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

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Guest Post: Unplanned Reviews

The oldest three girls went to see Unplanned, the Abby Johnson biopic from Pureflix, at a benefit screening for our local crisis pregnancy center. The older two wrote up reviews and gave me permission to publish them.

Eleanor (16)

I figured I would go see this movie because my sisters were going to go see it. All three of us went and by the end all of us were crying.

Unplanned is the story of Abby Johnson, who was the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston. The movie starts when Abby is called into surgery to hold an ultrasound probe. She leaves the operating room after the abortion is finished and shuts herself in the bathroom crying. She has been watching the ultrasound screen and is in considerable emotional distress (as is the audience).

The rest of the movie focuses on Abby’s life before this dramatic scene. It shows us how she volunteered at the clinic eight years ago, as a parking lot escort. Here we meet a lady named Marilisa, a woman who is praying outside the parking lot gate. This character is what my sister Julia refers to as a ‘Nice, white, blonde prayer lady’. Marilisa is exactly that, and not much else. She is nice to Abby throughout the whole film despite them being invested in different morals on pro-life grounds. Marilisa isn’t much of a deep character.

We see Abby climbing the ladder inside the clinic, eventually working as a counselor. Abby gets married somewhere in the middle of the film, and, although actively taking pregnancy preventing medication, has a baby girl named Grace. This is much discouraged by her superior, the clinic director. Abby continues her work at the clinic (much to the disappointment of her family) and is promoted to clinic director. Abby goes to a big meeting for planned parenthood and is told that the number of abortions from the previous year must be doubled to fund a shiny new facility being built that will extend the age of fetus that they can abort. Abby is shocked at this because her morals are that she will not go past 18 weeks for an abortion. She gets reprimanded for asking a question about the increase in abortions for the next year.

Soon after this Abby is called in to hold the probe in the scene from the beginning in a spit perspective where we see Marilisa and her husband praying over barrels with aborted fetuses in them. Abby rushes over to the pro-life building to have a betrayed cry session with Marilisa and some pro-life workers. She says that she is going to turn in her resignation on Monday. After this Abby decides to join the pro-life workers in praying at the fence of the parking lot. The big boss from planned parenthood sues Abby under the premise of giving information to the public and being a violent threat.

At this point the best character in the whole movie is revealed. It’s a lawyer! He is the funniest character in the whole movie! The trial goes by like a breeze and Abby is proved not guilty. Then we skip ahead a bit and see that the planned pregnancy clinic is being shut down (at this point everyone in the theatre applauded). The sign for the clinic is pulled down and Abby makes a tearjerking speech in front of the fence. She then places two roses on the fence for her two abortions and says a smaller more tearjerk-y monologue as she places a letter to her two babies on the fence with the roses. We have a nice zoom out shot and see that the entire fence is covered in red and white roses, placed there by the people who heard Abby’s speech.

So that was what Unplanned was about. It was a good movie and I hope some more people go see it.

Julia (15)

I hadn’t heard of the film until a couple days ago when my Mom told me she had bought a ticket for me to see it. She mentioned that the movie was rated R for the abortion scene where you saw a CGI ultrasound. Not knowing very much about the procedures of abortions I thought that was a stupid reason to give the film a high rating.

Even going into the movie I was more worried about how cold I was going to be and if I was going to have a good view from my seat. 
The movie started off like a picture. The happy family who wakes up on a Saturday morning, The Mom goes to work, the daughter plays. At work we see our main character Abby, who has worked herself up to the top of the company and is in charge of a planned parenthood clinic. At work she is asked to help out with a procedure by manning the ultrasound. She watched the baby moving around at the small age of 13 weeks, and I watched the CGI ultrasound in pure horror. It was enough to make one sick.

We then travel through Abby's backstory where at an information table she is told that Planned Parenthood is trying to prevent abortions and find other options for unplanned pregnancies. There she signs up as a volunteer. She climbs the ladder of success for eight years while her parents and husband try and persuade her to leave, while she explains that a baby is just a blob of tissue until 18 weeks.

The movie did not have the strongest script or the best developed characters. We had the greedy and callous employer and the white christian prayer lady who prayed for Abby every step of the way.

This movie did have a strong emotional appeal. It had several heartbreaking scenes. Should it be rated R? Although your average action movie may have more violence and losing of limbs, these scenes are emotional and you might even say traumatic. I don’t think that this movie should be restricted to people over 18, but I don’t think this is the Christian movie to watch with your little kids.

Would I see this movie again? No, I probably not, but I don’t regret seeing it at all. It gave me something to think about. Will this movie last? No, I don’t think this movie will be a lasting classic. That being said I’m sure lots of people will watch it and I’m sure that some will have a change of heart.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Prodigal Son

In honor of this Sunday's gospel, here's a reflection on the prodigal son from three years ago:
"And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry.

"Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, 'Behold, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!' And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. it was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'" (Luke 15:21-32)
What strikes me is that the father tells each son what he most needs to hear. In the case of the younger son, he doesn't speak directly to the son, but to the servants and everyone around, officially proclaiming that he welcomed his son back into his household as a son, not as the lowly servant the son asked to be. He draws his son into his house by his actions. And what's interesting is that the way the father celebrates his son's return is by taking the very actions that got the son into trouble in the first place -- the partying, the music, the dancing, the rich clothes and food and wine and celebrating -- and turns them around to make them signs of love and forgiveness, not of decadence and dissipation.

