Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy Birthday, Kitten!

It seems like just yesterday I was writing a post to tell you that we'd be out celebrating Kitten's 12th birthday, and here we are today celebrating her 13th! My big teenage daughter is growing up so fast.

Just like last year, she'd like to work in a zoo trip to enjoy seeing the animals, but alas, the weather isn't going to cooperate today--with the wind chill it's only 34 degrees this morning.

But we still have a fun day planned, and Kitten decided that she'd rather go to the Vigil Mass for the feast day tonight at our little parish than go elsewhere tomorrow. She's going to be singing the Responsorial Psalm with me at Mass!

Aside from our Mass attendance, she's planning on a nice (early) dinner out at a great little Italian restaurant, and has selected a grown-up cheesecake dessert for our continued party back at the house.

We have some New Year's noisemakers, some extra crackers from Christmas to pull and enjoy, and cream soda to put in wine glasses while we watch some of the New Year's Eve specials (she's started to like doing that--it's so fun to see everyone celebrating on her birthday!).

We wish all of you a happy New Year's Eve!

Hi, this is Kitten! I'm excited that it's my thirteenth birthday. I've heard from some of the people I know that thirteen is a hard year. But a girl I know whose is a few years older than me said that thirteen was a good year. I believe that, because she's also homeschooled, and we can relate to each other. I hope all of my mom's readers have a wonderful New Year's and that their New Year is filled with many good times! :) :) :) :) :)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dime Novels and Penny Dreadfuls

In this interesting article from the New York Times, David Streitfeld writes about the growing practice of bypassing bookstores (and publishers' and authors' royalty cuts) to buy nearly-new books online:
Book publishers and booksellers are full of foreboding — even more than usual for an industry that’s been anticipating its demise since the advent of television. The holiday season that just ended is likely to have been one of the worst in decades. Publishers have been cutting back and laying off. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced that it wouldn’t be acquiring any new manuscripts, a move akin to a butcher shop proclaiming it had stopped ordering fresh meat.

Bookstores, both new and secondhand, are faltering as well. Olsson’s, the leading independent chain in Washington, went bankrupt and shut down in September. Robin’s, which says it is the oldest bookstore in Philadelphia, will close next month. The once-mighty Borders chain is on the rocks. Powell’s, the huge store in Portland, Ore., said sales were so weak it was encouraging its staff to take unpaid sabbaticals.

Don’t blame this carnage on the recession or any of the usual suspects, including increased competition for the reader’s time or diminished attention spans. What’s undermining the book industry is not the absence of casual readers but the changing habits of devoted readers.

In other words, it’s all the fault of people like myself, who increasingly use the Internet both to buy books and later, after their value to us is gone, sell them. This is not about Amazon peddling new books at discounted prices, which has been a factor in the book business for a decade, but about the rise of a worldwide network of amateurs who sell books from their homes or, if they’re lazy like me, in partnership with an Internet dealer who does all the work for a chunk of the proceeds.

They get their books from friends, yard sales, recycling centers, their own shelves. castoffs (I just bought a book from a guy whose online handle was Clif Is Emptying His Closet). Some list them for as little as a penny, although most aim for at least a buck. This growing market is achieving an aggregate mass that is starting to prove problematic for publishers, new bookstores and secondhand bookstores. [...]

Andy Ross, the former owner of Cody’s, told me that buying books online “was not morally dubious, but it is tragic. It has a lot of unintended consequences for communities.”

Mr. Ross said he realized that Cody’s was doomed when he noticed that in the last year he hadn’t sold a single copy of that old-reliable for undergraduates, Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason.” Students presumably were buying it online. Sales of classics and other backlist titles used to be the financial engine of publishers and bookstores as well, allowing them to take chances on new authors. Clearly that model is breaking. Simon & Schuster, which laid off staffers this month, cited backlist sales as a particularly troubled area.

To a certain extent, people have always been able to sell used books, and not necessarily at established secondhand bookstores. The thrifty book-shopper could scour garage sales, flea markets, thrift stores, and even antique stores to find used copies of classic novels, obscure works of nonfiction, and even some popular titles jumbled amid the dust and clutter.

