Friday, September 28, 2007

The Gods of Secularism

Catholics in America need to start being very concerned about the willingness of the government to interfere in Church matters.

Liberals have long since cried "Separation of Church and State!" as a rallying cry designed to make it well-nigh impossible for religious organizations to be present in the public square. From taking down Christmas displays on government property to wiping all references to Christianity from the schools to fostering the creation of work environments where any mention of religious faith is stifled as being opposed to the "core value" of "diversity," liberals in America have been tireless in their determination to create a wholly secular society, one in which people with strong religious beliefs are seen as a quaint throwback, a cultural curiosity, powerless and silent.

But the gods of secularism are petty gods. They won't be appeased by half-measures. They demand the enshrinement of their dogma: the destruction of the human family, and the elevation of the divine autonomous individual doing whatever he or she likes without fear of negative consequences or societal disapproval. All must fall before that twisted doctrine; everything but that is expendable, everything but that can be slated for destruction.

Like in Massachusetts, when Catholic Charities stopped placing children for adoption rather than follow state law--and violate Church teaching--by placing children with homosexual couples. There wasn't even a question of state funding: the state issued an ultimatum, that the Church either had to place children with homosexual couples, or the Church would lose its license to place children for adoption at all. In this instance, Archbishop O'Malley chose the path of moral responsibility, and shut down Catholic Charities' adoption services. The gods of secularism were pleased to be given such power over the Church.

Then there is Connecticut, and this story. Catholic bishops have been fighting the new state law that requires all hospitals, Catholic or not, to give the abortifacient Plan B pill to rape victims. The Catholic bishops have decided to comply with the law. Theoretically, the hospital will insist on a pregnancy test before giving Plan B, but since most employees of these so-called "Catholic" hospitals in America will quite cheerfully, if quite quietly, violate the hospitals' Catholic ethics code on other forms of abortifacient contraception and will, in fact, hand them out like candy, I foresee that the pregnancy test requirement will be ridiculed and dropped by most of the ER doctors faced with rape victims. Of course, since an ovulation test isn't required it's quite possible that the Plan B pills will cause abortions anyway, even if the pregnancy test requirement is adhered to very strictly.

Frankly, the bishops needed to stand up to this, and they didn't. They've opened the door for the state of Connecticut to require whatever unethical or immoral medical procedures they want; don't think such requirements won't be forthcoming. The gods of secularism are very triumphant--nothing pleases them more to be able to force the Church to sacrifice to Moloch, in the names of the secular gods of equality and choice.

Of course, it's hard to blame the bishops of Connecticut. The precedent, in many ways, was set when Catholic Charities in California was forced to provide contraceptive coverage to its employees, because Catholic Charities didn't meet the narrow exception provided by the law mandating such coverage. There was a tiny window of opportunity for the Catholic bishops of California: they could have removed all employee health insurance coverage, or they could have closed down Catholic Charities altogether, rather than comply with this unjust and evil law. But they didn't--and now more and more states are mandating that the Church pay for immoral contraception coverage for employees. The gods of secularism are amused; it delights them that the Church has to pay for the temporary chemical sterilization of other Catholics, many of whom have no idea what the Church actually teaches about contraception in the first place.

What does the future hold for Catholics in America?

Will our churches lose their tax-exempt status for refusing to bow to the gods of secularism on gay marriage? Or will our leaders work out an evil compromise, refusing to speak the Church's teachings clearly in order to retain this status?

Will our churches speak loudly and clearly about the evils of abortion and contraception? Or will they speak, but will their actions of appeasement and compromise blur the clarity of the message?

Will our Catholic hospitals refuse to have anything to do with "cures" for disease manufactured from embryonic stem cells? Or will they shroud themselves in layers of careful nuance and continue on with the status quo, hand in glove with the culture of death?

As I said at the beginning of this post, Catholics in America need to start being very concerned about the willingness of the government to interfere in Church matters.

And Catholics in America need to start being very, very concerned about the willingness of the Church to let the government interfere.

If the gods of secularism win in the end, the cry "Separation of Church and State!" will become the pretext on which all civil rights will be stripped from those who hold sincere religious beliefs. And the "wall of separation" between Church and State will be the means used to wall us in, lest our religious values taint and infect the crowds of wild revelers worshiping the gods of selfish hedonism and the vile wild emptiness of cultural excess and individual narcissistic adulation.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dismantling Marriage, One Fairy Tale at a Time

I'm revisiting the question of gay marriage today, prompted by this news article, in which some of the Democratic candidates, who've been awfully cagey about the degree to which they promote gay rights, come out in support of a Massachusetts second-grade teacher who read the pro-gay fairy tale King and King out loud to her class.

Particularly chilling is the article's final sentence: "School officials stood by their decision to teach about different kinds of marriage and said that Massachusetts law requires them to do so." (Emphasis added.)

Think about that last sentence for a minute. Think about the times you've heard pro-gay marriage people say that this is just about them and their happiness, and the right to be treated equally before the law. Think about how they're always saying that making gay marriage legal won't change anything at all about you or about your heterosexual marriage.

Now think about the reality in Massachusetts, where a classroom full of children who are still in their latency period is held hostage to a sick sort of ideology where these innocent children must be indoctrinated with images and stories of same-sex couples and told about "different kinds of marriage" regardless of the fact that they're way too young to have to deal with such a heavy dose of cultural poison, regardless of their parents' objections to the material, regardless of any concern whatsoever for the children's own well being in terms of their mental and emotional development--regardless of any concern other than making sure that Massachusetts bends over backwards in servile appeasement to their same-sex attracted citizens and the sham marriages those citizens have entered into--sham, of course, in the eyes of God, regardless of what the Commonwealth of Massachusetts thinks it can single-handedly do to overturn human history, common sense, and religious beliefs that will still be around when Massachusetts itself is just a barren stretch of empty wasteland (probably not such a distant prospect in terms of history).

The simple fact of the matter is that when gay-marriage supporters say that allowing them to get married won't affect heterosexuals, or wider society, at all, they are lying. Oh, maybe not personally or intentionally; from my encounters with members of this group on the Internet I must observe in all charity that rational thought on this issue isn't very prevalent. But those who are agitating for gay marriage, for a sweeping change in the laws of every state in the Union to allow two men or two women to call themselves married, know perfectly well what they're doing, what the stakes are, and how they'll be able to use laws permitting and protecting gay marriage to control and enforce a societal view of homosexual behavior as normal and morally good.

For example, in this post on business and conservatism, Rod Dreher points out that if things play out on the gay marriage front like we can expect them to, most traditional religious institutions will lose their tax exempt status at some point in the future, possibly in a decade or two. Many of his commenters seem to think that's a good idea; just as few people objected when California decreed that the Catholic Church had to offer its employees contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans, so do few seem to care that churches may be placed in an untenable position in regards to marriage in the relatively near future.

Teaching children about gay marriage and forcing churches to be silent about the matter are bad enough. But for the architects of the new Gaymerica, that's only the beginning. What they want is full approval of society for their degenerate lifestyles, and gay marriage (monogamous or not) represents only a tiny fragment of homosexuals' lives. What they really want is for every aspect of the lifestyle to be approved by society, from bathroom hookups and anonymous park encounters to serial relationships to open "marriages" with many partners. Again, not every person who seeks gay marriage seeks these things; but it can hardly be denied that what same-sex couples mean by "marriage" has very little in common with what heterosexual couples mean by the term.

But widespread acceptance of the gay lifestyle will never happen as long as traditional marriage is seen as normative, which is why the very word "marriage" has to be re-invented in such a way as to make it almost meaningless. I once pointed out to a pro-gay marriage supporter that the way she was defining "marriage" would make it possible for two elderly widowed heterosexual women to enter into a "gay marriage" as a tax shelter; her answer was, "So what?" It didn't matter to her in the least that if such "marriages" became widespread, the very word and concept would cease to mean anything definable at all.

The author of this piece, a lesbian, writes, "We came out to dismantle marriage as an institution." The context is her essay about why gays shouldn't want marriage, or be fighting for it at all, but I think she doesn't realize that the new strategy to dismantle marriage isn't merely to come out as gay, but to clamor for marriage. By doing so, by forcing states to rewrite their laws in such a way that a heterosexual married couple and a homosexual "married" couple must be treated exactly the same way by the law, and by wider society under threat of coercion by the government, they will in fact be dismantling marriage.