The older brother is out in the field, doing his father's work, we assume. I guess you could read it as the son having separated himself from his father in some way, just as the younger brother had. Perhaps doing all this work day in, day out, doing his job and the job of the younger brother who has left, has worn him down. Perhaps he's taken on extra work he doesn't need to be doing -- this house is apparently lousy with servants and people who could be working in the field. Perhaps the father can afford to hire laborers for his vineyard, no matter the cost, as in the parable of the vineyard owner and the hired hands. But maybe older brother feels he has to do everything himself. After all, he's the responsible one.

Anyway, the older brother is out, and no one comes to tell him that his brother is home. No one calls him in to join in the celebration. So the older brother comes home, weary, hungry, maybe a little heart-sore, and he sees that there's some kind of extraordinary party going on, without him. He calls one of the numerous servants over, and gets the story, and he refuses to go into the house. Now, you could interpret this as the older son pouting, throwing a tantrum, but I read it a bit differently. When I myself am angry, I refuse to go in, in a sense. I try not to speak, to enter into whatever situation is making me angry, because I know that words spoken in anger can't ever be really forgotten. So I'd rather stay outside, so to speak, than do something that I might later regret. And perhaps the older brother knows that if he goes inside in the mood he's in, he'd cause some sort of scene that he'd regret. And he doesn't want to do that. He stays outside.

Just as the father did with the younger son, so he does with the older son. He goes to meet him himself, not sending a servant to reason with him, but coming personally to his firstborn. And the older son pours out his hurt and his frustration. "Your son," he says to the father, not even able to call that son his brother. How does the older brother know that the younger brother has squandered dad's inheritance on prostitutes? Probably because that's how the younger brother acted before. Why did he need all his inheritance now? Because he didn't have any money left of his own. Where did it go? I'd go with the older brother's assessment here.

But the father sees deeper than the complaints, and tells his son exactly what he needs to hear and has perhaps been hoping to hear: "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours."

The older son needs to know that the father loves him too, personally, that he's not just another cog in the machinery that runs the farm (even if he is a big cog), but that who he is and what he does matters to the father, that the father sees and cares what the son does. The son needs to know that he doesn't just get a fatted calf and a robe, he gets everything. The younger son had to take a portion of inheritance away to spend? The older son, living at home with his father, already has that portion, and so much more besides. His faithfulness hasn't been overlooked. It's already been rewarded, only the son perhaps didn't trust his father enough to ask for a goat to celebrate with his friends. The older son is more cautious than his younger brother, who was confident enough that his father would give him anything that he asked for his inheritance up front. The older brother is more reserved, more trustworthy than his brother, but I think he feels things more deeply too. The father knows that big actions and gestures will reassure the younger brother of his love, but that the older brother needs not only gifts (which the brother would take at this point as an insult, just an afterthought of his brother's celebration), but words, personal reassurance, a direct encounter with the father. As with the younger son, the father offers the older son the very thing that pulling him away from the father. I don't need to give you a goat, son. It's already yours.

And the father knows how to talk to this more cerebral son. He doesn't give him a guilt trip for not being happy for his brother or ply him with a sob story about how the brother came home dressed in rags and made this speech. Instead, the father says, "It is fitting to make merry and be glad..." This is the appropriate, reasonable action for a man of the father's stature and wealth in this situation, to throw a party for a son who was dead, and now is alive. It befits him. This explanation of the correctness of this action is exactly right as an appeal to the older brother, to help him understand and appreciate his place in the family and in the festivities, just as the father's dramatic gestures of throwing a robe around his son and making a proclamation and throwing a feast were exactly right for the younger brother's understand.

We don't see the reaction of either brother, mostly because the story is not about the sons, but the father. We assume that the younger son accepts his father's proclamation, because we know that the party is going on. We don't see the older son's reaction to his father's appeal, and in a sense he has the harder struggle, because he's wrestling not with his sense of unworthiness, but with his pride. Someone said that no one ever minds getting better than they deserve, and somehow I don't think the younger son felt many qualms about accepting the ring and the robe and the fatted calf, and being restored to the family. The older son, though, feels personally unloved and taken for granted, and that anger is hard to let go off. I hope he went in, because I hope that's what I would have done.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Concentrated Life

As MrsDarwin mentioned in her post about hot water (or the lack thereof) I had to make a sudden business trip this week. The last two days saw me at a company which was recently acquired by my employer, spending all my time trying to get the data about their pricing and discounting programs sorted out. This resulted in a very different work day than my usual routine.

On a typical day back at the main office, I'd spend 4-5 hours out of 9 in meetings, and the rest of my day in sections of an hour or less between meetings working on various short tasks or helping direct my team on the tasks of the day. Often, I'll find myself with 5-15 minutes free and end up using the team to read around and/or deal with email, because there's not enough time to really get into a major task. At the end of the day I invariably feel both exhausted and simultaneously like I haven't got much done.

During this trip I've been working longer hours, having only two days to deal with the tasks at hand and also not having a family to get back to in the evening. Yesterday I put in ten hours at the office, then went back to my hotel after dinner and worked till midnight. But all of this work has been on just one project. When I met with people, it was to get questions answered on the one project taking up my attention all day. And somehow, despite the longer, harder work (or perhaps because of it) I've come away from work each day feeling much less drained than usual.

By coincidence, as I was getting ready to leave MrsDarwin handed over to me a library book she'd just finished with, saying that she thought I might find it useful since it was more focused on business than she'd expected. I've read about half of Cal Newport's Deep Work now, and its basic thesis is that for "knowledge workers" to excel it's important to get away from distractions and devote themselves entirely to one thing at a time -- something that the normal frenetic pace of office and online culture does not allow for. He maintains that "deep work" is both more productive and also more inherently satisfying.