The Internet has added a new efficiency to the whole process, though. Books long out of print that local bookstores would lock in glass cases and sell at a premium can often be located for only a few dollars; secondhand bookstores have to compete with people clearing out Aunt Lucy's overstuffed attic who really don't care how hard to find a particular set of mystery novels can be, but just want to get rid of them with the least amount of fuss and bother.

Some see this process as one which will eventually undermine the book selling industry, the way that music downloads threatened the music industry. But just as the music industry found a way to make a reasonable profit from downloads, so, too, will book publishers and book sellers be able at some point to make the new selling mechanisms work for them.

But it will come at a cost--and some of that cost is going to be a huge reduction, I think, in the price of books.

It seems reasonable to pay $0.99 for a downloaded song, and to pay as much for an "album" as you are paying for each song you want to include on it. Music sellers have had to compensate by lowering the price of CD albums here and there to try to tempt music buyers into buying the whole album, whether they are downloading it or purchasing it at a store. But I recall that just before the download revolution, music was sometimes getting to be ridiculously expensive; the retail markup on a CD could work out to be a lot more than a dollar or so per song.

And the music industry tried to claim that this was the only possible way things could work, that no other model which lowered the price of music would allow the industry to continue to function. But once it became clear that the demand for less expensive music was going to continue, the industry began to adapt.

I think the same will happen to the book industry, which only a few years ago was smugly predicting that today's $30.00 price tag for a hard-cover copy of a new bestseller would be $40.00 before five years had passed. Clearly, publishers weren't counting on the effect of second- and third-party sellers who only wanted to clear a little space on their living room shelves, and who didn't mind reselling the thirty dollar book they'd purchased on sale for $19 to a buyer who was only willing to spend $8, plus shipping, three years later.

In all likelihood, the publishing industry will have to tighten its belt; everyone associate with book publishing, from the author onward, will have to accept lower profits; there will be a push to make e-books a bigger phenomenon than they are now, and to figure out a way for the publishing industry to capitalize on the Internet's secondary sales capacity. But even someone like me, who hopes to publish a book one of these days, can recognize that it's about time book prices returned to the realm of sanity.

For example, the article mentions Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Why should a student, or anyone else for that matter, pay $30.00 or more (prices from online bookstores) for a new copy, when copies are available for little more than a dollar--and that's ignoring the fact that the book is also available at Project Gutenberg and can be read online for free?

I don't think the publishing industry is going to disappear. But it is going to have to change--something it has done many times over in the days since the heyday of the "dime novel" or "penny dreadful".

Deep Dish, Chicago Style

Rod Dreher's been doing all of the legwork on the Blagojevich Senate pick (all links and emphasis in Rod's original post):
Who's crazier: Gov. Rod Blagojevich for actually appointing someone to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat -- or the poor bastard who was foolish enough to accept that poisoned chalice?

This thing is just incredible. Senate Democrats say they're not going to seat Blago's pick, as well they shouldn't. Still, you've got to wonder if Blago is some kind of Republican mole, for all the pain and embarrassment he's causing his party.

UPDATE: Blago and his Senate pick, Roland Burris, are on TV live now talking about all this, and Rep. Bobby Rush, the Illinois Democrat, is drawing a racial line in the sand, saying that anybody who opposes Blago's appointment is guilty of racism.

Wow. This thing is like a rolling train wreck. Harry Reid is now saying the Democrats will not seat Burris. Barack Obama needs to step in right now and derail this thing.

UPDATE.2: Politico is reporting what some of you have already pointed out in the comboxes: Senate Democrats may not have the legal authority to block Blago's appointment. Does Blago have a pair, or what?

UPDATE.3: Wonkette has visual evidence that Roland Burris is an egomaniacal loon. Come on, Louisiana, Chicago's making us look bad! They're crazier and crookeder than we are!

Sad to say, Chicago's always been pretty crooked and crazy when it comes to the Democrat political machine. But while Blagojevich may be demonstrating the audacity, audacity...with this action, there's no question that the man he's picked is not exactly the humble type either. From the Chicago Sun-Times:

In a 1994 interview with the paper, during his first effort at capturing the governor's office, Burris said his past success -- he had been elected comptroller and attorney general--was "divine providence" that began at age 15 when he decided to become a lawyer and officeholder.

