Saturday, December 31, 2005
I think one of the most offensive things about Christianity for those who have chosen to hate it is that there's really no room for self pity in the Christian framework.
The pagan gods of the Greeks and Romans were easy to resent. They didn't die, they dallied endlessly with mortals, and although humans suffered from their caprices as well and enjoying their occasional favors, the gods actually had less claim to nobility, certainly less claim to suffering than men did. Indeed, reading Homer (before Hesiod and later writers began to abstract the gods, turning Zeus into a type for justice) one gets a certain sense that men are (despite their weakness and mortality) above the gods, because they know what it is to suffer and overcome.
This must have had a certain (though rather cold) sort of comfort. While on the one hand begging the gods for favors (and bribing them with sacrifices) one could also rage against them. "You don't know what it is we suffer. You don't know what it is to lose a loved one, to sicken, to starve, to lose a child, to suffer all the innumerable trails of frail humanity."
Christ denies us that self-indulgence, by having drunk deeper from the cup of human suffering than any of us. We cannot cry to the Christian God that He knows not how we suffer. He does, and more, and he was there first.
I think is what offended the British authoress: having humanity's collective thunder stolen by a God was betrayed by one of his close friends, imprisoned, beaten to within an inch of his life, tortured, mocked, and died a death of unimaginable suffering. In his self sacrifice, Christ rendered any attempt at self pity, any attempt to rail that the gods don't understand, any attempt to lash out at Him inherently ridiculous. Anyone who looks at a crucifix knows that he has nothing over God. And for those who don't want God, who would rather see Man as the great tragic yet noble figure of our world, that must be the most upsetting thing of all.
I was thinking of all this while looking back over the past year, as I myself was coming dangerously close to self pity.
It's been a year of trails and blessings. I landed a good job at a good company, ending a year of freelance work and chronic under-pay. However on Good Friday my wife and I lost our unborn child at three months. Yet God blessed us with another child, baby Smaskig who alerts us daily to her health with kicks and surges, and who is due at the end of February. As the year ends, my father is in the last stages of dying of cancer. The costs of time off work and visits to Los Angeles are sitting on the credit cards. After being separated from my wife and daughters for two weeks while spending time with my father, I came back and came down sick with what MrsDarwin had. The doctor helpfully loaded up our credit cards with a pharmacy worth of prescriptions (which happily are working) and my wife's father and five siblings came out for a long planned visit through New Years, and we promptly got half of them sick. (House population 10, sick list 5) So I'm desperately trying to get well in time to return to work on Tuesday, knowing all the while that by that time my father will quite probably be dead, and I'll soon have to take a couple more days off work to fly out for the funeral.
And just as I was getting up a really good head of steam for my self pity, I thought of whom I address my cares and hopes to each morning and evening, and realized I had nothing over Him.
There really is a limit to the self pity that we as Christians can muster. Our whole religion cries out against it, for our savior has taken all these sufferings to Himself and more, upon the one person who can be said truly not to deserve any suffering at all.
I was thinking last night about how there are two very distinct phases to all this.
Right now, we are all united in praying that Christ will soon lead my father into His kingdom.
And yet, when all is finished, we will all miss him and wish that he were here. Dad is 57, and so given modern average life expectancy, we will have lost him 20 years early. That's hard by any stretch, and Dad is in many ways the lynch pin of the family. Dinner was always much quieter on nights when he was working late -- not because he did all the talking, but because everyone talked more when he was there.
In the months and years to come, that is what we'll miss -- and wish that cancer had never reared its ugly head, or that the remissions had lasted longer. Yet in the meantime, we pray that it will all be over soon, and God will call him to eternal peace.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Among these is a copy of Laura Berquist's book Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum. Right now MrsDarwin and I are looking for ideas on good resources for teaching reading and very basic arithmetic, as the oldest monkey approaches four and it seems like time to get started on such things before too much longer.
We may well end up using some of the resources she mentions in those earlier grades (one of our challenges is that we mostly only have opinions about education in the later years, say 4th grade plus.) However, reading through the rest of the book, I'm reminded of some of the issues I had with the book when I read parts of it back when it came out ten years ago, reading it as a homeschooler in the latter years of high school.
Berquist's aim is provide a basic classical education that will then allow the student to go on to a small Catholic liberal arts college, specifically Thomas Aquinas College in California, which has a program based solely on the Great Books model. (Berquist herself went to TAC and she mentions in the book that her oldest child had just been admitted there.)
I think there's a lot of good to be found in reading the Great Books at a college level. (MrsDarwin and I both took part in Steubenville's Great Books-based Honors Program, which made up one of our five classes every semester throughout college and got a bunch of our core requirements out of the way.) However, doing nothing but the Great Books in college seems to me to be a mistake. I think it's important to have an academic major, belong to a department, and do at least a little bit of in-depth study (a thesis or senior project) while getting your bachelor's degree. It's especially important to do independent research and become more expert on a few specific areas of study within your field than your professors are.
The approach that my parents took, which we hope to emulate with our own children, was to provide a solid basic education by the end of eighth grade (essentially doing in K-8 what Berquist does in K-12) and then work through a unified humanities (history, literature, philosophy and theology all rolled into one) program in 9-12, while doing college prep math, science and foreign language as separate subjects. Certainly, a 14-year-old isn't old enough to get all there is to get in Homer, Plato, Virgil and Cicero, nor is a 16-year-old going to understand all there is to know about Aquinas, Dante or Thomas More, but they are old enough to give it a decent shot, and if they encounter those authors again in a more advanced setting, they'll be able to get much more out of it on a second go-around.
Indeed, I think you're pretty much guaranteed not to "get" these authors fully on a first read (in college or high school) so it's best to get the first, unenlightened pass out of the way early. And although I may not have come out of the humanities program knowing everything there is to know about the works I'd read, I certainly think I was far better off for having read them.
Now clearly, your kid needs to be a reading powerhouse by 9th grade to push through stuff like the Iliad in a reasonable period of time, but if you've been homeschooled through eighth grade that shouldn't exactly be a problem. (It helps to be already familiar with the story, either from hearing it read aloud or from reading an abbreviated version at a younger age.)
Right now, however, we're mostly in search of good materials for teaching reading in the first place, plus some added inspiration on chapter books that would be interesting read-alouds for the monkeys (Little House in the Big Woods was a big hit, but we're not sure if the other Laura books might still be a bit over their heads, so we're looking for new ideas, since nothing currently on my self seems to be a good fit, unless perhaps Charlotte's Web.) and in that regard Berquist's book looks like it may have some good leads.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
You can get a great introductory education reading Lewis, because he has an incredible grasp of the great ideas of Western Culture, and conveys them in a clear and simple fashion, without for a moment being dull about it.
At the same time, Great Divorce contains some of the same traits that annoy me about a number of Lewis' books. It's got a brilliant set of images that convey Christian truths in a truly memorable fashion, and yet as a whole it has kind of a thrown-together feel. The end, especially, is abrupt, almost as if Lewis had taken it as far as he knew what to do with and so dropped it unceremoniously. Perhaps this ties in well with the frame which (though sketchy) is apparently that of a dream the author has during an air raid. The book has something of the rushed quality of something dashed off in a fit of brilliance during said air raid.
I don't want any of this to seem like a put-down of Lewis' primary point and his use of imagery. Figures like the Episcopal Ghost, the mother who loves her son to the exclusion of all else and the husband who feeds on pity, indeed leading it around on a chain in the form of an aging actor, until it finally consumes him (literally) will stick with me for a very long time. Lewis has a unique ability to distill characters who (while not filled out enough to seem like a fully rounded person) nonetheless instantly evoke real people and situations that you are familiar with.
The immediate comparison that occurred to me was to Niven and Pournelle's Inferno, a novel in which an unbelieving Science Fiction author wakes up dead to find himself in Dante's hell, but with a difference: It's possible to escape hell if you are willing to follow Dante's route, rejecting each sin as you go deeper, until climbing through the center of the world to Purgatory. Lewis has written a theologically deeper work with much more memorable images of the nature of sin, and the dangers of setting up another good in place of God's. Niven and Pournelle's book, however, is much more tightly written, with a clearer story arc, characterization and a feeling of finality when one reaches the end.
That said, I'm certainly very glad I read The Great Divorce. But if you get the chance, read Inferno as well.