Overall, these couple days seem like something of a confirmation. My normal job requires that I spend a fair amount of time in meetings, directing other people and projects rather than doing things myself, but it would be interesting to see if I can move a bit more in the direction of Newport's "deep work" in my normal day to day.

Monday, March 25, 2019

There's No Hot Water (Except in His Hotel)

Happy Monday of the umpteenth week of Lent! At the house here, we are listening to drums in the deep, as rumbles and clanks from the basement signal the plumber in the midst of uninstalling the busted hot water heater. Since Saturday, we've languished in a cold-water economy, in which showers are icy and the dishwashing is a hand-numbing experience. Also, a disciplining experience, because one cannot leave the dishes to be done later. They must be rinsed immediately, and if you're going to rinse, you might as well wash right away too. 

Note on dishwashing: In cases of no hot water with which to operate the dishwasher, people would usually boil water, fill one side of the sink with hot soapy water, and rinse in cold on the other side. But we, due to the wisdom of the previous owners, have only a single basin sink. We do boil water, but the time of the process is doubled with needing to wash everything and then drain and rinse. So mostly we boil water to soak down big greasy things, and use soap and a lot of elbow grease on everything else. Also, I have no handy plastic tub to wash in, like people used to keep around, because some people around here break plastic bins by using them as stepstools to pantry shelves or the stovetop. 

The plumber's answering machine on Saturday morning gave us an emergency number for immediate action, but we debated. Does a downed hot water heater count as an emergency? It's not like we had flooding, or sewage backed up. And plumbers deserve a weekend too. The lack of hot water was an inconvenience (especially for some people who like to wash their hair every day), but it wasn't life-threatening. So we waited. 

On Sunday, this waiting corresponded with Darwin's departure for a four-day business trip, where I know he thought of us as he took his hot shower at the Hilton because this morning he fielded a call from the plumber at 5am his time and set up for them to come today. 

And come the plumber did, and looked at the hot water heater, and muttered, and took some photos.

"Gonna need a new gas line," he said, tracing the pipe with his flashlight through the maze of wires stapled to the beams on the basement ceiling. "Gonna cost extra."

"Gonna need the line bonded," he said, emerging from the basement. "Gonna cost some more." 

But we will have our new water heater, costing both extra and some more, by tonight, which means we can put eight people through hot showers or baths before we head down to Cincinnati to salvage a few days of spring break with the cousins. And Darwin gets home late Thursday night to trade the joys of hotel showers and a fresh bed with no small mammals, whether human or feline, for the warmth of family life and hot water from the tap. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Mary, Mother of Forgiveness

Our parish had it's Lenten mission last week, the topic being healing and forgiveness. There was much that it was good to hear and think on, but one point in particular that one of the priests made struck me.

He was describing an incident where a mother testified in favor of leniency for the young man being sentenced for driving drunk in the accident that killed her son. That's a level of forgiveness which it can seem challenging to imagine. And yet, he pointed out, we turn to Mary as our advocate in prayer every day -- Mary who stood and watched her son crucified for our sins.

Mary can seem like a very soft and easy figure in the religious imagination at times, the indulgent mother we can run to and ask to pray on our behalf. Surely Mary couldn't harden her heart to us, when she's without sin.

And indeed, being without sin, Mary does love us and pray for us. But what an amazing feat of forgiveness that takes, given that is our sins that cause her son's suffering.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Notes on Accountability and Homeschooling High School

I was supposed to present at a meeting today, but due to schedule constraints, my segment had to be cut. But hey! I have a blog. Here's what I probably would have said.

Hello, I'm MrsDarwin, and all you need to know about me is that I've known about this talk for two weeks, and I just wrote up these notes right now during the meeting. This isn't going to be a technical presentation. You've heard some about curriculum already, and you're looking at your notes thinking, This will work with my child. Yeah, we're not going to be doing that. No matter how new you are to homeschooling or how apprehensive you feel about the high school years and your own responsibilities, you already know something about the practical workings of your own child. And these are things that other people can't know, not without the years of field research that you have.

Everyone's heard about the college admissions scandal by now -- how parents were buying and lying their kids' way into college. That's repulsive on every level, and it goes against every reason that we homeschool. We don't want education as a commodity. We want children to be educated because we want them to be good, holy, honest, interesting people, capable of living life at an adult level. We want them to be able to think and reason for themselves. We educate for character and for maturity, regardless of the program we use, regardless of whether Johnny or Sally goes on to college, or starts working straight off, or gets married right away.

And that plays right into the topic of accountability. Friends, this is where the parenting rubber hits the homeschooling road. Through education, we're teaching not only subject material, but how to study, how to manage time, how to be honest about problems and mistakes and failures. And this is different for each child! This is where you stretch as a parent and as a teacher, realizing that what worked for your oldest is completely ineffective for your second or third or sixth.  And here's the kicker -- what worked for you won't necessarily work for your child. You may have been competitive, eager to prove you could get the grades. Your child could care less. Perhaps you were a slacker, scraping through by the skin of your teeth and needing every motivational hack to get through, and your child has already finished his history book and wants you to enroll him in an expensive enrichment course. And you as the parent need to set the priorities, be the authority, and provide guidance, all while understanding this personality you brought into the world.

When I was asked to talk at this meeting, I said that I'd have to talk about failing, because I don't already have a track record of a child who's graduated. And I can't give you a perfect strategy for helping your child develop accountability, because there is no perfect strategy. All I can do -- and all anyone can do, regardless of what they tell you about their system or curriculum -- is tell you what has worked for our family. And fortunately, we have several rather different children coming up right now, so I have a range of experience. Just wait until my son is old enough to start high school prep, and I'll have a whole 'nother set of skills here.