"People said I was either crazy or divinely directed. I accept the latter," he said. "I believe without a doubt that I am predestined to be a role model." [...]

Burris has given $15,296 to Blagojevich since 2002. That includes contributions directly from him and his firm, Burris & Lebed Consulting. The firm's clients have included Comcast, the Illinois Funeral Directors Association and Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council.
Maybe that Funeral Directors Association client-relationship is responsible for the tombstone Burris has already had built for himself, with room on it to list his future accomplishments.

According to the above article, Burris also has a habit of referring to himself in the third person and named both of his children after himself (Rolanda and Roland II).

With Senate Dems vowing to fight against confirmation, giddy Chicago Republicans welcoming the further disintegration of their local Democrat rivals, and Barack Obama silent about all of it (literally silent; the Drudge Report has this pic up today) this is going to be something to watch. It's hard to imagine that president-elect Obama, a product of this same political machine that produced such characters as Blago and Burris, is really going to be the Changer-in-Chief; this whole situation looks like a pretty typical Chicago-style deep dish scandal in the making--and I've got a feeling it's going to get a whole lot deeper before we hit the brick-oven bottom crust.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Lap Dogs and Lackeys

Sorry for the late blogging today--there are times when blogging, alas, has to take a back seat to other pursuits. Such as the obligatory post-Christmas pre-New Year's house cleaning. (Chant with me: Flylady is our friend. Flylady is our friend. Flylady is...)

I'm starting to think those little plastic ties they use to keep toys secure in the packaging (lest you should be silly enough to want actually to play with the toy, instead of keeping the toy in its original box as a potential E-bay investment) will reproduce if they are left alone on the family room floor long enough. Either that, or the toy companies have a secret arrangement with vacuum cleaner manufacturers; those things can be death to an inexpensive vacuum (and maybe to expensive ones, too, but I don't know that personally).

So what with gathering all the twisty little vacuum-killers off the floor (which we thought we'd finished doing on Christmas, but those little suckers hide better than victory from the Detroit Lions) and doing a wide assortment of other chores, I thought I probably wouldn't get out here at all today. But that would have been a pity, because I really, really wanted to share Michelle Malkin's truly scathing look at our media's predilection for Obama's physique:

Ah, the perks of media affection. On Christmas Day, the Washington Post delivered a front-page paean to Barack Obama’s workout habits. The 1,233-word ode to O’s physical fitness read more like a Harlequin romance novel than an A-1 news article.

Sighed smitten reporter Eli Zaslow: “The sun glinted off chiseled pectorals sculpted during four weightlifting sessions each week, and a body toned by regular treadmill runs and basketball games.” Drool cup to the newsroom, stat. [...]

For adoring journalists, you see, Obama’s workout fanaticism demonstrates his discipline and balance in his life. Apparently, what’s good for Obama’s glistening pecs is good for the country. Zaslow quoted Obama Chicago crony Marty Nesbitt, who offered this diagnosis: “He doesn’t think of it as something he has to do — it’s his time for himself, a chance for him to reflect. It’s his break. He feels better and more revved up after he gets in his workout.” [...]

Former Washington Post writer Jonathan Chait famously attacked Bush three years ago in an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times headlined, “The (over)exercise of power.” Recounting how President Bush ran 3 1/2 miles a day and preached more cross-training to a federal judge, Chait fumed: “Am I the only person who finds this disturbing?…What I mean is the fact that Bush has an obsession with exercise that borders on the creepy.”

Chait argued that Bush’s passionate devotion to exercise was a dereliction of duty. “Does the leader of the free world need to attain that level of physical achievement?” he jeered. “It’s nice for Bush that he can take an hour or two out of every day to run, bike or pump iron. Unfortunately, most of us have more demanding jobs than he does.” [...]

“Bush says exercise helps sharpen his thinking. But some of his critics view his exercise obsession as an indulgence that takes time away from other priorities. Among them is Cindy Sheehan, the Vacaville, California, mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, who until late last week was camped out down the road from Bush’s ranch seeking a meeting with him to discuss her opposition to the war. Sheehan, who left her vigil on Thursday to tend to her sick mother, has said she believes Bush should take fewer bike rides to have more time to focus on the “the nation’s work.”

