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.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A new website, and some pondering

I have a new website for my books! Please visit it here, and let me know what you think.

I'm also pondering the idea of changing this blog's home. In the past, when I've gotten frustrated with Blogger, I've contemplated moving to a different platform, but I haven't found a platform I've liked as well. So far, I'm pretty impressed with Wix, and have wondered whether it wouldn't be easier all around to move my writing there.

Frankly, blogging isn't what it used to be. I remember how much fun it used to be to visit people's blogs and read a little bit about their lives, their hobbies or projects, and their thoughts on various issues of the day. For a long time now, though, blogs have been getting quieter, and all the discussion that happens seems to take place on Facebook or other social media platforms. (The more visual people have moved to Instagram and I never see them anymore. I'm thinking about setting up an account just so I can see people I sort of miss from the blog world.)

If I do move this blog, I'll let you know, those of you who are still checking in from time to time.

Monday, July 25, 2016

"A Smijj of Strife" is now available!!!

I know I haven't posted on this blog in something like six weeks. And some of that is due just to life in general, but quite a lot of it has been due to my fiction writing habit. Up to now, no matter how many books I wrote in a year, I was not getting that many ready for publication; I only had three books for sale by the end of last year. As of this writing, I have five, and two more books are "in the pipeline" so to speak. I will definitely have six published books by the end of this year, and if the good Lord is willing I may even have seven. I need to give a shout-out to my wonderful volunteer members of my Advance Reader Team; without their unfailing help in proofreading I'd be way behind my goals right now. They are terrific, and I am blessed to have them in my life.

Today I'm happy to tell you that book five in the Tales of Telmaja series, A Smijj of Strife, is now available for sale. For those of you who don't already know this, I have created an Amazon Author page, and that's the quickest and easiest way to purchase any (or all) of my books:

Erin Manning's Amazon Author Page

For those of you who would like a quick link to the specific version of A Smijj of Strife you've been waiting to buy, they are below:

Purchase a print copy of A Smijj of Strife here.

Purchase a Kindle copy of A Smijj of Strife here.

Do you have children or grandchildren ages 8 and up who like to read adventure stories set in imaginative worlds? Do you occasionally cringe at the crude or obscene language, toilet humor, or inappropriate sexual content found in YA or even some intermediate children's fiction books? Do you dislike books that pander to young readers, books that insult their intelligence and talk down to them, books that gloss over moral questions, or books that make adult characters (especially parents) seem stupid or bumbling all the time? Do you want your children or grandchildren to enjoy exciting adventure books that do not contain any sex scenes or swear words but that are still fun, engaging, and not at all preachy?

If you've answered "yes" to any of those questions, then my books may be a good fit for your family. I would be very grateful if you would consider buying and reading them. If your child or grandchild has a Kindle reader or can use a Kindle app on a phone or computer, the Kindle copies of my books are an excellent value at $2.99 each.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I do plan to resume regular blogging here at And Sometimes Tea in the near future (there's plenty to talk about, isn't there?), but I appreciate your patience with my fiction writing, and the occasional posts about it, as well.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A few million stars, revisited

I pride myself on being the kind of person who doesn't get too sentimental about things. But I have to admit that I got a little teary-eyed just now.

You see, I was reading an old blog post of mine, and I got to a part of it that made me tear up a bit.

The post was about homeschooling, and the last paragraph of it is as follows:
Because a few million stars from now, I'll be watching some poised and eager young women take their first steps out into the world, as they discover their vocations and find God's will for their lives. And in their faces I'll see the frowning concentration of the first-graders who struggled to make a letter "B" that wasn't too "bendy;" I'll recognize the focus and direction of the girls who were determined to understand long division; I'll see the joyful spirits of the young ladies who acted out the lessons on proper introduction from the grammar books; I'll see the thoughtful introspection of the daughters who read, a chapter at a time, the story of their salvation from the religion texts. And I'll see other things, too, things I can't even imagine yet (algebra, anyone?), things that will give my girls a chance to grow in grace and wisdom toward the lives to which God will call them.
And I teared up just a bit (not too much! I'm still a redhead!) because those few million stars slipped past almost too fast for me to notice.

Which is a fancy way of saying that my youngest girl, "Hatchick" on this blog, has now joined her sisters as a homeschool high school graduate.

And I am now a retired homeschooling mom.

It was almost sixteen years ago when I started teaching our oldest (we started kindergarten early, and given her determination and drive which are still huge features of her personality it was definitely a good thing), and I am finding it a little hard to believe that we are actually finished. It really is bittersweet, because I'm so proud of all our girls and eager for Hatchick to follow her sisters into this great adventure called "college" and also a little curious and excited about what I'm going to do with myself come fall (though you know writing will be a huge part of my daily life)-yet, at the same time, there's a wistfulness that comes over me when I remember our adventures in education together and realize that life is going to be different now. Of course, one of the first things you learn as a homeschooling mom is that life isn't what you think it will be anyway; maybe there are homeschooling families whose uniformed children gather happily around the kitchen table at six a.m. and begin making up mnemonic devices to help them remember the names of all the counties in the United States while flawlessly filling in college-level math workbooks and cracking jokes in this year's foreign language (Gaelic) that are only funny if you remember the atomic mass of every element in the periodic table, but I have yet to meet that family. 