So. We had the expectation that high school would become very self-regulating. We write up the weekly assignments, present the kid with the list, and they'll really begin to take charge of their own education. To some extent that's happened, but we did need to reckon with the personality of our oldest. She's introverted and bookish and self-confident and docile, but not driven. She'll do anything you tell her to, and not a whit more than the letter of the law. And if she finds some loophole that keeps her from completing an assignment, she'll just stop, and not mention it to you until her online biology teacher is asking why she didn't complete the quiz, and she explains that there was a glitch in the system that didn't let problem 21 load. And she's always right about it -- she doesn't lie. But you could have told us!

For this one, developing accountability means that we regularly need to check in, to explicitly ask if there were any problems finishing the lesson, to stress that she needs to take responsibility for telling us about problems. We're also working on having her be proactive -- to take responsibility for checking ahead in her assignments and figuring out how she's going to meet them, instead of just docilely checking off the list handed her each day. That's nice (believe me!). especially when other children might fuss and push back, but we as parents need to not be complacent about having an easy child and resist the harder work of building adult character.

With number two, currently in 9th grade, the issues are different. She's driven and responsible, likes to get things done, and will work ahead to finish her week's work so she can be done earlier. And she's extroverted, with introverted parents, so we need to provide a forum for her to verbally process what she's reading. We need to make sure that she's not spending too much time shut in her room chatting with friends on my laptop after her work is done. We need to make sure that her sudden impulse to do a big project, and her forceful personality, doesn't disrupt and take precedence over the family schedule and budget. And we need to make sure that her voluminous letter writing doesn't take focus away from scholastic writing. With this one, it's really easy for us as parents to take the path of least resistance, so we need to provide the parental barrier  -- she can bounce ideas and projects and talk off of us, but we need to hold the line as the final arbiters of what is or isn't a good idea to add right now.

Number three is a rising eighth grader, prepping for more intense high school work. She too is a scheduler and very responsible in many respects, so it's easy to leave her to herself and focus on the younger ones who need more direct teaching. But she's still young, and after we had a come-to-Jesus moment about math work that just kept getting lost, we had to step into a more active management role. We needed to change up how she was learning, and also provide the accountability of sitting downstairs doing lessons in public, instead of doing work shut up alone in a bedroom. And we've had to gently remind her that constantly having some reason why you can't show your work gives the appearance of dishonesty, even if there's a legit-sounding excuse each particular time why your pages are missing.

In all this, we have to remember that these kids are still developing. They aren't born with the ability to manage their time or study effectively, or to know exactly how to ask for help. They will try, and they will fail, and it's better for them to try and fail and learn at home, in a loving and supportive environment, than to be sheltered and coddled from failure and roadblocks. Better to learn these things at home than at your first job or when you flounder through a freshman college course. Our job as parents and teachers is to help them develop these skills and find the strengths in their personalities that help them achieve what they're capable of. They're still works in progress.

And so are you! You're learning the high school process as you go along -- at least we are, and Darwin and I were both homeschooled through high school and went on to have successful college careers. There are a lot of discussions to have about curriculum, and about built-in, preassembled courses versus parental tailoring and eclectic styles. And of course, you're knocking the rough edges off your child's personality at the same time that he or she is knocking the rough edges off of you. No curriculum is going to do that for you, and that's the beauty and the frustration of homeschooling.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Cold Takes

As I've been off Facebook this Lent, my phone usage has fallen nearly 100%, and my news consumption is limited to the paper copy of The Wall Street Journal that is tossed somewhere in the vicinity of my lawn every day but Sunday. The upshot is that I've been blessedly insulated from a world of hot takes about everything from the New Zealand shooting to the college admissions scandal.

This is entirely positive, and I know this because I'm positively itching to read every snarky take on the college dealio. I'm ready to attend The University of Schadenfreude, as Dom Bettinelli termed it. The few pieces I've read in the Journal have just been flabbergasting. A father saying he doesn't really care about the moral aspect of the cheating, but only that his child doesn't get caught out? The pampered YouTube star who couldn't care less about academics but was using college to further her marketing deals with various companies, whose starlet mother (of Full House fame) faked an athletic profile for her?

It seems harmless to revel in this, because a) only a moral moron would know this wasn't right; b) it's totally, incontrovertibly illegal; c) these people thought their immense riches could buy everything; d) everyone involved sounds personally repugnant. I want public humiliation, I want jail time, I want a constant stream of articles so I can wallow in the fall of the rich and famous and stupid. And yet, what does it serve me to rejoice in the downfall of the undeserving? There's noting that helps me grow personally or spiritually in snickering over this situation. It pulls me away from more substantial and worthy topics. It reveals an ugly underside of my character.

More significantly, though, these people involved in ruining their own lives are still loved by Jesus. Each of them is a unique soul who reflects a never-before-seen facet of God's creative love. He loves them just as much as he loves me, who got into college on my own merits, without any coaching or even any support, who did all my own work and pulled my own weight. And none of this effort made God love me any more than he did at the moment of my creation. And it's only of value if it helps me love him more.

Which gloating over the college scandal does not. I think that there's an appropriateness to noting that pride goeth before a fall, and that actions have consequences, and that mail fraud is a federal crime, for Pete's sake. But if there's been any benefit to being off social media during Lent, it's the reminder that my life goes on regardless of the drama du jour. The drama will pass and be forgotten whether I remark on it or not. My local life is incredibly unaffected by most things that pass in the world. I can love my family and my neighbors and my God regardless. Also, drama will happen whether or not I have my finger on the pulse of the discussion of the day, and my being present or absent from that discussion will not make anyone in the world a whit more sensible. No one needs me to be the voice of reason.  If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead, even the little social death of being off Facebook for Lent.

