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

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Immediate Book Meme

photo by Evan Laurence Bench
There are plenty of memes that want to know all about your book history and your all-time greats and your grand ambitions, but let's focus on something more revealing: the books you're actually reading now, or just read, or are about to read. Let's call it The Immediate Book Meme.

1. What book are you reading now?

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, by Rebecca West.

The American South: A History, by William Cooper and Thomas Terrill
A two-volume textbook (here in one complete volume) that starts at Jamestown. It's a useful reference to me for my own textbook project.

Colonial Ambitions: Roman Catholics in North America: The Colonial Experience, by Kevin Starr
Examines the three Catholic forces -- Spain, France, and the English Recusants -- that settled North America. Lots of great detail and a good balance to the textbook above.

A bunch of children's State Fact Books from the library.

1a. Readaloud

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

2. What book did you just finish?

The American Catholic Almanac, by Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson

The Long Goodbye, by Raymond Chandler
Chandler is an American master. Do yourself a favor and re-read this. I won't insult you by insinuating that you haven't read it at all.

Lots of Agatha Christie.

A few Roman novels by Lindsay Davis.
I dunno. I tried a variety to see if perhaps the first one just rubbed me the wrong way, but these left a bad taste in my mouth. I understand that she's writing about a different culture with different mores, but the human behavior of the characters often felt off to me.

3. What do you plan to read next?

More Chandler.

The Broken Road, by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Darwin bought me this, the final book of Leigh Fermor's travel memoir trilogy about walking across Europe in the 30s, at Powell's in Portland.

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

The Power of Silence, by Robert Cardinal Sarah.

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

One Beautiful Dream, by Jennifer Fulwiler

6. What is your current reading trend?

American South. American South. American South. History, not Faulker and O'Connor and Percy and Chopin and Lee and Welty.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Little Context on the Prairie

The Association for Library Services to Children, horrified by what they consider the retrograde racial attitudes of Laura Ingalls Wilder, have changed the children's literature prize bearing her name to the Children's Literature Legacy Award.
The Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) decided on June 23 to strip Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from an award established in 1954 to honor “the lasting contribution which [her] books have made to literature for children.” The telegram Wilder received on her 87th birthday informing her of the award continued, “In future years the award will be made in your name and be called the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award.” Overturning 65 years of honoring the most significant legacies in children’s literature with an award named for Wilder, the current ALSC noted “anti-Native and anti-Black sentiments in her work” when it called for a review of the award in February 2018. The decision this week followed that review process. “This decision was made in consideration of the fact that Wilder’s legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness,” according to the statement on the organization’s website. 
The ALSC’s renaming of the Wilder medal to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award erases the fundamental role Wilder played in creating the genre of juvenile fiction. Wilder’s work and its lasting impact on every generation of children since the publication of Little House in the Big Woods (1932) served as the impetus for the establishment of the award. It would be more honest for the ALSC to just scrap the award altogether and start afresh. The stated “core values” are vague enough to allow the group to take this award in any direction the wind happens to be blowing. What is “responsiveness” in children’s literature, anyway? Responsiveness to what? And just who is included when “inclusivity” is touted as a core value? Whatever happened to children’s literature that told good stories that sparked children’s curiosity about history? Wilder’s books have certainly done this and more, inspiring a multitude of related works, both fiction and non-fiction. 
...Rather than being anti-Native and anti-Black, Wilder’s works lead readers of all ages to ponder important truths about American history. The award created in her honor encourages endeavors in children’s literature equally devoted to depicting essential aspects of American life. Stripping Wilder’s name from this award removes all meaningful context from the medal. Moreover, it sullies Wilder’s literary reputation and creates a slippery slope for excising all literature that doesn’t adhere to a strict definition of “inclusivity,” whether or not that inclusivity accurately reflects American history. As Caroline Fraser writes about Wilder’s Little House series, “The truth about settlement, about homesteading, about farming is in there, if we look for it — embedded in the novels’ conflicted, nostalgic portrayal of transient joys and satisfactions, their astonishing feats of survival and jarring acts of dispossession, their deep yearning for security. Anyone who would ask where we came from, and why, must reckon with them.”