I strongly recommend it to anyone with an interest in physics, astronomy and the history of the universe. As well as being an excellent layperson's introduction to Lemaitre's development of the expanding model of the universe (what has become known as the "Big Bang") it provides an excellent description of how real scientists deal with new data, theories and their philosophical implications.
Up until the mid Twenties, virtually all scientists (from ancients like Aristotle and Lucretius to the greats of early and modern science such as Newton and Einstein) had envisioned an essentially static universe. Lemaitre (a World War I veteran, Catholic priest, and physics/mathematics PhD) realized that Einstein's field equations equations implied an expanding universe, which must have had its origin in a "primeval atom" containing all matter in the universe. Lemaitre also made important contributions to "black hole" theory and other areas of theoretical physics.
He was appointed to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by Pope Pius XI and was made its president by John XXIII, who also (somewhat to Lemaitre's confusion) appointed him to the pontifical commission to study birth control. (Lemaitre died well before the commission provided its report to Paul VI.)
Although a certain amount of familiarity with mathematics will help, you don't need a great deal of knowledge about the field to enjoy Farrell's writing. I would class The Day Without Yesterday with books like Longitude and Galileo's Daughter, which provide a good popular introduction to an important transitional period in science while remaining accessible to the general reader.
Though the circumstances were far from desireable, the last couple weeks, with all the children living under the same roof with my father for the first time in five years. I guess there has to be an upside to dying slowly...
Thank you all for your continued prayers for all of us. This whole experience has been an exercise in realizing that just when you really thought you'd realized you had no control over life, and that it's all in God's hands, finding that you hadn't quite let go as much as you thought.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
However, for the holy day, I'd like to put up the following story, another of the Don Camillo Stories by Giovanni Guareschi.
Appointment at Midnight
It had all begun one day in July, when Peppone and his gang appeared in full force at the rectory.
"We want a Te Deum!" Peppone shouted. "A public thanksgiving. Someone has shot at our national Leader." Don Camillo was perplexed. "I understand," he said calmly, "but I don't see why we should hold a service of thanksgiving just because a poor devil has been shot. Say what you like, he's a human being."
Peppone clenched his fists. "We want to give thanks because he wasn't killed! And don't try to be funny, because we're in a state of national emergency. So here's the plan. You organize the Te Deum, complete with music, singing, flowers, curtains, lighting effects, and bells, and announce it by means of a poster with an angel on either side on the church door. Meanwhile we'll print leaflets and put them prominently on display. Then we'll see who shows up. Everyone that fails to show up is a filthy reactionary. We'll take down the names of the absent and then make a series of house-to-house visits."
"Well spoken, Chief," Smilzo said solemnly. "We must first identify and then punish all those guilty of incitement to public disorder. The people have had quite enough!"
Don Camillo looked over at him. "Are you going to list the names?" he asked.
"Of course," said Smilzo.
"Then put mine down at the head of the list, because I won't be at the thanksgiving service."
Peppone pushed his hat back on his head and put his hands on his hips. "So you refuse to publicly thank the Almighty for having saved an honest man from an attempted crime, is that it?"
"No. I won't let a religious service give you and your hot-heads an excuse to beat up innocent people. If you really want to thank the Almighty, come with your friends and I'll say a Mass, just as I did yesterday when Gigino Forcella fell off the roof without getting a single scratch on his body."
Peppone brought his fist down on the table. "The people want a solemn ceremony, a Te Deum, I tell you, not just an everyday Mass. This is a cause for national thanksgiving."
"The thanksgiving is a strictly private affair," Don Camillo insisted. "Every good Christian should rejoice when his neighbor is saved from danger, to be sure. But by your reasoning Gigino Forcella's family was entitled to a Te Deum too."
Peppone's face looked like an advertisement for apoplexy. "How can you mention Gigino Forcella in the same breath with our Leader? Gigino doesn't interest anyone outside his own family anyhow. And our Leader is known the world over."
Don Camillo was not impressed. "Gigino Forcella's family is a small one, while that of your Leader is made up of several million people. That's the only difference. It's a bigger family, if you like, but it doesn't include the whole nation. If the local members of your Leader's family want me to say a special Mass, I'll be glad to oblige them. But in view of the threats you made a few minutes ago it will have to be a purely family affair. I won't have anyone that doesn't belong to your Party in the church. Otherwise I should be abetting your blackmail. People must come to church of their own free will and not because of the fear of punishment. The church is no place for political propaganda."
Smilzo pulled the visor of his cap around to one side, put his hands on his hips and looked up at Don Camillo. "Look who's talking!" he said with a leer. "If there happened to be a God, He'd freeze you to the ground for such a shameless lie."
As for Peppone, he was bursting with things to say but didn't know where to begin. "You Judas!" he shouted. "You've sold Christ for thirty American dollars!"
"Don't pay him any attention, Chief," Smilzo begged him. "Certain people can't be treated any other way." He took a notebook out of his pocket, licked the point of his pencil and wrote something down. "Don Camillo!" he said. "Exclamation point! Now that you're on my blacklist not even the Almighty can save you."
And Peppone added: "Keep your Te Deums and your Masses as well. The Party has no use for your Madonna and saints. And here's what I'll do to the next Party member that sets foot in your church!" So saying, he picked up a chair and crushed the backboard of it in his fingers, looking straight into Don Camillo's eyes.
"Mind you get it mended now," Don Camillo said calmly.
Peppone made no answer, but turned on his heels, and walked out, followed by his gang, who slammed the door behind them. A moment later Smilzo came back, with a defiant look on his face, picked up the chair and bore it away. He held his head high and his chest stuck out, and he strutted as triumphantly as if he represented the inevitable onward march of the proletarian revolution.
Don Camillo got his chair back but Peppone and Peppone's followers and their families stayed away from church.
Three months later Bigio had a baby, but as he was a Party member the question of a baptism never came up. When Bigio saw the priest coming he dodged out of the way, but one evening Don Camillo managed to stop him. "If it's in obedience to Party orders that you're not coming to church, transeat, I can let that go by. Your sins are on your own conscience. But you let your son come at least once in his life, to be baptized. Or have you already enrolled him in the Party?"
Bigio, who was the most reasonable of the gang, threw out his arms. "The order goes for the whole family," he said. "If the Chief were to know that I'd had my baby baptized he'd take my hide off."
"Peppone doesn't have to know," Don Camillo suggested.
That night they brought the baby to him for a clandestine baptism. That was all Don Camillo managed to achieve, but he was not discouraged.
"Lord," he said to Christ, at the altar, "I'm waiting for Christmas. In all the years that I've been here they've never missed the midnight Mass. A few years ago, when Giubai was wanted by the police, he came on Christmas Eve and I saw him in the far corner, with his coat collar turned up all around his face. Lord, just have confidence in me!"
"I've always had confidence in you," Christ said to him with a smile, "but can you have confidence in yourself?"
"Well ... to a certain extent. I have more faith in You." As Christmas approached Don Camillo tried to find out which way the wind was blowing, and word came back to him that husbands and wives were arguing over the question, with the wives maintaining that on Christmas Eve they really must break the rule. As the time grew shorter and shorter, the arguments became more and more heated, until finally the women flatly declared: "We and the children are going to church; you can do what you please."
Peppone, whose wife had given him an unforgettable kick in the shins, was well aware of what was brewing and finally decided to leave the women and children free while the men kept up the boycott. They had said they wouldn't set foot in the church, and they would stick to their word. In order to prevent any last-minute weakening Peppone summoned the men to an appointment in the People's Palace. There they would answer the challenge of the Midnight Mass with a democratic "midnight cell meeting," whose ceremonial would consist of readings from the classics of the religion of Marx and Lenin and selected passages from such great democrats as Stalin and his ilk.
When Christmas Eve came the church was filled with candlelight and singing, while on the hard benches of the bare People's Palace the men listened to Peppone reading things none of them understood. Every now and then the wind blew a few notes from the church organ against the closed windows.
The Mass was over early, because something was tormenting Don Camillo's mind. When he was left alone in the church he took off his vestments and padlocked the church door. He walked up and down for several minutes and then stopped before Christ on the Cross.
"Lord," he said, "Did You see?"
"Yes, I saw," Christ answered. "You were over-confident. You relied too much on your own powers."