As I pointed out in these posts, same-sex marriage and heterosexual marriage are completely different, thanks in part to the reality that heterosexual marriages tend to produce children as the natural and desired result of such relationships. The whole reason governments care about marriage at all is that up until the present time, governments have preferred to offer some support to those citizens who are raising new generations of citizens, as this duty would otherwise fall to the government. Homosexual relationships do not, in and of themselves, produce children. To expand the rights and privileges of marriage to an entire class of people who will not face the duty and burden of raising offspring as the natural and expected result of their relationship is to create a situation of inequality, one in which homosexual couples may claim all of the benefits of marriage without ever having to undertake its most serious burden and responsibility.

Such an unjust situation will lead to further erosion of marriage, already crumbling due to serial divorce, rampant cohabitation, and other destructive influences. And it won't help things any to have laws on the books, like in Massachusetts, that make it mandatory for second-graders to sit and listen to King and King.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Potluck Wednesday, Volume Six

Is it Wednesday already? Is it me, or are the weeks going faster and faster as we careen wildly through September and enter October, with Christmas getting closer and closer all the time?

Speaking of Christmas, every mother out there would like a copy of this. Framed, please. Hung prominently on a wall opposite the front door, so everyone who enters can see it. (Hat tip: Mark Shea.)

Alas, I'll have to tell my DH not to buy me a bottle of Starbucks' gingerbread coffee flavoring for Christmas this year: there's a new, informal boycott on, thanks to Starbucks' idiotic and insensitive promotion of Joni Mitchell's new album, Shine; the cover song contains the sort of nasty Catholic slur the Hollywood elite still finds clever. Creative Minority Report does a good job presenting this story, complete with a handy link to Starbucks' customer contact form; even if you're not a regular customer of the supersized corporate caffeine dispenser, please consider letting them know that when you do buy coffee, you'd rather buy it from someone who will hold the dollop of sneering contempt for Catholics.

Fortunately, there are plenty of things in this world better than Starbucks' coffee. Karen Edmisten writes about a whole society for the prevention of the deprivation of one of them. Sadly, I can only be an honorary member of this Society, as chocolate is one of my sure-fire migraine triggers; but her link to the recipe for Marbled Peanut Butter Brownies made for some wonderful, if slightly drooly, reading anyway.

Speaking of migraine triggers (just kidding! But I do always make sure my sound is off before I check in at Nutmeg's blog!) Nutmeg is starting an online book club! Sounds interesting, and fun!


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Caught in the Nebula

I've noticed a curious phenomenon out there in homeschooling mommy-blog land: when an issue gets raised or discussed on one blog, all of a sudden, blogs and forums everywhere will start humming with the same theme (I'd say something clever here about hives or whale song, except that to do so would mean exposing my appalling lack of retention for natural history facts).

The theme that I've noticed lately is a slightly troubling one: moms worried about their homeschooling efforts, moms talking longingly or wistfully of that great school around the corner, moms wondering if there's something to their non-homeschooling friends' socialization concerns, moms exhausted and wondering if homeschooling is worth it, moms ready to throw in the towel--if only they could remember where they put it.

Of course, we've all had bad days. And we've all experienced burnout.

But it's only September.

I know that families have different needs and concerns, and face struggles and problems far beyond what we sometimes read on our favorite mommy blogger's website. I would never try to tell someone else how to live his or her life, or pretend that serious issues involving home and family can't get in the way of even the best intentions to homeschool.

But what worries me is that so much of this sudden surge of doubt seems to be quite nebulous, based less on real problems that demand solutions, but on those vague, drifting clouds of concern that swirl around our heads from time to time: what if my child is missing out? What if school would be better for him/her? What if I'm wasting his/her time, and mine, trying to do this? What if I'm really no good at this homeschooling stuff? What if I can't go on handling the mess and the chaos for the next couple of decades?

This nebula of confusion can be a real obstacle to homeschooling peace; it can attack even the most committed of homeschooling moms, and make every day less and less an adventure in education and more and more a battle for sanity.

Which is not good--because these doubts have nothing whatsoever to do with homeschooling at all.

These are doubts that plague nearly all mothers. These are the doubts that come with the territory, that begin that first moment in the hospital when that warm sweet-scented bundle first reposes on your chest; they won't end until the end of your earthly life (and maybe not even then). Whether you put your children into a tiny private Catholic academy run by certified saints or whether you teach your children at home following the most tortuously excellent method you can find or whether they board the ordinary yellow school bus each day matters very little in terms of these dreadful fears. No matter what we do for our children, there's always at least one different option, and being plagued by the strange ability to see nearly every possibility for good or ill emanating from every decision we ever make about or for our children is one of those things that can be very useful to a mother--provided it doesn't drive her insane, first.

Picture an expectant mother, confidently shopping for her soon-to-arrive little miracle. She places items in her cart without any concern at all: she's done the research, and knows instinctively which item is the best: the best car seat, the best baby monitor, the best organic cotton rompers--she's got it all down cold. There's nothing to this mothering stuff, is there?

Picture that same mother two years later. She stands hesitantly in the clothing aisle: is it even worth buying this sweatsuit in the size 3T, considering how soon Baby will grow out of it? On the other hand, the weather is getting cooler, but all of his 4T clothes are summer clothes, since she bought them early for next year thinking that clothing sizes might actually correspond roughly to ages. While she hesitates, she remembers that Baby broke out terribly the last time he wore long pants, though she could never be certain that it wasn't due to the orange Popsicle his father foolishly let him eat that day. Should she take a chance on the suit, or go with the corduroy shortalls and knee socks? Would knee socks break him out? She forgot to ask her husband's mother if contact dermatitis ran in their family; husband doesn't get it, but can't remember if his brother did. Maybe she should wait to buy any clothes until she knows for sure...although it is getting cooler, and Baby's always so susceptible to weather-change driven sinus attacks...with any luck, she'll be out of the baby clothes aisle in a quarter of an hour or so.

Those parents whose kids aren't being homeschooled may not lay awake at night worrying that the children aren't getting enough outside stimulation, extracurricular activities, brown-bag lunches, or field trips; but they are laying awake at night worrying about their children's friends, that paper with a "D-" they found stuffed under the couch cushions in the living room, the note from the teacher about a child's disruptive behavior or failing math grade, and the sullen look on the face of the daughter who refuses to go to Mass on Sunday with the family--or at all. To be a parent is to worry; it is to second-guess what seems like every decision you make; it is to re-evaluate your whole family's mode of existence at the drop of a hat; it is to wonder how you, and they, are going to survive all of the mess and chaos for the next couple of decades: because that mess and chaos arrives into your home along with that very first pink- or blue-wrapped bundle, and, if you're lucky, will stay around long enough for your great-grandchildren to bring it to you in their wake.

Because by then you'll miss it, of course. It will seem so long ago that all you had to worry about was how to get through the homeschooling stuff--as if that was really a worry! With the wisdom of age will come the perspective I hope to gain someday: that very few things in this life are really, truly worth worrying about, or worth allowing clouds of doubt to form and rain their negativity down on us. We are, after all, wrapped in the loving care of a Father Whose providence should be enough for us--and for our children. Trusting that He will guide us in everything we do for the sake of our children is the only way I know of to dispel the swirling nebula of fear and anxiety that threatens to overwhelm us all from time to time.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Whining is Never in Fashion

Robin Givhan of the Washington Post is throwing a tiny little temper tantrum.

Ms. Givhan, the Post's fashion writer, has written an article lamenting several things which seem only loosely connected, like an ill-conceived gown on Emmy Night. Frankly, it seems as though her foot-stamping rant has only one common theme, and that is children, at least children whose presence has somehow been personally inconvenient to Ms. Givhan. But because the things she's saying are the sorts of things that east-coast elites tend to nod sagely at each other about, as if they somehow Understand Something Real that those of us out here in flyover country miss completely, let's see just what she has to say--provided she stops whining and speaks in the kind of voice that mommies can hear.

Her first complaint has to do with children on plastic tricycles being pushed by careful parents down the crowded sidewalks of Manhattan. Specifically, she complains about having to dodge such children and their careful parents which would, if she thought about it, explain the extremely slow speeds of these tricycles: this is New York. If the tricycle so much as brushes within an eighth of an inch of someone's well-pressed pant leg or splashes dirty puddle water on a new pair of Pradas, chances are that someone will sue. But it isn't the slow speed that's got Ms. Givhan's goat; it's the helmets on the tender noggins of the wee cyclists.

Silly, Ms. Givhan snorts; a child isn't going to get hurt falling off of a tricycle! Not one going so slow! Not one being pushed by parents!

Try telling that to the American Academy of Pediatrics, Ms. Givhan. Better yet, try telling it to the emergency room doctor should you show up with a helmetless child who's been injured in a fall from a tricycle; when you're done getting the lecture about how you should have made sure the child was wearing a helmet, you can then deal with a full-fledged investigation from your local division of Child Protective Services.