Fit Republican president = Selfish, indulgent, creepy fascist.

Fit Democratic president = Disciplined, health-conscious Adonis role model.

This truly is amazing, isn't it? Amazing, but not really all that surprising.

The mainstream news media continues to act toward Obama the way a second-tier high-school junior acts toward the football star senior who has inexplicably asked her to the prom; of course, everyone but the deluded girl knows that the hunky athlete has only done so because all the guys in the locker room swear she's easy. And Obama's counting on the media remaining easy; not even the Blagojevich matter could get the press to drop their defensive attitudes, or stop publishing articles in which the fact that Obama says nobody on his team is guilty of improper conduct is highlighted and the fact that Obama spent a few hours with a federal prosecutor is waved aside as something that every president has to do, sooner or later (though most of them are actually president, not merely president-elect, at the time).

The fawning obeisance members of the media continue to give Obama is sickening in its sycophancy. But the MSM is forgetting how increasingly irrelevant they are, and how little attention Americans pay them; in the next year, as the economic impact of a growing recession is felt by more and more American citizens, the MSM may find that their powder-puff paeans to the epic greatness of the first leader in nearly a decade who shares their ultimate values (roughly described as abortion, more abortion, and still more abortion) don't sell all that well in what is called the Heartland when ordinary people are listening, and Flyover Country when they aren't.

If the traditional MSM decides to remain the lap-dogs and lackeys of the Obama administration, they'll only be hastening their own acrobatic slide into insignificance. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Friday, December 26, 2008

On the Feast of Stephen

Christmas Day comes and goes, as it is wont to do. For a whole day the outside world seems to recede, as church and family and joy and peace rise in our hearts.

Then, on the 26th, we read the headlines. A man dressed as Santa burns a house down and kills nine people. Another man shoots (not fatally, thank goodness) a man who annoyed him by talking during a movie. Economic woes loom on the horizon; peace on earth is a distant dream.

The incongruity of the world's troubles with that peaceful Nativity scene seems almost too terrible to behold. What happened to the hymns of heavenly peace, of angels' song and good news to men?

But this day, the 26th of December, is the day we celebrate the feast of the first Christian martyr. Saint Stephen, whose martyrdom St. Paul witnessed--as the one watching over the garments of the killers--was the first of those given the glorious crown of martyrdom, the first whose blood watered the seed of the faith being sown, and whose example led many heroic men and women to accept, with willing faith, that same crown of glory. The birth of the babe in Bethlehem led to the day of St. Stephen's final profession of faith, and birth into Heaven; the Good News of our salvation has never been accepted with quiet acquiescence or equanimity by the world.

And so, two thousand years after the birth of Christ, the darkness that is in the world still resists the light of joy and love. Men still act with the greed and selfishness and hatred and violence that has plagued humanity since the Fall. But for every person who brings sorrow and anger upon his fellow men, there are others, who carry love and goodness with them wherever they go. Transformed by the light of faith, they walk in hope--not a false and worldly hope that looks for government bailouts and material prosperity, but the eternal hope of salvation, of living forever in that glorious New Jerusalem filled with the Presence of God, the Beatific Vision.

Wherever they are, they pour out their lives for God. Some of them inspire us by their example of selfless love; some of them amaze us by their dedicated service; some of them make us wish to be better, or to do more.

Evil is loud and attracts attention, flinging stones, drawing blood, inflicting pain and suffering, causing the torments of body and spirit. Good is quiet and self-effacing, binding up wounds, healing with love, strengthening and comforting, lifting us out of ourselves and reminding us that we, who seek to follow Christ, must follow Him from the manger to the foot of the Cross if we wish to follow Him in glorious resurrection at the end of the world. On this feast of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, I am especially grateful for the quiet faces of good, for those who are willing to stand at the point of death itself to help preserve our faith from the attacks of the powers of darkness.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christ, Our Light

Merry Christmas to all my readers! May this Christmas Eve lead you to the dawn of Christ's light in your hearts, as we celebrate His Birth in Bethlehem of old, and anticipate with joy His glorious Second Coming. May God bless you and your families this Christmas, and always!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pope Attacks Bottled Water

Fake News, Inc.--Pope Benedict XVI has raised the ire of bottled water companies and employees by insisting that the gifts of creation such as the earth, water, and air "belong to everyone," leading to questions about why the aging pontiff continues to attack the lifestyles of those who bottle and sell water as well as those who consume it.

