Friday, January 6, 2017

New Year, New Blog!

Those of you who have continued to read this blog know that I've been planning to start a new blog. I've finally begun it! Go here to check out the new version of And Sometimes Tea.

This blog will remain as an archive, but all new posts/updates will be at the new blog site.

Thank you, and see you there!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

An incredibly kind and wonderful review of Ordinary Sam

I haven't blogged in quite a while; I could blame it on the election, but it's probably just laziness.

But I have to share this incredible, amazing, and wonderful post Rod Dreher put on his blog today. His daughter Nora read my most recent book, and this is her review:
Nora just handed me back my iPad; she had been reading it on my Kindle app. Here’s the actual dialogue we had:
“I love fantasy books, and that is probably the best one I’ve ever read. It was sowell-written!”
“How do you mean, the ‘best’ you’ve ever read?” I asked.
“Better than Harry Potter.”
“No, really?”
“I’m serious. It was that good.”
This is a little girl who comes home from the library with ten or more books in her bag. If she says the book was that good, I take it seriously. You can also get it in a paperback version.
I am overwhelmed by Nora's and Rod's generosity here, and so grateful I can't find the words to express my gratitude. This really means the world to me!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Wrong Sort of Catholic and the Democrats

So, today we learn that on Hillary Clinton's staff there are people plotting to undermine the Church by creating dissident Catholic organizations to drive a wedge between Catholics and Church authority. My first thought was that there were probably some bishops in America quietly supporting these dissident groups; my second thought was that there probably still are. Hopefully none of the episcopal supporters of "Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good" or "Catholics United" are about to head to Rome to become cardinals, though one can't help but wondering if at least one of the new American cardinals might have friends in these groups.

That said, the truth here is that though it is sort of shocking to see the Democrats being so brazen about this, it's not surprising at all. As I've written here before, since before the days of JFK an idea has taken place firmly on the left concerning Catholics, and it is this: there is a Right Sort of Catholic, and a Wrong Sort.

The Right Sort of Catholic is sophisticated and nuanced. He or she (or any other made-up gender pronoun the person finds comforting) knows better than to think that what the Catholic Church teaches about various issues is important. What is important is discarding those issues where the Church is still embarrassingly hidebound and medieval (such as in her concern for the unborn and her denunciation of the form of unjust killing known as abortion, her belief in sexual morality, her prohibitions against remarriage after divorce, and her frustratingly homophobic teaching that men can't marry men and women can't marry women) while twisting those issues where the Church at least seems progressive and using them for one's own purposes--such as, for instance, turning the Church's rightful teachings about stewardship into an anti-human environmentalism that calls for population control, or bending the Church's rightful concern for the immigrant into a call for open borders and the erasure of national sovereignty. The Right Sort also knows the importance of insisting that it is "really Catholic" in some vague sense to demand condoms for the poor or to insist that other people have a duty to ignore a would-be immigrant's criminal misdeeds when renting him an apartment (though, of course, that sort of thing doesn't happen in the Right Sort's backyard, so he doesn't have to deal with any of the unpleasant realities that come from that kind of negligence). The Right Sort of Catholic is all about putting burdens on people who are not as wealthy or as educated as he is, while gently chiding those superstitious ignorant types who actually follow Church teaching, attend Mass every Sunday (and not just when it's a good photo-op), and teach their children the whole Catechism for not being as enlightened and progressive as he is.

The Wrong Sort of Catholic, on the other hand, has never much trusted progressivism. He practices the faith with Sunday Mass every Sunday and he goes to Confession on a fairly regular basis (he would probably go more often, but his local parish has progressive priests who generously schedule Confession for half an hour a week to accommodate the entire community). Unlike the Right Sort of Catholic, the Wrong Sort believes that sins against the Sixth Commandment are gravely wrong and that one's personal sins that one has actually, personally committed are more of a problem than nebulous corporate sins committed by entire groups of which he may or may not be a member. This means that when he is told he is a racist because in the past some of his ancestors may have been racists he is more puzzled than anything--surely it is more important to avoid racism in one's own thoughts and deeds than to worry about what his great-great-great grandfather may have thought about people of different races or creeds? He can't understand why the Right Sort of Catholic is so dismissive of ancient Catholic ways of thinking and praying, why the Right Sort dislikes the rosary, laughs at the practice of lighting candles or making the Sign of the Cross when passing a Catholic Church, or is terribly amused by talk about the Four Last Things (or downright annoyed by funerals in which the presider-priest does not immediately canonize the deceased simply because the deceased was baptized a Catholic and attended the Right Sort of University and knew the Right Sort of people, etc.). The Wrong Sort of Catholic believes in an actual Heaven and an actual Hell, and while he would never speculate on whether any particular person is in Hell he does not think it is impossible to choose eternal death and end up there.