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Sensitive Child

Oh friends, help me out here. 

I have a child who is opposite of me, one whose needs I don't meet well. This child is sensitive -- not to sensory stimulus, but tender and needy. When this child isn't put to bed on time, evenings turn into the weeping hour, with moans of "I'm stupid!" or "Nobody likes me!" Now, nothing pulls my chain like this kind of fuss for attention, and I, being tired too, get over-reasonable, which I know tends to exacerbate this child -- and I just can't stop myself. 

If I ask the child what they want for breakfast, and display the least frustration because of indecision or flopping, the child will declare "I won't have breakfast! I'm not going to eat," in a way that reads as sulking, even though I'm sure that the base need is just for lots of love and patience. But I find that I run low on love and patience with sulking behaviors. As I say, the child and I have opposite personalities, and we probably trigger each other. 

Were you a tender, clingy child? Do you remember what made you feel insecure, or what parental actions made you feel secure and nurtured? Are you a parent to this kind of child? What do you do to help this kind of personality develop to its fullest and feel happy and at ease? What kind of affirmation do you give?

I am not a hands-off parent. I am happy to snuggle with my clingy child, but in the evenings there are other tasks that demand my attention, and other children to get ready for bed. And I know that it's good for my clinger to have to adjust to other personalities -- which is why it's good that we have so many personalities in the house. 

And now the child who refused breakfast just came and whispered in my ear that they put toast in the toaster, and could I make the tea? So I'm off to feed the child the best I know how, but I'd sure appreciate some advice if anyone's got anything for me.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Repost: π with Jesus

Pi day again! Enjoy this post from two years ago, and eat yer pie.

It's the second week of Lent, which means that observance has lost its zest. I don't know about you, but I'm yearning for a bit of chocolate. Not a bright, hopeful yearning; a dry, intellectual, arid yearning, because I know I'm not going to eat chocolate anyway. I just want it because it's better than not-chocolate.

So we search for a reason to celebrate, and not the corny-beef celebration of St. Patrick's Day dispensations (which St. Patrick would have disdained) but something rounder, to bring us full circle. And lo! It is Pi Day, 3.14. But we cannot fudge on Pi Day without bringing it into some greater religious context. And not just the context of "God made it, and it is good," because God made chocolate too, and we're not eating that.

Of course, the key question is: would Jesus have known about Pi? Not known-known as God knows all things, but as a person growing up in a first-century Jewish culture, in the course of his human knowledge would he have been likely to encounter the concept of Pi?

Dr. Google offers us thoughts on "mathematics in ancient Israel pi", presenting The Secret Jewish History of Pi:
The relationship between a circle’s diameter — a line running straight through cutting it into two equal halves — and its circumference — the distance around the circle – was originally mentioned in the Hebrew Book of Kings in reference to a ritual pool in King Solomon’s Temple. The relevant verse (1 Kings 7:23) states that the diameter of the pool was ten cubits and the circumference 30 cubits. In other words, the Bible rounds off Pi to about three, as if to say that’s good enough for horseshoes and swimming pools.

Later on, the rabbis of the Mishnah and the Talmud, who knew that the one-third ratio wasn’t completely accurate, had a field day with the Bible having played fast and loose with the facts, arguing in their characteristic manner that of course it depended on whether you measured the pool from the inside or the outside of the vessel’s wall. They also had fun with some of the Gematria – the numerical value – of the words in the original passage, which when you play around with them a bit indeed come a lot closer to the value of Pi, spelling it out to several decimal points.
"Secret" here might be a bit sensationalistic, seeing as 1Kings is not exactly an occult piece of literature. The Journal of Mathematics and Culture May 2006, V1(1) offers us a more scholarly explanation via Lawrence Mark Lesser's article "Book of Numbers: Exploring Jewish Mathematics and Culture at a Jewish High School":
A value of π can be obtained from I Kings 7:23: 
“He made the ‘sea’ of cast [metal] ten cubits from its one lip to its [other] lip, circular all around, five cubits its height; a thirty-cubit line could encircle it all around.” 
It appears the value of π implied here is simply 30/10 (an error of 4.5%) until a student asks if we need to consider the tank’s thickness -- given three verses later as one-handbreadth, so the inner diameter is 10 cubits minus 2 handbreadths. (Of course, this is also a chance to discuss issues of measurement!) Using the Talmudic value of 1/6 cubit for one handbreadth, the inner diameter becomes 9 2/3 cubits and dividing 30 by 9 2/3 yields more accuracy (error: 1.2%). Applying a more subtle and technical approach to I Kings 7:23 (see Posamentier & Lehmann 2004 or 20 Tsaban & Garber 1998), the ratio of gematrias for the written and spoken forms of a key Hebrew word (for “line”) in that verse is 111/106, which when multiplied by 3 yields a very refined approximation for π : 333/106 (error: 0.0026%). Very few words in the Torah have different oral and written forms.

By Jewish Encyclopedia [Public domain or Public domain]

Jesus was well versed in the law and the prophets, and it is not a stretch to assume that the account of the building of Solomon's Temple and the fashioning of the great pillars and vessels of bronze was known to him. Could he have known about pi? Could he? Should we doubt his scriptural knowledge? Listen to this.
After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. (Luke 2:46-50)
Do you not understand? Jesus, in the Temple itself, astounding the teachers with his knowledge and his answers, and talking of his Father's house -- the very house for which the bronze vessel was created*? Even his parents could not understand Pi, as happens with so many parents dealing with their children's math.