The fact that the award now bears no author's name is perhaps indicative that the current field of children's literature has produced no author of the stature and popularity of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Enough atrocities were carried out on the American frontier that settlers and natives both had good cause to hate each other. Several years ago I wrote about some context for Ma's distrust of Indians in a post called A Fate Worse Than Death:
To undertake to narrate their barbarous treatment would only add to my  present distress, for it is with feelings of the deepest mortification  that I think of it, much less to speak or write of it. 
Rachel Parker Plummer, Rachael Plummer's Narrative of Twenty One Months Servitude as a Prisoner Among the Commanchee Indians
Previously we were inhabiting the sunnier world of children's literature, as evidenced by Darwin's post on re-reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, but now his leisure non-fiction reading has been increasingly grim, which is to say he's reading history. Atrocities in the Ukraine, mayhem in the trenches, malfeasance during the Spanish Civil War: these are the pleasantries that make for charming conversation here. Every time I see his current read, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, sitting on a table, I give it a wide berth because I don't want it to grab me and forcibly imprint the horrors of collectivization and famine and the killing fields of Europe on my brain. I am squeamish, and I make no apologies for it. History is a catalog of man's inhumanity to man, and were I not Catholic, I believe it would drive me to despair. 
It makes one long for the simpler days of the Laura Ingalls' prairie, except that the book Darwin is listening to give us new insight into the hatred of Ma for the Indians which, in these tolerant and less turbulent times, seems like a throwback to an earlier age of prejudice. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History is about the last chief of the Comanches and the drive in the 1870s to defeat that nation and make the frontier safe for white settlement. The havoc wreaked by the Comanches and the Texas Rangers in turn would have been current events to the Wilders, though they were dealing with less martial Osage tribe in Kansas. However, it's possible that what settled in Ma's psyche was not Quanah Parker's present warfare, but his family history. 
Quanah Parker was a half-breed, the son of a Comanche chief and a white woman, Cynthia Ann Parker. Cynthia Ann had been captured in 1836 at the age of nine, in the Fort Parker massacre, along with her brother; her 17 year-old cousin Rachel Parker Plummer and her one-year-old son James Pratt Plummer; and her aunt Elizabeth Duty Kellogg, in her thirties. Although the others were ransomed at various times, Cynthia Ann refused to leave the Comanches. Adopted into the tribe and now called Nautdah, she was by all accounts happily married to Peta Nocona, an influential chief and one of the leaders of the Fort Parker massacre, and bore him three children. In the attack in which Peta Nocona was killed, Nautdah and her daughter Topsannah were recaptured and returned to the Parker family. This was no idyllic reunion: the 34-year-old woman remembered little of her life before the Indians and longed to return to her tribe, but her escape attempts were all foiled. After the death of little Topsannah from pneumonia, Nautdah seemed to lose the will to live. Six years later, she starved herself to death. 
A melancholy narrative, but one which finds its counterpoint in a book written by Cynthia Ann's aunt, Rachel Plummer. Rachael Plummer's Narrative of Twenty One Months Servitude as a Prisoner Among the Commanchee Indians, one of the first published accounts of Indian captivity, was written in 1838, shortly after she was ransomed. At home and abroad, readers were agog at her detailed descriptions of Comanche life, psychology, and, of course, savagery. 
The aftermath of the Parker raid was horrific: the captives were dragged naked,  beaten savagely, and the two adult women were gang-raped in view of the  children. Elizabeth Kellogg was sold to another tribe and ransomed after three months, but Rachel Plummer endured 21 months among the Comanche. Her son was taken from her after her captors realized that he'd been weaned, and she never saw him again. Rachel was pregnant when captured, and when her baby was six weeks old, the braves decided that he was slowing her down too much. They threw him repeatedly in the air and let him dash on the ground, only letting his mother go to him when it seemed he was dead. When she was able to revive him a bit, they tied him to a horse and dragged him through the cactus until his tiny body was torn to pieces. After months of brutal slavery, Rachel snapped and nearly beat to death one of the women tormenting her. To her surprise, this act of vengence won her the respect of her captors, and her lot improved as she began to return blow for blow. 
Rachel Plummer was finally ransomed, but her return to her family was bittersweet. Her once beautiful red hair had turned gray; she was emaciated and scarred. Her wrists bore the marks of the leather thongs which had bound her in the first days of her captivity. She was tortured by thoughts of her sons, especially whether her baby might have been spared if she had lashed out earlier. She died a year later, exhausted from her sufferings and another childbirth, mourning to the end the loss of her little James Plummer, who would not be ransomed for two more years. She was 20 years old. 
Rachel Plummer's ordeal was not unique, and stories of Indian captivity must have been vivid in the minds of pioneers such as Charles and Caroline Ingalls as they must have wondered whether each day could lead to a fate worse than death for themselves and their children. 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Jesus Doesn't Need Your Lie

Today is the feast of St. John the Baptist, the "voice of one crying out in the wilderness", executed for crying out against the sexual immorality of Herod. The essential element of his sanctity, though, is not that he spoke truth to power, or made himself the face of a movement, or that he was radical and attracted crowds. What makes him a great saint is that he saw and recognized Jesus and testified to him in word and action: "He must increase; I must decrease." (John 3:30) Acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah means acknowledging his preeminence. Everything is that is not of him or from him -- everything that is "I", that is willful or selfish or domineering -- must give way to him.

For John, this doesn't mean joining forces with Jesus to create a mega-ministry, or divvying up the territory around the Jordan so that he gets one crowd and Jesus gets another. It doesn't mean becoming Jesus's right-hand man and running part of his show. It means that John knew his task and his mission, and always pointed those who came to him to Jesus. He must increase; I must decrease.

This week brings a terrible reckoning for the Catholic Church in America: the removal from public ministry of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, late of the archdiocese of Washington, D.C. The specific verified allegation against him is of molesting a teenager 47 years ago, but that was simply was he was finally nabbed on. Apparently, rumors and more than rumors have circulated for years about McCarrick's sexual predations against seminarians and priests in his charge. Theodore McCarrick was not just any Joe Schmoe perpetuating a cycle of abuse. He was (eventually) a cardinal of the Catholic Church, one well aware of the moral strictures of his religion, one who understood how to manipulate public opinion and how to lie to cover up his misdeeds. He knew he could get away with it, and he created an atmosphere that enabled his behavior. He may not have thought that the ordinary rules applied to him, but he certainly knew that he was doing something wrong.

Rod Dreher recounts how he tried to bring this story to light in 2002 at the same time as the news story of the Boston coverup broke, only to be blocked again and again by Catholics "protecting" the church's image.

Julia Duin of GetReligion writes about how reporters, including her, have tried to cover the story for years, only to have sources clam up and refuse to go on record. Newspapers have quashed articles ready for publication.