To the Wrong Sort of Catholic there are way more important considerations than mere politics or grubbing for power. He is not going to vote for people who think it's a good idea to kill unborn babies, no matter what else they promise to do or not do. The Right Sort of Catholic is pro-choice (which he usually phrases as "...personally opposed, but...") and can't understand the Wrong Sort's Neanderthal thinking about the abortion issue. But then again, the Right Sort thinks contraception is wonderful and necessary instead of being a damnable mortal sin (under the usual conditions), so it's not surprising that he wouldn't balk at baby-killing either, so long as it is politically expedient.

Democrats have made it clear for a long time that the Wrong Sort of Catholics simply do not belong in their party. They have no use for them, and the Wrong Sort usually aren't rich or politically well-connected or anything either. The Podesta emails reveal, though, that Democrats also don't think the Wrong Sort of Catholics belong in the Church, and illustrate the lengths they'd like to go to push us out. Unfortunately they have the collusion of too many people in the Church here in America, who would also like the Wrong Sort of Catholic to disappear quietly--and there are priests and bishops who share that view as well, which would be discouraging if we failed to remember that, after all, God is in charge, and what the world thinks of as the Wrong Sort of followers of His Son may not be God's idea of the Wrong Sort at all.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

My new book is available!

Just wanted to share the good news: my newest book is now available!

It's called The Adventures of Ordinary Sam: Book One: The Sand Stone, and it's the first book in a new series about an ordinary seventh-grade boy who has had some rather extraordinary experiences. This is the description on the back cover:

Sam Oldfield is an ordinary kid with an ordinary life. Or is he? When he wakes up in a hospital he is told he's been missing for three days—so why does he remember nearly a year's worth of adventures in a magical kingdom in another world?

Was all of it a dream? Did Sam really imagine a wise old magician, a cranky but loyal bird, a beautiful bossy princess, and the Sand Stone itself, whose power Sam alone could wield? That can't be true. But if the magical world of Ebdyrza and all of Sam's memories are real, then there really is an Enchanter's War, too. And the Enchanters may end up in Sam's world seeking to destroy the Sand Stone, and Sam with it.

If you'd like to learn more or purchase a copy, please visit the links below:

My Amazon Author page, with a list of all my available books and links to purchase

My new fiction-writing website, with more information about my books

As always, a tremendous thanks to all of you who have been so supportive and encouraging of my writing!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Not up for debate

I haven't blogged in over a month, and while I know life in general and fiction writing/editing in particular make perfectly good excuses, the main reason I haven't been blogging is because I am in the process of moving this blog to a new platform in order to change and update and so forth.

One of the changes is that the new blog won't allow comments. Blog comments have really gone by the wayside in most places, and the few exceptions are for big, popular blogs with lots of regular commenters and a blog host or hosts who are willing to moderate the heck out of everything people write and share.  There's a good reason for that: unmoderated comments on busy sites tend to look like this:

First commenter: First!

Second commenter: I thought this blog post about canning peaches was interesting, but I don't think you fully explored the way that global warming, the industrialization of food, and Obama's foreign policies regarding country-of-origin labeling impact this important issue.

Third commenter: Here we go. Another right-wing idiot who thinks everything is Obama's fault.

Fourth commenter: Everything IS Obama's fault, because he's a secret Muslim from Kenya and the illuminati picked him at the Bildabear meeting to ruin the world economy.

Fifth commenter: Don't you mean "Bilderberg?" And didn't you mean "run" the economy, not ruin it?

Sixth commenter: Grammar nazi.

Fifth commenter: Did you just call me a Nazi, you expletive expletive offspring of a vulgar expletive scatological expletive?

Sixth commenter: Expletives squared and plotted on a graph that goes on for paragraphs.

Second commenter: Um, was somebody responding to me? I've been running errands.

Seventh commenter: Make $$$ caning (sic) peaches!! wwwdotreallyiffylinkdotdon'tgoheredotcom

Eighth commenter: My friend Peaches learned this one weird trick to make thousands of dollars a month from home while perfecting her skills as a psychic lingerie model! wwwdotyetanotherlinkthatwillprobablyputRussianspamonyourcomputerdotcom

Comments nine through twelve hundred: repeat the above endlessly.