My friends. The Scriptures themselves proclaim Pi. Take and eat.

*Not actually the very house, since it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and not the very basin, since 2 Kings tells us that the Chaldeans destroyed it. But still.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Things That Go Bump In The Night

I came home from a meeting tonight, after dark, and drove down our driveway, which rolls down past the house to the garage at the bottom of the yard, some 100 feet from the house. The garage was never a carriage house, but it is fairly old. It has two huge doors hung on rollers, which we rarely close, and one regular door, painted white, which we rarely open. I suppose the idea was that if you wanted to go in the garage while the big doors were shut, you used the regular door, but since the rollers haven't been oiled in ages, and the big van sticks out of the garage anyway, there's no point in using the small door.

You can't see the garage from the street, or until you crest the top of the drive where it curves tightly past the house. (This makes it sound like we have a grand estate, but really it's that whoever renovated the whole shebang in 1929 gave the driveway a swooping curve from the street that's murder to negotiate with the huge van.) The house is on a rise, and the yard slopes down steeply enough so that the roof of the garage sits below the level of the house.

All this is to say that the garage is a slightly isolated building, though one that's wholly visible if you look out any back window of the house. And it's why I had a slight shock as I pulled up the minivan into its space, which is in front of the small door, and realized that it was hanging open.

Now, there are umpteen reasons I can name off the top of my head why this might be so. It was a warm day, considering, and the kids were running in and out of the yard. Someone might have grabbed something from that side of the garage and gone through the door simply because it was there. It's possible it could have blown open. There was nothing all at all alarming about it, except that a door that was usually closed was open, and that it was dark, and I was alone.

The dark makes a lot of difference. One of my daughters is a sensitive child who stands by my bed at night and tells me that she's scared because no one sleeps with her. (In her bed, that is; her brothers sleep piled together in a twin bed not three feet from hers.) She hears something and doesn't know what it is. And every time I say, "Honey, this is our good, safe house. There's nothing there. I want to you to go back in your bed." And I roll over and snuggle closer to the two men in my bed, and if my daughter decides to climb in with me, I'm generally too sleepy to do anything about it.

I was about to reach out and grab the doorknob to pull the door shut when a fleeting thought caught me: "What if something grabs my hand?" And believe it or not, I hesitated -- in my safe backyard, in my low-crime, settled neighborhood, where no bodies have been found in garages for as long as I can remember. Then I shuddered and pulled the door shut. I walked up the driveway at a disciplined pace. I did not turn around to see if I was being followed. As soon as I stepped into the bright, noisy kitchen, I forgot any nerviness, because what was there to be afraid of in our good, safe house?

Noises in the night never bother me, because I am nestled up with Darwin and with a soft creamy fellow with fluffy curls and a footy sleeper. When Darwin is away on a business trip, then I worry. Every sound is magnified. Still, though, the soft fellow is a comfortable presence next to me, and the house is full of people. In fact, I've almost never lived alone -- I went from college house to newlywed apartment, and I've been making my own company ever since. The last time I slept in a house all alone was in the few weeks before I got married, when I lived at the apartment and Darwin lived at his parents' house. And even then I had a cat.

That cat is still around, sleeping on people's pillows when we don't want him around. I suppose he'll be our resident ghost if he ever dies, but at 19 his attitude is still at bad as ever. And he goes bump in the night, his claws clicking on the attic floor above me before he pounds down the stairs like a herd of elephants, all seven pounds of him. I hear my bedroom door creak open (it doesn't latch unless it's locked) and then the cat jumps up on my bed to join me and Darwin and the baby and sometimes the girl and the other cat too. Just us mammals taking up not enough space, and nothing reaching out to grab me except those I love.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Saints: Virtues not Scripts

I came across an article today about efforts by Catholics to provide appropriate care and support for women in abusive marriages. The piece is good on that topic, and as is often the case what I want to write about is a somewhat tangential topic which struck me. A woman talking about how a priest offered her help in getting away from a husband who had recently expressed his rage by roaming the house with a loaded gun while threatening to kill himself and perhaps others, said of the response her priest had:
“He had no hesitation, and I didn’t get St. Monica’d,” Jessica said. (Her name and the names of others who have shared accounts with America by phone interview or email have been changed to protect them.)

“Getting St. Monica’d” or “St. Rita’d” is shorthand for a common, blithely pious response to abuse from many Catholics: Be more like these holy women! They patiently endured abuse from their husbands, and they were saints!
I'm a little floored that someone would have that response to someone in a clearly dangerous situation, and it strikes me that it represents a misunderstanding of how we should relate to the lives of the saints.

When Theresa of Avila was a child, she ran away from home hoping to be martyred by the Moors -- something which was at least plausible in the 1500s. This childish impulse shows us what I think is the wrong way to emulate the saints. The point of having so many and varied examples of holiness to pray for us and provide us with examples is not to pick one to seems applicable and to slavishly follow their life story as if following a script. If the Moors capture you and demand you renounce the faith, you should refuse and suffer what may.  But that doesn't mean that you should seek out Moors as the only path to holiness.  Rather, the saints are examples of people who showed heroic virtue in particular circumstances. Following the saints in virtue does not necessarily mean reproducing their circumstances or their reactions to them.

Thus, for instance, St. Francis is revered for his willingness to renounce the goods of this world and pursue the mission of the Church, but that doesn't mean that everyone who deals with a parent who desires a more worldly career for him should act as Francis did and strip naked in front of a public gathering in order to hand his clothes over to his father and express complete independence.