"No, that isn't it," said Don Camillo. "I pinned all my faith on You."
"And so now you've lost your faith, is that it then?"
"Never!" said Don Camillo indignantly. "If a starving man sees a crust of bread on the table before him, he can't just sit tight and say: 'I knew God wouldn't let me die of hunger.' God isn't going to put it in his mouth; he must stretch out his hand. To have faith that God will provide doesn't dispense a fellow from using his head. If the bread doesn't jump into his mouth, he has to go get it. The Scriptures tell us that if the mountain doesn't go to Christ, then Christ will go to the mountain."
Christ smiled. "Only it's not me, it's Mohammed," he objected.
"Forgive me," said the chagrined Don Camillo. "I only meant--"
"There's nothing to forgive, Don Camillo. It's not words that count, it's intentions."
Don Camillo ran his big hand over his forehead and looked up at Christ. But he was thinking of Mohammed, and Christ knew it and smiled.
"Comrades," Peppone was saying, "as a fitting close to this meeting at which we have borne witness to our democratic faith, I shall read you a masterly profile of Mao Tse Tung. Just then the door opened and in came a powerfully built man in a heavy coat, who made his way like a tank through the benches on which the men were sitting, went up onto the platform where Peppone was holding forth and set a gray-green box on the speaker's table. All the men in the front rows recognized the box immediately. They bad seen it during the war, when Don Camillo risked German bullets in order to visit them up in the mountains. And automatically they rose to their feet. Don Camillo lifted the lid off the box, and there was his field altar. Peppone stepped quickly down from the platform, and a moment later, when Don Camillo turned around and grunted, Smilzo proudly leapt up beside him. As he had done so many times in the old days, he helped the priest don his vestments, lit the candles and knelt down at one side of the altar to serve him.
It was a simple Mass, military style, and of an almost clandestine character. But they had put out the lights in the hall, so that the candles on the little altar stood out in the dark. The organ notes that had blown against the closed windows were still vibrating and from the towers of church and town hall the chimes echoed through the valley while the golden wings of the great angel seemed to spread over the Little World.
For 58 years and counting, Mary and Paul had a romance. It was sealed in the sacrament of marriage. Marriage being a sacrament means it, too, is a sharing in divine life. All those ordinary events, all those ups and downs, all the joy—and sorrow: Mary, at all those moments, you and Paul were sharing the very life of God, through Jesus Christ. When your children were born, you had a Christmas moment; today, you have a Good Friday moment. But it’s all part of Christ. His birth, his life, his death…
And his resurrection.
All this and infinitely more was wrapped up in the Gift humanity received that first Christmas, so long ago: God became man that men might become God!
Bishop Fulton Sheen used to point out that Jesus was the only man ever born to die. That was the meaning of his life: to embrace the Cross, to embrace human suffering, all the way to death. So that the path of salvation, for all of us, would cut straight through that which is most terrifying, most sorrowful for us.
Recalling that now likewise gives us hope! Jesus came to die; so that we might live. He rose from the dead, to come back and share his divine life with us.
I can only imagine how hard it might be for you to celebrate Christmas this year—or in years to come.
But I pray that this might be some help to you. Jesus was born to die; the result is that we, in dying, are born to eternal life. Therefore, may this be in your thoughts, at this time of year, in time to come: Jesus’ birth means Paul will live— not just for a few years on earth —but forever.
"I've never seen anything like it before," he said. "We've had our share of sickness at my house, but it's never come to that."
"That" is the situation that Officer Davies encountered yesterday at the home of the Darwin family. Concerned friends had been unable to contact Mrs. Darwin for several days and had telephoned the police. After attempts to raise her, police finally entered the home and encountered a sight that still makes witnesses shudder.
The house was completely filled with wadded-up tissues.
Police used an industrial vacuum to clear path into the house and began searching for Mrs. Darwin, 27, and her two daughters, 3-year-old Noogs and 2-year-old Babs. The trio was finally located in an upstairs bedroom, where they had been desperately trying to make their way to a window. All three were alive, though weak and suffering from a lack of oxygen.
The family had been fighting runny noses for weeks, but things apparently went downhill after Mr. Darwin had to leave town to visit his family in Los Angeles.
"The bottom layer of tissues was two weeks old," Officer Davies stated. "It was almost like looking at rock strata. Our experts could date each layer."
Dr. John Maxwell at Round Rock Memorial Hospital said he'd never seen a case like this before.
"The children had ear infections, and Mrs. Darwin was suffering from flu-like symptoms. The combined tissue usage was simply too great to be contained by trashcans, and so started to overflow. By the time Mrs. Darwin realized the dangerous situation she was in, it was too late."
"You hear of cases like this," the doctor said, shaking his head. "I'd hoped I'd never have to see one myself."
Tissue pile-up is a rare but often deadly side effect when an entire family comes down with nasal ailments. Nostrologist Anne Hernandez of the Nasal Institute of America said that her group has been working for years to educate the public about the dangers of not throwing away tissues in a timely fashion."
"You get sick, you're weak, your aim is bad, and you miss the trash can when you toss your tissue. But if someone doesn't pick them up, eventually you're faced with a carpet of tissues that can impair movement."
She compares trying to move through tissue pile-up to treading water.
"A person already weakened by a cold might not have the energy to wade through the tissues and so just stay in bed. This compounds the problem because then more tissues are added to the pile. People don't know that help is out there."
Kleenex executives were saddened by the affair.
"When you come that close to losing one of your largest customers, you realize that you have to develop new strategies. We're working now on a tissue that self-destructs after two days on the floor. Testing has been positive, though the process can scorch small pets," said a company spokesman.
Mrs. Darwin, resting at the hospital, was only able to say "Thag you bery much" to her rescuers. Police are seeking a nasal translator so they can interview her more thoroughly. Mr. Darwin was unable to be reached for comment.
Friday, December 23, 2005
So I hope we'll round the bend and all be healthy for Darwin's return home.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Check it out for the latest outrage among Wiccans, the top ten seasonal rage triggers, and the strike that's crippling toy production at the North Pole during the busy holiday season.
NY TIMES: CLAUS OK'D ILLEGAL SURVEILLANCE
The New York Times reported today that Polar authorities are engaged in a secret program to conduct warrantless monitoring of private communications and activities among U.S. minors. Anonymous sources within the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency said the program, codename "Operation Coal Lump," dates as far back as 1879, and recieved approval at the highest eschelon of Polar administration, including President Santa Claus himself.
The disclosure of the program sparked an immediate furor among civil libertarian organizations and brats right groups. ACLU spokesman Dan Knaggs said "that chill in the air isn't December -- it's Big Brother Kriss Kringle unconstitutionally watching, and following, and evaluating your every move."
Josh Cleland, 9, a spokesboy for the Council For Misbehaving Americans, decried the program as "a looming threat to the economic rights of millions of young Americans, many of whom may be guilty of nothing more than a wedgie or Indian burn of self defense."
Cleland added that "Stop hitting yourself, retard. Stop hitting yourself, retard."
Darwin is still in Los Angeles with his father, though scheduled to fly home on Christmas. His father is extremely weak and tired and worsening every day, but was able to enjoy a mass said at home yesterday by an old friend who is a Dominican priest. Nobody knows the day or the hour, but hours seem more likely than days. (Of course, we've been saying that for two weeks now.)
Back on the ranch, the monkeys have come down with something that involves a recurring high fever, the persistent runny nose, and cough. After a week of fevers that came down quickly with Tylenol, and Mommy putting off a trip to the doctor's office, they decided to show me up yesterday while staying with friends by becoming lethargic and feverish again -- this while I was at the midwife's. The midwife tells me that my blood pressure is looking a bit too high, and that can be a result of stress and not getting enough rest. She prescribes TWO HOURS a day of laying down. How on earth? Anyway, the girls are going to the doctor this very morning (after a night of Babs running a fever that wouldn't come down until this morning) and if they're prescribed something that makes them sleepy, then I'll get my rest. Stay tuned!
UPDATE: The culprit turns out to be the basic ear infection, so the girls are on antibiotics for the first time. Poor things are zonked, but I guess this is how I get that two hours of prescribed rest.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives for ever.
Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? Where there is no understanding, there is only a meaningless sound. The voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart.