Now, small blogs like mine don't have to worry about this; I rarely even get comments anymore. What I do get is spam in my comments folder, which you never see, but which is annoying to have to delete all the time. I figure on the rare occasion when somebody really wants to weigh in he or she will email me or else discuss the post on Facebook.

I have to be honest, though: while my main reason for not blogging has been this whole blog move/no comments thing, my secondary reason is that this political season is just too depressing to say much about. Granted, I've been a DQ3/pox-double-houser since McCain (soon after which I pretty much vowed not to vote for Republicans anymore, and since Democrats are already impossible for me to vote for because of their utter contempt for the lives of unborn children there's nowhere to go but those Doomed Quixotic 3rd parties while uttering plagues on both the Republican and Democrat houses and wishing that I could still pretend that party politics actually matters in spite of all the mounting evidence that the same corporations are buying and paying for our presidents and congresscritters and everybody else we elect, and that those corporations don't care about the letter R or the letter D so long as the person on the other side has his or her hands out for corporate $ and will do whatever their masters tell them to keep getting piles of it).

So, tonight's debate which will start in a few minutes is only this: something I find rather interesting and curious from a historical perspective because my hypothetical future grandchildren may ask me some day, "Grandma, were you there when the end of America got started?" and I will be able to tell them that the two people running for president in the year of Our Lord 2016 were a lying opportunistic self-promoting cash-grabbing glitterati-chasing untrustworthy scoundrel--and Donald Trump, who is, of course, equally bad.

Yes, you heard me. I said "equally bad." I did not say, "A catastrophic nightmare from which America may well never recover" because that happened on January 22, 1973.  I did not say, "America's savior destined to end abortion and preserve religious liberty" because I wasn't born yesterday and I'm not a rube. I did not say, "A bad choice, but obviously better than Hillary who is evil personified" because that's not true. I did not say, "So much worse than Hillary that no matter how much she increases abortion spending and uses the cudgel of LGBTEIEIO rights to grind religious liberty into the dust she's still better than he is by so much that it should be obvious" because that also is not true.

They are, it seems to me, equally bad. They are both liars. Neither one is trustworthy. One is a serial cheater and adulterer; the other has spent a lifetime covering up for her husband who is a serial cheater and adulterer. One is claiming at the eleventh hour to be pro-life; the other has never met an abortion she didn't like or couldn't justify paying for with taxpayer dollars. Either one is poised to be a foreign policy disaster; both claim to be able to fix our economy, but both are good at filling their own coffers and ignoring the poor. Donald Trump seems to be xenophobic and to attract racists; Hillary Clinton seems to fear the religions and to attract people who want to crush the Church.

Even if you disagree with me--and I know a lot of you do--aren't your arguments in favor of your candidate really coming down to "Yes, my candidate is awful, but yours is worse!" How did we get to this moment? Are there really no more admirable men or women seeking to serve in public office? Is it really okay for us to have turned politics into the equivalent of that old light beer ad that despite the chanting groups shouting "Tastes great!" or "Less filling!" there wasn't anyone willing to say that in point of fact the stuff was probably less pleasant to drink than rodent urine?

It remains to be seen who will prevail in tonight's debate, and (naturally) in the election, but I can't help but echo those others who have said that no matter who wins the presidency in 2016, America is the biggest loser. We used to be a nation that expected and even demanded more from our candidates, and who dreamed of more than building walls, dismembering and eviscerating human fetuses, and championing the right of 12-year-old boys to wear dresses and get naked in the girls' locker room. We have these candidates tonight because like it or not they are a reflection of what America has become, and if she is a nightmarish zombie corpse caricature of herself it is because we have made her that way. And that much isn't up for debate.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Women of faith and the martyr complex

Some time ago a Mormon friend shared something interesting on Facebook, a story that women of her faith were supposed to be contemplating that particular month. Without getting too much into the details of the story, I will say that one very plausible interpretation of this story was that a woman was being praised, at least in part, for suffering in silence and hiding her pain.

This led to a fascinating discussion: why are women of faith so often given the kind of message that implies that it is a virtue, and a particularly feminine one, to suffer silently without asking for help? Better yet, why is it considered brave and noble to push ourselves to the limits of our endurance instead of admitting that we are sick or exhausted or overwhelmed (or whatever the case might be) and that we actually could use a bit of help?