In typical elite fashion, Ms. Givhan fails to realize that the social policies the left promotes and spreads tend to lead to this kind of nonsense. Tell you what, Ms. Givhan: if safety-gear swathed tots irritate you, then get the stupid village out of my face and let me raise my kids.

From this complaint about helmet heads, Ms. Givhan segues to a discussion about "Kid Nation," the reality show that had people upset about the possibility that some safety and child labor laws had been violated. How ridiculous was all the fuss, Ms. Givhan tells all the overprotective parents out there. So, the kids drank a little bleach, broke some laws and missed some school. So what? What's all the concern? Again, Ms. Givhan ignores the fact that a television show could get away with the sort of behavior that would put an average parent behind bars, but hey--television people are Special, like fashion writers.

Next up as the targets of Ms. Givhan's ire are those silly, selfish parents at who are upset that their children are being shown images of car crashes, gun violence, and other terror while seated on airplanes. Most passengers are over 18, Ms. Givhan points out, so why should we worry about what a handful of six-year-olds might have to endure?

She has this exactly backwards, of course: no one, anywhere, has ever suggested that the 9/11 terrorists might have refrained from their acts of destruction and mayhem if only the in-flight entertainment had been a little more appealing. On the other hand, many people have been on a flight with children who are bored stiff with the entertainment Mom and Dad stashed in the diaper bag to keep them amused on the trip (because, by the time the family has been confined in the plane which has sat for three hours on the tarmac without moving the most amusing of children's toys or coloring books have lost all appeal). As an adult, I'd much rather have the airlines show endless streams of cartoons to keep the littlest travelers content than complain that my "adult-only" world has been invaded yet again by the little parasites, which is the tone Givhan takes in this section of her essay: but then again, I am an adult, and don't rely on some cheap Hollywood thriller to keep me occupied when I'm traveling. After all, unlike the kiddies, I can read on the plane. I might even read the Washington Post (though probably not the fashion column).

I think the only thing I can do for the remaining paragraphs of the article, which spiral into weird irrelevancies, is to ignore them, as charitably as possible, as I would refrain from criticizing someone who wore dark hose with open-toed shoes. Her hysterical final sentence, "But it is a nightmare to envision a nation under the tyranny of children..." must be quoted, however, because what she's really saying here is "It's not fair! It's not fair! It's not fair!"

No, Ms. Givhan, it's not fair. It's not fair that the children get to act like children, and that you, an adult, are expected to be mature about it. But guess what? That's what adults do.

Ms. Givhan, grow up.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Imp of Illusions

We're heading into week five of homeschooling here at the Cardigan house, and once again we're being visited by a Creature.

It's not that bad, of course. The Creatures that show up later in the year tend to be much more troublesome. But the Imp of Illusions can be annoying, especially since he's invisible.

I first suspected his presence when I noticed how ambitious some of my schedules for these first few weeks have been. We were going to do every assignment! In every book! Plus every workbook activity! Plus outside projects! All of it with exuberant enthusiasm and a love for learning that would almost be palpable!

We were going to immerse ourselves in math in the morning, linger over lunch for literary discussions, and sneak in a little dictionary work while preparing dinner. We were going to festoon every inch of the refrigerator with examples of flawless work and inspiring creativity.

We were going to whistle while we worked.

Reality has a way of gently encouraging us to reexamine our plans; gently, in the way that a speeding locomotive demolishing a stack of priceless porcelain is gentle. But in the aftermath of the train wreck that is reality hitting, the sly little Imp arises, the ghost of the wreckage of our overconfident and overextended ambitions. He points not to what we can do, and do well, but to what we thought we could do, and do excellently. He creates in our mind the illusion of ourselves as the Perfect Homeschooling Mom, the one with boundless energy, limitless imagination, degrees in math and English, the patience of a saint, the creativity of a DaVinci, the craft skills of a Martha Stuart, the homemaking talents of the biblical Martha, the kitchen science of an Alton Brown, the organizational skills of the Flylady, and the cheerful good nature of a Pollyanna. And, of course, with perfect children.

The Imp is the one whispering in your ear that you should be able to teach difficult math concepts while putting the ingredients for dinner into the Crockpot by no later than eight o'clock in the morning. The Imp is the one who insists that other homeschooled children don't get distracted and begin surreptitiously cutting out paper snowflakes instead of finishing their religion questions. The Imp is the one who tries to get you to cancel science experiments or art projects on the grounds that they're too messy. The Imp is the one who pretends that everyone else in the world lives in a home that is neater and tidier and better-furnished than yours, and that other homeschoolers have actual classrooms, complete with (non-plastic) globes and large American (and Papal) flags at the front of the room, displayed in such a way as to leave plenty of room on the full-sized chalkboard for writing the Latin Word of the Day and the Literary Concept of the Week. The Imp is the one who pretends that all the other homeschooling moms out there assign every question in every book on every day of every week, in addition to workbook activities and outside projects.

Fortunately, by the end of the school day today I had discovered the Imp's presence. Equally fortunately, he's pretty easy to dispel, once you know he's there--in fact, I've already gotten rid of him.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the Imp doesn't automatically get rid of the effect he's had. My schedules are still a little too ambitious, and will need some serious rethinking and retooling if they're going to work. But it's amazing, once the illusion of perfection has passed, and you start to realize just how much you've already accomplished in four short weeks.

New math concepts. Great discussions about the meaning of Divine providence (followed by an equally great paragraph relating same to the life of Joseph and his brothers in Egypt, written by my oldest DD). Nouns in apposition tackled and conquered by my second DD. A science experiment involving water in a cup and a piece of paper which was supposed to have a prism effect, in which the hypothesis that the experiment wasn't working properly because clear plastic doesn't refract light as well as glass was tested and proved by my youngest DD. Learning going on all around me, even when that learning involves the number of snips to make in the paper snowflake you're really not supposed to be making just now.

The Imp doesn't stand a chance.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Raising the Stakes

She's back.

To be strictly accurate, she never left--in fact, Hillary likes to say, these days, that she has experience at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. (Why this phrase reminds me of something a gastroenterologist might say is better not discussed.)

For those of us who don't live in New York, though, the reappearance of Hillary carries with it all the shuddering horror of watching Dracula re-emerge from a coffin, long after you thought he'd been successfully dispatched with cross, garlic and stake. What's even worse, though, is that she's waving around triumphantly the very thing that, were this not such a decadent age, would have finished her off long ago. (And it's not Bill.)

Her health care plan.

Whether you like it or you don't is so far divided on fairly partisan lines. Proponents seem to be saying that in the thirteen years since Ms. Clinton tried to sell us this particular snake oil she's refined the product, removing many of the more obviously unpalatable ingredients; opponents seem to be insisting that the plan will be extremely costly, will raise taxes, will lead to health care rationing, will require a huge and inefficient bureaucracy, and will mandate that every single person in America purchase health insurance (but hey, at least she's not making us all go to the doctor, right?).

What neither side is saying is the obvious: the federal government of the United States of America has no business whatsoever interfering in health care.

The whole reason that it's so darned expensive to go to the doctor is because the government got involved. Once upon a time, the doctor lived in the same communities with his patients, and made house calls when you were sick. If you could pay him his full bill, you did; if you needed time to pay, he worked that out with you; if you couldn't pay at all he might forget the whole thing, or to spare your dignity he might accept a dozen jars of freshly-canned fruit or homemade preserves as payment.

Then a little national tragedy called the 16th Amendment to the Constitution happened.

Income tax forever changed the freedom of Americans to decide for themselves how to conduct their own businesses. The doctor could no longer accept those jars of preserves as payment; how was he supposed to give the federal government a percentage of Mrs. Smith's apple jam? Moreover, a myriad of new laws dealing with income made it impossible for him to charge one person more than another, or to give someone time to pay him back, because the government wouldn't wait for its share of the doctor's labor. Oh, this didn't happen all at once: most people in 1913 believed that the income tax would never even apply to them, but only to the "rich." Having opened this particular floodgate, though, the federal government was quick to pursue the advantage, and soon was taxing everybody who worked for a living.

This meant trouble for the doctor's poorer patients; it also made trouble for the doctor, who often couldn't afford to remain in practice alone. Fewer doctors lived in the same community with their patients, and house calls slowly became a distant memory.

And only sixteen years after the passing of the sixteenth amendment, the first modern group health insurance plan was formed by a group of teachers in Dallas, Texas. Throughout the 1930s and '40s employers expanded the idea, and by the years after World War II employers had realized that offering such plans to their employees not only made it possible to keep wages low, but also gave the employer himself some needed tax breaks.