How is this kind of coverup managed? Some people cover for the misdeeds of others to protect their guilt; some out of a false sense of loyalty to the Church; some from mistaken idea that Jesus needs us to lie for him to keep the bad guys from winning. Some make everything about politics. Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia turns the horrible account of McCarrick's abuse of power into a non-story about political positioning and PR releases. In his reporting you'll find lots of background on McCarrick's rise through the hierarchy and his public profile, without a hint of what the allegations entail or the extent of "Uncle Ted's" predations.
Given the allegation's cited timeframe of 47 years, in 1971 then-Msgr McCarrick would have been freshly named as priest-secretary to New York's Cardinal Terence Cooke after a stint as rector of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico. 
By tradition the most powerful post in the Gotham Chancery after the archbishop himself, the future cardinal remained at the helm of Cooke's office even after his appointment as an auxiliary bishop in 1977 at the age of 46. 
Notably, while a push for the beatification of Cooke has been a passionate cause among many since the cardinal's death from leukemia in 1983, the momentum for the project has stalled in recent years amid reports that Cardinal Timothy Dolan was concerned over his late predecessor's perceived mishandling of abuse cases during his 15-year tenure, fearing that the Roman investigation into Cooke's life would resurface the issue. At the time, a source close to McCarrick relayed to Whispers that the DC cardinal was irate over the blocking of his mentor's cause. 
This is an example of some oddly selective reporting from a blog whose raison d'etre is to cover juicy Church gossip from "sources", and it's a prime example of how this kind of cover-up thrives.

Ross Douthat writes about how when those who are charged with revealing truth turn to "protecting" it instead, they cooperate in allowing corruption to fester.
For reporters who pursued the story, it was a case where “everyone knew” but nobody would go on the record — so stories were pursued and then evaporated. And the cardinal was protected, in part, because his targets were mostly younger men under his authority rather than teenagers (it was a teenage victim who finally made the story break), which didn’t fit the pedophile-priest narrative, and liberal journalists who didn’t want to appear somehow homophobic and conservatives who wanted to protect the church’s reputation had an excuse to keep his secrets safe. 
Once I learned all this, I was in the same position as the “everyone” who knew about Harvey Weinstein or any other powerful man with a history of pressuring subordinates into sex. And in that position you become accustomed to the idea that the story will never come out no matter what — so that, for instance, when the respected psychologist and sociologist of the priesthood Richard Sipe publicly quoted documents from a legal settlement with one of McCarrick’s targets (“He put his arms around me and wrapped his legs around mine … The Archbishop kept saying, ‘Pray for your poor uncle’ ”), it was like a tree falling in an empty forest, and no one heard the sound. 
Now the question is whether the at-long-last coverage of McCarrick’s sins will shake similar stories loose. With the exposure of systemic abuse in so many different institutions lately, it’s become possible for Catholics to regard this as a general purgation that our church just went through first. But the grim truth is that the Catholic purgation was incomplete, because it was not quite #MeToo enough. We learned awful things beyond counting, about child abuse by priests and cover-ups by bishops. But we only found out about a few Weinsteins of the church — high-ranking clerics who used the power of their offices to effectively force sex upon men to whom they were supposed to be spiritual fathers. And while I don’t know about others in quite the way I knew about Cardinal McCarrick, everyone with inside knowledge knows that there are many more like him.
The always-thoughful Jen Fitz has a compendium of posts she's written this past week reflecting on the scandal, full of links to sources covering the story directly.
What are our weapons [referencing Eph. 6:11-16]?  Truth, righteousness, the Gospel, faith, salvation, and the word of God. 
Covering up for sexual predators does not fit on that list. 
If the allegations against Cardinal McCarrick are true, the man should have been removed from pastoral ministry decades ago.  By all means, when you see a priest, or anyone, doing what they ought not be doing, if no laws are being broken, begin by confronting the sinner privately.  We all sin.  Would that we were all given the chance to quietly confront our own failings and rectify them. 
But when you have evidence of decades of predatory behavior, with untold hundreds of clerics at every level of the hierarchy complicit in silence and cover-up, and how many lives of young men ruined by the crimes inflicted upon them . . . there is no quietly cleaning this up.  “Discretion” does nothing to help the Church.  There is a time for genuine public penance, and now is that time.
He must increase; I must decrease. Our job is not to shield the Church, to sweep sin under the rug lest it make us all look bad. Jesus does not need my lie. If the truth exposes the Church to the deserved scorn and contempt of the world, so be it; Jesus himself was stripped naked as he hung on the cross. John the Baptist understood this. He knew that his humiliation and death were no defeat, because Jesus was increasing. His death, Stephen's death, Peter's and Paul's deaths, were no hindrance to Christ working through his Church. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). We cannot witness to Jesus unless we are allowing him to increase by dying to ourselves.

Covering up sin to shield the Church only damages the Church. When will this lesson finally be learned?

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations

I was sweeping the kitchen floor this evening, and I said to Darwin, "I hate to think what's under this stove."

My oldest popped in and said, "I hate to interrupt this conversation, but I heard someone say, 'I'm late for my interview with Snoke.'"

We call this the "Uncle Johnny", after my brother who would walk in on a conversation (who still does walk in on conversations) and say, "Who died?" or, "The airplane crashed?" -- some total non sequitur resulting from coming in on the tail end of discussion and mishearing it. This trait has passed slantwise to my eldest. That's not the only slant inheritance. My second daughter has the craftiness and sociability of her great-grandmother on Darwin's mother's side. My third daughter has the incredible organization skills of my first sister, and also her careful way of opening a present one tape flap at a time to save the gift wrap, so incredibly infuriating to watch.My first son has an engineering bent that comes from my paternal grandfather. My fourth daughter is very cuddly and clingy and sensitive, and I don't know where that comes from, but it's not from Darwin or me. My second son, #6, reminds me a great deal of my third brother, also #6. (Meanwhile, my oldest niece (and goddaughter) inherited my trait of reading early and often and anything, which none of my own children display.)

