, only trees. He searched all about him, tried to retrace his own footsteps, and repeated every curse he knew. No good.

At that moment the sun’s rays cut through the press of trees to the east. The sun was rising. He stood looking at it, shielding his eyes from the sun with one paw. It beat down on him, bright and warm. How long had it been since he had simply stood in the sunlight, enjoying the warmth, anyway? He pulled off his trench coat and draped it over a tree branch, then took off his hat and set it on top of the coat. Yes that was much better. The sunlight brought back memories of the days before he had held a job in middle management. (Had held a job in middle management. He’d been fired last week.) The days when he had simply lived in the wood. A bear of very little brain in a world that did not require brains. A world where hums and expotitions were the truly important things in life.

“Days that are gone,” he reminded himself. “No more pathless days; I’ve a road to follow now. I’ve a job to do.” He shrugged back into his coat and put on his hat.

But he could not turn away. The sun hovering above the peak of the mountain, almost as if it rested atop it, seemed like a beacon leading to some unimaginably better land. A land where a bear could live in peace. And despite his resolve to search for his path, he found himself climbing the mountain, ascending towards the sun.

After a time he realized that his coat was gone. His hat and boots were gone. He stood in fur alone as in the old days of the Hundred Aker Wood. He shivered. It had been too long since those days, he was used to the clothes.

Then he heard a sound like shouting and laughing rolled into one.

Before him, blocking his way, was a Backson. It ran rapidly in circles, chasing its tail. “Like a Woozle,” Pooh thought. It’s eyes were alight with excitement. Its whole being seemed to radiate fun and youthfulness. And yet it seemed to have no idea where it was or what it was doing. It constantly blundered into things, and the bruises and scratches in its hide showed that it had been blundering about for some time.

For a time Pooh waited, hoping it would stop and let him pass. It did not. Finally Pooh gave up and struck out towards the north so that he could circle round it before moving farther upward. Yet he had gone only a short way farther up the hill when he again found himself blocked. Before him paced a Jagular.

Its fur was ruffled and disorderly, and there was an angry light in its eyes. As it paced back and forth it growled constantly. Occasionally it would make swipes in Pooh’s direction. When he tried to approach it, it made as if to pounce on him. Pooh backed away, deciding to circle north again, and thus get around it.

But he had not ascended more than a hundred yards farther when he was confronted by the third and most terrible beast, a Heffalump.

It did not pace or run as the other two animals had done. At first Pooh was not frightened, despite its seedy appearance. But there was a cold light in its eyes, and when he tried to more forward, it struck him with its paw sending him tumbling down the mountain. As he rolled through the underbrush, he thought he could hear the beast snickering above him.

He came to rest in a gorse-bush near the bottom of the hill. He fur was tangled and dirty, and one of his eyes was swelling shut where the Heffalump had struck him. He struggled to his feet and looked up towards the sun. The slope seemed to stretch on to infinity and beyond, he had rolled all the way to the bottom.

He muttered a curse under his breath and turned to go. It was too hard; it wasn’t worth it. He was about to start off again in search of his road when he heard the voice, a voice he had not heard in a very long time.

“Hello, old friend,” it said. “It’s been a while.”

Sadly, the narrative breaks off at this point. However, notes on later chapters indicate that the voice is that of Christopher Robin. If I should find more of the manuscript, I shall certainly provide you with it.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

A Moral Crisis

One doesn't have to be a close follower of the news to have heard about the scandal of (now former) Cardinal McCarrick, the retired Archbishop of Washington DC and jet-setting fundraiser bishop who has been revealed as a man who used his position of power within the Church to force sexual attentions on priests and seminarians and who is also was recently, credibly accused of having abused at least two under-age boys.

It's bad enough knowing that a major churchman defiled his office in this way. What is however perhaps the larger scandal is that it seems clear that a lot of people in the Church (particularly people among the bishops and other administrators running the human institutions of the church) have known at least something of these activities for a very long time and have remained silent.

[W]hile the church responded quickly to the allegation that Cardinal McCarrick had abused a child, some church officials knew for decades that the cardinal had been accused of sexually harassing and inappropriately touching adults, according to interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times.

Between 1994 and 2008, multiple reports about the cardinal’s transgressions with adult seminary students were made to American bishops, the pope’s representative in Washington and, finally, Pope Benedict XVI. Two New Jersey dioceses secretly paid settlements, in 2005 and 2007, to two men, one of whom was Mr. Ciolek, for allegations against the archbishop. All the while, Cardinal McCarrick played a prominent role publicizing the church’s new zero-tolerance policy against abusing children. [source]

The Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey had received official reports of McCarrick's behavior by 1994 at the latest, and by 2004 the Dioceses of Trenton, Metuchen and Newark had jointly paid a settlement to a man who had been sexually harassed by McCarrick.  Some people did try to take steps to halt the aggressive climber's rise within the Church, including a group of priests and lay people who tried to send word to the Vatican via the papal nuncio to the US back in 2000 that he should not be made a cardinal.  However, many more people must have heard the rumors (or even known the facts) about him and yet done nothing.  Accusations of his sexual escapades were also circulating among hard right Catholic blogs and news venues, but they always came without named sources and could be written off as ideological attacks on McCarrick, who was generally seen as mildly left of center in politics and theology.

One immediate move at such times is to speak of practical solutions to make sure that this cannot happen again: policies, procedures, reviews, oversight boards. 

These things are necessary and that work must be done.  But it seems to me that if we allow the institutional church in the US off the hook with adding another layer of bureaucratic procedures like the ones put in place after the last explosion of media attention to clerical abuse in 2002 (in a procedural effort shaped by the very abuser at the center of this scandal, I might add) we will have failed and failed deeply. 