I haven't been able to stop thinking about this, so naturally I'm blogging about it.

Within the Catholic faith tradition we sometimes hear stories of female saints that seem to imply the same sort of thing, the idea that the holy woman who suffers must efface her suffering and present at all times a cheerful, calm demeanor and display a trusting disposition. Granted, many of these stories are merely pious legends, while others are sometimes told with the emphasis in the wrong place--that is, that while it is virtuous for both men and women to practice Christian resignation in the face of trials, there's nothing that says you can't admit you are hurting, ask for help, or request prayers. In fact, the saints did all of those things on a frequent basis.

Yet still the idea persists that a woman is being particularly holy if her sweet smile and cheerful attitude conceal anything from a slight headache to a major illness to an abusive spouse to a disintegrating marriage or even to the kinds of loss and pain we can barely imagine. She is supposed to have a mental drawer full of pious platitudes with which to respond to anyone who expresses concern, ranging from "The Lord will provide," to "So many people in the world are hurting far more than I am, and I am so blessed. Who am I to complain?" She's not supposed to ask for or accept help except in the most dire circumstances, and even then she's supposed to feel guilty because that other woman she's heard of whose house also burned down while she was dealing with a broken leg and nursing twins did just fine without any help at all, even though in addition to these woes the other woman reportedly had a wringer washer and a slowly deteriorating clothesline instead of a nice functional laundry room...

Of course, the reality is that women are people and people sometimes need help. It's not a moral fault or failure of faith to admit that and even to ask for it. Tales that reinforce the idea that a holy woman never admits that she can't just keep on going tend to strengthen the unfortunate tendency women sometimes have to play the martyr on purpose.

Playing the martyr is asking for help without actually asking--at least, not until one has tried everything else. If sighing, eye-rolling, caustic comments about self-folding laundry, lavish and well-decorated pity parties and similar tactics don't do the trick, then the woman can rest assured that her nearest and dearest have totally failed this test of loyalty and actually ask for assistance. This, too, has rules: she can't simply say, "Can someone help me empty the dishwasher?" There has to be a snide comment or two about interrupting someone's busy life, about wishing she, too, had time to plop in front of the TV, or about how sorry she is that she doesn't actually have a second set of hands.

I think many of us women, if we're really being honest with ourselves, will admit to having used these tactics on occasion. But our reasons for doing so are sort of complicated, and what complicates them is this whole "martyr complex" scenario. If a woman gets told again and again that she isn't really holy if she's not willing to do all her chores and tasks and suffer anything and everything in silence, alone, enduring all and complaining about nothing, then she's probably going to feel a bit conflicted when she realizes that she can't simultaneously cook dinner, walk the dog, rock the baby and tend to her own bout with a raging flu virus. Something is going to have to give, and apart from the shreds of her temper the most likely "something" is this illusion she has built up for herself of the holy and gracious woman who hides all her struggles from her husband and children, cheerfully attending to all of their needs, even if she has to fight to remain conscious and vertical.

As tempting as it may be, though, to blame a certain type of man for this problem, the truth is that both men and women share responsibility for the myth of the holy female living martyr. Some men of faith certainly like to tell the story of this or that female relative who never allowed her own mental or physical health to stand in the way of her daily and exhausting routine of worship, chores, and community service because without realizing it they have made an idol of strength, and wish to see this idol's image reflected in any woman who is part of their lives. But some women also make a competition out of endurance and stamina, and will insist until the moment they are forcibly restrained and placed in an ICU (or a padded cell) that they are fine, no, really, and would someone please get that IV out of their arms so they can get on with peeling the potatoes; such women have, sadly, a tendency to judge lesser mortals quite openly if sometimes with the appearance of politeness. (In the American South the phrase "bless her heart" was practically invented as a way of signaling that the woman being spoken about just doesn't have what it takes, for instance.)

Frankly, we who are women of faith need to stop both of these things: we need to stop playing the martyr by never being honest about our struggles or asking openly and directly for help, and we need to stop judging the women who are honest and open enough to admit that they can't do it all. Taking up our crosses, dying to ourselves, and following Christ is the only martyrdom we need, and it doesn't center around some sort of heroic level of physical stamina; it centers around Christ, who gives us the only kind of strength that is really worth having.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

On civility and temperance in speech

I am still working on moving this blog to a new site, but in the meantime, I wanted to comment on a current matter. Recently two Catholic writers were let go from a Catholic publication, with the reason given that some of their writing online in social media and other forums was not acceptable. I don't plan to discuss the specifics of the situation since I don't actually know the specifics of the situation, and engaging in speculation about those specifics wouldn't be right. The people involved can, and have, commented, and I sort of think they're the only ones who ought to.