This remarkable variety among offspring is one of the greatest proofs that I am not omniscient. If Darwin and I only had one child, our oldest, we would have thought, "Ah, this is how Darwins do child: introverted, confident, calm, docile (though stubborn about unexpected things), mature, bookish." It might have been a surprise that she didn't care about reading Lord of the Rings or that she has a intense devotion to Pokemon, but one can't expect to clone oneself.

But her sister, a surprise from the beginning, is completely different. She's incredibly social and conscious of social hierarchies (something the oldest is completely oblivious to), extroverted, always talking, can create a sewing pattern from scratch, likes to take charge, can plot out and execute large projects, is entrepreneurial, fashionable, wears makeup well, and has my curves. If she were our only child, we would have thought, "Oh, this is how Darwins do child" -- but she's not, and her interaction with her older sister brings out new qualities in both of them. (For one thing, the oldest settled into her pixie haircut as a way to keep her sister from trying to style her hair.)

The third daughter is, again, full of new and unexpected traits. Do you know, I walked into her room the other day, and she was scrapbooking -- a daughter of mine! neatly pasting theater and movie tickets on a page! But my maternal grandmother was a scrapbooker... This daughter unloads the groceries and organizes them as she puts them away, not because I told her to, but because that's her inclination. Her room is tidy and charmingly organized. She's a rule enforcer and a scolder, and also off-the-wall zany and a great devotee of the joke-a-day calendar. She is a tireless worker, as is her sister right above her. Both of them have great energy for babysitting, unlike the oldest, who does it because she has to but she'd rather be reading.

And so on.

You have heard it said that the greatest gift you can give a child is a sibling. (Who said it? We don't know, but it wasn't actually Pope St. John Paul II.) Strangely enough, it's also the greatest gift you can give yourself as a parent -- the gift of being surprised and delighted, over and over again, at the fact that your plans, hopes, and characterizations of your children are constantly being surpassed and bettered by the actual living children before you. Not only is your child not you, your child isn't your creation. The amazing variety of personalities and talents and quirks in a family is evidence that God's creative love is not limited to our meager vision. And each child changes and enriches his or her siblings -- and parents -- in wonderfully unimaginable ways.

My seventh child, son #3, has maintained his baby curls even to the eve of his first birthday. All my other children have Darwin's straight hair. But if it took me seven children to finally reproduce my curls, it was worth it. Let's hope it doesn't take us until eight children to get one that also enjoys reading Lord of the Rings. Even God rested after the seventh.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Rest of the Story

In the middle of the night my daughter stumbled in and moaned, "Mom, my back aches and I feel like I'm going to faint." I packed her back to bed and went downstairs to get some medicine. Odd, I thought, how loudly the sounds of the night were coming in through the open stairwell window. Such a cacophony of high-pitched chirps and plinks and ringing. But the ringing didn't stop, and by the time I reached the hall downstairs my head was lifting off in a way I know means I need to sit immediately and put my head between my legs. I blinked, and thought how nice it was that there was something cool against my cheek. Something cool and hard, and the same thing was pressing gently against the back of my hand. It was the floor. Why was I on the floor? And why did it feel so good? I pulled myself up and found the tylenol, and I found my daughter's water bottle, and I found the floor again before I made it back upstairs.

All this is a meandering way of explaining why my filter seems to be busted today. Although I feel mostly physically better -- and what even was that? -- I have a poor tolerance for folly today. It is a bad morning to be online. I thought that perusing the internet would be exactly the sort of lazy activity suited to someone recuperating from the night-faints, but it only seems to exasperate me into a contempt for my fellow person. And not just with humanity in general, but with actual people I know and like. I want to snap and remove pegs and prove the world wrong.

I have not done these things, mind. But in my slightly-reduced state of health, I am missing the lubricant sense of grace that allows me to rub along with my neighbors without being scraped raw. By myself, I am not enough to love all people at all times. I'm not even enough to love myself at all times. It takes something beyond me -- it takes grace -- to allow me to love my neighbors as myself, and to love myself as I love my neighbors.

I speak of missing the sense of grace. That doesn't mean that the grace is not there. I simply don't feel it in the face of particular temptations. And that's a good sign that I need to move away from the source of temptation -- the sheer ease of being able to speak my mind to the world with the click of a few keys -- and rest. Rest physically, rest mentally, rest spiritually. I need to lay down, and make the rest my work and my prayer.

And do it somewhere other than the hall floor.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

To Read is To Pray

I'm seeking for advice from you, readers, in search of a book. Here's what I'm looking for:

It has come to me in recent weeks that I need to begin spending a few minutes each day in spiritual reading: Scripture, lives of the saints, writings of the saints, etc.

One clear solution that occurred to me was the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours, either old or new. I was looking to see if I could find a volume which had just the full office of readings, rather than having to buy the full four volume Divine Office. However, I'm not seeing that there is such a thing.

I don't know if there's another collection of daily readings that I should go for.

I am very specifically looking for a book, not an app or a website. One of the problems that I'm trying to shake is having too much interaction with online religion. And I am looking for something which specifically dictates what to read each day, not to pick readings for myself, because I think that the discipline of following a plan other than my own is part of what is necessary for me.

At the same time, while I want to put myself under the guidance of some plan of reading not my own, I'm trying to avoid putting myself to read a daily set of "reflections" that I'll find overly maudlin or treacly.

So... Suggestions?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Trust But Verify

In regards to my textbook project, I've moved out of the writer's block stage of composition, and into the "throw crap at the page" stage. I don't love it, but words on the page are better than no words on the page. And words on the page can be edited and polished, whereas a blank sheet is a blank sheet always.

However, I'm running into the problem of fact -- always an issue with historical writing. 