It's good to have better administrative structures and policies in place.  Yet let's remember, it was the very administrative structures and policies of the church which McCarrick used to cover up his crimes.  We should do procedural reforms.  It's the very least that any large organization should do after someone abused power in this way.  But the Church is also an organization whose reason for being is to communicate Christ's grace and Christ's law. What we see in McCarrick is someone using the machinery of the church to protect and perpetuate vice in the most cynical fashion possible. I cannot imagine how someone who believed that there is a God or that there is a hell could act as McCarrick has done.

So while, yes, we need organizational controls, it seems to me that much more we need leaders in the Church to be willing to name this for what it is: cynical and systematic evil. We need bishops to be willing to label evil as evil and fight it as evil. We've had enough of administrators and their organizational caution.

Any leader in the church, lay or clerical, who thinks that it is in any way advantageous to the church to keep quiet and allow a bishop to cover up a life of grave sin is a leader that we do not need.

We are all sinners, some may say. Who are we to judge? How can we say that we won't tolerate a sinner as a bishop?

All bishops are sinners. All of us are sinners. But if someone is to be a leader in the church, he should be prepared to admit his sins, repent of them, and resolve not to commit them again.

It is important to understand that McCarrick's sin is not some kind of "oops, I went too far" slip. What we have heard of in the cases revealed already (which may well prove to be only a few of those which occurred) is not of some sort of heat-of-the-moment lapse. These are cold, cynical, planned, and frequent violations of his vows of celibacy and his obligations towards priests, seminarians, and youth whom it was his duty to help and protect, not assault. We hear, for instance, that McCarrick would invite seminarians out to his beach house for the weekend, but cancel the outing if he did not get enough RSVPs to assure that he would "run out of room" and have to put one of the men in his bed with him.

We cannot allow the Church to be the kind of institution in which it is acceptable to keep around and hush up the evils of such a man because he's a good fundraiser or a good speaker or a good organization man. We must be the kind or organization which recognizes that his actions are directly contrary to the very purpose for which the Church is on earth. Our purpose is teach virtue, his is to practice vice. Our purpose is to lead people to heaven, his path is towards hell.

There is no one single wrong instinct that leads to this wrong approach of covering up such evils rather than purging them. There's the sense of pride which doesn't want to admit that we had one among us who did something so wrong, and prefers to cover up instead. There's the false sense of mission which doesn't want to give up the talents of a successful fundraiser and schmoozer. There's the moral indifference which doesn't want to seem puritan for attacking someone's sexual behavior. All of these lead to the same place: to a church which does not in fact have any purpose because it exists not to preserve truth but to preserve itself.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Giveaway Winners Update

UPDATE: We had an unclaimed book and CD, so we drew again.

Our book winner is: Patrick!

Our CD winner is: Ebere!

Please send us a note at darwincatholic @ to claim your prize!

We pulled the names from the shark hat and posted the results on the post and in the comments, but here they are again:

Our book winners are: sarah e. and Mathew Smith!
Our CD winners are: Mathew Smith and Rosebud!
Thanks, sarah e. for claiming your book already! Mathew Smith and Rosebud: drop us a note to claim your prizes! They're yours fair and square; my son kept trying to rig the drawing to pull the name he recognized, but I was Lady Justice personified. He's itching to shake the shark hat again, though, so respond before tomorrow night.

The one-eyed shark hat is watching YOU.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Giveaway: Daughters of Jerusalem, and Endless Water, Starless Sky

As I am sick in bed and yearning for some new art to cheer me up (and also to clear my sinuses), I'd like to brighten your day with a quick giveaway. Brilliant friends-and-relations-of-Darwin have been doing lovely and professional things. Here, take a look.

Elizabeth Duffy and her band, Sister Sinjin, have just released their first full-length album, Daughters of Jerusalem. We have two copies to give away.

Besides the gentle Americana weaving of the three-part female harmonies, the physical album itself is a pleasure to hold and look at. Digital music and books can never compare to holding a embossed CD sleeve or feeling the velvet bookjacket and the slightly rough pages as you turn them.

On the family front, our favorite YA author Rosamund Hodge (who happens to Darwin's younger sister) has just released her latest book, Endless Night, Starless Sky. It's the conclusion to 2016's Bright Smoke, Cold Fire, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in the last city in the world, with zombies.

Amazon's summary of the first book in the series (as it doesn't make sense to give you the summary of part two if you haven't read part one):
Sabriel meets Romeo and Juliet in this stunning and atmospheric novel—the first in a duology—from the author of Cruel Beauty and Crimson Bound
When the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the walled city of Viyara was left untouched. 
The heirs of the city’s most powerful—and warring—families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou, share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life itself. But the magic laid on the Juliet at birth compels her to punish the enemies of her clan—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die. 
Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding the Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong—killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his own clan. 
Mahyanai Runajo only wants to protect her city—but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls Juliet from the mouth of death—and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl. Runajo quickly discovers Juliet might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara. 
Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the walls, death is waiting. . . .
We'll ship two copies from Amazon to two lucky readers.

I'll be pulling names out of William's shark hat tomorrow night, so leave a note in the comments whether you'd like to be entered for book or CD, or both. Vote early and often, and enjoy your clear sinuses, my friends.


Our book winners are: sarah e. and Mathew Smith!

Our CD winners are: Mathew Smith and Rosebud!

I wish I could have sent something to you all, but thanks so much for playing along.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The English Come to America

This is perhaps less polished than my previous chapter, but I've come to peace with the fact that that's why editors exist. Until I'm under contract and paid, I'm assuming that it's fine to post what I'm working on, especially since it's the reason I'm not writing much here these days.

EDITED TO ADD: I'll only be leaving this post up for a few days, so read it while it's fresh!