However, let us observe what happens when we first seek to build up our hearts. When I think about what I am going to say, the word or message is already in my heart. When I want to speak to you, I look for a way to share with your heart what is already in mine.
In my search for a way to let this message reach you. so that the word already in my heart may find place also in yours, I use my voice to speak to you. The sound of my voice brings the meaning of the word to you and then passes away. The word which the sound has brought to you is now in your heart, and yet it is still also in mine.
When the word has been conveyed to you, does not the sound seem to say: The word ought to grow, and I should diminish? The sound of the voice has made itself heard in the service of the word, and has gone away, as though it were saying: My joy is complete. Let us hold on to the word; we must not lose the word conceived inwardly in our hearts.
Do you need proof that the voice passes away but the divine Word remains? Where is John's baptism today? It served its purpose, and it went away. Now it is Christ's baptism that we celebrate. It is in Christ that we all believe; we hope for salvation in him. This is the message the voice cried out.
Because it is hard to distinguish word from voice, even John himself was thought to be the Christ. The vooie was thought to be the word. But the voice acknowledged what it was, anxious not to give offense to the word. I am not the Christ. he said, nor Elijah, nor the prophet. And the question came: Who are you, then? He replied: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord.
...He saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.
Monday, December 19, 2005
For some, their career is just the place they pull a paycheck, and they wouldn't give it a second thought in a situation like this. Others, however, treat their careers as vocations -- carried until the last breath.
At about 1:30 or 2 they (the contractions) got a lot stronger and I couldn't stay in bed anymore, so we called my Mom to pick up Emma and called the midwife so she could come over. She checked me at about 2:30 and I was at about 4 cm, then again in about another 30 min and I was at 5 cm, so things were moving right along. It was so wonderfully peaceful - we all chatted between contractions, Matt helped me by giving me pressure on my back during contractions, then we would chat a bit more and rest. My water broke (with a little pop sound, which I thought was funny) and things got a bit more intense at that point, but still everything was so much easier and more manageable than last time. Not being stuck in bed with IVs and a catheter (not to mention w/o the pitocin!) makes everything so much better!!! The pushing even was very peaceful - we had a fire in the fireplace, the Christmas lights turned on the tree, and my midwife was knitting away (I love the sound of knitting needles clacking together!) while her assistant kept an eye out for the baby's head. Matt was absolutely wonderful through everything - a firm, steady hand and a loving presence. I couldn't have asked for more! With my last birth, I felt like I had been hit by a truck afterwards, but this time I just feel like I was out running for a long time... muscles sore and tired, but nothing that won't be back to normal within a day or two.That's what I'm talking about -- no IV, no hassled nurses, no stinkin' hospital bed, no one not believing you're in labor when you're dilated five centimeters simply because you're not yelling or screaming -- sounds like the way to go. 2 1/2 more months...
However, Darwin is hoping to bring home a rifle from Los Angeles (TSA permitting), so maybe we'll have a little fun with that at the shooting range.
As a teenager I had the job of sitting for a few hours several days a week with the grandmother of a friend, who had Alzheimer's disease. She used to recount stories of her mountain upbringing, and one of her favorites was about the time she hung a neighboring dog who hassled their chickens. The one I particularly liked involved the time she nailed her brother's shoe to the floor. She used to laugh and laugh as she recalled how he tried to pull up the shoe and got madder and madder as it wouldn't budge. Ah, tales of a gentler, more civilized era...
Sunday, December 18, 2005
I never realized it before, but cooking for one is dull. I went from my family's kitchen to the caf at college to a house with roommates to a newlywed apartment with Darwin, never once living on my own. As a result, I never had to deal with the culinary challenges of cooking for just one person. Every little decision, it seems, takes far more thought than it ought to. Should I spend time dicing vegetables for a soup when I'm the only one who will eat it? Is it worth it to roast a chicken breast just for myself? Why should I put loads of time and effort into culinary triumphs when no one else cares or will even partake? Do I feel like boiling water for one serving of pasta?
I know single people who enjoy whipping up new and exciting dishes and venturing into uncharted territory, but at the moment I have the responsibilities of caring for two toddlers by myself -- which leaves me little time to devote to gourmet preparation -- without the benefits of an appreciative, or even hungry, audience. I begin to see the allure of t.v. dinners and fast food (though I've succumbed to neither, just so you know). Fortunately, kind friends have taken pity on us and invited us for dinner and adult companionship several times, but there are still occasions such as tonight. Both girls fell asleep early and I so I was left staring into the refrigerator wondering if I really wanted to go to the trouble of cooking up something, and also wondering why it was that there's never anything good to eat in the house! (By which it is meant that there's no junky snack food around.)
All of which is to say that I miss Darwin and we'll all be glad to see him home. Then it will be time to pull out the stops and have a feast.
Friday, December 16, 2005
Perhaps because of all the advances in medical science over the last few centuries, when we as Christians think about "life issues" we're mostly thinking about keeping people from prematurely ending life: others or their own. Too many people in our modern society believe that life is a wholly owned and operated commodity -- that they can avoid creating it when convenient, demand it when wanted, preserve it as long as they wish, and dispose of it when tiresome.
Nonetheless, life is a condition with a 100% mortality rate. We all die sometime, and there is another set of "life issues" on which Christians have traditionally focused: those relating towards making a "good death."
Our post-Christian world still has lots of left over Christian hope regarding death -- without the fears that have traditionally gone with it. Our secular world has reduced the four last things to two, death and heaven, as polls consistently find that more people believe in heaven than believe in God.
Our modern pagans are a tougher nut to crack than the old variety. When the good news of Christianity first spread across the world, the Christian message of life after death, of eternal reward for the justice and life everlasting through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was a new and welcome idea. Pagan beliefs were much less hopeful. In Homer, as cold bronze spills smoking blood upon the sands, the dead man's soul "goes wailing into the outer darkness."
The pagan world endorsed the same kind of mercy killing that is coming back into vogue today, but with none of the pat confidence that the dead were going to "a better place".
Confronting the culture of death, we most often focus on the moral commandment that we not bring life to a premature conclusion. Yet the other side of the Catholic tradition in regards to death is one of acceptance, even welcoming. We do not hasten death, yet in the hope of eternal life we do not fear it. Indeed, in the hope of the beatific vision, we yearn for it. And while we accept God's will by not hastening "the day or the hour" we also await it -- hard as that waiting may be, as pain and weakness enfold the dying Christian with over-tight embrace -- and yearn for it.
We seldom speak of death in the happy-sappy mass of the American suburbs. (It's so much easier to pat ourselves on the back about loving others and overcoming racial insensitivity.) Yet the traditional prayers of the Church are full of petitions for a good death and life everlasting. Ten times each decade of the rosary, we ask that the Mother of God pray for us "not and at the hour of our death."
Compline, the last hour of the liturgical day, is especially filled with meditations on death. "May God grant us a restful night and a peaceful death" is one of the prayers. "Protect us, Lord, while we are awake, and safe guard us while we sleep, that keep watch with Christ and rest in peace."
Most on my mind of late, sitting by the hospital bed that now dominates my parents' living room, is the Canticle of Simeon, said near the end of the ordinary of Compline:
Now, Lord, you may dismiss your servant
in peace, according to your word;
For my eyes have seen your salvation;
which you have set before all the nations,
As a light of revelation for the Gentiles
and the glory of your people Israel.
Part of the reason for this may be that they included gang violence in the studies in cases where the violence was determined to be racially motivated. Since there are rival hispanic and black gangs in the area (and both are curiously insensitive when dealing with "sexual minorities"), they turned out to be responsible for many of the crimes.
I guess that makes sense. After all, gang members are already used to committing violent crimes in general, why not add one more motivation to the mix?
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Our challenge is to enthusiastically utilize ethical opportunities so that we may endeavor to dramatically disseminate excellent intellectual capital to stay competitive in tomorrow's world.
The front-page human interest article of the Wall Street Journal (I'd link, but a subscription is required) is about hymenoplasty, a surgery that re-attaches the hymen so that women can pass themselves off as virgins. Aside from the "ick" factor of this concept, several considerations come to mind. If a woman with a sexually transmitted disease has a hymenoplasty and subsequently infects a man, can he sue for false representation? Is the discomfort of surgery worth it for a one-time experience? (Surgery tends to run about $5000-$8000, though some places will do it for $1800.) Why should anyone want vaginal cosmetic surgery? The thought of it is disgusting.