Here, an example, from the beginning of a chapter about Spanish exploration of North America:


The Cantino Planisphere. This is, at least, well-attested.

In fourteen-hundred ninety-two, 
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Christopher Columbus sailed west from Europe and found a New World. But he didn’t find all of it. He discovered some large islands and some small islands which he called the West Indies, because he thought he had found a new path to India. He sailed along the coast of South America, and he sailed along Central America. However, he never sailed to the north.

In the years after Columbus’s great voyages of discovery, rumors grew of a rich land to the north of the West Indies. As early as 1502, a map of the New World showed an unnamed land up in the corner, with a edge that stuck out into the ocean, and a little trail of islands curving near the southern tip. If you studied that map, and then you looked at a modern map, you might notice that this mystery land is close to the location and shape of Florida.

In 1513, three ships, the Santiago, the San Cristobal, and the Santa Maria de la Consolacion, sailed westward along the string of the Bahama islands. On these ships were Spanish explorers. Their chief, Juan Ponce de Leon, was an adventurer, a soldier, an explorer, the governor of Puerto Rico, and a wealthy man. But he wanted more gold, and he was sure he could find it in this uncharted land to the west.

On these ships were other men, dressed in brown robes. They were Franciscan friars, and they were after wealth too. But the wealth they desired was not cities of gold or the fountain of youth — they were searching for souls. The friars were missionaries, and they knew that in this New World, there were natives who had never heard of Jesus Christ. They dreamed of bringing the Catholic faith to every part of the world. They also wanted to protect the natives from the Spanish explorers, who cared less about human life than about riches and glory.

During Eastertide, Ponce de Leon and his men sighted a beautiful land of flowers.The Spanish name for the Easter season is Pascua Florida — the Feast of Flowers — so Ponce de Leon named this flowery country Florida. Anchoring their ships in the newly-named Bay of the Holy Cross, the men went ashore. The explorers carried their weapons, and the priests carried a crucifix and the Holy Eucharist. There on the sand, they celebrated the first mass in what would one day be the United States of America.

With the sacrifice of the Mass, the Franciscans claimed the land for the Catholic Church. Juan Ponce de Leon claimed the land for King Ferdinand V of Spain. Who would hold it longer?

The three ships sailed south around the coast of Florida. The Spaniards tried to go ashore several more times, but the native Calusa tribe did not trust these invaders. They sailed out in their war canoes and drove the mighty ships away with their spears. Ponce de Leon and his men had to go back to the West Indies. There, he gathered fresh supplies and assembled soldiers and settlers — and more Franciscan friars. This expedition set out in 1521 to establish a Spanish colony in Florida, with Ponce de Leon as governor. Perhaps Ponce de Leon thought that the might of Spain would triumph over the natives, but he was mistaken. A poisoned arrow drove Ponce de Leon out of Florida and back to Cuba, where he died, and with him, his dreams of a new colony .


The problem here is that this isn't all true.

The map of 1502 is true. There is evidence that the Cantino Planisphere, above, depicts Florida based on the accounts of Portuguese explorers who were sailing illegally in Spanish territory. Some of the natives that Ponce de Leon encountered already spoke Spanish, of a sort, and lured his ship close with accounts of gold before they attacked him.

Also, I've left out some historical fictions that plague textbooks. There is no evidence that Ponce de Leon sailed to find the Fountain of Youth -- in fact, the first mention of it in connection with Ponce de Leon comes from a glancing reference in an account of Ponce de Leon's Florida voyage written by Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas more than eight decades later. Washington Irving, that consummate storyteller, included the tale of Ponce de Leon's search for the Fountain of Youth in his book about Spanish explorers, thus searing it into the minds of generations of American schoolchildren. Here is a good scholarly article debunking the Fountain of Youth myth, and also the way the myth has wormed its way into secondary sources. (I've included cities of gold and the fountain of youth as two mythical counterparts to the real wealth the Franciscans were seeking.)

But the Franciscans are my problem. There's no evidence that Ponce de Leon had Franciscans with him or that there was a mass offered in Florida in 1513.

I didn't make this up out of whole cloth. I found the story in a book that had an account of the first Mass in North America. But in researching it since, I can't find any other sources attesting to a Mass in 1513, or that Ponce de Leon even sailed with priests. The Catholic Encyclopedia asserts that the first Mass in North America was in 1526 in a colony founded (and later abandoned) in Georgia.

I've been reading aloud to my youngsters A Child's History of the World by Virgil M. Hillyer, the founder of the Calvert Correspondence School. It's generally an even-handed book, if told in a storytale style. And it too repeats the Fountain of Youth myth. It seems that one way to defeat such myths is to not keep repeating them to successive generations of schoolchildren. This is my goal in writing -- to tell accurate history. But it seems it will require fact-checking each piece of received wisdom, and oh, the time it will take! At least it gives some urgency to my work, even months away from my deadline.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Orphan Opening: The Castle

They sat at the table and watched Maureen's retreating back as she stumped through the crowded lobby to the restroom.

"How is the blind date going?" she asked.

"Blindly," he said. "I thought that we'd have lots in common, but I can't get a conversation going. I start a topic, we talk for a moment, and then it fizzles out. I'm starting to wear out."

She sighed. "When they wanted to set you two up, I told them that's how it would be. Maureen needs a knight who will charge the castle, batter down the walls, carry her out, set her on his horse, and whisk her away into the sunset."

"Every lady deserves her knight," he said. "But storming the castle is not everyone's style." He glanced at her. "I would not have pegged you as wanting a knight to break through your defenses."

"Nothing so easy," she said. "All he needs to do is to go quietly around the castle walls, find the small hidden door, unlock it, and walk right in."

"And how does he have the key?"

