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

Friday, May 18, 2018

Holy Spirit Novena, Day Seven

Again, a day late with the novena. A day late posting it, that is; the family is praying it faithfully every night. Faithfulness in prayer, and unconcern with documenting it publicly -- this is a good thing, I hope?

Join us in our prayer intentions: for baby Wendy, 25 weeks in utero, with no amniotic fluid in the sac; and for Jacob Willig, an old youth-group pal of mine, who is being ordained for the Diocese of Cincinnati this weekend. We're traveling to celebrate with him.

Day 7 – Novena to the Holy Spirit

Let us bow down in humility at the power and grandeur of the Holy Spirit. Let us worship the Holy Trinity and give glory today to the Paraclete, our Advocate.

Oh Holy Spirit, by Your power, Christ was raised from the dead to save us all. By Your grace, miracles are performed in Jesus’ name. By Your love, we are protected from evil. And so, we ask with humility and a beggar’s heart for Your gift of Gentleness within us.

Despite the gravity of our sins, oh Lord you treat us with Gentleness. Dear Holy Spirit, give us your power to treat all in our lives with the Gentleness of the Saints.


Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, through Christ Our Lord,


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Holy Spirit Novena, Day Six

Thinking about today's virtue of faithfulness, I keep coming back to this post by Devra Torres at The Personalist Project, about her new fitness regime:
When Uncle Larry's going over ground rules for newcomers, he'll give this speech: "'I can't do a pushup,' you say? OK, but don't just tell me you can't do a pushup. Prove it! Show me you can't do a pushup!" The idea is, instead of cementing yourself in your "limiting belief" that pushups are not a thing you do, you're attempting, maybe, a knees-down pushup, or a half-pushup crowned by a pathetic collapse on the pavement. Each time you do that, you get a little stronger. You might get strong enough to do a real pushup one day. But if you refuse to try, you just stagnate. 
This works in the non-physical world, too. Don't just say you can't pray a novena, or write a book, or homeschool a kid--prove it! Try it (unless, of course, there's some genuine reason not to) and see what happens. Go ahead--prove what a loser you are.
This is the approach I'm trying to take in regards to writing this textbook. Yes, there's a lot of work to be put into it, but I might as well prove that I can't do. And a good deal of that proving will involve faithfulness -- rear-in-the-chair, keyboard-plonking faithfulness even when inspiration seems low.

Day 6 – Novena to the Holy Spirit

Let us bow down in humility at the power and grandeur of the Holy Spirit. Let us worship the Holy Trinity and give glory today to the Paraclete, our Advocate.

Oh Holy Spirit, by Your power, Christ was raised from the dead to save us all. By Your grace, miracles are performed in Jesus’ name. By Your love, we are protected from evil. And so, we ask with humility and a beggar’s heart for Your gift of Faithfulness within us.

You, oh Lord, are ever faithful. You are faithful until the end. Though we are weak and distracted, please give us the grace to be faithful to You as you are to us!


Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, through Christ Our Lord,


The War of the Ring and World War II

I've been re-reading Lord of the Rings via audiobook, having just finished The Fellowship of the Ring this afternoon while planting the vegetable garden. At the end of Fellowship it provides the author's forward, in which Tolkien disavows any allegorical meaning in the novel relating to the world war during which he wrote much of LotR, sending installments to his son Christopher Tolkien who was overseas with the RAF. I'd remembered the disavowal of allegorical meaning, but what I'd forgotten is that Tolkien provides a brief sketch of what the story might have been like had it in fact been an allegory for the second world war. This is particularly interesting, since it provides a view into how Tolkien (a Great War veteran with children fighting in the second war) thought about World War II and its aftermath.

Here is the section in question:
As for any inner meaning or 'message', it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical. As the story grew it put down roots (into the past) and threw out unexpected branches: but its main theme was settled from the outset by the inevitable choice of the Ring as the link between it and The Hobbit. The crucial chapter, 'The Shadow of the Past', is one of the oldest parts of the tale. It was written long before the foreshadow of 1939 had yet become a threat of inevitable disaster, and from that point the story would have developed along essentially the same lines, if the disaster had been averted. Its sources are things long before in mind, or in some cases already written, and little or nothing in it was modified by the war that began in 1939 or its sequels.

The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches in Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not have survived even as slaves.

Holy Spirit Novena, Day Five

No posting last night because I spent until 11:30 trying to coax baby to fall asleep in his crib. In the end it was unsuccessful because he ended up in bed with me anyway; on the other hand, he did spend an hour and a half in his crib playing quietly, every so often laying down his head as I patted him gently. Then he'd pop back up and drive his Duplo car or bang his toys with a wooden train track piece. Never has he spent so long in his crib without crying. On that level it was a success, and yet to duplicate it tonight am I going to have to stand by the crib again for 90 minutes?

So, in lieu of any great insight, here's a link to Guideposts, where the always-wise Julia Attaway quotes a prayer I wrote.

Day 5 – Novena to the Holy Spirit

Let us bow down in humility at the power and grandeur of the Holy Spirit. Let us worship the Holy Trinity and give glory today to the Paraclete, our Advocate.

Oh Holy Spirit, by Your power, Christ was raised from the dead to save us all. By Your grace, miracles are performed in Jesus’ name. By Your love, we are protected from evil. And so, we ask with humility and a beggar’s heart for Your gift of Kindness within us.

Jesus approached sinners with immense kindness. Holy Paraclete, please treat us humble sinners with the same kindness and give us the ability to treat all others with that kindness as well.


Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, through Christ Our Lord,


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Loss of Trust

I had a chance recently to attend a presentation by someone involved in the Edelman Trust Baromer annual studies. (You can read a version of the presentation from their website here.) It's a global study in which they ask samples of people in many countries around the world whether they trust various groups and institutions. Trust is defined as answering positively the question, "Do you expect [X] to do the right thing?" with X being filled with various people and groups: Government, regulators, business, NGOs, your employer, journalists, people like you, technical experts, etc.

They use the results of this survey to advice organizations on how to reach people through trusted channels: Should you try to be endorsed by academic experts or get social media personalities to endorse your product?

One of the things that apparently stood out in their research this year, however, was a massive collapse in trust among respondents in the US. They divide their sample into two groups: general population and "informed opinion", the latter group defined as meeting the following four criteria:
Ages 25-64

College educated

In top 25% of household income per age group in each market

Report significant media consumption and engagement in business news
What they found is that this "informed" group within the US saw a 23 point decline in their trust index, taking the US to being the country in which this fairly elite internal group has the least trust. In what? In everything. The index is compiled based on trust scores across all sorts of institutions: business, experts, the media, academics, the government, friends, etc.
Among the general population in the US there was also a decline in trust, but it was only nine points, and interestingly the trust that group had was already fairly low, so while the decline in trust among the "informed opinion" group was much larger, they still have slightly more trust than the general population does.

You can imagine how this would be the case, what with an unusually contentious election followed by a cultural meltdown, particularly among the various sectors of more elite opinion who never believed that someone like Trump could win.