And from a woman's point of view, why should anyone want to re-create a rather painful and awkward experience? Several of the women interviewed in the article said they wanted to give a second honeymoon to their husbands. "It's for the man who has everything," says one wife. Ugh! Gak! Talk about making an object of yourself...
But let's talk ethics here. Most of the women profiled in the article were well-to-do wives looking for a little spice in their sex lives. But some proponents think that this could be a life-saver for women in cultures where virginity is highly prized, such as hard-core Islamic communities. I don't know much about Islamic mores and restrictions, but as a conservative Catholic I can say that it's not the physical expression of virginity that is cherished so much as the purity and faithfulness and commitment that lead a woman to save her virginity for marriage. Hymenoplasty makes a mockery of a serious Christian approach to sexuality because it implies that the only thing that is important is the physical preservation of a bit of membrane. (And if it's being done for the benefit of the man, the elevation of the man's pleasure above all other considerations, including the woman's comfort and dignity, is of serious ethical concern.)
I would venture to state that this kind of procedure also denigrates women who have been victims of sexual assault. A hymenoplasty can't restore the shattered dignity of a rape survivor, nor can it erase the experience. It's disgusting and manipulative to suggest that one gains any benefit from having a hymen reattached for any reason, and any serious feminist ought to be up in arms against such a procedure.
Giving her reason for having the surgery, a woman says that she wanted her husband to have the experience of having sex with a virgin and adds that if the woman wasn't a virgin at the time of marriage her husband can always put her down for that. Guess what, girls? There's a cheaper, less-painful, and far more fulfilling way to give your husband that chance, if it's important to you. It's called self-control and waiting until marriage. More people, female AND male, should try it. But if it's already too late, there are better ways of seeking healing than by prostituting oneself with the aid of the latest surgical advances.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
I cite again the immortal comment of Gerard Manley Hopkins,"One is always finding bad taste in the accessories of Catholicism."Boy, ain't that the truth! Darwin and I spent our honeymoon at a B&B run by a Jewish couple who'd nevertheless gotten into buying old Catholic memorabilia on eBay. They had some really odd stuff -- merry-go-round mysteries of the rosary, images of Jesus with eyes that moved, saccharine holy cards, strange devotional objects, many pictures of a limp, effeminate Jesus with a beatific smile nailed to the cross. Many may long for the lost beauties of pre-Vatican II Catholicism, but it's also good to remember that the intention of paring down is to clear away the dead wood. I'd love to see a return to more beautiful architecture in our churches. But I'd gladly do without more pictures of the Sacred Heart of the type that Darwin's grandmother used to have hanging in her living room. Gives me the willies just thinking about it.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
I'm sure I've told this story many a time, but I never tire of telling it! My sisters adored the young "soprano" Donny Osmond (who had a range of octaves rivaling that of the young Michael Jackson). And, suffice it to say, I was not a convert. One glorious night, I was passing through the family room while dear Donny was crooning. Praise our wonder-working God! Donny's voice suddenly cracked as he unsuccessfully attempted to hit a very high note! The poor lad must have had a sudden burst of testosterone flowing through his adolescent bloodstream. I was unexpectedly showered with a great windfall of years of ammunition with which to blast my teeny-bopper sisters... It was a delicious reversal of fortunes on the order of magnitude of Wile E. Coyote sitting down to a sumptuous supper of baked road-runner. Completely unexpected and completely satisfying. Just wait until you get a few sons...I believe that now Donny Osmond hosts a morning show in the Los Angeles radio market. Or is that Danny Bonaduce? Osmond, Partridge -- all the same to me.
The house behind ours is a rental property, and it's had several tenants in the two years we've lived here. The current batch have a dog. Generally, this wouldn't bother me -- I don't like dogs much, but if they don't bother me, it's all good. And this dog is just a normal dog who does normal dog things. He doesn't seem unfriendly or excessively loud. It's just that I don't want him in my yard.
The problem is mainly the fault of the tenants and the landlord -- the landlord for letting his side of the fence fall into such bad repair, the tenants for not controlling their dog. One board on the fence has been rotted out about halfway down for a few months, and the dog likes to poke his nose through and look around. No problem there; he's just curious, and the girls like to see him. However, a week ago I watched in amazement as the dog pulled off the board next to that one, piece by piece, and dashed into my yard. Since then he's left messes in my yard (that's why I don't like dogs and don't have one!), terrorized my indoor cat in the middle of the night by coming up to the window and barking at him, and has scared my daughters, not to mention just plain infuriating me.
A day ago someone on the other side tried to fix things by screwing up a piece of broken board diagonally over the bottom of the gap. No dice; the dog pulled it off and almost gave me a heart attack in the middle of the night by fighting with my cat through the window. The board has been put back up, but it's an ugly and ineffective place holder. I want the fence fixed. I spent this morning shoveling up dog stuff and tossing it through the fence back into their yard, and I find that disgusting. I'm six months pregnant and not as agile with a shovel as I once was.
Go talk to the neighbors! someone will advise. They're only home at odd hours, and being as Darwin in is California visiting his family, I don't feel like trekking over to speak to inconsiderate strangers with two tiny girls in tow. I've written to the homeowner's association (they ought to be good for something -- I pay them once a year and never see any benefit from it) and am waiting a response. In the meantime, if I see the dog in the yard again, I'm considering either calling animal control or loading the clip into Darwin's gun and finding out how my aim is...
The result is a surprisingly involving and rather beautiful movie -- one that will appeal strongly to the primary action audience, and also cross over to people who have no plans to see "King Kong" but will change their minds the more they hear. I think the film even has a message, and it isn't that beauty killed the beast. It's that we feel threatened by beauty, especially when it overwhelms us, and we pay a terrible price when we try to deny its essential nature and turn it into a product, or a target. This is one of the year's best films.The previews looked a little freaky to me -- I'm squeamish about the big spiders and scorpions and whatnot. But it sounds so good I could be persuaded to change my mind. And I have a sneaking fondness for Jack Black, who just looks like a big teddy bear.
Monday, December 12, 2005
And now, a fitting tribute for a worthy recipient. This is a press release from Santa Monica College.
ASTEROID NAMED AFTER RETIRING SMC PLANETARIUM DIRECTOR JON HODGE
Santa Monica College Planetarium Director Jon Hodge – whose fascinating and lay-friendly shows have attracted tens of thousands of adults and children over the past 26 years – has had an asteroid named after him.
It is a fitting tribute to a man who will soon officially retire from SMC and whose passion for the stars is exceeded perhaps only by his ever-affable nature and his ability to turn complex subjects into understandable lectures for people of all ages.
“Jon is very charming, educated and well-read,” said Vicki Drake, chair of the SMC Earth Science Department, which includes astronomy. “I can’t think of a more worthy individual to receive this eternal honor.”
Asteroid 18117, now called “Jonhodge” (all asteroids have one-word names), was discovered July 5, 2000 by the Lowell Observatory in Arizona. It is located in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
Officially, Hodge is being recognized for his “enormous contribution to the dissemination of astronomical and scientific knowledge to the general public, college students and schoolchildren.” And he has been cited not only for his work at SMC, but also for his lectures at UCLA and Griffith Observatory.
"I was completely bowled over,” Hodge said, referring to the surprise sprung on him by his colleagues in the Earth Science Department when they recently presented him the certificate affirming the naming of the asteroid after him. “I was, for once, speechless.”
Indeed, it is difficult to imagine Hodge speechless because his whole life has been devoted to talking. Over the years, he has talked about every subject imaginable in the universe, many with catchy titles such as “Apocalypse Now: The Asteroid Risk,” “How Big is Space?” and “This Alien Earth.”
His public planetarium shows are held on Friday nights and feature the 7 p.m. “Night Sky” and 8 p.m. feature shows, which change monthly. But he has also put on shows and lectured to thousands of SMC students and schoolchildren, tailoring his material to his audience.
His shows have survived earthquakes and have soared to< new heights with the construction a few years ago of a new 50-seat facility, complete with the state-of-the-art Digistar projection system.