"It's hard enough to keep people buying water during an economic downturn," one unnamed bottled-water industry activist complained today. "But when the Pope tells people water should be free? That's harsh. At least we still have plenty of business in Fort Worth, because the water there tastes so terrible even Catholics will buy our product."

Meanwhile, the Bottled Water Association of All America (BWAAA) issued a statement saying "The hurtful stereotypes directed at those who buy and drink bottled water must end. We are greatly disappointed that the Pope would contribute to those stereotypes, instead of hearing our stories and encouraging our lifestyles."


Okay, for any humor-impaired readers, that entire section above was, indeed, totally fictional. (Except for the bit about Fort Worth water, which truly does taste terrible, and has led my family to buy drinking water despite my preference not to do so.) But I think it captures pretty well what happened when the Pope's recent statements about humanity were twisted into some kind of anti-gay agenda; the Curt Jester does a really good job with this one.

Read the whole thing; it's pretty amazing how different what the pope actually said is from what the gay-activists claimed he said.

Of course, it's not all that surprising. The media has about five different headlines they can use to write about the pope, and they're as follows:

1. Pope Attacks Gays
2. Pope Attacks Abortion, Contraception
3. Pope Attacks Women Priests
4. Pope Attacks Dissenters
5. Pope Shows Surprisingly Soft Side (whenever he happens to write or say something the media actually likes and/or approves of).

Still, I think this recent attempt to make the pope's words an attack on those afflicted with same-sex attraction is a pretty egregious example of the mainstream media's use of their all-purpose headlines. Maybe they could spring for an extra headline or two, before they all go out of business.

My Santa Essay

I've decided to post my whole essay from the Dallas Morning News (Dec. 2006) on the Santa question. This is mainly because I'm rather tired of the notion that telling our children that Santa, or Saint Nicholas, brings them surprises at Christmas is some kind of a lie. I respect that parents may make different choices about whether or not to include Saint Nicholas in their Christmas celebrations, but I'm getting a little tired of the latent Puritanism that sees all forms of play-acting as sinful. Let's face it: Jesus told parables to the crowds. Was He lying to them? Is the Good Samaritan a lie, or the Prodigal Son? If it's not lying to tell stories that are, at their heart of hearts, truer than what we foolishly like to call "reality," then it's not lying to play Santa for those few precious years when our children enjoy the mystery of it all.

Anyway, my essay goes into that, so here it is:

In my house tonight, the children will be waiting for St. Nicholas with eager joy. Not all Christian parents would be happy with this situation.

Some have decided that whether you call him Santa Claus or St. Nick, the Christmas Eve night caller is not welcome in their homes. The real St. Nicholas, they say, was a holy bishop about whom little is known. This jolly fellow surrounded with legends of secret generosity or stories of elves and reindeer is really just a fib. And Christians don't lie to their children.

Are we lying to our children, with our ancient stories and cherished poems of a kindly saint who loves all children and hears their whispered wishes and dreams? Not at all – we are telling them the truth. It's just that some truths can't be found in scholarly lectures or discovered in dry books of facts. When we teach our wide-eyed little ones the legend of St. Nicholas, we are teaching them essential lessons about faith, hope and unconditional love. When we sit by glowing embers to share with them our December stories, we instruct them in such virtues as generosity, patience and the sort of kindness that expects no reward.

And they are able to learn these things from us because for a few short weeks every year, we find it possible to enter the world of make-believe. We fill our homes with songs and stories, and turn ordinary rooms into glittering palaces. The everyday world is swept away.

In the classic novel Don Quixote de la Mancha, Don Quixote lives in a world of his own imagining. But a funny thing happens when he encounters "normal" people; they find themselves pretending to see and believe in the things he does; they must enter his world to communicate with him. In a way, I suppose, they are lying to him by entering into his fairy tales. But if they stay in the mundane world, they can't relate to him at all.

