I have had so many topics about which I've thought, "I really should write about this," but I seem to be in writing withdrawal since finishing the novel. I don't want to spend my free time composing any more, at least for a bit. And yet all these half-formed posts keep rattling around in my head, so I'm going to exorcise them by dropping some of them here.
1. The first reading from several weeks ago: 1 Cor. 4 1-5
Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or any human tribunal; I do not even pass judgment on myself; I am not conscious of any thing against me, but I do not thereby stand acquitted; the one who judges me is the Lord. Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God.
What struck me was that we are not to pass judgment on ourselves. We don't get to say, "I'm a bad parent" or "I can't be chaste" or "I'll never learn to be patient". These things depend on God's grace, which he gives freely for the asking. We can't judge ourselves because we don't even know or understand the motives of our own hearts. Before I condemn myself for my messy kitchen or my spoiled schedule or my loss of temper, I need to have the full picture. Did I receive bad news that threw me off? Was the baby particularly clingy, or a child full of demands? Are my hormones out of whack? I don't even fully comprehend all my external motives, let alone the motives of my heart, so instead of condemning myself, I'm only required to go, and sin no more. And especially interesting is the last verse: the final judgment is usually associated with condemnation, but Paul expects that at the final judgment, we will receive praise from God. He sees! He cares! No good deed is hidden from his sight!
2. The New Face of Charity
My social media feeds have been inundated lately with GoFundMe or PayItFoward requests on the behalf of worthy causes: a woman who's been abandoned by her husband. A family whose father needs surgery. A family with extraordinary expenses from burying their toddler. A child with cancer whose family has needed to uproot to be near her treatment center. A father out of work for months, a mother about to give birth, in desperate need of groceries. All good things to fund, but the rate of request is overwhelming, one appeal after another, each as compelling as the next, each begging for a share of the giver's prayers and pocketbook.
I've heard some people say that we need government to back out of the assistance business, that private charities ought to take care of meeting people's needs. Well, folks, here it is: the new face of private charity. Many of these cases don't fit the criteria for government assistance. Some do, but still need even more help. And now it's as easy as clicking "share" on Facebook to pass a funding request to a vast network of friends and strangers.
Given the multitude of demands, is it better to give a small amount to many causes, or one large amount to one or two cases? Better to stay local, or reach out across the country? And what about other requests, from people asking for subscriptions to fund new works of art or to finance a study-abroad program? They start to sound frivolous in the light of so much suffering, yet when a friend of mine opened a play off-Broadway, or my sister needed more money than her scholarship gave her to go to an opera workshop in Bulgaria, I was happy both to contribute and to share those causes, even in the face of so much other need. I do think that the new ease of creating and sharing fundraisers for those in hardship will cause people to cast a more critical eye on fundraisers that start to smack of vanity or money-grubbing. such as asking people to pay for your honeymoon or your clown school training or your therapeutic trip to Italy.
3. Jane Eyre
Where, o where, did Charlotte Bronte learn to write so well? No MFA classes, no internet feedback, no workshops, just perfect layering of images and exquisite attention to mood and pace and detail. The chapter in which Jane tells Mr. R that she is not an automaton is a master class in itself.
I find that reading aloud forces me to pay attention to many nuances that I often miss in my breakneck reading speed. And having to read it expressively enough to interpret sometimes difficult prose for the kids opens up the possibility of many different line readings. A good reader can make a hard book far more intelligible. On our recent road trip we listened to two different readers of Jane Eyre, and we can wholeheartedly recommend Lucy Scott's excellent performance -- her Rochester characterization is absolutely brilliant, and very revealing. She reads like an actress, not a narrator, and she makes her voices live.
4. Bearing's Apologia for Blogging
I bring this up because... lately whenever I read some well-meaning mother blogger bemoaning how blogging is actually a Bad Habit that is taking her away too much from What Is Really Important, and she's really going to shut down the computer and go play with her kids, well, I've lost patience with it. Not going to nod and say "I know what you mean" or "Good for you" any more.
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I mean, you do what you have to do, or what the Good Lord is leading you to do, by all means. And sure, it's possible to make an idol of anything -- all can be done to unhealthy excess, including cooking fresh meals for your family, reading great literature, getting vigorous exercise, washing your hands after going to the toilet, and giving to worthy causes. So yeah, can one blog too much? Assuredly.
But. Blogging as general bad habit that represents, by default, a retreat from the three-dimensional world, a failure to connect with real human beings, and an unhealthy choice to chronicle life rather than experience it? Especially for mothers of families?
No. Not playing along with that implication anymore, ever.
(I promise to keep my mouth shut about it during the three days before Lent starts when everyone logs on one last time to explain why they are giving up blogging for Lent. It's a perfectly fine thing to give up for Lent, because Lent is a time for giving up legitimate pleasures and taking on voluntary sacrifices. But other than that? Done.)
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Personal blogs are nothing more, and nothing less, than a modern combination of three very old concepts.
(3) Philosophical treatises.
The third category probably needs little comment from me, so let's turn to the first two.
Diaries and letters are of incalculable historical importance. And they are especially important in the historical assessment of the lives of women throughout the ages. Often it is letters and diaries that provide us with the clearest glimpse into the day-to-day existence of real human beings in that faraway country, the past.
In the case of women, we're talking mostly about women of the intellectual elite, for most of history: wealthy women who enjoyed the privilege of education, or cloistered women. But not always, and less so as time went on and society cast a wider net from which to draw its literate citizens.Read it all.
I share her frustration with the strange phenomenon of people (women, in general) writing blog posts to explain why writing blog posts is bad, especially if those posts reek of clickbait. But I also share her support for the blogger who is genuinely uncertain about how writing can become part of, and strengthen, her vocation. And I find that the more a blog allows me to interact with its author as a person, the more interesting I find it and the more likely I am to keep coming back to it.