The planetarium had been closed for nearly five years in the early and mid-1990s – first because of a reconstruction project in what was then called the Technology Building (now Drescher Hall) and then, shortly before the planetarium was to reopen, because of the 1994 earthquake. But the earthquake presented the opportunity for some fundraising and – with a generous gift from the late John Drescher – it reopened in June 1997 with newseats, a new dome, the new projection system and other high-tech features.
And though the planetarium was closed for nearly five years, Hodge’s illustrated lectures continued in an SMC classroom – with no dip in attendance.
Ironically, Hodge’s college degree is not even in astronomy. He started out as an astronomy major at USC, but switched to the history of medieval science. “It turned out to be good background for the planetarium field,” he said.
After graduating, he started work at the Griffith Observatory in 1971, first as a guide and then as a lecturer. He took over as SMC’s planetarium director in 1979, but continued to lecture at Griffith until it closed three years ago for major renovations. And he has also maintained his connection at Griffith by sitting on its curatorial committee, which has dealt with the design of new exhibits that will be on public display when the observatory reopens in 2006. He has also worked with UCLA, organizing popular public seminars.
Hodge has established himself in Southern California’s active astronomical scene, bringing in guest lecturers to SMC from such organizations as Griffith, Cal Tech, UCLA and the Jet Propulsion Lab. He is also a member of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and the International Planetarium Society. “He knows everybody and everybody knows him,” said John Mosley, program supervisor at Griffith, who has worked with Hodge for 28 years.
Aside from the opening of the new John Drescher Planetarium at SMC, other highlights Hodge recalls were Halley’s Comet close approach to Earth in 1985 and 1986, the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter in the early 1990s, and the Earth’s close approach to Mars in August 2003. "Halley’s Comet “brought out a huge number of people,” Hodge said. “There were nights we’d have 300 people standing in line for SMC’s rooftop telescope.”
Hodge has not only been busy stargazing, he has raised a family with wife Mary. He has three grown children, two grandchildren and a third grandchild on the way. Neither his two sons nor his daughter have followed in dad’s footsteps, but his sons do have an interest in astronomy.
The first is about a Swedish study that suggests that having an abortion could cause up to five years of mental anguish and distress. Naturally, pro-choice advocates are quick to discredit this idea.
Well, no duh you don't see a lot of women back for counseling! If you were feeling traumatized by an abortion, would you go back to the provider for comfort?
However, a spokeswoman for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service - the UK's leading provider of abortion services - said most women weighed up the consequences fully before opting for an abortion.
"We don't see that many women for post-abortion counselling.
"We offer that service but women very rarely come back because they are able to cope with it by themselves."
A spokeswoman for the Family Planning Association, said: "There is no evidence to suggest that abortion directly causes psychological trauma.
"Women can experience mixed feelings after an abortion such as relief or sadness."These are natural reactions and few women experience long-term problems."
The second article, on the Arkansas abortionist who acknowledges that he's destroying life but feels that the benefits to the mother outweigh negative consequences like the murder of a child, has been floating around St. Blog's for a bit, but I only just read it. Here's the section that moved me to tears:
An 18-year-old with braces on her teeth is on the operating table, her head on a plaid pillow, her feet up in stirrups, her arms strapped down at her sides. A pink blanket is draped over her stomach. She's 13 weeks pregnant, at the very end of the first trimester. She hasn't told her parents.I can't add anything else to that.
A nurse has already given her a local anesthetic, Valium and a drug to dilate her cervix; Harrison prepares to inject Versed, a sedative, in her intravenous line. The drug will wipe out her memory of everything that happens during the 20 minutes she's in the operating room. It's so effective that patients who return for a follow-up exam often don't recognize Harrison.
The doctor is wearing a black turtleneck, brown slacks and tennis shoes. He snaps his gum as he checks the monitors displaying the patient's pulse rate and oxygen count.
"This is not going to be nearly as hard as you anticipate," he tells her.
She smiles wanly. Keeping up a constant patter — he asks about her brothers, her future birth control plans, whether she's good at tongue twisters — Harrison pulls on sterile gloves.
"How're you doing up there?" he asks.
Harrison glances at an ultrasound screen frozen with an image of the fetus taken moments before. Against the fuzzy black-and-white screen, he sees the curve of a head, the bend of an elbow, the ball of a fist.
"You may feel some cramping while we suction everything out," Harrison tells the patient.
A moment later, he says: "You're going to hear a sucking sound."
The abortion takes two minutes. The patient lies still and quiet, her eyes closed, a few tears rolling down her cheeks. The friend who has accompanied her stands at her side, mutely stroking her arm.
When he's done, Harrison performs another ultrasound. The screen this time is blank but for the contours of the uterus. "We've gotten everything out of there," he says.
As the nurse drops the instruments in the sink with a clatter, the teenager looks around, woozy.
"It was a lot easier than I thought it would be," she says. "I thought it would be horrible, but it wasn't. The procedure, that is."
She is not yet sure, she says, how she is doing emotionally. She feels guilty, sad and relieved, all in a jumble.
"There's things wrong with abortion," she says. "But I want to have a good life. And provide a good life for my child." To keep this baby now, she says, when she's single, broke and about to start college, "would be unfair."
Anyhoo, gotta close, my Zarky-sense is tingling and that usually means jarheads in the neighborhood. Before I split, isn't it close to that big infidel holiday where you give each other free shit? Especially if they're needy? Just so you know, we're running low on a lot of stuff: underwear, ammo, electrical wiring, sterile gauze, stuff like that. You kuffars are always bragging about your holiday cheer, but the only package we've gotten this year is that a cheesy "Hang In There Baby" poster from Howard Dean.Very profane, very funny.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Then (upon giving the matter some real thought) I realized that I wasn't home free yet. Purgatory is called the "refiner's fire". Getting to heaven is not just a matter of being free from sin, but of striving for perfection. Christ himself said, "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." (I'm quoting on the fly, so I can't give you chapter and verse on that.) Even after going to confession and receiving a plenary indulgence, I have multiple imperfections of temperament, character, and personality that hold me back from fully experiencing God's grace. Being free from sin is crucial, but it's only the first step toward being happy with Him in heaven.
I read somewhere recently (I think it might have been Love and Responsibility) that the defining characteristic of a human being is spiritual perfectibility. I like that. Every human, whether newly conceived or dying in a nursing home or severely retarded has the capacity to strive toward spiritual perfection. It covers a wide range as well -- even the holiest of people such as Pope John Paul II or Mother Teresa or Padre Pio have not even scratched the surface of spiritual perfection. Something that always strikes me about St. Teresa's Interior Castle is that what I would consider a very high level of holiness -- a sincere focus on God and desire to do his will; a proper humility; plenty of good works; a solid prayer life; steady spiritual progress -- is only the fourth of the seven mansions. After that comes the interior prayer life: a reorienting of one's whole being toward the Divine. But that's still not spiritual perfection, because God is so overwhelming and has such unfathomable depths that there's no way that we can ever comprehend or fully appreciate His perfections.
So, what it all comes down to is that I hope I'm not in a car crash tomorrow.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
A good read. I'm hoping to have the time to finish it over the next couple days.
Friday, December 09, 2005
"My job, I suppose, was as resident Narnia guru, to make sure everything Narnian was Narnian in the film, to make sure there weren't anachronisms and incongruities... But... the team that we have had on this film has been so good that there's been very little that I've had to complain about."Ebert basically liked it, as did the reviewer in the Wall Street Journal. Darwin and I are looking foward to seeing The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, though it probably won't be this weekend. In the meantime, I look forward to reading your reviews.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
What she really means, of course, is that she likes Sheer and doesn't like Goldberg. She says, "It seems that your new leadership, especially Publisher Jeff Johnson, is entirely out of touch with your readers and their desire to be exposed to views that stretch them beyond their own paradigms. So although the number of contributors to your Op-Ed pages may have increased, in firing Scheer and hiring columnists such as Jonah Goldberg, the gamut of voices has undeniably been diluted."
Yet if what she wants is for readers to be stretched "beyond their own paradigms" and if the LA Times readership is as liberal as she describes, wouldn't someone they disagree with stretch them more than a columnist like Sheer who practically personifies the hard left wing of journalism?
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Scott, of course, actually knows what he is doing on philosophical ground, whereas I just flounder about at times as in interested amateur.