Unfortunately, the proliferation of private insurance plans meant that those who didn't have access to such plans found their doctor visits increasingly expensive, since one effect health insurance programs have is to create incentives for doctors and hospitals to shift costs from a health plan's members to someone else. Soon, that "someone else" would be the federal government. In 1965, an amendment to the Social Security act created the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Additionally conceived as emergency health insurance coverage for only those most in need, these programs now cost nearly 400 billion dollars a year; these costs will only increase in the years to come, even without a Hillary Clinton-style health care plan.

Buried among all of these overlapping payers and negotiators for health insurance is the answer to one simple question: what does it actually cost to go to the doctor?

$100? $200? $500? We don't really know, do we--all we know is what our "co-pay" is, which seems reasonable and affordable until you check your pay stub and see how much money per year is being taken out for your health insurance. And that amount is just the amount you (or your husband) is paying. The company is also paying part of the cost, not out of the goodness of their hearts, but to be competitive and to get the advantage of the tax breaks they get for paying for their portion.

Once the government takes a bigger role in running America's health care, we can bet that the actual cost of health care will skyrocket. People who want to keep their private insurance will find themselves unable to do so, as employers dump expensive private plans in favor of "free" government plans. The health care industry will continue its practice of making some things affordable by charging a fortune for other things, or to other people. Layers of inefficiency will spread like an ugly mold over the whole enterprise.

Whenever the federal government gets involved in something it has absolutely no right to be involved in, three things happen:

1. What the federal government "owns," the federal government "controls." Want to be charged extra for your "government-funded" labor and delivery because you won't have your tubes tied afterward? Wait and see.

2. What the federal government "owns," the federal government "grows." Remember when the Department of Education was a small advisory board? Neither do I; it was before most of us were born.

3. What the federal government "owns," the federal government "exploits." Remember when Social Security was supposed to be a safety net for retirees, and the number was never, ever, ever going to be used as a de facto national identification card? Remember when the Dept. of Homeland Security said no one but they would ever see your library list? Just imagine: with national health care, the flight attendant on your business trip won't just see your Social Security number and know what books you read last week; she'll be privy to the fact that your last doctor visit ended up being for your chronic constipation problem.

Real health care reform would deal with the root causes of our dysfunctional system: income taxes and government involvement in health care. Only a vampire would think that the way to solve a problem involving government bloodsucking is to increase and subsidize government bloodsucking; we have to make it clear to our representatives in the coming months that we don't want to trade even more of our freedom for a handful of pills and "free" doctor visits. The stakes are already high; but we're going to have to raise them a bit more if we're going to turn this nightmarish plan into dust.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Potluck Wednesday, Volume Five

Welcome to Potluck Wednesday!

Since we've been discussing liturgical matters of late, let's take a look at some liturgical matters today.

First, from Father Zuhlsdorf come these lovely stories and pictures about the Extraordinary Use Mass. I'm still looking for my diocese to post an official statement about the Motu Proprio. Does anyone out there live in a diocese that has begun to have Extraordinary Use Masses yet?

Next, from blogger 4andcounting (soon to have a happy name change!) comes this familiar dilemma: when your parish doesn't seem to be on the same page with you, do you stay and work for positive change, or go find another parish? I've made the decision each way at one time or another; sometimes it's possible to work for change, but other times for your own peace of soul you have to find a new parish.

Remember those pro-lifers in Aurora, Illinois, still courageously fighting to keep Planned Parenthood's abortion mill out of their community? This article from last week highlights the fact that there are good bishops. Bravo, Bishop Sartain! Your witness is so important, especially since the article also mentions "religious" pro-abortion leaders (wouldn't want to be in their shoes on judgment day!).

Finally, from MommaLlama comes this tale of woe--I can so relate! When my girls were little, it seemed that their behavior at Mass often depended on where we went to church: at the Cathedral here in town they'd be little angels (well, all but the youngest, who was only two at the time) but at the church we now attend, with its "round" architecture (sigh) and cushioned benches, they'd be--well, less than angels. The funny thing is that owing to the pastor at the "round" parish the "round" parish was theologically the more orthodox of the two; but my girls were reacting on an instinctive level to the fact that the very old Cathedral with its stained glass windows and lovely statues felt like a place in which they had to behave!

If you feel so inclined, tell me about your church--the good, the bad, and, even, the ugly!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Gather Us...Where?

It is sometimes a little frustrating to talk to fellow Catholics about Catholic matters.

Oh, not anyone here, of course. But I've had the experience, as I'm sure you've had too, of entering in to a conversation either in the real world or online, and saying something rather mild about what Church art or architecture or music should be like, only to have the other person or group of commenters act as though you've suddenly been transformed into a pearl-and-silk-wearing elitist who should be raising money on a PBS television fund raiser, because you're obviously out of touch with the Common Man who likes his churches bare, simple, and festooned with felt banners: and who are you to judge his tastes as inferior to your own?

The most recent time this happened to me I eventually gave up. People who are convinced that a church's architecture should be a reflection of the kind of space that makes people comfortable, and that all those stuffy old cathedrals did was re-emphasize a "false" idea that the clergy were practically minor deities who stood with their backs to the people mumbling to show how important they were and how unimportant the lay people were, aren't really going to listen to anything I say. I had someone actually tell me, in effect, that in place of all that hierarchy we now understood (based on Vatican II documents, apparently) that the Church is really a bunch of concentric circles and that the "presider" and his "helpers" should properly be summoned out of the assembly to maintain the integrity of this new image of Church. I had heard that such people existed, but had never before encountered one outside of a chancery. Circles? Really?

Of course, the "circle" model of Church does explain the whole "church-in-the-round" architecture that has been so prevalent in recent years. And if you haven't already read it, Michael S. Rose's book Ugly As Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces and How We Can Change Them Back Again is an excellent read, explaining how the ugly and uninspiring architecture of most twentieth and twenty-first century Catholic churches isn't accidental, but driven by this sort of revisionist theology that sees us all as God's good buddies, joining hands in an endless round of "Here I Am, Lord," both in this life and beyond. One can only be glad that the people responsible for this stuff didn't imagine "Church" as some other geometric shape; ugly as a church-in-the-round can be, I can only imagine what the result might have been if some genius or other had decided that the irregular decagon was the right new way to imagine the Church.

Why are issues like these so contentious for Catholics? Because at their heart they are not about anyone's tastes or preferences; they really are about competing visions that encompass not only architecture and music, but what it means to worship as a Catholic, and, ultimately, what it means to be a Catholic.

Richard Vosko has been one of the foremost Church architects in recent times. A perusal of his web site shows clearly that his understanding of the concepts of worship are quite different from what the Church actually teaches, as may be seen in his philosophy statement. And his philosophy shows in his work: examples like this, of a new church, and like this, of a church "renovation" project, seem to indicate that Vosko sees worship as being all about the gathering of the community; God, and what we owe to Him, is almost an afterthought (if, indeed, anyone is thinking of Him at all).

Compare any of the churches shown on Vosko's site to this, and you may see what a paradigm shift has been taking place. Even if you were to object that it's hardly fair to compare a simple parish church with an ancient Cathedral, it's still true that the pattern of Church architecture has been openly and hurriedly changed in the past sixty or so years, so that between Notre Dame in Paris and Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles there is scarcely any resemblance at all. And just as smaller churches once kept in mind the same architectural principles that governed the building of the huge cathedrals, so today are the principles behind Los Angeles' Cathedral's architecture likely to be the ones governing the construction of your own parish church, whether you like it or not.

There is one thing I give the "wreckovators" of recent years credit for, and it is this: they understood from the beginning how important all of this is, how they would have to smash and destroy the symbols and spaces of the past to make way for their new humanistic vision of what Catholicism ought to be. Though their inadvertent iconoclastic followers may truly be unaware of the agenda behind the work of their superiors, and therefore accuse traditionalists of trying to impose mere matters of taste on the congregation, the people behind this new iconoclasm understood all too well that a lot more than personal preference was involved. They understood that only by shattering the prayers in stone of the former ages could they erect buildings that would capture their own notions; chief among these is the persistent claim that God appears when the assembly does, couched in language that disguises the humanistic pantheism that underlies these statements. Lest anyone doubt that these designers and architects really do worship man, and not God, you have only to look at the temples they've designed, temples in which God is not even visible, and is often relegated to an ugly misshapen box in an even uglier closet, out of the way, so He doesn't jar anyone's sensibilities with His Real Presence.

A Quick Update

Last Wednesday I wrote about the courageous pro-life community in Aurora, Illinois, who are working desperately to keep a huge new Planned Parenthood abortion clinic from opening in their community.

The clinic was scheduled to open today. I'm pleased to announce that the opening has been delayed.

The delay is very temporary; the clinic could open by Friday. Please take a moment to pray that the clinic will remain closed, as abortions are already scheduled to take place.