Another interesting detail related to politics: trust in government fell 22% among Hillary Clinton supporters since the election. However, this doesn't mean that they now trust the government less than Trump supporters. It means that now the two groups are tied: 35% of Hillary voters now trust the government, which is exactly the same low number of Trump voters who trust the government. (slide 12 of the above linked presentation)

One final thing that interested me in the presentation (which doesn't appear in the version on their website) had to do with how people define "people like me", which is a group that most people say they trust a fair amount. People were asked what characteristics defined someone as being "like me".

The most often cited elements of being "like me" were:

- Shares my beliefs and vales: 63%
- Shares my interests or passions: 55%
- Shares a relationship with me (relative, friend, etc.): 46%

At the bottom of the list were:

- Lives in my neighborhood: 23%
- Shares my age, gender, race: 22%

The speaker said that the divergence between those top and bottom forms of identification had been widening in recent years, with people putting more weight on shared beliefs and interests and less on where they live and shared demographics. That struck me as fitting with the seeming increase in polarization in society. I'm certainly no different. I have a greater immediate sense of affinity with someone a thousand miles away who I talk to online and learn shares my beliefs than I do with someone at my own parish who may not.

Holy Spirit Novena, Day 4

My 7yo is a sensitive child, and one who ought to go to bed several hours before the rest of the family rolls upstairs. Every night she weeps and moans and clings to me as I try to extricate myself from bedtime cuddles. I love my children, and I love to snuggle with them, but I hate being pawed and moaned at, and I know that if I just walk away, she'll fall asleep within moments. Every night, I pray for patience to get me through this part of the bedtime routine, and every night God sends me the bedtime routine again, so I suppose the lesson is clear.

Day 4 – Novena to the Holy Spirit

Let us bow down in humility at the power and grandeur of the Holy Spirit. Let us worship the Holy Trinity and give glory today to the Paraclete, our Advocate.

Oh Holy Spirit, by Your power, Christ was raised from the dead to save us all. By Your grace, miracles are performed in Jesus’ name. By Your love, we are protected from evil. And so, we ask with humility and a beggar’s heart for Your gift of Patience within us.

Oh Holy Spirit, you give lavishly to those who ask. Please give us the patience of the Saints who are now with you in heaven. Help us to endure everything with an eternal patience that is only possible with your help.


Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, through Christ Our Lord,


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Holy Spirit Novena, Day Three

We say the novena as our evening prayer, which is why I don't post it earlier in the day, but by putting it off until nighttime, I become distracted by bedtime and baby (or in the case of tonight, by watching the new Little Women series and then reading the book). Then I forget about writing it up until late, and have to shuffle downstairs in my pajamas to sit in front of the computer. This kind of haphazard process doesn't seem all that much like the work of the Holy Spirit, now that I type it up. Ah, well. Come, Holy Spirit.

Day 3 – Novena to the Holy Spirit

Let us bow down in humility at the power and grandeur of the Holy Spirit. Let us worship the Holy Trinity and give glory today to the Paraclete, our Advocate.

Oh Holy Spirit, by Your power, Christ was raised from the dead to save us all. By Your grace, miracles are performed in Jesus’ name. By Your love, we are protected from evil. And so, we ask with humility and a beggar’s heart for Your gift of Peace within us.

The Saints were tempted, attacked and accused by the devil who is the destroyer of peace. When we are accused by the devil, come to our aid as our Advocate and give us Peace that lasts through all trials!


Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, through Christ Our Lord,


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Holy Spirit Novena, Day Two

Today was dance recital, hours and hours of prep and dance and waiting and second recital. It's not my favorite day of the year because it takes up so much time, but when I'm sitting in the darkened theater watching each class go through its routine, I'm always strangely moved. Somehow, in certain moments, the veil slips, and every child, even the untalented and unattractive, is lovable. At other times, I check the time on my phone. Good thing. We would always be weeping if we fully realized how beautiful people are.

Day 2 – Novena to the Holy Spirit

Let us bow down in humility at the power and grandeur of the Holy Spirit. Let us worship the Holy Trinity and give glory today to the Paraclete, our Advocate.

Oh Holy Spirit, by Your power, Christ was raised from the dead to save us all. By Your grace, miracles are performed in Jesus’ name. By Your love, we are protected from evil. And so, we ask with humility and a beggar’s heart for Your gift of Joy within us.

All of the Saints are marked with an uncompromisable Joy in times of trial, difficulty and pain. Give us, Oh Holy Spirit, the Joy that surpasses all understanding that we may live as a witness to Your love and fidelity!


Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, through Christ Our Lord,


Friday, May 11, 2018

Holy Spirit Novena, Day One

I'm using the time of the Holy Spirit novena to pray over the projects I'll be working on over the summer, and I'd be glad if you'd join me, or if you have intentions you'd like me to pray for.

This version of the novena is taken from Pray More Novenas, natch.

Day 1 – Novena to the Holy Spirit

Let us bow down in humility at the power and grandeur of the Holy Spirit. Let us worship the Holy Trinity and give glory today to the Paraclete, our Advocate.
Oh Holy Spirit, by Your power, Christ was raised from the dead to save us all. By Your grace, miracles are performed in Jesus’ name. By Your love, we are protected from evil. And so, we ask with humility and a beggar’s heart for Your gift of Charity within us.
The great charity of all the the host of Saints is only made possible by your power, Oh Divine Spirit. Increase in me, the virtue of charity that I may love as God loves with the selflessness of the Saints.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, through Christ Our Lord,

Thursday, May 10, 2018


Today our oldest turns 16. It's not that hard to believe we have a 16-year-old, since a) we don't feel all that young, and b) we're already used to having a 15-year-old (and will have another one again in September). Still, memento mori and all that.

My dad sent me this photo (developed from film, it's that old) of a pair of babies 15.5 years ago.

The oldest now has that sweatshirt and wears it despite, and perhaps because of, its totally rattiness now.

Here's another baby, the latest model. You can compare the two and see for yourself that we only have one mold here in Darwin-land.

This past Saturday our 7yo made her First Communion, wearing the dress that Darwin's mother made for the second-oldest. (We have four girls and two communion dresses, so each has been worn twice.)

Everyone in the family cleaned up for the occasion, and we even managed to get a photo in which the 9yo was not making a dopey face.

Speaking of the 9yo and dopey faces, he's recently been experimenting with the art form known as the selfie, which results in me finding a lot of oddness on my phone. On First Communion Day he was wearing a suit and had his hair slicked back, so this is what turned up.

The Smoulder!
 Darwin put in a lot of effort over the fall/winter building a new retaining wall and planting a plethora of bulbs. Everything's in bloom now -- what a mercy to be able to see the results of hard work, and to find it good.

It's hard to see, but there are two apple saplings planted in the big open space. One day they'll help pollinate our espaliered apple tree, just out of the photo on the left side of the house.

The 14yo and 12yo just finished up a run in The Seussification of a Midsummer Night's Dream. One was the narrator Thing 1, and the other was one of Titania's fairies. It was all pretty zany.