The interesting question, for me, what what you can say about human nature and human teleology from a strictly naturalistic framework vs. what requires you to assume the existence of some supra-natural element in humanity, whether you call it the "mind", "soul" or "image of God".
It seems to me that there are teleological elements to the human person that can be discerned within a naturalistic/evolutionary framework. For instance, biologically speaking humans possess sex organs and the capacity for intercourse for the purpose of mating with the opposite sex and producing offspring. Biologically speaking, that is the only reason we have sex organs. Thus, biologically speaking, both homosexual intercourse and contraception are contrary to the biological purpose of those aspects of our bodies.
Similarly, it seems in every discussion of homosexuality someone on the pro side says, "The existence of hermaphrodites and trans-sexuals proves that gender categories are flexible if not meaningless. Thus, the important thing is orientation, not plumbing."
One might, I suppose, argue this from a psychological or theological point of view, but it's clear that one cannot make that case from a biological point of view. From an evolutionary point of view, an organism with non-functional sex characteristics (whether through an inability to mate and produce offspring or a refusal to do so) is not a correctly functioning organism.
However, what one cannot get from this naturalistic teleology is a moral imperative. While we can say with surety that homosexual marriage is contrary to our biological purpose, we cannot say at a purely naturalistic level that it is wrong to engage in homosexual relationships to the exclusion of heterosexual reproduction. Biology is incapable of assigning moral values, it simply states that an behavior, characteristic or individual organism "successful" or a "failure", or some gradation of more or less successful.
It does kind of seem to me like a lot of the things we traditionally say about "human nature" assume some sort of mind or soul which goes beyond a purely naturalistic concept of the human person. Indeed, that seems to me to be one of the strongest arguments that there is more to the human person than mere biology. We are, in part, mostly hairless primates with large brains and a strong mating instinct. But it seems to me that to assert that we are no more than that runs so clearly contrary to one's experience of being human as to be almost laughable -- though still just plausible enough to be terrifying.
Of course, while Catholics are obliged to attend Mass on Christmas, closing on December 25 isn’t exactly a historical novelty. This Sunday, commenting in the New York Times on the so-called “Christmas wars,” Adam Cohen pointed out, “As late as 1855, New York newspapers reported that Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist churches were closed on Dec. 25 because ‘they do not accept the day as a Holy One.’" But this closing does pose a question for us, I think. Why is Christmas so theologically important that we should gather as a Christian community, despite the probable inconvenience? I will assume that we all believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God made flesh, but why should we leave family and friends and drive through the wind and snow to contemplate his birth?I personally have always enjoyed attending midnight mass (when it's actually held at midnight), but I've also gone to Mass on Christmas morning and found it a marvelous way to keep the day holy. Christmas is not actually a celebration of the family! It's the memorial of Christ's birth -- the same Christ who spoke of forsaking family for His sake.
I’ll try to offer an answer, based on a recent essay by Fr Brian Daley, SJ. Fr Daley writes, “It is in the incarnation of the Word, seen as an event which includes the whole life of Jesus, rather than simply in his crucifixion or his resurrection, that the ‘event’ of redemption is to be found; the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ are of course seen as inseparable stages in his incarnate history, revealing in fullness what the incarnation means, but they are not considered saving events in isolation from his whole life as Word made flesh.” That is, we are to be really included in the whole story of Jesus. If Jesus saved us only through a particular action, he would be nothing more than a mere agent and salvation would be a “work,” inevitably abstract and impersonal. But if salvation is instead a process of transformation, Christ would have to be both human and divine, so that, through the Spirit, he might bring our humanity to real participation in God’s life as “sharers in the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4). Because salvation is indeed transformation – “incorruptibility, glory, honor, and power, which are agreed to be characteristic of the divine nature” are to be ours, says St Gregory of Nyssa – we do have to meditate on who Christ is, not simply what he does.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
URBIS ET ORBIS
A Plenary Indulgence is granted to the faithful
this year on 8 December,
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
the 40th anniversary of the closure of the Second Vatican Council,
by the Supreme Pontiff, Servant of God Paul VI.
God's marvellous and beneficial works for his People must always be remembered with thanksgiving, especially on those feast days that are anniversaries of events most important to the life of the Church.
The eighth of December, Holyday of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is now at hand. On that day it will be 40 years since the Servant of God Paul VI, the Supreme Pontiff who had already proclaimed the Virgin Mary as Mother of the Church, in closing the Second Vatican Council, highly praised Our Lady, who as Mother of Christ is Mother of God and the spiritual Mother of us all.
On this Solemnity, when the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI will be paying a public tribute of praise to the Immaculate Virgin, he deeply desires that the heart of the whole Church be united with him so that all the faithful, gathered in the name of our common Mother, may be further strengthened in the Faith, bound with greater devotion to Christ, and love their brothers and sisters with more fervent charity: as the Second Vatican Council taught with great wisdom, this results in works of mercy for the indigent, the observance of justice, and the defence and search for peace.
Therefore, the Holy Father, who has very much at heart that the love and trust of the faithful towards the Virgin Mother of God be increased and that their lives, with the help and example of her holiness, be faithfully conformed to the wise teachings of the Second Vatican Council, in hierarchical communion with himself and with his Bishops, has benevolently granted the gift of the Plenary Indulgence.
On the upcoming Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the faithful may obtain this Indulgence on the usual conditions (sacramental Confession, Eucharistic Communion and prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff), in a spirit that is completely detached from affection for any sin, if they participate in a sacred rite in its honour or at least offer an open witness of Marian devotion before an image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, displayed for public veneration, adding the recitation of the Our Father and the Creed and exclamatory invocations to Mary Immaculate, such as "You are All Fair, Mary, and in you there is no stain of original sin!", or "O Queen, conceived without original sin, pray for us!".
Lastly, all the faithful who are prevented from participation by ill health or by another just cause, may obtain on that same day the same gift of the Plenary Indulgence at home or wherever they may be, as long as, with their minds detached from any sin and with the resolution to fulfil the above-mentioned conditions as soon as possible, they are united with spiritual resolve and desire with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff in prayer to Mary Immaculate and recite the Our Father and the Creed.
The present Decree comes into effect only for this occasion. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary.
Given in Rome, at the Offices of the Apostolic Penitentiary, 18 November 2005, on the Dedication of the Basilicas of the Apostles Sts Peter and Paul
Cardinal James Francis Stafford
Gianfranco Girotti, O.F.M. Conv.
I'd been thinking maybe a couple Narnia books (after all, the movie is coming out) and maybe some mystery or adventure stuff. (YA paperbacks are pretty cheap, so the approx $20 should leave plenty of room.) But now I'm wondering if my estimate of 9-year-old reading level is somewhat inflated. After some initial resistance I became a pretty over-achieving sort of reader in my youth, so although I'm virtually certain I'd read all the Narnia books by age nine, I'm not sure if that's well outside the curve.
Any suggestions for good reading for a nine-year-old boy?
The most celebrated nonfiction book of the year is Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by U. of Chicago superstar economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner. The most admired aspect of the book has been Levitt's theory that legalizing abortion cut the crime rate, which became Instant Conventional Wisdom. Now, it turns out, according to two economists at the Boston Fed who have checked Levitt's calculations in detail, that the abortion-cut-crime theory rested upon two mistakes Levitt made. So far, Levitt admits to making one error, saying it "is personally quite embarrassing."Although the gilt has clearly not all rubbed off Levitt and his best seller (which I must confess a certain curiosity to read, though it sounds like it's main problem is that rather than being a serious book it falls more in the catagory that could be subtitled "Some cool and outrageous statements somewhat supported by economic analysis which you can use at your next cocktail party) some major publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Economist, have been running stories about a paper just out from Christopher Foote and Christopher Goetz, two economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
Ever since my 1999 debate with Levitt in Slate.com, Levitt's fans have been telling me that my simpleminded little graphs and ratios of national-level crime trends showing, for example, that the teen homicide rate tripled in the first cohort born after Roe v. Wade couldn't possibly be right because Levitt's econometric state-level analysis was so much more gloriously, glamorously, incomprehensibly complicated than mine, and Occam's Butterknife says that the guy with the most convoluted argument wins.