Thank you!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Business Poetry

In one of his humor columns years ago, Dave Berry wrote: "In college, Yuppies major in business administration. If to meet certain requirements they have to take a liberal arts course, they take Business Poetry."

As an English major, I found this line terribly funny. At the college I attended it always seemed like the business majors were divided into two groups: business majors, relatively normal kids who were studying business because they'd already realized that this was their surest path to get an actual job after college, which would give them some chance at paying off their student loans sometime before their first grandchild was born, and Business Majors, people who never attended a single student function unless it was good for their resume, people who ran for student government primarily for the opportunities it afforded them to hobnob and network with the students who were likely to be successful post-college, people who sat through the few English classes they had to take with a definite air that their time was being wasted. Though I never took a writing class with any of these Business Majors, I can imagine that they were bored and fidgety through these classes, too, except for the unit in the textbooks which dealt with business communication, at which point they sprang to attention and showed signs of actual life, and an attitude bordering on a sort of enthusiasm (Business Enthusiasm, of course).

Which is why I found this so terribly amusing (hat tip to the Curt Jester for the link).

Full disclosure: I've never read an Ayn Rand novel, and probably never will. Certainly I'm not tempted to read Atlas Shrugged, which is about 1200 pages long and would thus cost me somewhere between six and ten hours of my life;
Dostoevsky was worth it; Rand--probably not. What little I know of Atlas Shrugged agrees with the opinions I've heard expressed by fellow bibliophiles, which is that it's more ponderous philosophical treatise disguised as novel than it is novel, with wooden and uninteresting characters, lecture-like dialog, and lengthy philosophical dissertations wrapped loosely up in a slightly ridiculous plot.

Obviously, I wouldn't review a book I've never read, but as the New York Times article above points out, so many of the people who sincerely love this novel seem to be former Business Majors, people whose whole philosophy of life is based on the notion that economics are more important than anything, and capitalism more salvific than any religion could ever be. Especially interesting to me is their wholehearted acceptance and approval of Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, which among other things includes the notion "
that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness or 'rational self-interest...'" In other words, Objectivism is a philosophical excuse for selfishness, greed, and the rejection of every virtue which is ordered away from the Self and toward the Other. Rand's characters express this in their cold-hearted adultery which is as contemptuous toward the object of their infidelity as it is to their spouses; apparently, this notion was not merely an abstract one, as some of the details of Rand's life demonstrate.

In most of literature, the characters strive to become greater than they are; they may succeed spectacularly, like Elizabeth Bennet; they may fail miserably, like Hamlet; but in either case, they must acknowledge some measure of greatness outside of themselves worth striving toward, some standard of excellence that is higher and more noble than that directed by their own self-interest, some pursuit that is worth the endeavor whether it pays in coins, in kisses, or not at all. Objectivism seems to me to be Business Philosophy, where the growth of the bottom line and one's own desire for success are the sole and exclusive instruments by which one is measured; there is no room in such a philosophy for heroism, selflessness, loyalty, or grace.

This view of life is ultimately very circumscribed, and very false.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Laundry Lament

When I woke up this morning, I remembered that I had a load of laundry in the dryer. Reminding myself to pull it out and fold it, I got down to the business of teaching.

I recalled it briefly at lunchtime, while I was waiting for the pasta I was making for the girls' Friday lunch to finish cooking. But Fridays are also spelling quiz days, and I decided it would be a better idea to give the girls their quizzes before lunch was ready so we wouldn't get bogged down with them after lunch.

I forgot about the laundry for a while, while the girls were down for a rest after their school work was done for the day. But as they began their Friday chore of helping clean the bathrooms, and I gathered an armload of towels to put in the washer, I remembered it again; I also remembered that the washer was full, because DD#2 was waiting for me to get my laundry out of the way before finishing hers.

As I got ready to pull out my laundry, the phone rang. DH said he might actually get to leave work on time for once, and if he did, would I like to get the big Costco shopping over with this evening instead of tomorrow, when Costco would be a lot more crowded? Enthusiastically agreeing to this plan, I abandoned the towels and rushed into the kitchen to start preparing dinner earlier than usual.

While dinner was underway I had a minute to pull out my laundry, put DD #2's laundry in the dryer, and start the towels in the washer; but I dumped the laundry on my bed and rushed back out to the kitchen to wrestle with an unusually sticky calzone dough (our broccoli strudel won't be as pretty as usual, but it will still be edible).

The calzone is baking. The washer is gleefully swishing towels around, while the dryer hums like an absentminded professor. And the laundry is still piled in a heap, waiting to be folded.

I don't really hate laundry; there are many chores that are more annoying to me. But the one frustrating thing about laundry is how easy it is to put it off. Anything can take priority: a phone call, a blog post, a sticky calzone dough. And every time you turn around, the laundry still hulks sullenly, reminding you that it's there, that it needs attention, that it needs you. It's as cranky and demanding as a two-year-old, but with none of a two-year-olds smiles, hugs, and other graces.

So, while I'd love to stay and write some more, I've got to go. I've got about a quarter of an hour before dinner is ready, which is plenty of time to pair socks and hang up shirts and otherwise create order out of chaos; that's the rewarding part of doing the laundry.

And later tonight, I'll fold the towels. Or early tomorrow morning. Definitely by tomorrow afternoon at the latest. After all, tomorrow's Saturday!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

We Should Know Better

There's quite an interesting discussion going on at the Real Learning forum. Perhaps "discussion" isn't quite the right word, though; what seems to be taking place is a clash of opposing world views, one of which holds that that homeschooled Catholic children should still obediently sign right up for whatever religious education program their parish offers/mandates/threatens them with, and the other of which insists that their children will only be signed up for these classes over the supine and lifeless corpse of the homeschooling mother in question, whose ghost will then proceed to haunt the D.R.E. into a state of nervous exhaustion until the poor motherless babes are excused from any further participation.

Guess which side I'm on.

The issue isn't that some religious education instructors might be Really Nice People; I'm sure many of them are. The issue isn't, even, that some of the programs might not reek with the rotting algae of early 7os catechesis, or hang like a tattered leftover burlap banner proclaiming the smile-button theology most of us were inflicted with in our childhood. There might, possibly, somewhere in the known universe, be a halfway decent program, almost as good as the ones we choose for our own children--the operative word being "almost."

Because even with the exact same program we're using and some Really Nice People teaching, the programs would still fall far short of what we're able to do in the realm of religious instruction for our own children in our own homes on a daily (not weekly!) basis--and that's overlooking the sad reality that far too many parish religious education programs are run by Really Confused People using the rotting algae/tattered banner variety of catechetical materials.

Requiring, even mandating, that homeschooled families must sign up for such instruction is an insult, plain and simple. It is the parish bureaucracy saying to the family, in effect, "We don't trust you to teach religion to your children."

As a dear family member puts it, the state of Texas trusts me to teach my children algebra and physics, for heaven's sake, but the parish doesn't trust me to teach my children about God?

And then the D.R.E.s out there wonder why so many homeschooling families seem to approach them with some latent--or overt--hostility. Gosh, I don't know. Could it be because you're requiring me to sign my children up for instruction they've already had at home? Could it be because you think I'm an idiot incapable of preparing my own children for the sacraments? Could it be that I'm annoyed because the whole state of Texas trusts me more than you do?

Imagine how homeschooling parents might react if the public library mandated reading classes for homeschooled children before they could check out any books, regardless of the child's ability to demonstrate reading proficiency, and you'll get some idea of just how insulting these mandatory religious education requirements really are.

I put up with weak, pointless, barely-Catholic religious instruction in the parochial schools I attended back in the 70s and 80s. Many of my peers can relate; many of us were surprised and delighted to discover what our Church really teaches, and to immerse ourselves in the great traditions, devotional practices, and celebrations of our faith in a way the smile-button brigade never bothered to teach us about. Many of us are committed to Catholic homeschooling precisely because we want to hand on the authentic traditions and teachings of our faith to our children, not hand them the sugar-free, lite version of Catholicism so many of us grew up with.

As I said, not all parish or diocesan religious instruction is as bad as what we grew up with; but there's a forty-year hole in religious education that has barely begun to be refilled by those who seek to reform catechesis, and what that means at the practical, parish level is that you are more likely than not going to be given shadows instead of substance when you sign up for religious education classes.

It might be true that shadows are better than nothing for those whose only contact with the faith is their weekly parish attendance. But it is not true that shadows are better than substance for the children whose mothers are sacrificing so much to provide them with that substance, day in and day out, week after week, year after year. Many of our children will be called to the priesthood or religious life, and they will need much more than shadows to sustain them in those callings. It is our duty to see that they are prepared for whatever life God calls them to, and this means both teaching them the faith and keeping them from harmful influences--even when those harmful influences take place under diocesan or parish auspices.