No, my reason for writing has to do with general principles involving civility in written speech, and in particular as a response to some people who, with a sincere and, I think, charitable impulse to defend the two writers, are saying some awfully silly things. Without pointing fingers at any particular commenters, these are the sorts of things I've been seeing:

—The insistence that any "salty" language, vulgarity, coarseness, swearing, name-calling/belittling or other similar uses of words are perfectly fine because Jesus called the Pharisees whitened sepulchers, and St. Paul could get pretty earthy, and there's tons of stuff in the Old Testament too, so clearly writers who use any of these tactics are just following Christ.

—The comparison between cussing someone out on the Internet and the fabled crankiness of St. Jerome or other saints, with the obvious message that crabbiness is sort of a virtue, really, if we just understood it properly.

—The claim that nobody before the Victorians ever thought that immoderate or intemperate language was in any way a moral fault, and that because of the Victorians (or the Puritans or the Jansenists or all three) we have lost that manly, forthright language and become a tribe of "Dash it all, Aunt Agatha!" wimps incapable of expressing the full range of human emotions in our writings.

—The cry that "Keeping it real!" absolutely requires the flinging of F-bombs in Facebook comment threads, and that people who complain about such things are either hopeless fainting-couch addicts or else lying hypocrites who don't really mind the swearing so much as they oppose the steely-eyed soul-reading and calls to repentance which the F-bomb tosser is issuing forth like a prophet of old.

—The somewhat head-scratching notion that employers (even contract employers) don't actually have the right to hold someone accountable for their social media behavior or to end their relationship with an employee who is, however inadvertently, tarnishing their image.

Now, I have a feeling that the two people who were let go from their writing jobs would probably find all of this rather embarrassing, because they're not the ones saying any of this (at least, not as far as I know). Most of us know that just our Lord speaking rather directly to the Pharisees was because He is God, and saw their hearts; we, even the best of us, are just guessing and making assumptions and drawing conclusions, and we're not always right. The same thing is true with comparisons to the saints: sure, we might be a modern-day St. Jerome, but it's always at least equally possible that we're just being a jerk. Many Christian pastors throughout the ages have warned their flocks about the duty to be temperate in speech and modest in expression, and they were not Victorians by any means; it is no more "real" to throw F-bombs than to refrain from doing so (and, when you think about what the F-word actually means, it is often quite nonsensical to employ it in a conversational context where violent carnal knowledge of the item or idea in question is at the very least a physical impossibility and at the most an offense against God and man). As for employers, most of us remember the man who was fired for bullying a fast-food employee and posting a rather pathetic, boasting video of the event on the Internet; one could argue that he was fired as much for extreme cluelessness as anything, but he was fired, and for something that took place far from the context of his job.

The fact of the matter is that civility in speech, temperance in conversation, modesty in one's use of language, all are and all have been areas of concern to Christians throughout the ages. And while most reasonable pastors and confessors would agree that the occasional slip of the tongue is not likely to be a huge fault, especially under extreme provocation, they would also point out that one's written communications ought, quite properly, to be held to a higher standard. We are capable of thinking before we write; we are capable of editing after we write; and we are capable of reconsidering long before we hit the "publish" or "post" buttons. In the heat of an online discussion we may be inclined to forget these things (myself as well as anybody), but that doesn't change the reality that written communication is not intended to be immediate and thoughtless.

I myself have been called to account before for written expressions that failed to see the person on the other side of the screen as a precious child of God made in His image and likeness, and I have been, on the whole, grateful for those reminders. One blogger I know set up the precedent long ago of the "beer and pizza" rule for his comment boxes: you should conduct yourself as if you are sitting at a table with the other commenters sharing some pizza and beer and having a real conversation. His blog continues to be known as a place of unusual civility, where people who disagree about nearly everything can talk to each other with real kindness and compassion, and I have learned a lot from my interactions with commenters there.

Whatever the specifics of this present situation are, I think any Catholic writer would hate to see himself or herself used as the excuse made for a decrease in civility and charity online. Temperance in speech is as much of a virtue as temperance in eating or drinking, and we shouldn't get in the habit of claiming otherwise.