The world of a child is a mysterious and magical place. The blooming of a rose in the garden is an enchanted event beyond all understanding. The weekly arrival of the great noisy garbage truck is anticipated with the fear that it might not happen and the joyous dread that it will. When my oldest daughter, then nearly 1 year old, was brought out of her crib late at night to see the lights on our Christmas tree for the first time, she whispered, "Wow" – an as-yet-unexpressed richness in her tiny vocabulary. She said it a lot that first Christmas, as enchantments she'd never dreamed of appeared all around her.

We adults forget the fairy-tale lace that drapes childhood and screens it from so much of the ugliness in the world. It is our privilege at Christmas to attempt to add a little to the embroidery, with our St. Nicholas and our hidden generosity. We're clumsy at it, no doubt. We're a little like the people in Don Quixote, pretending we see giants and ladies and noble squires instead of the mundane and everyday.

But underneath it all, there's a stirring at our hearts, and I think it's then that I understand, a little, what Our Lord means when He says we have to be like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Little children have a special gift. They can easily transcend the merely real and find the truth that lies beyond material reality. But this gift of childhood is lost with age and experience, and all too often, adults, even Christian ones, act as though this present day, this physical world, is all that is. St. Nicholas is not only real; he is as much for us as he is for our children. He leads us back to the time when we knew, with complete certainty, that the world was more than what we could see or touch. He calls to us from the place where he is now and will be forever, aglow not with Christmas lights or moonlight on snow, but with the glorious light of the beatific vision to which these earthly realities point.

He may or may not be jolly, but he is filled with joy, a joy we may one day experience as well. The joy our children feel when they discover that St. Nicholas has filled their stockings will pale in comparison to the joys of heaven.

But if the joys of heaven seem just a little familiar, I think we will have St. Nicholas to thank.

[UPDATE 2011: The essay is no longer available online without a subscription, so this is it's only "free" home at the moment, that I know of. :)]

The Missing Ingredient

The girls and I are making Christmas cookies. Actually, the girls are making Christmas cookies; I'm just supervising at this point.

Granted, we took a bit of a shortcut, because I had some chocolate chip cookie mix on hand, and it was easier to use that and add the "holiday swirled white chocolate chips" to the batter than to start with "from scratch" chocolate chip cookie batter and go from there. What, chocolate chip cookies aren't "Christmas cookies" at your house? It's not my fault; I've been informed solemnly on several occasions that Saint Nicholas's chief helper much prefers them to most other cookies (although he just discovered that he also really likes my mother's almond crescents--Mom, I need a recipe!).

But as much fun as it is to watch the girls spoon sticky batter onto trays and put their math into action (four trays at 12 cookies each plus how many extra for a final tray equals...), I've got to admit that we're missing something.

It seems like just yesterday when Christmas cookie baking always, always, always involved at least one (and sometimes three) chairs clustered solemnly around the mixer, while three bouncy, giggling little girls exclaimed at the action of the mixer, begged to add the vanilla, sampled the chocolate chips "just in case," and wondered how old they'd have to be before they could crack an egg.

Now, of course, two out of three of them are taller than I am, and they're all frighteningly competent cookie-bakers. Which is fun in its own way, of course. But next year, maybe we could borrow this sweet lady's youngest little guy for an afternoon? I hear he looooooves cookies!

Public Service Announcement

We interrupt this blog to bring you a special reminder:

Today is December 23. You knew that. Christmas is in two days. You know that, too.

But if your family usually attends Christmas Mass on Christmas Eve (early vigil or Midnight Mass) then today is your last full day to do laundry before your children announce sometime tomorrow that the shirt, pants, socks, dress, sweater, tights, slip, or other necessary item of Christmas Mass clothing they need for the evening is in the hamper. Your husband, who may be counting on wearing the shirt he wore to work on Monday for Mass, may also tell you at three seconds before the last minute that it needs washing.

If you find out today, there will still be plenty of time to wash/iron/dry any of these articles. If you don't find out until sometime tomorrow, then depending on what time Mass begins, you may be pushing it. And even if you attend Mass Christmas morning it might be a good idea to check with any of your usual Laundry Offenders to make sure they hadn't just decided that it would be okay to wear sweat socks under their dress clothes, rather than tell you they needed dark socks or stockings washed.