Speaking of drama, we're about to start our rehearsals for Big River. It will surprise no one to learn that I will be playing the Strange Woman. Art imitates Life.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Quoting the Greeks to the Athenians

Today's first reading is Acts 17:15, 22-18:1, Paul speaking to the Athenians. In his speech, he quotes ancient poets twice: 'In him we live and move and have our being,' and 'For we too are his offspring.'

Brandon Watson wrote a series two years ago about St. Paul's pagan quotations, in which he covered both of these quotes. The first quote seems to come from Epimenides, but the source, the Cretica, is lost. However, Brandon, referencing an account about Epimenides offering a sacrifice of sheep to save Athens from the plague, says:
So there were altars in Athens that were "without names" that came about because Epimenides, reputed for prophecy, let sheep go in the Areopagus to determine where they should be placed ; and we have Paul mentioning altars to the unknown God, and quoting Epimenides in a speech in the Areopagus. This seems like considerably more than coincidence.
The second quote is from the introduction to Phaenomena, by Aratus of Soli, a book of descriptions of the night sky and constellations, and signs to predict the weather. Brandon provides the quote:

From Zeus let us begin; him do we mortals never leave unnamed; full of Zeus are all the streets and all the market-places of men; full is the sea and the havens thereof; always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his offspring; and he in his kindness unto men giveth favourable signs and wakeneth the people to work, reminding them of livelihood. He tells what time the soil is best for the labour of the ox and for the mattock, and what time the seasons are favourable both for the planting of trees and for casting all manner of seeds. For himself it was who set the signs in heaven, and marked out the constellations, and for the year devised what stars chiefly should give to men right signs of the seasons, to the end that all things might grow unfailingly. Wherefore him do men ever worship first and last. Hail, O Father, mighty marvel, mighty blessing unto men. Hail to thee and to the Elder Race! Hail, ye Muses, right kindly, every one! But for me, too, in answer to my prayer direct all my lay, even as is meet, to tell the stars.

(Aratus's weather information also attests to the antiquity of the saying: Red sky at night, sailor's delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.

But if without a cloud he dip in the western ocean, and as he is sinking, or still when he is gone, the clouds stand near him blushing red, neither on the morrow nor in the night needst thou be over-fearful of rain. But fear the coming rain when on a sudden the Sun’s rays seem to thin and pale – just as they often fade when the Moon overshadows them, what time she stands straight between the earth and Sun; nor are the fields unwetted on that day, when before the dawn, as the Sun delays to shine, reddish clouds appear here or there. )

Monday, May 07, 2018

Third Ways on Gun Control and the Problem of Distrust

Several weeks ago, after a post of mine on Facebook dealing with guns had devolved into argument, an old friend emailed me to lay out some thoughts and questions of his. The resulting conversation showed some interesting dynamics about the debate, and he agreed it might be interesting to turn the exchange into a post.

I wanted to work through a few thoughts and decided that perhaps I could just try a more direct discussion with you over email, if you’re up for it.

You know me, I’ve shot guns in Scouts and such. I’m not opposed, just trying to academically figure out this big issue we struggle with.

[Another friend] asked a fair question… why do you need a gun like this? I heard several answers about why *this* gun (as in, why is this one better than a different gun) but much less focus on why a gun is needed in the first place. The fact that it is easy to use, modify, etc. doesn’t really address why you need one at all.

When people answered in the form of “It’s fun” or “because the second amendment says I can” I can only assume that the question was misunderstood. Not why *this* gun, specifically, but why *any* gun which would serve this general purpose.

I see four reasons for a civilian to own a gun:
1.) In case of a total failure of government, in a very strict response to the Second Amendment
2.) Personal safety
3.) Hunting
4.) Shooting sports

Am I missing anything? Are those the answers for a reasonable person to have a gun?

I said I was basically in agreement those were the reasons a civilian right to own guns was considered important.

Okay, cool, so let's go with these options:

1.) In case of a total failure of government, in a very strict response to the Second Amendment
This, to me is the most important item on the list for obvious reasons that it was created in the first place. I mean... it's also a joke, in that if it were the Federal armed forces against the whole US citizenry with their guns, the citizens would still be terribly outmatched in a variety of ways. Even so, the founders were absolutely right on this.

2.) Personal safety
This, to me is the hardest to work with. There's a lot of contradicting information here. I'll use italics and underline to identify opposing views. For example, on the one hand is the quip When seconds count, police are only minutes away" Well, that's true, however there are easily twice as many accidental deaths from guns at home as their are justified homicides. But what about gun ownership a deterrent, those number aren't easily quantified, but must help! Besides the logical response that anecdotes aren't don't equal "data" this could be replied to that in order to be ready for these moments, you must have a gun in easy access at all times, which study's show is the most dangerous place / way to keep a gun. There are lots of similar examples, but my point is that this one has a lot of data on both sides of the question.

3.) Hunting
Let's scope this down. For this you need a rifle with one shot at a time. Rapid firing isn't needed or appropriate here. Or a shotgun, again one or two shells at a time. It doesn't need to be small, it doesn't need to break down into something easy to hide... for example.

4.) Shooting sports
Not only can this, but it almost has to, be accomplished at some sort of proper range.

I had two responses on this section which I'll show, since I think they would come up from most gun advocates:
1) I agree that the idea of some sort of crazy situation in which people are resisting the US Army is pretty much impossible to imagine in our current world (unlike in 1790) but I'd put under this header the rather more likely set of scenarios where government temporarily ceases to be a source for order and people need to impose their own. Examples that come to mind would include the two rounds of LA riots when I was young, disaster scenarios such as New Orleans post Katrina, and more recent massive riots in places like Baltimore and St. Louis. I think it's totally legit for someone to want to have a weapon applicable to that kind of situation and we know that those situations actually occur. I'd also throw in situations that haven't happened much in the US but have happened more in other countries, where government for some reason fails to intervene in an intentionally mass killing or political terror event carried out by some part of the population against another. Examples would include white supremacist terror against blacks in the Reconstruction through Civil Rights Era South and more extensive breakdowns such as countries like Somalia, Nigeria, the start of the Spanish Civil War, and various central American countries have seen. This seems less likely in the US than in some other countries, though given the escallating levels of political hatred in the US, maybe not as much so as we'd like to think.

2) I'd propose that justifiable homicides is the wrong metric to use here, in that a lot of defensive gun usage might not involve killing anyone or even firing the gun. Most defensive gun use stories I've read involve the gun owner simply producing the gun and the intruder or assailant high tailing it out at that point. So the frequency with which guns are used in self defense may be orders of magnitude higher than the number of justifiable homicides. We'd also have to look at whether most gun accidents could be avoided by not having guns kept at home as much. If they're mostly accidents that occur through unsafe usage, cleaning, and hunting accidents, then not having guns stored at home wouldn't help much. The classic case that people think of is a little kid finding a loaded gun and shooting someone, but only arounds sixty of the accidental gun deaths per year involve children under 15.