I have met many people in my generation or younger who have learned these things the hard way. I have known many Catholics who have reverted to the faith after falling away as teenagers or young adults, in part because of the tragic attempt of some D.R.E. or other to be "hip" and "relevant"who only ended up in giving his or her students a deep distaste for the faith, which they unfortunately associated with the worst kind of adult silliness imaginable. The people of my generation, and the generations after mine, born into the post-Conciliar Church, have had to get past a lot of nonsense to learn our faith; having learned it, we cherish it, and seek to hand it down whole and spotless to our own children.

There is simply no excuse for us to be strong armed into handing our children over for rotting algae and decaying smiles. There is no excuse for us to pretend that our children can be handed hollow swords and tin shields, and still stand unscathed against the evils of the world. There is no excuse for us to confuse a craven obedience to foolish, man-made programs for the glad obedience we owe to God.

We should know better.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Potluck Wednesday, Volume Four

Welcome to another potluck Wednesday post! This week I'm sharing some things that may inspire prayers or even activism.

First, several members of my extended family met a wonderful priest last weekend, and told me about him. Father John Fowles, who appeared briefly on EWTN's "Life on the Rock" program last Thursday, is a priest in New South Wales who is trying to raise money to help the people of East Timor. These desperately poor people are our brothers and sisters in Christ; in fact, about 90% of the population of East Timor is Roman Catholic! You can read about the many ways Fr. Fowles wants to help, including his hope to take ten young adults from East Timor to World Youth day in Sydney, here--and be sure to read about the unusual fund raiser Father has planned! Don't miss the story of the building of the parish church, either! This is an amazing and inspirational priest; may God grant him many years of faithful service. (And if any of you have the means and the desire to help out, here's the donation information.)

Next is a David and Goliath battle in the making, which has received mostly local coverage and has probably been under the radar for many of us outside the Illinois area. It concerns Planned Parenthood's attempt to open a new full-service abortion clinic in Aurora, Illinois, despite strong local opposition to such a thing happening. Visit this site to read about the determined opponents who are speaking out, holding prayer vigils, attending City Council meetings, and fighting the dirty and underhanded tactics of Planned Parenthood, which has tricked several residents into placing pro-PP yard signs without ever mentioning that the "health clinic" in question not only intends to provide abortions, but has already scheduled abortions to take place for September 18, the day the clinic is supposed to open! Today is the feast of the Holy Name of Mary; perhaps everyone would say a few extra "Hail Marys" over the next week to stand with our fellow pro-lifers in Aurora.

Finally, many of you have probably already read or heard about this issue, but in reading some of the pro-life websites out there I came across a disturbing fact. There is a family in California that has donated very large sums of money to Planned Parenthood facilities there; they are vocal in their support for Planned Parenthood's agenda and ideology, and committed to the notion of abortion on demand. And this family, the Ecke family, owns the Ecke Ranch which produces about 70% of the poinsettias sold in America; they are America's number one producer of the popular Christmas flower. Chances are, if your church's Christmas decorations include potted poinsettias, that these flowers come directly from this family's business, aiding them in their quest to spread Planned Parenthood's filth.

Most of this was known last Christmas, but I'm sure that many people haven't heard about the boycott of Ecke poinsettias that several Christian groups began last year. Though I know boycotts are often complicated and don't always do good, this one is easy, to me, because poinsettias are a luxury item and because you can do several things to avoid buying an Ecke plant: ask around for independent or local growers, choose other flowers for your Christmas decorations, decorate with artificial flowers, etc. I'm going to ask at my parish whether they avoid buying Ecke Ranch poinsettias, and I encourage others to do the same.

God bless all whose courage and faith help them to do good and fight evil!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Reality of Evil

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the attack on America planned and executed by a group of men who were completely given over to evil.

There is no excuse for what they did. There are no mitigating circumstances. There is no justification for jihad, no possible way of seeing them as less than monsters--except for the unfortunate and inconvenient fact that they were not monsters; they were men.

Men who were completely given over to evil. Sons of perdition. The wicked, who flee when no man pursueth.

In our civilized world we don't often speak of "evil." It sounds so primitive. We have no frame of reference for the word. Even our murders are presumed insane, when they aren't presumed innocent; insane, chemically unbalanced, the product of a neglectful childhood or a misunderstood and tragic youth. There's no need to bring "evil" into our discussions of such things. There's certainly no need to see a force of spiritual darkness that has been on the hunt like an angry wolf since before the fall of Man.

Yet there are times when that dark Enemy isn't content with letting the world and the flesh get all the credit for sin. He is proud, after all, devilishly proud, and nothing causes him greater glee than an act of vicious and unmistakable Evil that we can't explain away with our criminal Darwinism or our pat psychologies.

An act like the acts of destruction unleashed upon our nation six years ago today.

Since that day, a lot of hot air, ink, and pixels have been expended on the question of what to do now, of how to put this ugly genii back into its cracked bottle. The answers have involved wars and rumors of wars, with no end in sight: violence begetting violence, men contending with men, from the day Cain slew Abel down to the present day, continuing on past our seeing. If we have answered incorrectly, it is because we answered the first question incorrectly, the question asked with such terror in those moments immediately following the attacks: Who did this? Who is responsible?

In some sense, we got part of the answer right. We went forth, a mighty host, to bring those who supported and enabled such acts to their knees, to break their power so this would never happen again. But a funny thing happened on the way to Afghanistan: opportunities that had little to do with the present crisis were discussed, ways to expand our circle of enemies were sought, a new and different country was centered in our sights, and all the panoply of war was turned against an enemy we had faced before in a move that smacked of economic opportunism and even of retribution.

Now, with that war fast losing popularity, with our people wearied of the endless news of death and ceaseless violence, the sabers are pointing in a new direction, toward yet another enemy, someone else who might enable terror. Having once gained the approval for preemptive war our leaders have developed a taste and a thirst for it, and are on their way to becoming addicted.

Before we go any farther, we must find the whole answer to the question: Who did this? Who is responsible?

Beyond the shadowy organizations of Muslim extremism, beyond the even more shadowy leaders who drift into view for a moment and then fade away again like the cowards they are, beyond the coalitions and alliances of kakistocrats and their lackeys in governments dotting the Middle East like a disease, lies a reality we've forgotten, and have forgotten how to fight.

If we don't confront the evil behind these things on our knees, with the weapons of prayer and fasting needed to confront such demons, we will lose in the end, whether we secure Baghdad, take Tehran, and start looking to Damascus. Even if we gain the whole world, we will lose our souls.

Monday, September 10, 2007

There's a Little Good in Most Things

Catholics have no musical taste.

That has, of course, been apparent since January of 2006, when this article appeared. A whole history of stunning, beautiful liturgical music, and Catholics voted for this?

Seriously. "On Eagle's Wings" is, at least allegedly, the Catholics' favorite hymn, beating out such gems as "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name," "Ave Maria," "Panis Angelicus," and "Tantum Ergo." That it also beat out such hip tunes as "Here I Am, Lord," and "Be Not Afraid" is of small comfort, since those two songs placed second and third, respectively, far above the older, more venerable Catholic songs, particularly those sung in Latin.

Before I joined our parish choir I used to "vote with my voice," in a manner of speaking, when songs I consider tasteless modern musical dreck would be scheduled. Since I seldom sang the Communion hymns anyway, preferring to spend the time after Communion in quiet prayer, I missed a lot of the worst offenders; but I still sometimes would hear the song announced for the Offertory and would sigh, and leave the hymnbook in the pew. My daughters grew up following my lead, and thus sang few of the truly unfortunate hymns penned in the decades following the Second Vatican Council.

When we joined the choir I realized that I'd have to sing all of those songs. Choking back my distaste for them, doing my musical best despite my utter disdain for most of these ditties, trying to forget the clever parodies I've read of their lyrics, I've sung them, figuring that it's an act of penance for me and that better music will eventually be preferred to this awful stuff. I haven't had to worry about learning most of them, either--no one can forget tunes that have all the musical staying power of "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" or the theme song from Gilligan's Island.

What I have, on occasion, forgotten is that my girls don't know these songs. Thanks to Mom's vocal boycott of these misbegotten musical monstrosities, thanks to the fact that they've never attended a diocesan Catholic school and had to attend school Masses replete with the simplest and most simpering of these auricular assailants, they don't know the vast majority of the exemplars of the "rich musical heritage" of the last forty or fifty years. Which is something for which I should thank God on my knees, but it does occasionally make my children's puzzled glances from the choir loft as we launch into "One Bread, One Body" or some such tune seem pretty amazing, not only to me, but to anyone else among the choir who notices that my children are completely unfamiliar with these "favorites."