I have met (both in real life and online) actual homeschooling families who have all sorts of amazing skills and talented children, but the real-world picture often includes those afternoon temper bursts that send the least-favorite textbook flying across the living room floor (and it's bad enough when it's the child doing the throwing...I'm kidding! Really!), not to mention some very real academic struggles that are--guess what?--just like the academic struggles children might have in different school environments. If there's a difference (and I believe there is), it is that Mom can easily look for a different grammar book or math book, or seek help or tutoring online or in real life, or do whatever it takes to make sure that the child in question gets to an appropriate level of understanding in the subject in question. I think most of the really dedicated school teachers out there would like to be able to do the same for the children in their charge, but one of the sad ironies of our age is that we create educational slogans like "No child left behind!" but then impose realities on teachers that force them to decide between leaving a child or two behind, or slowing down the whole class to the point that the ubiquitous and looming standardized test may reveal that slow pace to angry administrators. My sympathy for classroom teachers has grown over the years, and I think the next catchy educational slogan ought to be "No teacher left behind." (Okay, there's the one about no male body parts in girls' locker rooms, too, but that's a topic for another day.)

The truth is that this business of teaching and raising children isn't easy. No matter how you go about it there will be triumphs and setbacks, joys and sorrows, because we are fallen human beings temporarily occupying the vale of tears. But for me, homeschooling has really been not just joyful, but a privilege. It was a privilege for me to stay at home with my daughters and be their first teacher through the early years, and having taught them how to walk and how to talk and how to use the bathroom and how to eat with utensils and how to be nice and take turns and share and so on, it just seemed natural to keep going and teach them how to make letters and numbers and then how to combine those letters and numbers in new and fascinating ways to unlock the mysteries of the universe--or, at least, those mysteries that come up in the first eighteen years of life. Natural; but still a privilege and a gift, to get to know these three amazing young women and to be so proud of them and so delighted in their company on a daily basis.

The great thing about being a retired homeschooling mom is that it's only the homeschooling part that comes to an end. The "mom" part is a life-long joy, and I'm ready to be here for all of my daughters as they head out into the vast world. They all want to find out God's will for them and to live whatever life He calls them to live, and it's an honor for me to be present as they begin these new journeys just as it has been an honor to be both mother and teacher to them all these years.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Honoring mothers

Over at a blog I'm not going to link to today, a blogger whose name I'd rather leave out of the discussion (but who is personally a mother) has decided to take aim at Mother's Day.

Specifically, she has decided that parish celebrations of Mother's Day pretty much need to go away. If priests want, they can sort of mumble a vague prayer for "all women regardless of their state in life" which she has written for the good Fathers to use.

The reason? Mother's Day is hurtful. Some women really want to be mothers but can't be, because they never married or are infertile. Some women have lost children. And some women have bad relationships with their own mothers, so all this over-the-top celebration (which usually involves a prayer out of the Book of Blessings and, perhaps, a carnation and prayer card for the moms present at Mass) is just excruciatingly painful for the women who didn't receive from God the blessing of motherhood.

Now, the reason I'm leaving the blogger's name and site out of this is that I'm not trying to hold one person up as a target. I respect that this is this person's sincere opinion.

But I also reserve the right to say that this is wrong.

Some priests choose not to acknowledge any non-religious holidays, events, or occasions before, during, or after Mass on Sundays, and this is their prerogative. They can skip mentioning Mother's Day even in a single line during this Sunday's homily; they can avoid letting the prayer intentions include even a whisper of the mention of mothers, and they can skip the blessing--and, if this is their invariable practice for Father's Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, World Marriage Day, Scout Sunday, Catholic Schools Week/Religious Teachers' or Catechists Sunday, and so on, then I have no problem with that. It is perfectly proper for priests to choose to exclude everything but the actual liturgical day, should they so choose.

However, if priests choose to acknowledge these sorts of occasions, then there has to be balance. Using the prayer from the Book of Blessings for mothers, which is here, seems to me to be just fine, and the prayer for fathers on Father's Day is appropriate too.

What is not appropriate is to decide that mothers, and mothers alone, can't be recognized, acknowledged, celebrated, praised or encouraged without inflicting such emotional damage and harm on women who are not mothers that it's better to scrap the whole thing--or, at least, to create a vague prayer honoring all women that doesn't ever mention the vocation of motherhood.

We don't treat fathers that way. We don't pretend that honoring fathers on Father's Day hurts men who can't or don't have children so deeply that it's better to create a prayer that honors all men, regardless of their state in life, and leaves it at that. We don't seem to think we have to apologize for honoring fathers and the gift and cross of fatherhood, do we?

So why do we have to apologize for honoring mothers? Why do we have to act as though women, and women alone, can't handle the idea that not all of us are given the same gifts and crosses? Why, when it comes right down to it, do we focus on how hurtful it is to women who aren't mothers to celebrate the ones who are, as if motherhood is only gift and never cross--when, like all vocations, it is always both?