…Let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed…
— Richard II, William Shakespeare

The great stories of the past are connected, like puzzle pieces. Sometimes, to understand one part of history, we need to step back to understand what happened first, and why. Then we can use to past to make sense of the present.
Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America, was founded in 1607. But we’re not going to jump in there. To understand the bigger picture of how and why the English settled America, and why the English colonies didn’t always get along with each other, we need to travel back to…

1500. King Henry VII of England was ready to take his place among the great monarchs of Europe. After he had ended the Wars of the Roses by defeating King Richard III in 1485, he had ruled as king of England by right of conquest, not because his father had handed down the crown to him. Even though Henry had married a daughter of King Edward IV, he wanted to establish his own family, the Tudors, as rightful rulers of England.

To do this, he needed to form alliances with other European rulers. Spain was newly united into one strong kingdom under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. In 1489, Henry signed a treaty with Spain that would be cemented by the marriage of his son, Arthur, to Catherine of Aragon, the youngest Spanish princess. Henry was well-pleased. Ferdinand and Isabella were good allies to have, and their empire was expanding. In 1492 they had financed Christopher Columbus’s expedition to find a new route to India, and now Spain was raking in gold and other wealth from the New World.

Henry VII himself tried to get involved in the Age of Exploration. In 1497, five years after Columbus sailed, he chartered a voyage led by the Italian explorer John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) to see if England could find a shorter northern route to India. Cabot sailed from the port of Bristol to the coast of Canada, but he didn't set up any colonies, and he died during his second voyage. 

Henry VII didn’t spend much time worrying about this. The New World was of less importance than his son’s marriage. Arthur was a tall, handsome lad, and he was Henry’s great hope of bringing stability to England. His very name was a link to Britain’s legendary King Arthur. The pretty princess of Aragon, Catherine, with her pious intelligent nature and her red-gold hair, would be the perfect queen for him. The children were still too young to marry, but they wrote to each other in Latin. The Catholic Tudor dynasty was assured.

If Henry VII had been able to see forward to the next 100 years of English history, he would not have been so confident. Arthur, who could not even talk with his bride Catherine because they did not pronounce Latin the same way, died barely six months after his marriage. Eventually Catherine married his younger brother Henry, who became King Henry VIII when he ascended to the throne. But Catherine and Henry VIII could not have a son, and Henry remembered the lesson he’d learned from his own father: he needed a son to ensure that the Tudors could keep an unquestionable hold on the throne. Catherine’s only surviving child was a daughter, Mary. 

At last Henry decided that he needed a new wife to give him the son he wanted so much. He claimed that his marriage to Catherine was not really valid because she had been his brother’s wife.  Henry had always thought of himself as a good Catholic, and he assumed that  Pope Clement VII would give him an annulment. Clement, however, was unmoved.
When the Pope refused to proclaim that Catherine was not really Henry’s wife, Henry took matters into his own hands. In 1534, he declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church in England. He divorced Catherine, took a succession of new wives in hopes of finally having a son, and began to persecute faithful Catholics. He ordered the deaths of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher for refusing to acknowledge that the king was the head of the Church in England. He dissolved monasteries and distributed their land among his nobles. 

Although Henry was succeeded by his longed-for son, Edward VI, the boy died very young, and Catherine’s daughter Mary Tudor took the throne in 1553. Mary was a Catholic like her mother, and she longed to restore England’s Catholic heritage. In her zeal she executed Protestants as her father had executed Catholics. But Mary died childless and was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth I. Elizabeth, raised Protestant, persecuted Catholics in her turn. She required anyone holding public office to swear oaths of fidelity to the Anglican Church, and charged fines to those who did not attend official services. Many Catholics began to look for chances to build a new life outside of England.

King Henry VIII’s rejection of the Catholic Church marked a turning point for the English monarchy. His father Henry VII had relied on a complex family tree to justify his claim to the throne; after Henry, battles over the throne centered around religion, not parentage. The Catholics of England would suffer for years to come.

Why did it take the English more than one hundred years after Columbus discovered America to finally stake their claim in the New World? Henry VII died only a few years after John Cabot’s voyage. Henry VIII was too busy getting married to send expeditions to America. Edward VI was only nine years old when he became king, and he was just fifteen when he died. Mary felt that making England a Catholic country again was more important than voyages of exploration, and anyway, she was married to Philip of Spain. She didn’t need to compete with him for the wealth of the New World.

However, Elizabeth’s reign was long and stable. She also had a long-standing feud with the Spanish, not the least because she had turned down a proposal from Mary’s former husband Philip. Spanish ships were sailing across the Atlantic laden with gold from the fantastic cities of America. Elizabeth encouraged English privateers to capture Spanish ships and take their cargo as prizes. But England needed a base in the New World to be able to compete with Spain. 

In 1584 Queen Elizabeth gave a charter to found England’s first colony in the Americas to Sir Walter Raleigh. Sir Walter, the great flatterer, promptly named the entire eastern seaboard Virginia in honor of England’s Virgin Queen. He sent expeditions to Roanoke Island (off the coast of what is now North Carolina) in 1585 and 1587, setting the stage for one of the greatest mysteries of history.

The Roanoke colony was not destined for success. The first group of colonists had to be rescued and shipped back to England by Sir Francis Drake, the great mariner (and pirate). The second group only lasted a few months before they begged their governor, John White, to sail back to England for help and supplies. John White didn’t want to go. The winter storms were beginning to blow across the North Atlantic Ocean, and his granddaughter had just been born — Virginia Dare, the first person of European descent to be born in North America. But the colony had to have protection and food. Reluctantly, White went.

He returned to England at exactly the wrong time for the Roanoke colonists. Elizabeth’s fight with Philip of Spain had come to open blows. Philip’s great Armada was sailing for England, intent on invasion. Elizabeth declared that every ship that could sail must defend England. England inflicted a great defeat on Spain and broke the power of her navy in 1588, but John White could not get back to America to the people waiting desperately for him on Roanoke Island. It was not until 1590, three years after he’d sailed away from Roanoke, that he was able to return with supplies.

No one was there.