And this Sunday, we sang "On Eagle's Wings" as the Communion hymn.

My older two daughters picked it up pretty quickly. It's not an especially challenging hymn. But my youngest wasn't really sure about it, and stayed pretty quiet at my side for the whole thing--not really a problem, since she's sometimes a bit tentative even when she knows a song fairly well, but I could tell she didn't recognize the song at all.

Later Sunday evening, I asked her about it. She admitted that she hadn't heard it, and didn't know it, and so hadn't sung much of it, though she'd read the words and tried to follow along.

"What did you think of it?" I asked curiously, though perhaps a bit unfairly since they all know how Mom feels about most of this stuff.

"I kind of liked it," she admitted, pausing for a moment. "It reminded me of The Hobbit."

I looked at her for a moment, confused. I knew she'd just finished reading The Hobbit and had enjoyed it tremendously, but why on earth would that book remind her of... "Of course!" I cried, laughing suddenly. "The Eagles!"

"The clouds were torn by the wind, and a red sunset slashed the West. Seeing the sudden gleam in the gloom Bilbo looked round. He gave a great cry: he had seen a sight that made his heart leap, dark shapes small yet majestic against the distant glow.
"'The Eagles! The Eagles!" he shouted. "The Eagles are coming!'" (The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien)

I smiled at my youngest daughter. I've read Tolkien repeatedly for years, and never associated the rescue of Bilbo and his companions with Psalm 91 before she made the connection, all with the help of "On Eagle's Wings."

Sure, it's not well written. Sure, the music is simplistic yet just difficult enough to make congregational singing conveniently impossible, or at least painfully discordant. Sure, it tends to be called "The Youhoo Song" owing to its difficult first phrase, "You who dwell...etc." which begins on a note approximately 93% of human beings are incapable of striking correctly on the first try.

But if "On Eagle's Wings" can inspire a complex literary/biblical connection like the one my daughter noticed, well, I may just have to accord it a tiny measure of grudging respect.

(Very grudging.)

Update: While juggling multiple links for this post I inadvertently posted the link to the book of Psalms instead of the CNS news article about Catholics' favorite music at the top of this post. The link has now been fixed, and should make a whole lot more sense! :)

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Concept of Honor

The word honor has been floating around the internet quite a lot recently. Some of that has been due to the exchange between Ron Paul and Gov. Mike Huckabee on the question of what to do about Iraq. I found it appearing in a discussion about the notion of purity on another website late last week, as well, and began thinking about it then, so it was interesting to hear Gov. Huckabee talking about honor as it relates to our commitment, such as it is, not to leave Iraq a worse mess than we found it.

In terms of policy, of what we ought to do, it may well be that history will prove Ron Paul right. We're kidding ourselves if we think things in Iraq can't get worse than they are now: they can, and it troubles me to see all of the saber rattling concerning Iran going on right now as if Iraq was such an unqualified success that we have money to burn in our quest to rid the free world of terror.

But despite my lack of sympathy for the view that our continued presence in Iraq is a good thing, it was hard to dismiss what Gov. Huckabee was saying, and especially the way that he was saying it. The word "honor" in the sense the governor was using it is a word not often heard in our times, and we could use a little more of it, not only in speech, but in deeds.

The governor was talking about the kind of honor that forms a personal code, that extends beyond the selfish or immediate needs of the individual or the group and focuses on doing what is most right and what is most good for the greatest number of people. Informed by both one's moral standards and one's sense of self-respect, honor combines and then transcends both to create a new way of looking at and approaching life.

For example, a man's sense of self-respect might prompt him to yield his seat on a crowded bus to a lady, a mother with a small child, or an elderly person. A man's code of morality might forbid him to cheat a store owner out of the full amount of money he owes for his purchase. But only a man's honor will forbid him even to think slightingly of another person, and will sting his conscience when he does so.

Honor is the friend of virtue because honor makes virtue personal. It changes the "I must not" of the avoidance of sin into the "I must" which actively seeks to do good, not merely to stay away from sin. It internalizes our morality, making it something we adhere to because we believe we owe it to ourselves, not simply because we don't want to get caught in transgressions. It is, I believe, the second step toward a holy and virtuous life, the first being the acknowledgment of sin, accompanied by sorrow for it and a firm purpose of amendment.

So I applaud Gov. Huckabee's desire to elevate our national discussion about Iraq to the sphere of honor. We did destroy this country's government, after all. Right or wrong, we changed things for many Iraqis for the worse. Christians in Iraq are living in deadly peril, and the sectarian violence between the various Islamic factions continues both to grow and to destabilize the fledgling democratic government. What is the honorable thing to do?

People of good will may disagree as to the answer to that question, but I'd like to pose one more thing to think about.

After morality (I must not), after honor (I must), there is another step toward the life of virtue.

We can see it in Our Lady's example, when, at the wedding at Cana, she approached her Son and told Him, simply, "They have no more wine." Her focus was not on herself, not on doing something good to satisfy some inward sense of virtue, but wholly and completely on the Other, specifically on the bridegroom and his family who would be embarrassed by the sudden shortage of the fruit of the vine with which to celebrate their marriage feast.

This ability to see beyond I must not and I must, and say, instead, They need, is that greatness of soul which is called magnanimity. Noah Webster's dictionary defined it as follows:

MAGNANIM'ITY, n. [L. magnanimitas; magnus, great, and animus, mind.] Greatness of mind; that elevation or dignity of soul, which encounters danger and trouble with tranquillity and firmness, which raises the possessor above revenge, and makes him delight in acts of benevolence, which makes him disdain injustice and meanness, and prompts him to sacrifice personal ease, interest and safety for the accomplishment of useful and noble objects.

Magnanimity rises beyond honor because it sees not merely what one owes to one's self, but what one owes to others as an overriding concern. Governor Huckabee says that our honor forbids us to leave Iraq in such a state of chaos, but our magnanimity should prompt us to go beyond honor, beyond politics, beyond all concerns that put ourselves first, and ask, what is it that the Iraqi people need from us? What should we do, not merely to satisfy our obligations to them, but to treat them like our brothers in Christ, who are owed our deepest concern and most selfless charity not merely because it behooves us to act in this way, but because we are truly and deeply committed to doing what they themselves would ask us to do, even if that means leaving the country before we'd really like to?

This may seem like quibbling over semantics; after all, some definitions of honor include some idea of magnanimity. But I think that if we truly want to find the best way to end the situation in Iraq, we will have to move beyond those ways of thinking that put our own desires first. What we should really be seeking in Iraq, as in every other aspect of our lives, is God's will--but we will not be able to overcome the temptation to see whatever we ourselves want as God's will unless we return to some discussion of the whole idea of virtue.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Tips for a Happy Homeschool

Last week, I wrote this post, to share some of the reasons why I love homeschooling.

But I know that there are many moms who experience difficulties with homeschooling in some way or another. Perhaps they haven't yet decided whether or not to homeschool, and are wavering back and forth between the options as dizzily as a child on a swing. Perhaps they've only been homeschooling for a short time, and find things a bit overwhelming. Perhaps they've been homeschooling for several years, but are becoming discouraged due to a change in family circumstances: a new baby, a student who is suddenly reluctant or struggling, or just a bad weather pattern that's keeping everyone cooped up indoors for far too long at a stretch. Or perhaps they're being plagued by some of those creatures I've talked about before, making them doubt their abilities, measure themselves against other moms, or think wistfully of the peace and quiet that might result if the kids just climbed aboard that shiny yellow bus...

I've been deeply blessed in my life to have experienced homeschooling from so many different angles, so that to me it's more like a faceted gem than a heavy rock. I was homeschooled myself in high school, several family members homeschool their children, I worked for a homeschool program for about a year after college, and I've known some terrific homeschooling families all over America. The past seven years have had their ups and downs as would be true with or without homeschooling, but even now I'm occasionally surprised to find out that someone thinks of me as a "veteran" homeschooler--a veteran, from my perspective, is someone who has already taught most of her kids at home, through high school, is still teaching the youngest, and is available to give advice and encouragement to her adult daughters as they homeschool her grandchildren. Someone, that is, like my mom, compared to whom I'm a novice!

Still, I've had the benefit of so many other people's experiences, that without even thinking about it I've put certain "rules" into practice in my own homeschooling endeavors. To be honest, it helps to have homeschooling relatives who will remind you of these principles when you begin to experience any of the difficulties I've mentioned above; but just knowing some of these things can make homeschooling a more pleasant experience. In case anyone out there could benefit from my sharing these, then, here they are, in no particular order:

Tips for a Happy Homeschool:

1. Once you've decided to homeschool, commit to it. This doesn't mean that as you cradle your two-year-old while sighing over homeschool catalogs you must make up your mind then and there to teach from K to 12; but it does mean that you have to give homeschooling a fair trial. At the very minimum, commit to homeschooling for one full school year. Then do it. Don't worry, don't stress, don't panic--just do it.