She looked at him. "Because he has the same door."

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Tears of Memory

"Good!" said Merry. "Then I would like supper first, and after that a pipe." At that his face clouded. "No, not a pipe. I don't think I'll smoke again."

"Why not?" said Pippin.

"Well," answered Merry slowly. "He is dead. It has brought it all back to me. He said he was sorry he had never had a chance of talking herb-lore with me. Almost the last thing he ever said. I shan't ever be able to smoke again without thinking of him, and that day, Pippin, when he rode up to Isengard and was so polite."

"Smoke then, and think of him," said Aragorn. "For he was a gentle heart and a great king and kept his oaths; and he rose out of the shadows to a last fair morning."

I've been re-reading The Return of the King, completing a re-read of The Lord of the Rings. I used to re-read LotR at least once a year, but lately it's been longer, about three years this time.

Tolkien was a love I learned quite literally on my father's knee. I recall him reading The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Farmer Giles of Ham, and The Smith of Wooten Major to us as children, and the latter two of these I still read with the voices he gave the characters when I read them to our children.

Dad used to say, "The Irish cry at card tricks," referring to the way that his voice might become unsteady or his eyes moist when experiencing something seemingly unimportant. He couldn't read aloud key moments of some books without this happening, the end of Lord of the Rings key among them.

At the time this seemed strange to me. Yes, there was a certain sadness in these moments, but they weren't that sad. How did these moment's get to Dad, who was such a calm support at the moments of actual trouble?

As with so many things, I understand this now as an adult and a father. I do the same thing.

I think what's at work here is not that the emotions of reading itself are particularly strong. Indeed, what I often find is that I don't feel particularly strongly at such moments, but that such moments provide a connection to memories of times of strong emotion in real life, a way for the reactions which I couldn't afford then to flow out. When Gogol says at near the end of The Man Who Was Thursday, "I wish I knew why I was hurt so much." the mist I see before my eyes is not for Gogol. Rather, it's for the times in life when I felt similarly. Moments in fiction become conduits of memory, and of the reactions stored up from memory. I think this is also why these reactions come more as an adult, when we have more stored up.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Remembrance of Blogs Past

MrsDarwin and I were talking this evening (the 7th) about how long we'd been blogging. Like the old folks we are, we couldn't recall when exactly in 2005 it had been, but a quick search of the iPhone (something which had not yet been invented at that time) revealed that I put up the first post on DarwinCatholic on June 8th, 2005. This thus marks thirteen years that we've been blogging, and given that we are thirty-nine at the moment, we've been blogging a third of our lives. That a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then is highlighted by the description I wrote of myself in that first post.
I am first and foremost a Catholic.

Politically and culturally, I am a conservative.

My brief career as a published writer consisted of a couple SF/F stories and two book reviews in New Oxford Review in which I criticized creationism/intelligent design and defended the compatibility of Catholicism and evolution. Which I have the feeling is why I stopped being invited to write book reviews for NOR...

Professionally, I am a data analyst, web designer and all around entrepreneurial type.

I'm married to the beautiful MrsDarwin, and we have two little girls (monkeys?) aged 3yrs and one-and-a-half.

And I'm still under thirty.
The three-year-old mentioned there is now sixteen and learning to drive. We have seven children in all. A couple years later I moved from my data analyst job to a pricing analyst job, and now I'm a Direct of Pricing Analytics. We moved from Texas to Ohio, and we finally paid off student loans. When I wrote that, I was four years out of college. In two years, our oldest will be heading off to college herself.

Looking back, I know my young self was putting a bold face on having come out of a somewhat difficult several years. We'd left the Los Angeles area where my family lived less than two years before, because we could no longer afford to live there, and although we'd been fortunate enough to be able to buy a house with a payment less than our old rent (thanks to the extreme ease with which they were handing out mortgages pre-2008) my job situation had only just stabilized after an uncertain couple years of temping and doing freelance projects. What I couldn't know then was that although there were difficult times ahead (my father would lose his long fight with cancer seven months later) a lot of things would also come together for us in the coming years.

What's also interesting, looking back across all these years, is what I said about the subject of the blog:
Which brings me back to this blog's name: DarwinCatholic.

One of the things that really struck me was the cultural/demographic differences between my wife and me (and our friends from college) and most of the other people our age that we met through work.

My wife and I married a month and a half after graduating from Franciscan University of Steubenville. (We had been going out for three and a half years.) Many of our friends also married within a year of graduation. Most of us also had our first child within a year of getting married, and our second within two years after the first. We got office jobs and middle class incomes. Some of our friends had degrees in majors, such as Computer Science, designed to win jobs. Others, like me (I majored in Classics), learned on the job and caught up fast. We bought houses before we were thirty. Several of us started businesses, with varying degrees of success. We became, in the buzzwords of David Brooks, exurban natalists.

Meanwhile, my co-workers (mostly several years older than I) dated, partied, and assumed that I must be over thirty. The idea of "settling down" in your early twenties was totally inconceivable to them, and when I mentioned that my wife and I hoped to have 5-7 children, everyone thought I was joking.

After several years, we moved to Texas, where we had a number of friends. Texas, even in the liberal Austin area, is certainly more family friendly than Southern California. However even here, hearing that someone has more than three children is almost a dead give away that they are religious and at least moderately conservative in their practice thereof.

Certain (admittedly tiny) subgroups present event more extreme examples. In the homeschooling circles that I knew during high school, families of 8-12 were not unusual.