The buildings were dismantled, books were scattered, White’s suit of armor was rusting, but the people were gone. On a tree was carved the word CROATOAN, the name of the local natives, and of a nearby island. But the Maltese Cross, the distress signal that White and the colonists had agreed on, was not carved in the tree.

White was frantic to sail to the nearby island and search for his people and his family, but the sailors refused. Bad weather was coming up, and all they wanted to do was to return to England. Years later, other ships came to look for the colonists, but no trace of them could be found. To this day the word CROATOAN keeps the secret of the lost colony of Roanoke Island.

For a time it seemed that failure was all that could come of trying to start a colony in America. Even after the founding of Fort James in 1607 — named for the new King James, and later to be called Jamestown — the newborn Virginia colony was constantly on the verge of collapsing. The gentlemen adventurers who swaggered into Virginia did not understand farming and considered it beneath them. They were in the New World to make money for the Virginia Company, not to do the work of peasants.

Unfortunately for the settlers, what they found in Virginia was sickness, starvation, and a powerful native chief, Powhatan, who didn’t appreciate the arrogance of these newcomers. Little Fort James was poorly organized and badly managed. Captain John Smith took charge, ordering that those who would not work should not eat. The gentlemen grumbled, but they worked. Even so, colonists died at an astonishing rate. In 1610, three years after 214 men first landed in Jamestown, only 60 still survived, and those men were ready to abandon the colony and return to England. Only the arrival of the new governor, Lord de la Warr, who came with supplies, saved the settlement. (The state of Delaware was later named for him.) 

In 1613, Powhatan’s 17-year-old daughter Pocahontas, who had converted to Christianity while being held captive by the English, married John Rolfe. Rolfe had carried to Virginia a small treasure — a cache of seeds for sweet Spanish tobacco, which he’d smuggled off the island of Bermuda after being shipwrecked there. His successful crop proved the riches of Virginia were not in gold, but in smoke: tobacco smoke. The now-wealthy planter fell in love with Pocahontas and married her, uniting the English and the Powhatan confederacy in a rare moment of peace. Now called by her Christian name Rebecca, Pocahontas went to England with  her husband to meet the king. There, amid the pomp and pollution of the Old World, this daughter of the New World fell sick and died at age 21. 

Powhatan himself died not long afterward, ending the fragile peace between natives and English. His tribe decided in 1622 that it was time to rid themselves of the English for good. They planned to kill all the English in one fell swoop. Some natives who had become Christians warned the colonists in Jamestown about the coming attack.  Even so the warriors massacred settlers in the outlying farms along the James River.  330 people, a fourth of the English population in America, were killed.

Still, despite sickness, hunger, and attack, Virginia held on. The smoke-crazed English were snapping up Virginia tobacco, creating a new class of wealthy American planters. England also needed America’s resources, such as shipbuilding supplies like timber, resin, and pitch. Artisans from Germany, Poland, and Slovakia had set up a glass-blowing industry and were exporting their glassware back to Europe. As long as there was money to be made, people would keep settling in Virginia, and Virginia welcomed the new immigrants — as long as they were Protestant.

A new colony was about to make America a land of opportunity for Catholics too.

King Charles I came to the throne in 1625. He was sympathetic to Catholics, being married to the French Catholic princess Henrietta Maria and preferring a Catholic style of worship to Protestant services. A change was in the air. For almost one hundred years, Catholics had been persecuted by Protestant monarchs. Now, Charles began to reverse the trend. He began to crack down on the Puritans, the strictest Protestants who wanted to get rid of all Catholic influence. But Charles was still a Protestant, and there were still plenty of laws that made it difficult to be Catholic in England. Both Catholics and Puritans began to dream of having their own colony where they could practice their religion freely.

Charles’s friend George Calvert, Baron Baltimore, dreamed of creating a Catholic homeland in the New World. He had tried on and off since 1620 to start a colony in Newfoundland (now in Canada), but the weather was too cold for the fledgling farmers. Now he turned his gaze toward the south. Virginia looked like fine farming country, and tobacco was a crop a gentleman could grow. Although George Calvert died before he could found his Virginia settlement, King Charles I granted George’s son Cecil and his descendants a parcel of land north of Jamestown. The new colony was named Maryland. Perhaps that was in honor of Queen Henrietta Maria — no Englishman could argue about a colony named for the queen. But Cecil Calvert had another queen in mind: Mary, mother of Jesus, Queen of Heaven. On the feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1634 , the ships the Ark and the Dove dropped anchor in Chesapeake Bay, laden with settlers, a doctor, chickens, plenty of wine and beer, and three Jesuits. 

Maryland was not meant to be only for Catholics. Its charter extended religious tolerance to every Christian who believed in the Holy Trinity. The gentlemen who would become Maryland’s first landowners were Catholic, but the workmen, artisans, and servants who sailed with them were mostly Protestant. Neither Catholics or Protestants could deny each other freedom of religion. In that way, Maryland was different from England, the mother country.

In other ways Maryland was similar to England. Calvert and the gentlemen who settled Maryland planned to create estates like the ones that dotted the English countryside. Each estate would have a manor house for the landowner surrounded by fields and workshops. Servants and field hands would live on the estate and work for the landowner. Unlike the early Virginia settlers, the Marylanders were prepared to start farming immediately. They also bought their land from the local Yaocomaco tribe and formed an alliance with them, meaning that Maryland could start its existence without fear of attack. 

Not all was peaceful, however. Virginia did not care to have a colony right next door that welcomed Catholics. Protestants from Virginia took over Maryland’s government and made life difficult for Catholics. The Calvert family was able to gain control again for a short time, but by 1688, the religious strife in England was mirrored again in America. That year, the Catholic King James II was deposed by the Protestant William III in England’s “Glorious Revolution”, while across the sea in Maryland, Catholicism was outlawed. It would take nearly one hundred more years — and an American revolution against England — before Maryland Catholics would be free again to practice their faith.