When I've written about Mother's Day before on this blog there are invariably women who say that nobody celebrates them at all. Their husbands pull the old, "You're not my mother, and besides it's a greeting card holiday," in order to do nothing; their children are too young or too indifferent to recognize their mother's gifts and sacrifices; these women may celebrate other mothers, including their own, but are left alone themselves. If it wasn't for that little prayer card or blessing or carnation at Mass, they would get no recognition at all on Mother's Day, and it seems to me to be a form of churlishness to insist that in order not to hurt the unmarried or the infertile we should take even this much away from the forgotten mothers.

I think that we women are stronger and better than this. I think that we can agree that motherhood is, indeed, both a great blessing and, at times, especially in our age, a significant cross. I think we can pray at Mass for the mothers and grandmothers and godmothers, and give them tokens of our love and appreciation as a parish community, without having to become all stifled or apologetic about it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The rise of the New Catholic Pharisees

First, some good news: I did manage to finish the entire manuscript of the second book in the Adventures of Ordinary Sam series (which, right now, looks as though it will be a trilogy, but one never knows).

I love writing fiction, but I also sort of miss blogging. So I want to make an attempt to get back to it.

Fortunately, the Catholic Blogosphere is always full of reasons for me to want to blog. The latest thing I've been noticing is a phenomenon I can only call the rise of the New Catholic Pharisees.

The New Catholic Pharisees, like the Pharisees of old, are Catholics who want to place burdens upon their fellow believers--burdens that the Church herself does not place.  And the New Catholic Pharisees come in all sorts--this isn't a "liberal Catholic" problem or an "orthodox Catholic" problem--it's just a Catholic problem.

Take, for instance, the growing push in some quarters to insist that it is pretty much immoral for a Catholic to own firearms. Now, I think all reasonable people could agree that it's not exactly moral for a Catholic to stockpile illegally-purchased assault weapons while publishing anti-government manifestos and listening out the window for the sound of helicopters; it is also not exactly sane. But once you admit that the Church has never, in fact, forbidden Catholics to own various types of personal-use weapons provided they comply with local laws, secure those weapons properly to make sure children or other unauthorized users can't get at them, and carry the proper permits, you pretty much can't turn around and accuse Catholics who do own personal firearms of colluding in mass murder, or anything of the sort. The people who would give a sort of grudging permission for a Catholic who lives out in the country to own a shotgun or rifle in order to protect his livestock from coyotes but bristle in anger at the idea that a Catholic who lives in a dodgy apartment in a bad part of the city might want a pistol to protect herself from violent intruders need to consider whether they're placing a heavier burden on their fellow Catholics than the Church does.

Or consider the rumblings--as yet subdued--about whether a Catholic's duty regarding civic participation means that a Catholic absolutely must vote for one or the other of the major political parties' candidates running for the presidency. The Church doesn't say this. The Church doesn't generally want people to become totally apathetic about the political process (outside of certain times and places in which participation was a sham meant to prop up dictators and fool outside observers, and tempting though it may be to say we are there it isn't true yet), but she does not demand that her American children must vote for a person with either an "R" or a "D" next to that person's name. Insisting that she does teach that is, again, to place a burden on the faithful which the Church herself doesn't place.

Just today I found another example. Sam Guzman at The Catholic Gentleman wrote a lovely post (no, really, I'm serious) about the way NFP has benefitted him in his marriage. But sure enough, a New Catholic Pharisee turned up in the comment box below the post to write the following:
I don’t consider it (Note: NFP) moral. I have given it a good deal of thought, I’ve read the documents, I’ve asked others, I’ve even jumped headlong into arguments to try to “test” the point but up to this point I (genuinely) haven’t been able to think of, nor been given some reason or even happened upon one that can solidly defend it’s morality. Right now I am absolutely certain that the method of “partial abstinence during cycles” is morally wrong. I’m not one to be contrary for the sake of it, if I would be given some information or taught some distinction that I’m missing up to now I would admit I got it wrong and change my mind, that’s not an issue at all. Until that happens though, I’m at liberty to say it is wrong.
So there you have it, ladies and gentleman: in spite of Pope Pius XII and Pope Paul VI and Pope St. John Paul II and Church tradition stretching back into the mists of history regarding the moral liceity of married couples abstaining from marital relations during the fertile period for a just reason, a random Internet combox New Catholic Pharisee has decided that NFP isn't moral. Further comments from this person indicate that he seems to agree with the opinion that if a really serious, life-threatening reason exists to avoid pregnancy the couple must abstain completely until the woman reaches menopause. I was tempted to jump into the conversation and ask whether in that case the woman wouldn't still have a duty to risk death in childbirth so that her husband wouldn't fall into serious sexual sin, since grave sin is worse than death, but the better angels restrained me from such obvious baiting.

I find it interesting that there are, apparently, New Catholic Pharisees in every Catholic population. You will see them at E.F. Masses and O.F. Masses; they make an appearance on the left, right, and middle side of every debate. The temptation to place burdens upon our fellow men that are heavier than anything that God, through His Church, ever places upon them is, I fear, a universal one.