Looking at all this, I can't help wondering: at what point does all this start to become statistically significant? My wife and I both know a lot of other alumni of the Catholic, large family, homeschooling environment, and most of them, like us, as still strong Catholics and look forward to having at least moderate size families. If this holds true for a couple generations, how will the Catholic and indeed the general American demographic landscape shift over the next 60-80 years? If liberals average 1.6 children (and based on European demographics that's pretty likely) and conservatives average 2.6 children, how long will it take the country as a whole to lurch to the right? Or will it?
This didn't end up being a heavy focus for the blog, though it looks like I wrote a couple dozen posts on topics relating to this over the following couple years. I also went through a couple years of writing about evolution and it's compatibility with Catholicism a great deal, which provided another twist on the meaning of the blog's title.

It's probably key to the blog's longevity that I was never all that committed to blogging only on these topics. It's hard to keep a topic specific blog interesting for years. But it's interesting to look back on this thinking from today's distance.

Overall, I'm less optimistic now about the ideas I laid out back then. Demographic shifts are slow, and the speed at which schools of thought can destroy their credibility is much faster. I don't think that the demographic point is totally without merit. I saw a young person recently tell a Christian, "Purple-haired, transsexual teenagers will dance on the graves of you and your religion," with a similar confidence to that which I displayed back then, but I think that there are certain ideas and modes of life which just lend themselves well to passing down through the generations. Just ask the next Shaker you run into. I continue to think that some of the weirdest social and moral excesses of our time are so out of sync with human nature, and so allergic to bearing children, that they'll probably wane in the coming years as they fail to reproduce their own subculture and fail to attract converts from others.

And yet, it does seem a clear lesson of the last decade that groups can quickly squander their moral and cultural credibility much faster than they can build it.

The fact that same sex marriage has undergone such a complete change in cultural acceptance so quickly is in part a result of the fact that many people who claimed to hold to traditional morality in fact held to not much more than an "ewwww" reaction. Time, media, and an educational and cultural establishment deeply committed to be "allies" were easily able to move many young people away from their parents and grandparents beliefs, when many members of the previous generations holding those beliefs were unable to convey their beliefs in any convincing rational form.

Often truth is badly served by it followers. Back when I started the blog, a few months into Benedict XVI's papacy, it seemed as if for twenty years or more Catholicism in particular had been on a long slow road back from the excesses of the '70s and early '80s. We had the catechism, which had been an international best seller, and so it was easier than ever to for a faithful lay person to look up what the Church taught on a given topic. The "JP2 Generation" had been busy giving talks and starting ministries, and it seemed as if those who remained with the Church at all would be those who believed in it fully.

Since them, I've seen more and more people (particularly younger ones) react against the excesses or failures of that JP2 Generation: React against the 'chastity talk' approach which at times strayed into error and exaggeration; reaction against NFP boosterism and the excessive promises that at times came with it; react against liturgical rigorism; react against perceived discounting of "women's voices" in the Church. Sometimes it seems almost as if we are re-inventing many of the errors of the 1970s all over again, just as it seemed that generation was fading away.

Outside the Church, if there was one thing which I would have thought thirteen years ago was a dead ideology, it was Marxism. A true child of the Berlin Wall's fall and the end of the USSR, I would never have imagined that there would be a "give Marx a chance" movement among young people.

I should have recognized that while history does seem to have a center of sorts in human nature, it is a pendulum that swings back and forth around that center. One excess generates it's opposite, and then back the other way again. And so, in many ways, in the seeming advances of what I thought of (in that innocent, pre-President Trump time) as conservatism lay the seeds of the opposite swing of the pendulum, back and forth as long as history continues.

Still, it's been an interesting thirteen years, and I hope that we will continue to come up with interesting things to say for many more.

Thursday, June 07, 2018


Some kind friends were indignant on my behalf that parents who had objections to my religion class didn't come directly to me instead of leapfrogging to the bishop. It's always a solace to have friends who feel for one's injuries, but for my part, I'm glad not to have complaints about me addressed immediately to me. There are good reasons for structures of command to mediate between people. A mediator is a buffer between persons: someone who can listen to angry or frustrated words,  help sort out jumbled ideas, and put valid complaints and criticisms into a useful form. A mediator can take the volatile emotional component out of a fraught situation, and so communicate more effectively than the principles. Or, even when the principles need to deal directly with one another, a mediator can be the first point of contact, helping a person to go beyond his or her personal concerns and look at a situation more objectively. 

There are all kinds of mediators. Parents are natural mediators between their children. How many times have I told a child who's lashed out at a sibling, "If she's bothering you, you should have come to me first"? Teachers mediate between students. Managers mediate between levels of a company, or between the individual employees in their charge. Counselors are often one-way mediators, mediating between a person and his or her emotions and history and mental state in order that the person may then address others more objectively. (This kind of mediation doesn't just mean calming down someone who is overwrought; sometimes a person needs to hear that her situation really is bad and that someone else really does need to stop treating her poorly.) Judges and police are (or ought to be) mediators so that a victim doesn't have to take on the additional burden of decreeing and enforcing just punishment.

The concept of a mediator is a corrective to the idea of self-sufficiency. In myself, I am not enough to handle every situation. In myself, I do not have enough counsel, knowledge, wisdom, fortitude, piety, understanding, or fear of the Lord to resolve every conflict. I need others, with their gifts, to help me see truth. "Human kind cannot bear very much reality," says T.S. Eliot's bird, but the vision of another person helps me build on and bear my own defective vision. There are various levels of mediation: my husband helps mediate between me and myself, or me and my children; I mediate between my children, or between them and their father; my own father mediates between me and my family; my family mediates between me and the larger community; my parish mediates between me and the diocese; the diocese mediates between me and the body of the church. 