Maryland and Virginia were both colonies sustained by plantation-style farming. The fertile land of the Tidewater and Piedmont regions was ideal for growing vast fields of cash crops. Tobacco was exported to England, and corn was shipped to the New England colonies, whose rocky soil made large-scale farming less profitable. Tobacco, in particular, stripped the soil of nutrients and required fresh fields to be cleared every few years. All this work — clearing, planting, picking, preserving, packing — required many people to keep each plantation running. At first much of the labor was provided by indentured servants, people who promised to work for a set number of years in order to pay back their passage from England. Indentured servants were not always treated well, but at least they had the promise of freedom at the end of their contract, and some of them became wealthy in their own right.

The earliest Africans in the colonies were indentured servants, able to earn their freedom. Mathias de Sousa, a Portuguese man of African descent who arrived on the Ark as an indentured servant to the Jesuit fathers, even served as an elected member of Maryland’s assembly in 1642. Plantation owners, however, pushed for laws that declared Africans and anyone of African descent to be slaves for life. Plantations brought in money for the colonies, and plantations required slave labor. The Catholics of Maryland — even the Jesuits — were no exception. They wanted to own property, and they wanted their farms to make them wealthy and comfortable, and slavery made that possible. 

Remember that at the beginning of the chapter we said that the great stories of the past are connected, and that to understand one part of history we must understand what happened first, and why. The stain of slavery, and of an economy based on slavery, tainted the colonies from the beginning. As our story unfolds, we will continue to see the terrible price that America will pay for building its prosperity on the backs of slaves.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Yes, Virginia

While working on my next chapter of my textbook, on Virginia and Maryland, I wrote about "Virginia Dare, the first English child to be born in the land, and the first child to be named for the land." But then I got to wondering: is that actually true? Was Virginia Dare the first person to be named for the land of Virginia?

A little cursory research sent me to Wikipedia's page on the given name Virginia. Apparently there is a historical Virginia, a Roman girl whose father killed her rather than let Appius Claudius ruin her virtue. But clearly her name has nothing to do with the New World.

The name of the land of Virginia dates to 1584, when Sir Walter Raleigh received his charter from Queen Elizabeth I to set up a colony, and, being a brown-noser, made the sweeping gesture of applying the name "Virginia" to any part of the New World not claimed by the French or Spanish. Virginia Dare, the first person of European descent born in North America, was born in the Roanoke colony in August 1587.

However, there is an obscure saint named Virginia Centurione Bracelli. She was Italian, the daughter of the Doge of Genoa, and born in April, 1587 -- a few months before Virginia Dare. Is it so implausible that three years after Virginia was named for the Virgin Queen, the Doge of Genoa could have heard of England's claim in the New World and named his daughter after this exciting new land?

Well, so I thought.

It turns out that Virginia is not unheard of as an Italian name before 1584. Indeed, the famous Nun of Monza, born Marianna de Leyva in 1575, took the religious name Virginia Maria. Why Virginia? Because it was the name of her mother, Virginia Maria Marino (d. 1576). Alessandro Monzoni based the character of the nun Gertrude in his novel The Betrothed on Sister Virginia de Leyva.

So, another line of text needs to be altered to maintain historical integrity. My friends, I'm writing a chapter about Maryland. I started several days ago with King Henry VII, and I haven't even reached Maryland yet. Either I'm doing things all wrong, or I'm doing them all right.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Can I Get A Witness?

I've been pondering what we think of as missed chances to witness, versus the moments when we witness without thinking about it.

This past week I was speaking to someone about what I was doing on Sunday, and I mentioned that I had to go to Mass early because the rest of my day was packed. The other person nodded.

"Catholic guilt," he said. "I know all about that. I used to go to Catholic school."

And then the conversation moved on, but I was left feeling like I hadn't acquitted myself or my faith well. Should I have made some riposte? Should I have said, "In him we live and move and have our being," and talked about how worship is necessary for us, not an added burden, or how we eat more than once a week so feeding ourselves spiritually once a week isn't all that onerous? Should I have said that guilt is a useful indicator for assessing whether our conscience is trying to tell us something?

The reason I didn't say any of these things was that they didn't come into my mind until afterwards -- l'esprit d'escalier, "the spirit of the stairs" that haunts you as you're leaving the party with all the witty things you could have said. And the fact that I was given them afterwards means that I wasn't given them in the moment. Which possibly means that I was not intended to say them.

As I pondered the interaction later, it occurred to me that maybe my witness was not the wise things I might come back with, but the part of the conversation that I didn't even think about -- the fact that I had it at all. It was so obvious to me that I would be going to church on Sunday that it didn't strike me as being anything exceptional to mention. It was simply a fact of my existence, along with breathing and planning to eat that day. It came up in conversation not because I was trying to make a point or teach, but simply because it was the next thing to say. It was given to me, so easily and naturally that I didn't feel it being given.

I often think of "the witness" as being something we have to go out of our way to do, and I forget that our very lives are witnesses. Everyone knows someone who talks a good game but whose life contradicts what they say. Our being, our mode of existence, is our first and often our only witness. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, being from the Holy Spirit linger with people long after the points we've made are forgotten.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Dissent Undermining Witness

There is a real blindspot in some conservative Catholic circles about the wrongs and sufferings caused by trying to enforce border policy more strictly, the injustices some employers inflict on workers, etc. This blindspot originates from the fact that conservative Catholics find themselves so under attack from the cultural and political left in other senses that they are too ready to ignore the wrongs associated with the right. This is not unlike, for instance, the blindness that many Catholic circles had to the real injustices suffered by the peasants and workers in pre-Civil War Spain.

In this regard, it would be a good thing if there was a faithful Catholic left, devoted to both the teachings of the Church and justice for the oppressed.

One of the things that fries me every time another Commonweal email shows up in my inbox is how determined they are not to be such a voice. Yes, they gesture at justice for the oppressed at times. But the key reason for being for the Catholic left (at least as represented by Commonweal) is very clearly dissent from Catholic doctrine.