Similarly, while St. Rita may have shown great virtue in a particular circumstance where she was forcibly married off at twelve and was trapped with a physically abusive husband, that does not mean that abused wives who have the ability to leave for the protection of themselves and their children should not do so. (Nor does it mean that we should accept girls being married off at twelve, but I trust no one is advocating that.)

What we should copy from the saints is their love for God and for others. The specific ways they expressed that love may or may not be appropriate for imitation in any given circumstance.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Friday on the Links

Some linkage for your Friday.

1. What to give up for Lent, based on your Myer-Briggs type. At our house, people pored over the advice for their types and declared themselves attacked. Here's my advice:
INTJ: Give up the contempt 
To be honest, you’re pretty brilliant. You have that rare, easy ability to solve problems logically in a fun, creative way. You thrive at proving yourself and your competence. That said, you sometimes struggle picking up on social nuances. Navigating interactions with other fellow humans can feel exhausting. Socializing doesn’t always lead with logic, and that can lead to some real frustration — and frankly, a lot of contempt for others because why don’t they understand — they should understand! This Lent, we encourage you to lead with humility and follow-through with patience. Before you roll your eyes at someone who isn’t as quick-witted as you, try to listen to their story. Try not to rush into judgment — instead, learn from their perspective.
I'm fairly attuned to social nuances, actually, though I won't play along if people are being manipulative. But giving up contempt -- that poked me right in the soul, and is in fact a large part of why I gave up Facebook for Lent.

2. Amy Welborn writes about Evelyn Waugh's impressions of New Orleans on Ash Wednesday.

3. Maybe you are a lover of the font Garamond, but it doesn't come standard on your Mac. Never fear, it's stowed away in your fonts library. Here's how I installed Garamond this week, and let me tell you that my documents have never looked better. 

4. What does Garamond look like? Here's a web version designed to display well on screen.

5. Related: why original Garamond isn't used as a screen font, while Georgia is. (I think we normally publish in Times New Roman because that's the default, but I've switched to Georgia for this post, and I may keep it that way.)

6. At the recommendation of Bearing, I'm reading Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales, in the Michael Day translation. At her urging, I bought a used copy of the Michael Day translation.

It's beautiful, a treat to hold in one's hand. The shininess is from the mylar cover that the thoughtful bookseller, Preserving Christian Publications, added. (I added the rather appropriate bookmark, an appointment reminder from the orthodontist.)

Also, the translation is very readable.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Morphine and Moral Courage

Our community theater will be putting on To Kill A Mockingbird in September, and as everyone has ambitions of trying out, we've been reading it aloud. I cringe a bit as I read it unexpurgated, but conviction is essential to acting, and my hope is that if the kids hear the casually contemptuous way the genteel whites of depression-era Maycomb County address their black brethren, a disgust for such language will be seared into their brains.

We just finished the chapter where Jem must read to old ailing Mrs. Dubose in reparation for mutilating her camellias. This burst of temper on his part was the result of Mrs. Dubose's vicious racially-tinged insults of his father, Atticus, who is defending a black man against a charge of rape of a white woman. Mrs. Dubose's cruelty is nothing new -- she savages Jem and Scout every chance she gets, as personally as she can.
"She was vicious. Once she heard Jem refer to our father as 'Atticus', and her reaction was apoplectic. Besides being the sassiest, most disrespectful mutts who ever passed her way, we were told that it was quite a pity our father had not remarried after our mother's death. A lovelier lady than our mother had never lived, she said, and it was heartbreaking the way Atticus Finch let her children run wild. I did not remember our mother, but Jem did -- he would tell me about her sometimes -- and he went livid when Mrs. Dubose shot us this message."
Jem reads to Mrs. Dubose for a month, bearing with her erratic behavior. When she dies shortly after, Atticus tells him that Mrs. Dubose had been trying to wean herself off of a years-long addiction to morphine.
"You know, she was a great lady."  
"A lady?" Jem raised his head. His face was scarlet. "After all those things she said about you, a lady?" 
"She was. She had her own views about things, a lot different from mine, maybe... son, I told you hat if you hadn't lost your head I'd have made you go read to her. I wanted you to see something about her -- I wanted you to see what true courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew."
According to her views. 

Last week I tried to elucidate for my eighth-graders the difference between courage and moral fortitude, and I wish I'd had this example to hand. Courage is weaning yourself off of morphine and dying in agony just so you can say you did it (or others can say you did it), so that according to your views you are beholden to nothing and nobody. Moral fortitude is the strength to hold back from belittling children, even if it's to compensate for your pain, and maybe even to speak kindly to them even if they seem dirty and rude; to refrain from insulting members of another race, especially when one of them is your caretaker to whom you are certainly beholden; to repay kindness from people whose views you don't respect with kindness. It's attempting to love your neighbor. It's enduring suffering patiently, even if that endurance requires some morphine.

Atticus Finch is certainly one of the great characters of fiction, but he's not perfect. Jem feels the contradiction. Mrs. Dubose may have been one of the bravest people Atticus ever knew, and she may have exhibited great courage, but she was no lady. Better to love on morphine than to hate sober.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Forgoing The Seven-Week Plan

This morning, while cleaning off my nightstand so that it might reflect a Lenten simplicity, I found an old notebook. And while flipping through it, I found a page dated October 7, 2016. The rather ambitious title of the list was "5 Year Plan -- 2021".