Christ is, of course, our perfect mediator, not only interceding for us with the Father but wiping out our sins and absorbing our punishment. He's also the perfect mediator between members of his body, bestowing grace and love so that we're not limited to interacting with each other on a merely human level. Our imperfect loves are mediated through Christ, so that husbands and wives can make permanent vows despite our fallible nature. And God, in his generosity, gives us another mediator: Mary, through whom he chose to enter creation as creation, who mediates for us as both our mother and mother of God.

There is an openness and honesty in dealing with one another person to person, but only if the communication is actually centered in truth. Otherwise, our dealings with each other are mediated by our own fallible natures and our pain and self-centeredness. We cannot bear much reality. Our interactions will always be mediated by something. Best to let them be mediated by those who can help us grow in charity before we directly wound another person.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Confessions of a Confirmation Catechist: the Post-Mortem

I went down to the parish yesterday and had an end-of-year interview with the DRE. It's helpful, mostly, to look back at the year and see what went right and what went wrong, and what can be done better next year. I had a trying year, myself, for reasons that are obvious: large class, single teacher, technology that failed me at every turn. That my year was not harder was thanks to my gracious DRE, who shielded me from what would certainly have demoralized me at my low point: it seems a group of parents got together and complained to the bishop about my class, particularly that there should have been more teachers. The bishop, bless him, doesn't care for channels being bypassed and sent the complainants back to the parish level where they should have taken it first, where it went nowhere because there's nowhere for it to go.

I told the DRE that I couldn't even take offense at that, and as I was driving home, I said aloud to myself, "I am not going to process this right now," but I'm processing it here. I had a single volunteer during my tenure this year, a fellow teacher who had taken a well-deserved year off and graciously stepped in during the last month of class. She lifted a great burden off my shoulders, bringing in craft projects and just being another adult in the room. She was the only parent who offered to help me and followed through.

We are not a tiny country parish. We have over 2000 families. Even so, volunteers are are few and are spread thin, too thin. We do not have hidden reserves of PSR teachers we are locking away so that I can lord it over the Confirmation program. I do not teach for my own amusement, or because I think I know everything, or to ward off other teachers encroaching on my territory. I teach because God has called me to it, and I teach alone because no one else is doing it. There were no offers of volunteer help I rejected; I gratefully accepted the only offer I received. I never heard from parents unless they wanted to ask me if we had class instead of looking at the class schedule or bulletin, or check if their child could get out of class because sports, or was it okay if the form was turned in late.

A criticism I made of myself in my exit interview was that I wasn't good at communicating. I never sent out a parent email or added anything to the official office communications. I didn't have a list of parent emails or phone numbers, but I never asked for one.

It is taking all my filters and my critical thinking skills not to write in bitterness or to extrapolate from sketchy details. Perhaps many parents feel that they aren't qualified to teach religion. Perhaps they were genuinely concerned with their child's education and safety, and thought that the diocese could just send in backup at will. Perhaps they never contacted me as I never contacted them, because it felt like just one more thing. Likely it wasn't about me at all.

I felt rather at loose ends yesterday afternoon and unable to concentrate on any one thing, as I often do in moments of stress. I considered whether I should talk about this with Darwin, as I didn't want him to be annoyed on my behalf. But I recalled that nothing is worse than feeling like I can't talk to Darwin, so we discussed it that evening. I still don't feel entirely settled about it, but there's not anything I can do about an incident in the past about which I had no knowledge and over which I had no control.

I'm still on the roster to teach next year, this time with the help of a dear friend. We're having turnover in staff, so there will be a new DRE next year, who has the final say about who teaches what class. I'm perfectly fine with that -- if she finds someone more qualified and willing to teach confirmation, then God be praised!

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Remember Thou Art Dust

This week I attended a funeral of someone I wasn't personally acquainted with, and I found myself listening closely to the eulogy -- not simply to gain an understanding of the deceased, but with the strange realization that one day I myself may be called upon to deliver a eulogy. This is not a morbid speculation. I have parents and siblings, any of whom, God forbid, may predecease me, and what would I say if I needed to get up and speak about their lives? Who would I chose to eulogize Darwin? Who would eulogize me*?

In a sense, that last question doesn't matter. I'll be dead. It doesn't really matter what I plan; I'll have no real control over my funeral. I could pick readings or music, but always with the understanding that anyone might change them, because I'm not coming back from the grave to interfere. Doubtless my family will try to respect my wishes, but if the priest refuses to allow the Dies Irae to be chanted, it's not as if I can complain to the management.

No one controls what happens after they're dead. There is no guarantee that people will tell the truth about my life when I'm gone. Of course, there's no guarantee that people won't tell the truth, which is perhaps more sobering. My children may dish about how much time I spend in front of the mirror with tweezers. My husband may reveal how many days he came home to find me having frittered away the afternoon without starting dinner. Other people may have less amusing anecdotes about the times I let them down. After death, I won't be there to defend myself -- and neither will I care. I'll be facing the judgment of God, more perfect than the judgment of men.

We think about our legacy, how we'll be remembered. That's foolish -- we'll never know how we'll be remembered. We hope that it will be with love and grief, as with the touching eulogy I heard this week from a devoted son about his father's full and loving life. But it may be that after death family will finally be free to stop covering for a legacy of sin and failure. Maybe the stories will out, and the hidden deeds come to light. Nothing can be tucked away forever. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5).

Make your life your eulogy. Go to Confession, and actually turn over a new leaf. "Be sober and vigilant" (1 Peter 5:8). None of us controls what happens after we die, but if we live in God's charity and truth, we live in the joy of heaven while still on earth. No eulogy can compare to that.

*Actually, I'd request that there not be a eulogy at my funeral -- not because I want to manage what people say about me, but because it's not liturgically appropriate. Thanks in advance, fam.