Quickly, I'll note, as far as 1 goes, I agree. This is the main and most important need for citizens to have access to weapons. For 2, I was really saying that both sides have many arguments, each of which the other side feels they can refute.
Then he laid out his proposal for a third way approach to balance these needs against a desire for more regulation:
Okay, so where I go from here is that is seems like there are only two points of view here. Either TAKE ALL THE GUNS (or as close to that as we can get) or THERE CAN'T BE ANY RESTRICTION ON GUNS AT ALL. This leaves me thinking... can't we talk about something in the middle? Isn't there a way to address this that respects both sides? Perhaps allows for both somehow, or requires each to give a little and meet somewhere in the middle based on these important concerns.

Let's start by admitting that what we have right now is not perfect. Clearly, guns are used inappropriately sometimes and it's in our best interest to address that. The position that any gun ownership is illegal is clearly imperfect (see above for some examples). The position that everyone should be able to get access to any gun whenever they want is also imperfect (again, see above for some examples). So, we currently HAVE an imperfect solution to this. The polar positions right now are also imperfect. So, as a society we accept that imperfect is okay, but really we need to be aiming for the least imperfect solution.

What gets me is, why aren't there new ideas being suggested? I'm not necessarily in favor of all of the following, but have to ask, why aren't new creative solutions being discussed?

- What if, instead of taking away guns, we required every school child to be trained in gun safety?
- What if anyone could buy a gun, but it must be stored at a gun range, not at home?
- What if you needed a license, much like a drivers license, to own a gun, with similar requirements of knowing applicable laws, passing a test, no medical restrictions, etc.
- What if that license were a default, and revoked as needed?
- How about requiring gun manufacturers and sellers to register all guns in to ballistics database before they are sold.
- Tax gun and ammo to help fund these things

What if we took some parts of each of these to make a story that respects all of the concerns here? For example passing a suite of laws that require:

- All public school systems to make available a high school and continuing education level class on gun safety.
- You made a comparison to cars, which got me thinking about that. We license for driving already, so there's something there. As long as the default is "basically, yes, you have access" this might be useful. What if every new DL included an indicator regarding health (physical and mental) for both driving and gun usage (they would be different, as different levels of concern apply to each, but perhaps indicated on the one DL). This way it isn't a government tracked list of who owns a gun, but instead a list of who can't, with the basic assumption that everyone can, more or less.
- You don't need a special background check to buy a gun, you simply need your DL / ID to indicate you are healthy enough to do so, no additional work on the sellers, especially gun show sales, etc., Just check the ID
- Perhaps there are several levels of allowed, i.e.

"Permanently disallowed from gun ownership / usage", I'm thinking serious medical issues like Parkinsons where you don't have muscle control, severe clinical depression, etc.

"OK with oversight" would indicate someone who could use a gun at a range or under the direction of someone else, but not own one themselves (because, for example, one of those classes on gun safety is required first). In this case you could go shoot at a range, take a class, etc. Maybe even buy a gun, but would have to keep it at a gun ran

"OK for hunting" would indicate that you can own a hunting gun, like a rifle that doesn't auto load, but nothing with quick reloading or a handgun

"OK for all" would indicate that any legal guns are allowed to be owned on personal property by this person

"Concealed Carry" obvious

The default, when you get your DL would be that you get "OK with oversight" or "OK for all" if you've taken that class that every public school has to over I mentioned above. Moving up to the others depending on training you've taken. You can lose this access if a doctor or similar mental / physical health professional indicates so, as they would be required by law to do so, either permanently or temporarily.

Since most people would default into "OK with oversight" a new business comes up for gun ranges, both indoor and out, to rent out locker space to you for your guns. These would be owned and operated by citizens, not government. Should there be a need to act on the second amendment as it was designed (defending against your own government) you would have access to your guns if needed, not have to go through the government.

No list goes to the government of who is buying what. As long as you have an "OK with oversight" indication, you are allowed to buy anything, though in some cases you can't keep it at your own home yet without some training.

No waiting period.

Background checks would be done as you get your license.

Medical checks would be enforced before license renewals, both for this and DL health and safety.

The way I see it, this supports citizens having guns available to themselves, not a "take them all away". On the flip side we're pushing to make sure that if you really want a gun in your home, you have to take a class or two to get it, and be cleared of a violent history or medical issues.

At the very least, it's an attempt to put some new ideas out there, instead of the common polarized refrains we tend to see these days.


I had a number of practical quibbles with whether this would successfully deal with the main issues and how it could be carried out. However, why wrap up was essentially: The concept of a two tier system in which nearly everyone can access guns in restricted circumstances such as club use, but you need to jump through a few hoops in order to be able to have a full range of types and be able to keep them at home is perhaps interesting at some level. Lots of gun owners have no problems with the legal process of extra scrutiny for getting a concealed carry permit. But I don't think anyone would have a reason to advocate for this kind of system because it would just make it easier for the anti-gun side to drop their promises and use the mechanisms to try to confiscate or regulate guns further.

Interestingly, he told me that the number one when response he got when sharing the same idea with a few acquaintances who were strongly anti-gun was: This might be a reasonable compromise, but I don't trust the pro-gun people to work with us on it.

So regardless of the merits of this particular approach, one clear issue with any attempt at changing the status quo is that the two groups that care most about the issue trust each other so little (arguably with good reason) that any attempt at a third way solution gets looked at primarily through the lens of: How with the other side use this to hurt me?

Friday, May 04, 2018

Fertility Blaming

I was out at a conference during the middle of this week, and one evening I found myself at a beer hall lifting one liter mugs of German-style beer with a couple of other attendees.

The fact that I have seven children came up, and one of the guys I was talking to (it was an all male group) choked on his beer. "Seven kids? Are you serious? I've got two, and that is enough. My wife asked about having more, but I told her: I've got a lawyer on speed dial. No more kids or I am out of here."

Now, one should take words after a liter or more of beer with a grain of salt, perhaps nice large salt crystals on a warm soft pretzel. One hopes that this fellow does not literally keep a divorce lawyer on speed dial. But the mentality, even if spoke of more boldly due to the alcohol, is worth thinking about.

One of the complaints that I've often heard about the use of NFP to space pregnancies among Catholics is that NFP ends up being "all the woman's job". The wife is left to track her signs and deny her husband sex if they want to avoid pregnancy, while the husband blames her for denying him and complains that it's all too hard.

As we've written on various occasions: if that's how NFP plays out, it highlights much deeper problems in the marriage. A wife is not simply a tool for her husband's sexual satisfaction, nor should decisions about any important topic in marriage me made and lived out in that kind of lopsided way.

It often seems that the grass is greener on the other side, and that if only Catholics could ease their way out of the Church's moral objections to artificial birth control, everything could be easy and happy. But as this conversation (hardly the only time I've heard these kind of sentiments expressed) blaming a wife for her fertility and making it explicitly her problem is hardly a vice which is peculiar to the practice of NFP. It's a wider human problem, which the use of birth control to some degree allows people to paper over.