Darwin and I had clearly been blue-skying about the future here. In twelve months I was supposed to sell Stillwater to a publisher; in two years to clean up an older novel for submission and start drafting new story ideas. Darwin was to be presenting at professional pricing conferences within two years; within three years he would write a popular book on the subject and self-publish it as an experiment with marketing and pricing strategies; by 40 he would be promoted to a vice president at work.

On July 8, 2017 -- nine months and one day later -- Paul was born.

Some of our plans have simply not happened. I was hard at work on revising Stillwater even on the very day I made the list; an agent was even looking at it. Once I started morning sickness, everything that was unessential fell by the wayside -- including writing. Nothing like perpetual weariness and nausea to make you reassess what's actually crucial to day-to-day survival. Darwin has not written his popular pricing book, nor is he yet a vice president (though he's still only in his second month of being 40, so who knows?).

Some things did happen, differently than we expected. Darwin spoke at the conference for the pricing society within one year, not two, and he's presenting again this spring. I haven't cleaned up my older novel, but I did write my Hallmark Christmas story/King Lear mashup last Christmas, and we're planning to use that novella as our experiment in self-publishing next Christmas.

And some things were simply not on our horizon, including a bouncy 20 month-old who has a fluff of naughty curls on the top of his head, who can intelligently verbalize his needs to me (as long as those needs are cheese), and can greet and dismiss people with the best of them. Even as I type, he's padding around the living room in a footy dino sleeper, intently dismantling a Transformer. There is, in fact, no finer fellow, only we didn't know that when we were making our five-year plan as if we could predict every good thing.

It's easy to overplan Lent: to make lists of all the sacrifices one ought to be making, and the virtuous practices to incorporate into daily life. I should give up social media, but I should also fast two days a week, and cut out sugar, and no more second helpings, and also I should get up early and read a devotional book and go to daily mass and write every day and spend ten minutes in meditation. All good things, sure. But the penitence of Lent is penitence as preparation. It's a stripping away of what's inessential, so that by Easter my soul is ready to be filled and consumed by the glory of the Resurrection. Committing to a sacrifice as a discipline is a good thing, but the Church does already prescribe a communal discipline: fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; abstinence on Fridays. For me, trying to pile on the practices becomes a matter of control, not of spiritual growth.

In past Lents, I've seen a progressive stripping-away as I move closer to the Triduum. Even without planning it, it seems right to add this practice or cut out this food or habit with each passing week, as the reality of Good Friday draws nearer. Forty days out, the Passion seems so distant. During Holy Week, it's almost impossible not to be in a state of anticipation, where everything unnecessary falls away. And each week suggests its own penance or practice, whether I've planned something or not. The essential thing is to be ready to do the thing placed before me each day. "Ears open to obedience you gave me," as the psalm says in Morning Prayer.

Then I said, behold I come,
To do your will, O God, is my delight.

Friday, March 01, 2019

We Hopeful Monsters

The phrase "hopeful monster" comes from debates about the processes of evolution where it is used (often with gentle ridicule) to refer to the idea that key changes in evolutionary history result from single large leaps, rare large mutations which bring some new characteristic into a population that turns out to be advantageous and thus spreads wide as the mutant has many offspring that share the characteristic. However, the phrase itself is one that's always been evocative to me.

I found myself thinking of the phrase last night, because of a discussion about environmentalism and population control. The common wisdom these days in progressive circles seems to take it as an assumption that humans are a problem. From this comes the suggestion that we need to have fewer people, so that we won't have such an impact upon the planet. Some even go so far as to describe humanity as a blight, destroying the planet. We are monsters, and for there to be less of us is seen as a good thing.

Another related line of thought, though clothed in a certain altruism, is that the problems of climate change and increased population are such that it may not be moral to introduce more children into such a world, due to the suffering they would no doubt encounter. (This strikes me as a rather historically oblivious argument, given that through most of history the likely level of deprivation and suffering for a child was much greater than now, and so the arguments suggests that humanity should have pessimistically snuffed itself out long ago as not worth the effort.)

Humans are one of the most successful species ever to arise on Earth, in terms of our spread from small bands in one area of the planet to a dominant, world-wide population which reforms ecosystems all over the planet by its very presence. Other dominant species also change ecosystems. Some grazers can help creates planes, by eating way the shoots of all larger plants before they can grow. Animals we think of as pests clearly can decimate other plant and animal populations by their plentitude. But it's hard to think of any creatures that have had such a huge impact on the planet as a whole.

Perhaps from an environmentalist point of view, or at least the view of a certain kind of environmentalist, we are thus monsters. But I'd argue that even thus, we are hopeful monsters. Unlike the non-rational animal populations, we are not unaware of our impact on the planet, and we change our behavior and learn new ways as we seek to live happily and productively on the world we find ourselves in. The technology, the ways of life that humans pursued, a mere three generations ago would not sustain the current population of the earth. We have changed our ways radically over the last hundred years, and those changes have been the result of inventions and improvements made by humans. Each and every person has the potential to contribute new breakthroughs, small and large, to the way we live on our planet. So while each person is another human individual drawing upon the resources of our planet, each person is also a source of new ideas of how we might life upon our planet better. To have fewer people is to have fewer ideas. We should see each person, not as another problem, but as another solution to the problems which face humanity.

Does this mean we have some sort of moral obligation to have the maximum number of children possible, an equal and opposite imperative to the claim that it is immoral to have more children? I Kant say that. (Get it? Get it?) No, but it does mean that we shouldn't start to see ourselves and humanity in general as an enemy. We should welcome the next generation as the hope that will continue to move humanity forward, which necessarily means finding ways to continue to live on our planet without making it uninhabitable to ourselves.