2. Do not commit to a method, plan, program or curriculum. You may think that the classical curriculum is the best way to go, but if your children's response to being read Greek mythology is to start pouring their kool-aid out in libation before every meal, it's time to reassess things. On the other hand, if a prepackaged curriculum sounded great until you started using it, but now you're going nuts trying to keep up with the quizzes, papers, and assignments the school wants you to return for grading for each child, you may decide to find a less stressful way to teach at home. The important thing to remember here is that each child is different, and so is each mom. What works for your sister or cousin or best friend may not work at all for you; the math book your oldest son loved may cause your oldest daughter serious conniptions. Putting the method ahead of the child/children--or, let's face it, ahead of mom!--is a common, but frustrating, pitfall.

3. Make good plans. Whether you create all your own lesson plans from scratch or use the ones provided by a curriculum, you still have to plan things. For example, in what order will you do each subject? Should all of them be done daily, or not? Can you focus on math or early reading while the baby's napping? Can some of your children do some lessons together? Is Dad doing any of the teaching? If so, what, and when? You don't have to be super-organized to homeschool, but you do have to sit down and think over the daily routine from time to time, altering, adjusting, tweaking it to suit reality. I've altered the order in which we do our lessons about three times in the past five years, as some subjects which used to take up more of our time became "old hat" (like reading or phonics) and other subjects proved more time-intensive (like grammar or history).

4. Be flexible. The best laid plans...etc. If you have to move subjects around, or play catch-up from time to time, don't sweat it. We all do it. So do the teachers in the schools, though--do you remember being in school and having a teacher suddenly decide to hand out a crossword puzzle or something, instead of doing a "regular" lesson? Teachers, whether they homeschool or not, are human too; we all have days that don't go according to schedule. But just as none of us were educationally harmed by the occasional substitute teacher or the random appearance of crossword puzzles, so too are our kids unharmed by the occasional disintegration of our careful plans. That's life, and they're learning about that from us, too.

5. Identify and eliminate distractions. Clearly, the baby or toddler may provide the one distraction you may have to work around; but there are lots of outside distractions that can be confined. Don't check your emails during science class. Don't answer the phone at all, if you can help it, during normal school hours--and if you have to answer, try to keep the conversation brief. Don't go get the mail until after school, or if you do get it, don't sort it or go through catalogs while your first grader is reading to you. Keep household chores at a minimum; it's fine to throw in a load of laundry or do some prep work in the kitchen, but save the cabinet remodel project for after school. As your children get older you may find that you are able to get a few things done as they work around you, but certainly at first, and as long as you are teaching younger students, the fewer distractions there are during the school hours, the better.

6. Do not mistake discipline issues for homeschooling problems. If your child throws a tantrum when asked to write a paragraph, this is not the fault of homeschooling. All of us have moments when our children act up; if they were in school all day long, they might behave for their teachers, but it wouldn't really stop them from misbehaving around us once they got home, as long as they thought they could get away with it. Children test their parents, not (generally) their teachers/coaches etc. Just because you are teaching them doesn't mean that they won't try to test you in this new "role" just as much as they would have before. Developing good, consistent discipline strategies and enforcing them with patience and good humor is key, I think, to having a good relationship with your children, whether you ever homeschool or not!

7. Finally, remember that the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side. Would you really be happier putting a sleepy infant or cranky toddler in the car at 6:30 a.m. so you could drive the other children to school? Would you really be happier with all the demands on your time that school would make, everything from helping your children daily with all of their homework to bringing snacks to planning and participating in field trips to organizing and taking part in dozens of fund raisers? If we're talking about a public school, would you be happier with all of the worry, and all of the deprogramming necessary at the end of the day? If we're talking about a Catholic school, would you really be happier with all of that worry, the need to straighten out loose or even heretical ideas from the religion teacher, or, even if those aren't a problem, with the staggering costs and the strain that would put on your family's finances, and maybe on other aspects of your family? If you really, truly, would be happier with all of these things after a full year of successful homeschooling, then maybe you really aren't being called to homeschool; but you've got to be honest with yourself, as do we all.

This isn't an all-inclusive list; I'm sure others could add different tips. And no one can guarantee that your homeschool will be a happy one, even if you do all of these things. But these are some of the things that work for me, that keep me balanced, focused, and, yes, happy!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Potluck Wednesday, Volume Three

This edition of the Potluck Wednesday post could be subtitled, "Professional Blogger Edition." Now, not all the bloggers I'm linking to today are "professional" in the sense of being paid for blogging, but they're all several steps above the average mommy blog in terms of readership and influence.

The upside of doing this is that I get to share some of the interesting things from some of the big name bloggers whose work I try to read on a weekly basis; the downside is that you may already have seen some of these items if you read the same blogs I do.

Up first: Mark Shea is back from vacation, and has some incredible pictures to share of one of the most beautiful places in America! As always, Mark has lots of other interesting things posted, but even if all you have time for is the vacation post, it's well worth looking at for the sake of those amazing, clear pictures--especially if you live in Texas.

And since we're on the subject of lovely pictures, take a moment to look at these from the wonderful Father Zuhlsdorf, pictures of the Sabine Farm where Father spends his time when he is not in Rome. Sabina Villa bona et pulchra est!

From the people at Creative Minority Report comes this amazing story of a little boy's faith, and how the dearest wish of his heart came true even when it didn't seem possible. It made me reflect on how often I say, "I can't," or "That's never going to happen," without opening my heart to the possibility that God, who can do all things, might want me to ask for the impossible.

And finally, something I'm sure many of you have seen by now, but it's too good not to share: Curt Jester has done us all a tremendous service by describing the job and gestures of the Liturgical Referee; Mr. Miller has even made a printable PDF version of this post so it may be shared with others who might appreciate it. This post needs a Keyboard Warning: do not consume beverages while reading this post. (Which, frankly, is good advice any time you are enjoying the Curt Jester's keen wit.)

Happy reading!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Sick Plan

John Edwards, the Democrat running consistently behind both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the politician who fervently hopes that his party's affiliates will have forgotten his general ineptitude and unlikeable personality as John Kerry's running mate, the presidential hopeful about whom the phrase "More Hair Than Wit" could almost be a campaign slogan, has come up with a breathtakingly idiotic idea.

In touting his plan for universal, cradle to grave, government health care, Edwards has declared that under his plan, it will be mandatory for Americans to go to the doctor every year for preventative care. Never mind that you feel fine, are in good general health, prefer natural or alternative medicine, or want to avoid a checkup during a raging flu season--you have to go. Period.

And since his plan includes dental and vision coverage, it's quite possibly true that those will require mandatory visits as well (though Edwards didn't specify if Americans will have to go to the dentist twice a year or if only one visit will be demanded).

Edwards failed to say what the penalty would be for avoiding these mandatory visits, though presumably, since he's fully committed to universal coverage, you couldn't be kicked out of the plan. I suspect he's planning to levy a fine on those Americans who don't choose to go to the doctor annually, or possibly create government incentives for doctors to make forced-entry house calls for recalcitrant patients.

Of course, Edwards fails to note that beginning three decades ago voices in the medical community were raised against the idea that annual checkups were necessary, important, or medically valuable. There are still such voices in the medical world today, professionals in various disciplines who agree that adults in generally good health may not need to see a doctor every year; a checkup every two to three years ought to suffice in the absence of symptoms of illness.

Edwards also fails to note that scheduling the approximately 300 million Americans for routine annual physicals would be difficult, given that doctors don't usually see patients on the weekend, and thus on each weekday there would have to be an average of 1.15 million physicals scheduled. Given the relative shortage of primary care physicians in America, and the fact that in certain rural areas of the country the ratio of primary care physician to patient is greater than 3,500 to 1, and you're looking at a logistical nightmare in the making.

Of course, it's probably fair to say that John Edwards isn't interested in logistics. He probably doesn't ever expect to be in a position to create such a system, or insist on such details as mandatory doctor visits. The whole position he's outlining is quite frankly an obvious bid on his part either to be considered as a viable running mate for Hillary, or as her top pick for some new cabinet-level "Health Care Tzar" position as a reward for his faithful years of service to the Democratic party. And in the event of a Hillary administration, it might be a safe bet to say that Edwards will at least be considered for such a reward.

It could be worse, I suppose. He could be running on a platform that includes mandatory preventative hair care appointments.