Primarily this dissent is focused on practical morality, because we are a practical people and the average American cares far more about being able to marry without the Church saying that divorce and remarriage is impossible or that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, to be able to have sex when and how he desires without reference to any standard of morality other than his own preference or any concern that this might result in the inconvenience of new life, about his ability to purchase pornography, etc. than he does about the nature of the priesthood or the Eucharist or the Trinity or the relationship between the human and divine natures of Christ.

Over the past year, the particular focus of this dissent has been an ever-escalating crescendo of assaults on the encyclical Humanae Vitae and the moral prohibition against artificial birth control laid out therein.

Little does it seem to occur to their writers than every time the attack the ability of the Church to teach authoritatively, every time they assert that a doctrine must be "accepted" in order for it to be true, they are attacking their own ability to use that same Church authority to persuade fellow Catholics to break with their political allies and cultural tribes over issues such as treatment of migrants and workers.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Doctrine is Fixed, the Explanation Can Change

The Catholic Church is the guardian of the deposit of the faith, the true teachings handed down to her by Christ. In explaining these truths to people, the Church has through her history made use of the best understandings of the world available through philosophy and natural science.

So, for instance, we know from Christ that in the Eucharist we receive Christ's true Body and Blood. We also know that the bread and wine continue to look and taste like bread and wine. Jesus put a lot of weight on this teaching. Indeed, when many of his disciples leave him over it, he readily lets them walk off. He certainly, doesn't say, "Oh, gee, guys, I was only using a figure of speech!"
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”

Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:53-69
And yet, while Christ clearly taught this doctrine, He didn't explain it in the terms of every philosophical system which might come along in the millennia to come. Thus, for instance, in response to questions that arose in the 13th and 14th centuries, the Church defined the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist using the philosophical language of Aristotle, using the term transubstantiation. We've continued to use this term ever since, because Aristotelian philosophy (as used by Aquinas and other Scholastics) happens to be a really good way to explain the real presence: The substance, the true being, the is-ness, of the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, and yet their physical characteristics remain those of bread and wine. They look the same, they taste the same. And yet they are truly Christ.

And yet, Aristotelian philosophy is a human system of thought. It is not perfect. There may be ways in which we find that the explanations of the world given by Thomistic-Aristotelian philosophy do not match things which we believe we know from other means. Does this mean that, since many Church doctrines are expressed in Thomistic-Aristotelian terms, that those doctrines may change or simply be wrong due to being based on mistaken philosophical notions?


What we need to remember is that while the Church is responsible for explaining Christ's teachings, the teachings themselves come from Christ. Even if the Church has expressed teachings in terms with which we may later find problems, the teachings themselves are not from the Church and thus cannot be changed by the Church.

So even if we find the Thomistic-Aristotelian ideas of substance and accidence to be problematic in some other areas, and perhaps even come up with other philosophical explanations of the Real Presence, the Real Presence itself is not dependent on the accuracy of the Thomistic-Aristelian understanding of substance and accidence.

Similarly, the doctrine of original sin is not dependent on a Thomistic-Aristotelian understanding of what a species is. Teachings regarding marriage and sexuality, similarly, are not dependent on ancient or medieval human understandings of sexuality or gender for their truth. Etc. If Christ's truth has been explained in human terms that are no longer well understood, then it's important for us to come up with new explanations which address our modern understanding of the world. And yet, it's even more important that we not deceive ourselves into thinking that because we may see some problems with the philosophical system which was used in formulating an explanation, that the doctrine itself is therefore up for grabs or out of date. It isn't. God is eternal and is not subject to the errors of one time or another.

Monday, July 09, 2018

A Gun For Dinosaur

As the rest of the family has moved into rehearsal-every-night mode, I've been spending my evenings with the one and four-year-old members of the family, who are not yet old enough to be reliable on stage.

Young Pog knows what he wants: he wants to be held all the time, and not while I'm doing anything as upsetting as reading or even sitting. But his older brother is at one of the stages of life where nothing fascinates quite like a dinosaur. We've sampled a number of dinosaur specials, and this has brought important concerns to his mind such as the one he stated while getting ready for bed tonight: "Dad, I don't know how to kill a dinosaur. Is it tricky to kill a dinosaur in real life?"

Well, it's for questions like this that we have classic Science Fiction authors. L. Sprague de Camp tackled the question memorably in his 1956 short story "A Gun For Dinosaur".

No, I'm sorry, Mr. Seligman, but I can't take you hunting Late Mesozoic dinosaur.

Yes, I know what the advertisement says.

Why not? How much d'you weigh? A hundred and thirty? Let's see; that's under ten stone, which is my lower limit.

I could take you to other periods, you know. I'll take you to any period in the Cenozoic. I'll get you a shot at an entelodont or a uintathere. They've got fine heads.

I'll even stretch a point and take you to the Pleistocene, where you can try for one of the mammoths or the mastodon.

I'll take you back to the Triassic where you can shoot one of the smaller ancestral dinosaurs. But I will jolly well not take you to the Jurassic or Cretaceous. You're just too small.

What's your size got to do with it? Look here, old boy, what did you think you were going to shoot your dinosaur with?

Oh, you hadn't thought, eh?

Well, sit there a minute . . . Here you are: my own private gun for that work, a Continental .600. Does look like a shotgun, doesn't it? But it's rifled, as you can see by looking through the barrels. Shoots a pair of .600 Nitro Express cartridges the size of bananas; weighs fourteen and a half pounds and has a muzzle energy of over seven thousand foot-pounds. Costs fourteen hundred and fifty dollars. Lot of money for a gun, what?

I have some spares I rent to the sahibs. Designed for knocking down elephant. Not just wounding them, knocking them base-over-apex. That's why they don't make guns like this in America, though I suppose they will if hunting parties keep going back in time.