However much the existence of birth control may allow people to imagine otherwise, having children is a natural result of having sex. (And goodness knows, over the years I've had plenty of work acquaintances whose children have been the result of getting pregnant even while using birth control.) If a man chooses to have sex, he's choosing to engage in an act which may (however unlikely it may be under current conditions) result in a child. When he gets married he's entering a relationship that could well result in children, and to pretend that this is somehow all the women's fault or responsibility is both hiding from reality and engaging in a selfish relationship dynamic.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Confessions of a Confirmation Catechist: Shark Week

Earlier this week, I had a call from the religious ed. office that they'd figured out what was wrong with the A/V system, if I wanted to try to watch a movie again with the class, on our last day. That was a good option, especially as we were adding in the 6th and 7th graders because they were going to be teacherless this week. I bought more snacks and went to the library to pick up Soul Surfer, with its perfect tween blend of just enough religion, blond girls in bikinis, and a shark. The kids were a bit disappointed that we weren't going to watch Spiderman: Homecoming, which was the other library movie in my bag, but people allowed as how Soul Surfer was an okay substitute.

My friends, I don't even have to tell you what happened. For the second week in a row, an with a different system, technology wrestled us to the ground. While my poor overworked DRE searched for the missing cord that would allow us to have sound with our visuals, I coaxed the crowd along, getting the eighth-graders to tell the younger class their confirmation names and what they'd done for service hours. "Oh, MrsD, that's a nice idea!" you say, and it would be a good idea in a cozy sharing circle, but the rows of tables and the reluctance of any child to stand out by making him- or herself loud enough to be heard, meant that I trooped from table to table, feverish baby on my hip, and repeated each answer so that it could be understood across the cafeteria. The sixth and seventh graders seemed less jaded, and answered questions a bit more readily. It helped that I'd had some of them in my class last year, so that they were excited to meet the baby they'd watched grow all year.

The DRE's own third-grade class, all four of them, sat waiting politely in the back of the cafeteria, so I included them in the general snacking.

After a while it became clear that whether or not the cord was located, we were simply out of time to show a movie, and yet there was still an hour of class time left. This was actually okay. My mojo already died last class, so I didn't have mourn it as I did then. The day was sunny, so we headed to the playground, and I took the third-graders along since they'd been so good.

Still, you can't milk playground time forever, even on a lovely spring afternoon. I brought the troops in with half an hour on the clock, and this time I made them all sit on the floor up front. (I am gifted with a carrying voice, but it's wearing to combat the acoustics of a school cafeteria.) We tried on different topics for size. I asked the eighth-graders if they could remember one thing I said during the course of the year. Someone remembered about the 25 popes, someone else remembered that we'd talked about the gifts of the Spirit, and I made as much hay with that as I could.

"If you don't remember anything else I've said all year," I said, "remember this: God loves you. He loves you more than your parents do. He loves you more than you love yourself. If your friends abuse you and think you're stupid, God still loves you. If you disappoint your parents, God still loves you. If you hate yourself, God still loves you. He knows you better than you know yourself, and you are his. And nothing you can do can make him stop loving you.

Then I tested the entire group to see if they knew more prayers than my four-year-old. (Did I mention that I'd brought my four-year-old for the second week in a row so that he could watch a movie?) He had to be hauled to the front for trying to worm his way under the stage curtains, but fortunately one of the sixth-graders is also my child and so took the baby for me.

"Prayer isn't just saying words that you memorize, though. The Hail Mary is a prayer, but that's not all that prayer is. The Mass is the perfect prayer, but that's not all that prayer is. Prayer is turning your mind and your heart toward God. And since the Bible tells us to pray always, there must be other ways of praying than formal prayers. If you're sitting on the bus staring out of the window at the spring day, and you think, 'That's beautiful!', you're talking to the Creator of that beauty. If you're frightened or in a bad situation and you think, "Help!", you're praying. Who are you asking for help? Yourself?"

We talked the Eucharist, but I don't remember much what I said, except to emphasize that the Eucharist is actually God, his body and blood. Jesus didn't explain it away as a symbol or a nice thing we do, and he was willing to be unpopular and to lose friends to make it clear that he was speaking literally about his flesh being true food.

We still had time to fill, so we said the Divine Mercy chaplet again, with the same meditations as last time. By the fifth decade the room was quiet (all except my four-year-old) and people said the responses with eyes closed.

Right before I dismissed the room I gave an Honorable Mention to one of the fellows who spent the year doing quiet acts of service for me, helping to neaten the room up each week after class when I had my hands full with baby or papers, without needing to be asked or looking for service hours. Everyone deserves to be honored at some time in his or her life for the necessary work that others don't see or appreciate. I wish I'd brought a gift card or a little prize, but I hope that the public acknowledgment was a bit of a reward.

And that was it. I wished eighth grade a happy summer and told seventh grade I'd see them next year, and my year was done. (Sixth and seventh grade still have two more classes, but rank hath its privileges.) I have thoughts about what I need to do next year, but there's a whole summer to write that post. I think maybe I've had some good object lessons in humility and in just letting the Holy Spirit work, whether or not I came off as particularly wise or knowledgeable. Who cares! For now, I'm checked out of religion class.

Confirmation Catechist, signing off.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Remedy for Concupiscence

One of the traditional reasons for marriage that Catholics talk about is as a "remedy for concupiscence", drawing I take it on Paul's observations that it's best to be celibate, but it is better to marry than to burn.

The way many people take this is to say that some people simply aren't suited to not have sex, and thus marriage gives them an area in which they are entitled to have sex.

This ends up being problematic in many ways. It can lead to one spouse claiming a 'spousal right' to have sex even if the other doesn't want to. It can also lead to married people claiming that if they need to avoid pregnancy, they should have a right to use artificial birth control despite Catholic teaching to the contrary, because clearly marriage involves a right and need to have sex.

I'm wondering if one of the ways that marriage is a "remedy for concupiscence" is that marriage takes what might otherwise be a raw desire for sex as sensation or fantasy, and instead ties it to another person who needs to be treated well and loved. In this sense, part of the "remedy for concupiscence" is realizing that sexual desire can't be morally satisfied in the abstract, it must be dealt with in the context of a specific other person who also has emotional and physical needs and vulnerabilities. In some sense, when single, the sexual drive is about "I want sex" whereas if you're living marriage virtuously sex must be thought of not just in terms of "what do I want" or "what does my spouse want" but "how do I treat my spouse lovingly?"

Friday, April 20, 2018

Southeastern State Study for Fourth-Graders

I was staring at the screen, trying to find the right phrases for an old project I'm revising -- a play based on the book of Esther which I wrote at the ripe age of 16, to be finished by Monday so my brother can announce casting to his youth group for a summer performance -- when I registered that the baby's babbling was coming from an unusual location. I ran up the stairs and there, around the landing, on the 15th step, was 9 month old Pog holding onto the railing and looking unsure whether he should keep ascending the last two steps or just throw himself down.

"Baby, hi! Hi, baby!" I said, picking him up. "Hello! How did you get up here?"