This fiasco reveals much about what's wrong with public policy discourse in modern America. Fifteen minutes of Googling would have shown book reviewers of Freakonomics that the abortion-cut-crime theory hadn't come close to meeting the burden of proof, but, instead, much of America's intellectual elite fell head over heels for this theory. Being largely innumerate and unenterprising, the punditariat is unable or unwilling to apply simple reality checks to complex models. It's easier to simply engage in intellectual hero-worship and take a guru figure like Levitt on faith. A few book reviewers, like James Q. Wilson (America's leading expert on crime for several decades), expressed deep skepticism, but most were negligent.
There are a whole host of interesting problems and counter trends to Levitt's theory, many of which Sailer covers in the linked page and elsewhere on his site. Ironically, if anything, it may well be that Levitt has it exactly wrong and abortion increased crime rather than cutting it. Econimics being the sort of science that it is, there are strong cases to be made in various and opposing directions.
Plus, as Bill Bennett got in so much trouble for pointing out, even if Levitt's analysis is correct, that doesn't make abortion right or desireable.
Monday, December 05, 2005
Nibblonian: You are the last hope of the universe.I was thinking of this the other day because I realized that it's time to clear our some of our old CDs from our music collection. I listened to a lot of Dave Matthews in college -- in fact, every time I hear "Crash" I'm instantly transported to the semester I stayed up late every night trying to pull together my design work for Taming of the Shrew... yikes. But a few months ago Darwin and I had a long drive and so popped in a Dave Matthews CD. It just didn't hold up -- how many booze-fueled rambling jam sessions with adolescent moonings about sex and drugs are really that interesting, in the final analysis? I can't remember why I found it so fascinating -- perhaps it was Boyd Tinsley's rock violin riffs. Sic transit gloria.
Fry: So I really am important? How I feel when I'm drunk is correct?
Nibblonian: Yes - except the Dave Matthews Band doesn't rock.
It's also time to find a safer place for the music we want to keep. The girls are veritable raiders in their search for new items to destroy, and several of our old favorites have become scratched beyond playability. My worst shock, however, came just the other day as I was doing a job upstairs. Hearing an indecipherable high-pitched conversation coming from the stereo, I wondered what DVD the girls had just put on, or if they'd managed to work the cable box and turn on the TV. As I was turning to head downstairs and check it out, the speakers started blaring the soundtrack from Pulp Fiction!
I flew downstairs, shrieking myself, and snatched it out of the CD player, wondering a) how on earth the girls happened to root out that one CD from the furthest, highest pile, and b) if they would remember any of the words they heard from the little string of profanities that starts off the thing. So far neither girl has announced a robbery and told all the m*** f***s to put their hands up... (Mommy shudders).
Yep, time to prune the collection and focus on quality.
UPDATE: given that as I typed up this entry the VERY SAME THING happened again, you can be sure about the first CD to go.
If you read this, if your eyes are passing over this right now, even if we don't speak often, please post a comment with a COMPLETELY MADE UP AND FICTIONAL MEMORY OF YOU AND ME.
It can be anything you want--good or bad--BUT IT HAS TO BE FAKE.
When you're finished, post this paragraph on your blog and be surprised (or mortified) about what people DON'T ACTUALLY remember about you.
The stuff people "remember" about Julie is so outrageous that I'm curious to see what fond memories of Darwin or myself you all can dredge up from the depths of your lying little hearts.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
From the very beginning, Miss Jessen survived in spite of herself. Her mother, Tina, a 17-year-old single woman, decided to have an abortion by saline injection when she was seven-and-a-half months pregnant (there is no legal time limit for abortion in America).
But in the early morning of April 6, 1977, the abortion failed. Against the odds, the baby had lived. A nurse called the emergency services and the child was taken to hospital. She weighed only 2lb and the abortionist had to sign her birth certificate.
Then, at 17 months, Miss Jessen was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, caused by her brain being starved of oxygen during the termination. "The doctors said I was in a horrible state," she says. "They said I would never be able to lift up my head, but eventually I did.
"Then they said I would never be able to sit up straight, but I sat up straight. Then they said I would never be able to walk, but by the age of three I was walking with a frame and leg braces." She pauses before adding: "I have a little bit of feistiness in me."...
Does she ever blame her mother for leaving her with this condition? "I've never been angry with her because she's a stranger," Miss Jessen says. "She hasn't said she's sorry and I know that she had another abortion after me. But I don't feel sad or bitter because we can choose to overcome and be sweet or we can overcome and be angry. I want to be the former."
Her biological mother has remarried and now lives in Southern California, and although she has seen her daughter on television, Miss Jessen has never contacted her.
Perhaps, after enduring the trauma of four operations in her first 10 years - three to resolve problems with her Achilles tendon, the fourth to splice the spastic nerves in her spine together - the pain of sitting down face to face with the mother who tried to kill her would be too great.
"I feel that I have my mother already - my adoptive mother, Diana [who adopted her when she was four]," she says, with quiet firmness. "At this point, I don't want to be in touch with my biological mother. But it's not that I'm angry with her. I forgive her totally."
It becomes clear that forgiveness has not come easily. Miss Jessen's earliest memory is of having tantrums on the floor of her foster mother's house.
She also remembers a tremendous fear of fire. "I think that was the result of what had happened," she says. "A saline injection abortion effectively burns you in your mother's womb."
She was bullied at school and recalls crying at the taunts of other children. When she was 16, a stranger came up to her and told her that children with disabilities were a burden on society. "I just looked at her, smiled and knew she was wrong," Miss Jessen says.
It is not surprising, then, that however much Miss Jessen claims to have no bitterness, there is still a slight sadness in the downturned corners of her blue-green eyes.
"My mother made a decision that she thought affected only her, and yet every day I bear the result of that decision through my cerebral palsy," she says. "I'm not saying that in condemnation, but in truth.
"It's more comfortable for people to think of abortion as a political decision, or a right. But I am not a right. I am a human being. I am the reality. Gently I put the question, if abortion is about women's rights, then where were mine? There was no radical feminist screaming for my rights on that day.
"That is why I want to live my life with integrity, having lived what I profess. My job is not to change your mind [if you are pro-abortion]. My job is to present the truth and leave you to decide."...
More than 180,000 women in England and Wales had terminations last year and British law allows for a termination up to 24 weeks. After that, an abortion can only be justified on the grounds of a "serious handicap".... Last week, a study found that 50 babies a year live through termination in Britain.
For Miss Jessen, however, any time limit is irrelevant. "I don't believe in abortion, simply put," she says. "I do believe in adoption. The arguments for abortion are falling one by one.<>Now, in one wing of the hospital, doctors are killing children in the womb while in another wing, they are desperately trying to save a baby of exactly the same size in a different womb. It makes no sense. Is my value based on what I can and can't do? If so, we're living in a very scary time."...
Some twelve years ago, I remember seeing on the news a story about Gianna (unless it was someone else who suffered cerebral palsy from the same kind of botched abortion -- I don't recall the name, and since we have far more late term abortions here than in the UK, I'm sure there must be much more than 50 survivors a year) testifying at senate hearings about an abortion bill. Our brave and open-minded Senator Feinstein made a big deal of walking out and refusing to hear her testimony -- saying she was shocked that pro-lifers would try to grand stand in such a way to deprive women of their rights.
There are those who have the charity or optimism about human nature to hope that hell is empty. I confess that I do not.
Dante is best understood as placing historical personalities in hell, not from a conviction that he knew their eternal fates, but because they exemplified certain sins in the popular knowledge of the day. Thus, a modern version of Dante might find Nixon and Clinton together in the trench of Falsifiers in nether hell -- not because the author knew they were there, but because they exemplified lying in public life to most readers. Similarly, in my own mind, Feinstein's refusal to face the victims of her policies seems a worthy qualifier for the lead-lined golden cloaks of the circle of the hypocrites.
In like fashion, I feel certain there is now a swamp of saline in the River Styx, where the murderers of today's Holy Innocents are pushed down into the bubbling mire by demons wearing NARAL and Planned Parenthood buttons.
Hell is indeed a very real place. We create if piece by piece with each sin we commit. There is no torture in the pit of Dis that we are not the inventors of. Dante's brilliance is that the punishments of hell are not externally imposed punishments, but the physicalization of the sins themselves. Hell is nothing more or less than the full realization and experience of the sins that put one there.