Now, I've been guiding hunting parties for twenty years. Guided 'em in Africa until the game gave out there except on the preserves. And all that time I've never known a man your size who could handle the six-nought-nought. It knocks 'em over, and even when they stay on their feet they get so scared of the bloody cannon after a few shots that they flinch. And they find the gun too heavy to drag around rough Mesozoic country. Wears 'em out.

It's true that lots of people have killed elephant with lighter guns: the .500, .475, and .465 doubles, for instance, or even the .375 magnum repeaters. The difference is, with a .375 you have to hit something vital, preferably the heart, and can't depend on simple shock power.

An elephant weighs—let's see—four to six tons. You're proposing to shoot reptiles weighing two or three times as much as an elephant and with much greater tenacity of life. That's why the syndicate decided to take no more people dinosaur hunting unless they could handle the .600. We learned the hard way, as you Americans say. There were some unfortunate incidents . . .

I'll tell you, Mr. Seligman. It's after seventeen-hundred. Time I closed the office. Why don't we stop at the bar on our way out while I tell you the story?

[continue reading]

The .600 Nitro Express here mentioned is a real rifle round, the grand daddy of all the turn of the century big bore safari rifles, with a cartridge as big as your hand.

Here's someone firing it.

Given my historical fascinations, I was intrigued to discover that Wikipedia even had a World War One angle for me:

WWI service
In 1914 and early 1915, German snipers were engaging British Army positions with impunity from behind steel plates that were impervious to .303 British ball ammunition. In an attempt to counter this threat, the British War Office purchased sixty-two large bore sporting rifles from British rifle makers, including four .600 Nitro Express rifles, which were issued to Regiments. These large bore rifles proved very effective against the steel plates used by the Germans, in his book Sniping in France 1914-18 MAJ H. Hesketh-Prichard, DSO, MC stated they "pierced them like butter."

Stuart Cloete, sniping officer for the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, stated "We used a heavy sporting rifle - a .600 Express. These had been donated to the army by big game hunters and when we hit a plate we stove it right in. But it had to be fired standing or from a kneeling position to take up the recoil. The first man who fired it from the prone position had his collar bone broken."

So, if you find yourself needing to hunt a Tyrannosaur, you'll now know how to equip yourself.

Darwiniana: In Praise of the Amateur

My friends, it's not that we've forgotten that we have a blog. It's that the stage is a high and consummate calling, devouring time and talent. This past week has been devoted to theater-related doings, yea, even the Fourth of July and the usually sacrosanct Friday night. And this week is not only tech week (which for you uninitiates is the week the show opens, in which the technical glitches get ironed out because it's our first and only week in the actual theater) but it's also Vacation Bible School in the parish. In the morning I put on a VBS shirt and spend multiple twenty-minute shifts talking to squirmy children about saints and Bible stories and memory verses, and in the evening I put on a skirt and jazz shoes and sometimes a fake beard and play a variety of chorus roles. As we incorporate our orchestra, here's a snippet of our rehearsal here. (Even those who aren't acolytes of Zuckerburg can get around the wall by clicking "Not Now".)

Our VBS isn't run by professional theologians biding their time until they can break into the exciting world of celebrity catechesis. Our community theater isn't manned by aspiring thespians looking for their shot at the big time. We're the talent, and the kinda-talent, that stayed home. We're the big fish in the small pond (or even the middling fish), but we're also the fish who showed up and were faithful. And we are the people who run the world.

Not everyone gets famous, and those who get famous aren't the most talented or the best at what they do. The famous one are the ones who put the time and effort into self-promotion and networking and getting a good agent or manager. Our show has some people who would shine anywhere. Most of the rest of us, though, are good enough for Delaware, OH. And that's okay. The people of a mid-sized town in central Ohio deserve theater as much as the tourists of New York or London do. The children in the parish north of Columbus deserve VBS volunteers who will work in person instead of devoting their time to video catechesis series. There are a lot of gifts in the world, and they don't all need to be concentrated in centers of culture and education.

Today at VBS I talked about the Holy Family, and I told the kids that what made them holy is not that they were strange or unusual or did things differently from everyone else. What made them holy was the love of God shining through all the normal things they did. Holiness doesn't consist of heroics, but in loving God whatever you're doing, and allowing him to work through you.

Not everyone is called to make sacrifices for their Art, and most people are never going to make it big, no matter how talented. That's how it should be. You don't love God better simply because you have a big audience. The size of your stage doesn't dictate the size of your gift. And thank goodness. The New York pros have lots of access to master classes and auditions and development opportunities, but not many of them get to watch their seventh child smash his birthday cake.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Seventeen Years of Marriage


As I start this post, it's still our wedding anniversary, June 30. Perhaps I should grant myself another full three hours of leeway, since we were after all married in the pacific time zone. But honestly, it seems more in keeping with the overall ethic of our marriage that a post commemorating it be started right before a deadline and finished late at night.

Looking back has been a frequent mode of ours of late. We turn forty in a few months. The oldest child will be getting her drivers license shortly. It's a time for looking forward and looking back.

Several things I know to be true, after seventeen years and seven children.

I was very lucky to meet MrsDarwin. We're so well suited to each other in mind and temperament. As we so often find ourselves saying to each other at moments of mild frustration such as come often in a large house full of rambunctious mammals (many of them descended from us): I wouldn't want to do this with anyone but you.

There's a genre of advice piece in which the author opines that people (usually women are singled out) are too picky when it comes to spouses, and as a result they never get married. The solution, it is suggested, is to settle. Realize you're not going to find someone perfect, and settle for someone you can live with comfortably enough. This, of course, assumes that when people go unmarried it must be because they've been ignoring the presence of many perfectly suitable partners around them out of misplaced idealism. Perhaps there are people who do 'refuse to commit' to a perfectly marriageable prospect right in front of them. But being married to someone who seems to well suited to me, and I to her, it's easy for me to imagine that had I for some reason not met MrsDarwin, I would simply not have found someone right for me to marry, or not done so so quickly.