"Mam," he said, and spit up all down my front, cleverly avoiding his bib.

This child and his death wish notwithstanding, I have to have this play finished by Monday because I have another project due by the end of April. I'm going to write a textbook, a state study for fourth-graders on the Southeastern states (former Confederacy minus Missouri, minus Texas, plus Maryland and Delaware), 25,000-30,000 words. The outline is due at the end of the month. That would be in a week and a half, during which time we'll trust that Pog doesn't choose to go down the basement stairs and learn to operate the table saw.

I'm putting together my list of topics to cover in a history of this region, for this age, and while I still have concentrated reading to do, I've been discussing with Darwin and scribbling ideas. This textbook is for a Catholic publisher, and while it is not intended to be "Catholicky", I don't need to shy away from Catholic contributions to the development of the South.

Here's my list of topics, not organized into a narrative structure. Some obviously need more words than others, but it seems that these should at least be touched on.

Indian Tribes and Settlements
The Spanish mission at St. Augustine
Spanish Florida
The Indians of the Southern states
English Settlements and how they differed from the northern settlements
Maryland, the Catholic colony
Indentured servants and the first slaves
Farming and backwoods
Mason-Dixon Line
Virginia and the Founding Fathers
Revolutionary War
French Louisiana and the Louisiana Purchase
The Cherokee and the Trail of Tears; Seminole Wars in Florida
Tobacco, Cotton, Sugar: Plantations and the agricultural economy of the South
Confederacy and Border States
Civil War: North vs. South
War Zones and Reconstruction: Carpetbaggers, Scalawags, and the Klan
Jim Crow
Poverty and Public Works
Electricity, TVA
Civil Rights Movement
The South Becomes Cool: the rise of air conditioning, new industry, population growth

Knowing that we have an erudite readership, I welcome your input. What's the most important thing you think fourth-graders should know about their Southern state? Feel free to add details even if I've already touched on a topic.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Angel that Troubled the Waters

Thornton Wilder, author of acclaimed plays such as Our Town, enjoyed writing short plays, little scenelets that could be read or staged. His interest in the form dated back to his schooldays, when he used the flyleaf of his Algebra book to scribble a proposed table of contents for a future book of plays, tentatively titled "Three-Minute Plays for Three Persons": "Quadratics in those days could be supported only with the help of a rich marginal commentary."

The final collection was titled The Angel That Troubled the Waters and Other Plays. The Library of America's Story of the Week site is posting that title selection, about the Biblical story of the healing waters of Bethesda, written after Wilder had won the Pulitzer Prize for The Bridge of San Luis Rey. It is indeed a lovely playlet that takes not much more than three minutes to read and enjoy.

As the Angel says, "In Love's service only the wounded soldiers can serve."

Monday, April 16, 2018

Moral Bandages over Moral Outrages

It is said, with truth, that the Church is not a preserve for the holy, but rather a hospital for sinners. That's good, because we're all sinners, and the Church does indeed offer us both God's law, which tells us how to live to a holy life, and the graces of the sacraments which make it possible for us to follow the path of virtue. This is important to remember in a culture which makes much of 'meritocracy'. We do not earn our own salvation through our own virtue. Grace is given to us freely and unearned. All we have to do is be willing to cooperate with it.

And yet, this hospital imagery often seems to attract those wedded to another idea, people who see the Church not as a hospital in which people are healed of their sins, but as a sort of homeopathic clinic in which people take vanishingly small doses of trendy virtue and then insist that they are healed, without believing that any real application of the Church's powers of healing is necessary.

This struck me today when I ran into a piece of the "here's what's wrong with the Church's teaching on contraception" genre. MrsDarwin and I have both written posts over the years dealing with NFP and the overly rosy way in which it is sometimes pitched as the solution to all ills: improving communication and filling your marriage with romance and divorce proofing your relationship all in one happy-happy system. This, of course, is not true. Natural Family Planning is a means of very much decreasing (or used the other way, increasing) a couple's chances of getting pregnant by timing when in the wife's cycle they have sex. It is considered a moral means of spacing or avoiding pregnancy by the Church, and like any discipline the practice of it can (undertaken in a virtuous spirit) be a way of growing in moral strength and virtue, but it's by no means magic.

But making the equal and opposite error to this magical thinking approach, there seems to be a mini-genre these days of pieces arguing that the Church's teachings on sexuality must be changed because using NFP is too hard and so people should have the option of using artificial birth control instead. Often, what these articles propose to do is apply birth control as some token cure to a relationship which sounds to have much deeper problems. This is no exception. The author describes the plight of a friend as follows:
My friend is a wonderful person, a devout Catholic, and very pro-life. She and her husband were using NFP, and had been for years. Unfortunately, over the course of her married life, my friend has suffered several traumatic miscarriages. She has struggled with severe depression and PTSD related to pregnancy loss. In addition to her miscarriages, she also has four living children who suffer from a variety of physical and emotional ailments. Her children have been in and out of specialists’ offices, therapist appointments, and hospitals. Given these circumstances, her anxiety surrounding the possibility of another pregnancy was extreme. It seemed like every time we got together, all she was able to talk about was how afraid she was of becoming pregnant. To make matters worse, her husband had minimal tolerance for the periodic abstinence required by NFP. The possibility of her becoming pregnant was actually quite high. I began to be afraid that, if she did become pregnant, she would attempt to commit suicide.

Now think for a moment about what's being said here: Her friend has suffered multiple, traumatic miscarriages and is terrified she will get pregnant, so terrified that the author fears the friend will commit suicide if she gets pregnant. And yet the friend's husband has "minimal tolerance" for the restrictions of his free access to sex whenever he wants it which might result from practicing some periodic abstinence.

If this is an accurate account of the relationship, isn't it a horrifically bad one? If the topic were anything other than sex and contraception, and you think of an area of activity where it would be considered okay for a husband to have "minimal tolerance" for something essential to prevent his wife's bodily harm or suicide? Could insisting on sex which seemed likely to lead to such grave consequences seem like anything short of abuse?

To drive her point home, the author recounts:
One weekend in early autumn, I suggested that we take a trip out to the Blue Ridge, just the two of us, to go apple picking. I hoped that an afternoon away would give her a respite from her anxiety, and a change in routine, though I also knew that it was only going to be a temporary break. As we drove away from the city, we were chatting cheerfully about recipes and movies we’d seen recently. But the time we were driving home, tired after an afternoon out, we had returned to the familiar subject.

As we neared home, she became more anxious, and she finally told me that she had decided that if she became pregnant, she was going to have an abortion. I was not shocked. I knew how much she feared another miscarriage, and I knew how wholly overwhelmed she felt. I also knew that this would be absolutely catastrophic for her. She was passionately pro-life. She was terrified of losing another child. For her to have an abortion would, I felt, simply be a step on the way to her becoming suicidal.

I told her that I thought that this was the time for her and her husband to consider using contraception. I didn’t say this lightly. I have my religious commitments. In the back of my mind, I was hoping that using contraception would be temporary, something to give her peace of mind so that she could have some time to heal before going back to following the Church’s teachings. But I knew that contraception was absolutely necessary to her, at least short term. Things could not go on the way they were heading. She needed a break from constant fear.
So the friend is driven to the point of considering abortion as her only way out if she gets pregnant, and the author thinks this would be just a stop on the way to suicide. And yet, her solution to for a friend whose husband is apparently driving her thoughts of abortion and/or suicide is not, "You should get help. He's treating you badly," but rather, "You should use artificial birth control against your moral convictions so that you can keep giving him the sex he demands."

For the Church to act this way would not be acting as a moral hospital, because to act this way is not to offer healing. This is the moral equivalent of putting a few drops of essential oils on a gaping chest wound and saying, "Be healthy!" The husband in this scenario is being treated as some impersonal force of nature, but he needs to have the full moral weight of the Church's teaching power turned on him, telling him that he is treating his wife badly and needs to do better.

The author reports that she had a few moral worries about her advice to her friend, so she discussed it with two priests:
Part of me was, and is, certain that the advice I gave was good. But, I am prone to scrupulosity, and so I soon made an appointment to talk with my parish priest. He was very encouraging. He told me that things happen that are very difficult for couples. Sometimes, this really is the best advice for a given situation, even if the Church’s teaching is true. I was relieved, but my conscience was not satisfied. We had talked so long that I had run out of time, and I didn’t get to ask him to hear my confession. My conscience was still bothering me, and it sent me to confession to a different priest when I was traveling a few weeks later.

This priest had a different assessment of the situation. He told me that I had not said the right thing. He said that this was something that my friend and her husband had to work out on their own. He also told me that I could not control whether or not my friend committed suicide, and I shouldn’t try. All I could do, he said, was make sure that she committed suicide in a state of grace, without the sin of contraception on her soul.

I consider this the worst advice I have ever been given. I was shocked. I was horrified. I have been re-evaluating my relationship to the Church’s teaching on sexuality ever since.

One priest offered a way of accompaniment. He encouraged me to accompany my friend, and offered to speak to her himself. He did not reject the Church’s teaching outright, but he did advocate flexibility.

The other priest insisted on rigor, and he considered women’s lives an acceptable price to pay for this purity and rigor. All the criticisms that the Church devalues women seemed to be vindicated by his words.
Now, one should never rule out the possibility that people are deeply confused or stupid or even just plain wicked, so I can't say that it's impossible that the second priest said what the author recounts him as saying. But let's be clear, the statement that all she could do was, "was make sure that she committed suicide in a state of grace, without the sin of contraception on her soul." has to be either the author's hyperbolic misrepresentation of what the priest said, of the product of a deeply, deeply confused priest. To commit suicide is itself one of the gravest sins possible. That is why for much of the Church's history it was the practice to refuse a Christian burial to those who committed suicide. Modern practice varies from this out of respect for the possibility that a person who commits suicide may well repent and ask God's forgiveness in the moment of death. Surely God could welcome into His present event such a late repenting person.

So the idea that we are responsible for making sure that someone commits suicide in a virtuous state is a complete crock. If the priest did indeed say that, he's wrong in an incredibly disturbing way.

That said, there's a really big problem with the author's reasoning that she's defending, and it has to do with the way in which too often people do not treat all moral prohibitions as if we really mean them.

I'm reminded of an incident many years ago when a friend who was vegan was visiting. Knowing that he was vegan, we made extra efforts to make sure that no meat, fish, dairy, etc. were served. Then we were shocked to hear him relate an anecdote about eating meat recently. When we asked him about it, he said, "Well, you know. I usually don't eat meat. But if it's really inconvenient..."

But if we take any kind of moral prohibition seriously, that's not how our morals work. Something which is seriously wrong does not become okay because there's a compelling practical reason for doing it. Often we're tempted to think that way, especially with sins that seem particularly socially acceptable at the moment. But pick a sin which we rightly have a moral horror of right now, but which might have passed as darkly romantic in the past:

You come upon young Wolfgang prowling picturesquely back and forth along the battlements of a brooding Gothic castle. Wolfgang says to you, "I am so consumed with desire for Federicka that I am tempted to throw myself from these battlements and make an end of it all! But still she refuses me. I saw here in the street the other day, and I thought of seizing her and forcing myself on her. But no, that would be a sin. And so I walk the battlements and wonder if I should kill myself." Do you tell Wolfgang that he should seize Federicka and have his way with her, lest he be tempted to do some desperate outrage upon himself? Or do you take it as your job to make sure that he commits suicide while innocent of the sin of rape? NEITHER! To assault the fair Federicka would be wrong. To kill himself would be wrong. You cannot encourage either one. You cannot enjoin one to avoid the other. His claim that refraining from the one sin may force him to commit the other is a false claim. He is at moral liberty to do neither and if you are going to "accompany" him, you need to accompany him in doing neither of these terrible things.

If we can see the flaw in the moral logic of Wolfgang's Gothic struggle, we should be able to see the flaws in the quandaries trotted out here: We better approve of birth control or she'll abort. We better approve of birth control or she'll commit suicide.

Perhaps the readiness to engage in these kind of trades shows that even for a lot of Catholics who say they take the Church's teaching on contraception seriously actually think of not using artificial birth control as a sort of moral taste rather than an actual moral law. If we treat using birth control like a vegan who eats meat for convenience when traveling, we don't actually think it's a sin.

I do think that using artificial birth control is a sin, and that's precisely why we can't engage in some sort of moral barter, blessing one sin on the argument that it will make it possible to avoid another.

We are sinners, in that we have all sinned. But it is also possible for all of us, with God's help, not to sin. A husband can not pressure his wife for sex when he knows it is contrary to her physical and mental health. A wife can resist the urge to kill herself or her child, even when the world seems to be imploding around her. However fallen we are, God always will give us the strength to not sin if we ask for his grace and if we do our own part by using our active will to choose not to do what is wrong.

What we must not do is try to turn the Church into a fake hospital, putting a frail human bandage and a few murmured words of "accompaniment" over a wound which needs real healing.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Confessions of a Confirmation Catechist: The Day the Mojo Died

Today was our second-to-last Confirmation class -- although since Confirmation has already happened, perhaps we're just eighth grade religion class. And perhaps that's the reason why attendance is down 50%, causing me to declaim, "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers," as I put down the roster. No one nodded in recognition. My quote-fallen-flat didn't really bother me, though, because we were about to have movie day, an easy win for any teacher.

A digression, here, about the cottage industry of G- or PG-rated live action films, usually with a faith-based theme. I've realized why they exist. It's because sometimes a teacher needs to show a group a movie, and there is such a mix of personalities and abilities that a movie of more unquestioned excellence may be too much: too slow, too ambiguous, too thoughtful to hold attention, or too violent, or too real. These "clean flix"-type movies are a step further removed from reality, hence more easily digestible. And the content is so unobjectionable that you can pick one off a shelf with your eyes closed.