And yet, something which I perhaps didn't realize seventeen years ago when we got married is that even for people as well suited as we -- and people with a temperament which leans against the drama of fighting or even arguing -- successful marriage does not just take the great luck of meeting the right person, it also takes the choices, each minute, hour, and day, to act rightly. Just the two of us with lots of free time (at college, in other words) never really need to exert any work to get along. But throw in the frictions of a half dozen or more children, a house and yard always in need of work, business trips, play rehearsals and kid activities and parish obligations, and there are plenty of times when one needs to bite back the frustrated word, or push down the feeling of self pity or resentment.

These little choices to not selfishly take out one's frustration on another are not so different from the choices we have to make elsewhere in life in order to get along with others. In this sense, getting along with MrsDarwin is not so very different from getting along with anyone else. Thinking about marital virtue in this regard, one can think: Love is a choice. It doesn't have to be just one person.

There's truth in that too. Yet, it's so much easier to make those choices with someone to whom I'd so much rather be married.

I wouldn't want to do this with anyone but you.

The other thing that comes to mind looking back over years of marriage is how much has happened since then. When we picked June 30th as our wedding date, we did so by deciding arbitrarily that since we were going to get married in Los Angeles (where my family lived) after graduating college, we'd give ourselves six weeks after graduation to find a job, place to live, etc. The date was put on the calendar, the parish reserved it for us, and we were on a crash course with finding a way to support the little family we would stand before God and the Church and vow to become.

The mere fact of deciding to get married, and thus to support ourselves and any children that might come, made certain decisions for us. I'd thought and talked through college about going into some kind of artistic work. I'd looked at film schools. I'd talked of writing.

With those looming six weeks between graduation and marriage, I took some spare days during my last exam week to fly out to Los Angeles and interview at a couple jobs and placement agencies. I took the first job that came along: office work at a chemical distribution company. It was the sort of thing no one lists as a dream job, but it would pay our rent -- no mean feat in the LA area, even then.

I never did return to the road of pursuing a creative job as my means of support. 'Follow your passion,' goes the clarion call these days. But my deeper passion was having a family with MrsDarwin, not pursuing a particular kind of job. Instead I went after what I was good at and paid well. Now I lead a team that does pricing analytics. It's work that stimulated my intellectual curiosity. I'm glad of that. But it's not what I'd choose to do if I were landed gentry free to pursue my personal interests.

The twists and turns that brought me there were things I could not have predicted seventeen years ago. But what we did know back then was that maintaining the household would be the central priority for us, with jobs a means to that end. That means that MrsDarwin's work at home with the children is part of the same project as my work outside the home. Together, we're both working to provide for the family: provide money, shelter, and food; provide education, nurturing, and affection.

And of course: I wouldn't want to do this with anyone but you.


Go not to the Elves for counsel, they say, and in that spirit I offer not marriage advice, but our own experience. By their fruits you shall know them, they also say.

Our abiding rule — more than a rule, a bedrock principle — is: Never speak in anger. Never. Better to bite out my tongue than lash out with angry words. Darwin and I have the same temperament, the kind that remembers what was said. And angry words, spoken from despair or pain or weariness, often have that grain of truth that lodges far more deeply than any hyperbole or fabrication. You can never really take something back. Better by far never to say it in the first place.

Fortunately, we’re rarely angry at each other. Sometimes we’re both angry at something external, in which case we can beef together. Occasionally one of us will be in a deep blue funk or a foul mood, and the other does what they can to ameliorate it, even if that’s just staying out of the way. It does happen that one of us is angry at the other irrationally (because it’s easiest to blame someone who won’t reject you) and knowing that the irritation is irrational is even more irritating. In that case we opt for silence. Silence can speak volumes. It can be oppressive. It can also provide time to heal and calm. It is a buffer between the thought and the other, a buffer in which angry thoughts can fade away before they’re expressed.

Fortunately, this hasn’t been a lesson we’ve had to learn through our own painful experience. The marriages of our own parents provided a vivid witness to us — positive, in Darwin’s case; negative in mine. From the very start of our relationship we’ve lived by this principle. That’s 21 years of feelings, moods, whims, irritations, hurts, snarks, snipes, unreasonable urges, crankiness, and straight-up ugliness that haven’t been allowed to set up and harden into concrete spoken form.

I’m not talking here of feeling powerless to speak out against abuse, which is outside the purview of our relationship anyway. Nor do I advocate allowing wounds to fester. But two people — especially two people bolstered by the graces of marriage — can have awkward, painful, or intense discussions without lashing out at each other. My spouse is not a whipping post for my moods.

This is not pure virtue. We both play a long game, and being reasonable and patient is a good way to win. It’s tempting sometimes to be the one who’s putting up with more, who’s being less demanding. But those are separate scores, and in marriage, if you’re not winning together, you’re not winning at all. And sometimes Darwin and I are gracious because we know that we’ll need the same concession from the other soon. I bear up through his play rehearsals because I know I’ll need him to support me through mine. He puts up with my writing time because he needs me to put up with his. Even this is a lesser effort, though. The best of all is when I love him because he is, literally, God’s gift to me: the unique spark of God’s creative love through whom, by the graces of marriage, I find my path to heaven. The path may be dark sometimes, or rough, or busy, or blissful, but it’s never solitary. Through the sacrament of marriage, we walk it together, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

From our fifteenth anniversary post:

O Jesus, I ask you to grant my love every good gift. Give him grace, strength, and wisdom; give him fortitude and prudence and charity. Give him riches, spiritual riches that will last into eternity. Give him peace and purity and patience. Give him rest.

And choose me, Jesus. Choose me to be the one through whom he receives these gifts. Allow me to be your way of loving him on earth. Keep us always united in your love.

May our marriage on earth be a sign of the perfect love of heaven, and may we come, with our children, into eternal life with you.