That's not what I did, of course. I selected a few movies from a stash in the DRE's office, previewed them, and picked a film called The Mighty Macs, about a scrappy girls' college basketball team winning the National Championship in 1972. It had the newbie coach whose husband thought she shouldn't be working, and the college in danger of being closed, and the nun questioning her vocation, and the poor girl, and the girl who just wanted to be engaged, and the girl who didn't get the basketball scholarship to the bigger school. A grab bag of dramatic elements, sure, but it was workmanlike. It was too long, but I realized that I could start the movie about twenty minutes in (filling in the missing exposition before we started), and that would buy us enough time. I did wonder if it would hold the boys' attention, and then I thought, sheesh, I've watched enough boys' sports movies in my day and enjoyed them well enough. Let the guys deal with it.

Part of movie day is snacks, and I'd bought snacks for 40, knowing that 40 wouldn't show up and so there would more for everyone else. As some of the students laid out the food, the DRE wrestled with setting up the multi-thousand-dollar projection system, installed a year or two ago to bring our parish's media situation into the 21st century. No more unwieldy carts with TVs and DVD players. Even our tech-jaded kids' eyes lit up when they watch the projection screen descending majestically from the ceiling.

And they watched as we struggled to turn it on, and the projector refused to light up. They watched as we flipped through the menu, trying to figure out why we were getting no input. They watched as we finally got sound, but no picture. I narrated through the trailers we were hearing: the school bullying movie; the one about policemen trying to be better fathers; the one where the surfer gets her arm bitten off by a shark. (That's the one I would have liked to have shown; the mix of bikinis and sharks would have been a sure-fire hit.) Finally, after 25 minutes (during which the DRE generously put her own third-grade class on hold to help me out), we had: nothing. We could not make the system work.

A multi-thousand dollar investment, which failed at the moment when I needed it. A looming hour and five minutes of class time, for which I had prepared no talk, no activities, no games, no anything but a movie in a case, laying uselessly on the table. And me, me with nothing.

At the beginning of the year, I could extemporize. I could compose entire classes in the shower, with anecdotes and thematic transitions. I could speak in class at the drop of a hat, and what I had to say was coherent, entertaining, and theologically correct. Those days, alas, are in the past. My teaching mojo has been braking to a clanking, poorly-oiled halt. In fact, I had been considering divesting myself of my pride and moving to a packaged series for next year, perhaps the acclaimed Chosen series, well-reviewed and full of pithy, presentable speakers known for their youth ministry.

A series that relies on playing a DVD every class.

"Hit the gym, kids," I said.

As they charged around with the basketballs, I considered and prayed and supervised my four-year-old running in and out among the boys. (Had I mentioned that I brought my four-year-old along to class today to watch the movie?) We couldn't spend the rest of the time in the gym, and there are kids in the class who don't enjoy gym time as much as the others. Perhaps some parents are paying for a glorified babysitting experience, but most of them expect their children to be learning about the Catholic faith, or doing some kind of religiously-themed activity, even if it's faith-based movie day.

Eventually, I put together a plan in miniature. I could legitimately end the class 15 minutes early, giving me half an hour still to fill. We cleaned up the balls and sat back down in the cafeteria, and I asked if anyone had had anything bad happen to them that week. I had a few people volunteer responses -- a near-miss with another car, a drowned backhoe, a broken waterline, drama with friends. Then I told my own story of how within the course of two hours I killed two phones: my own I dropped in the toilet (it fell out of my pocket, honestly), and after Darwin lent me his, I pulled it out of my pocket and discovered that the screen was inexplicably, irreparably shattered. I asked about good things that had happened and had a few more answers: qualifying for a big event, a winning sports game, good time with friends. And then I talked about how we could view all the events of our lives, good and bad, in light of the cross; about how the cross put everything into perspective, and how examining our day and spending time in prayer was crucial especially now that the kids were ending their religious-education time; about maintaining a relationship with Jesus. I was ineloquent and desperate, hunting for words and watching the clock and praying for the inspiration that eluded me. Finally, we prayed a chaplet of Divine Mercy, since the kids remembered the responses from last week. Before each decade I suggested intentions.

1. with each prayer think of a family member or friend who needs mercy.
2. with each prayer think of someone you hate, and pray for mercy for them.
3. with each prayer think of someone you love, and pray for mercy for them.
4. with each prayer think of your own sins, and ask for mercy.
5. with each prayer think of a wound of Jesus -- his hands, his feet, his knees or shoulders or a slash of the whip, and ask for mercy.

We finished our prayer. Twenty-five minutes of class time left.

Reader, I dismissed them. Those with parents waiting left. Most others called their parents to come. Some went off to the gym, and some, who had to wait for siblings, watched the baby as I filed my attendance sheet.

And that was it. The last of my teaching mojo has evaporated. By myself, I could not put together a coherent theological reflection for a group of bored teenagers, even if I tried. Now the Holy Spirit can work freely through me for our last class two weeks from now, because I've run out of my own steam. It's all you, God, because it's not me anymore.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Repost: Writing about Writing about Writing

So sorry for the lack of posting. Real life intrudes, in many good and some less good ways. For starters, the least trying, and least consequential, aspect of my last 24 hours is that I've ruined both my own and Darwin's phones, in two separate incidents. In any event, this post from 2016 seemed like a good one to re-run.

Pray for us as we pray for you!


Perhaps in your life, you've heard someone pray for a "secret intention" or request prayers in some way that sounds so mysterious that you're dying to know the cause. Some people have a tendency to amp up drama, of course, but it's often true that people find themselves in situations in which they need prayers, but can't reveal the details, or know that the details aren't theirs to reveal. Even mentioning the subject invites speculation, so much so that often it feels like the better option to keep a situation to oneself.

Darwin and I were talking recently about the things that we'd like to write about, but can't. Not because they're bad things; not because they're scandalous; not because they even have to do with us at all. Everyone has some topic they can't breach with the general public. Perhaps that's because one's take on a subject would be painful to someone who might read it, and with whom one does not wish to burn bridges. This is a tricky thing for us especially, who have been processing ideas in public for eleven years, and find it a strain not simply because we like to write and discuss, but because it goes against the goad not to be able to write openly and honestly.

And yet, people are more important. Is it better that I add one more viewpoint to an issue, however unique my insight and experience may be, or is the work of prudence that I remember that people I know and love may find my words painful? If I want to process something, should I do it at the expense of another? Is discretion really the better part of valor? All things will be revealed, the scripture tells us. But until then, we delete that angry post or that thinkpiece or the lyric autobiographical essay because cold prudence is better than hot righteousness.

How mysterious, how worrying this all sounds! So vague and dramatic, and it really isn't. But one simply doesn't get to talk about everything in life. Not everything needs to be aired or can be aired, and perhaps that's all for the best.

And no, there's nothing wrong here. But in this case it did seem better to write vaguely than not write at all, if only because this is something I've thought about for a long time. How clear we want everything in life to be! How cut-and-dried, how black-and-white! Only in heaven do we get total clarity and full understanding.

Prayers for you all today, without needing any reasons or explanations.