As someone who has faced the "Night before Christmas laundry shortage" before, I thought I'd put out this little reminder in plenty of time. Hope it helps!


Monday, December 22, 2008

Life, Pro-Life, Politics, and Homeschooling

In the post below I mentioned a homeschooling board I visit. I won't say which one specifically; some of you may know the board, and some don't, and that's fine. I'm not trying to single out this board or these Catholic women, or point fingers.

But I'm a little disturbed about something.

The board in question is a Catholic homeschooling board, and its purpose is to promote and encourage Catholic homeschoolers. I respect that. The moderators on the board work hard to keep the place free from heated conflict or temper-driven conversations, and I respect that too.

But the board is Catholic. And Catholics are supposed to be pro-life. And in the past the board has permitted various pro-life conversations to take place; in fact, a current conversation is about IVF and its evils.

However, there's a sudden spirit of caution that creeps up whenever Barack Obama's name is mentioned over there. For example, the post below the news item I shared earlier was a moderator's post; she essentially thanked the poster for the information and then reminded everyone that no discussion was to take place--even though the poster was sharing pro-life information, the fact that the information was critical of the upcoming administration meant that discussion had to be preempted.

The board is currently working out its political policy. I hope that what is forged will be a good, workable solution. But I have a few observations of my own:

1. Politics is a part of life. When we shut down discussion that is "too political," we're essentially telling people that this one part of their lives is permanently off-topic. I could see that being true on, say, a cooking board or an arts-and-crafts board or even a generic homeschooling board that focused solely on curriculum discussions, but on a Catholic homeschooling board it seems strange that politics would have to be off-limits for discussion. Catholics are supposed to live in the world, after all, and take part in the world's concerns, bringing our Catholic values to bear on the issues of the day. There will be times when we disagree, respectfully, about the practical actions we need to take, or even whom we need to vote for, but is that a reason to shut down all political discussion altogether?

2. The election is over, and Catholics, sadly, helped to elect the single most pro-abortion President our nation has ever known. Barack Obama plans to make abortion even more available, to pay for it with taxpayer dollars, to stifle dissent, and to require Catholic doctors and nurses and pharmacists--and even, possibly, Catholic hospitals--to participate in abortions. Some of our bishops are already speaking out about these matters, so is it really the case that these topics are too controversial to be discussed in a Catholic setting among our fellow Catholics? Must we bury our head in the sand for the next four years rather than ever say, in even the mildest of ways, that those Catholics who voted for Obama might possibly have been misinformed about his abortion extremism?

3. Pro-life issues transcend partisan politics, even though it is the sad reality in America today that one party is committed to legalized abortion on demand, while the other party's platform opposes it (though individuals within the party are pro-abortion anyway). Catholics should be able to discuss the importance of such issues as abortion, contraception, IVF, embryonic stem-cell research, and other matters which relate to the culture of life/culture of death divide without having to worry about offending those Catholics who generally vote for the party whose platform is in support of the culture of death; not every Democrat agrees with the party's position on these issues, but the fact remains that the Democratic party is the party which takes anti-life positions--and people on a Catholic board should be able to discuss this fact without having to worry about hurting people's feelings. This is especially true during a Democratic administration--Catholics must be able to speak up about the administration's efforts to advance the culture of death without being told that it's divisive to do so on a Catholic forum, in my opinion.

4. It has been said that the reason to limit these sorts of discussions is in part because these conversations don't belong on a board about homeschooling. But to me, a board about Catholic homeschooling should never be afraid to permit Catholics to converse about the issues which are of the gravest concern to Catholics today. We are, after all, educating the next generation of Catholic voters and Catholic activists. We teach them as much by our example as we do by our words, and if they see us shun controversy in order not to offend our fellow Catholics, the lessons they are learning is that it's less important to stand up for Catholic values than it is to get along with everyone. Maybe, having been educated that way in Catholic schools in the 1970s, I'm a bit over-sensitive to this sort of thing--but I want my children to be unafraid to stand up for the truth.

5. Having said all of that, though, I do recognize two things: one, that the moderators at this board may simply not have the time to keep political discussions civil, and two, that lots of women out there, even some of my fellow Catholic ones, seem to think that "I disagree with you," means "You're wrong, and I hate you," for reasons that continue to puzzle me. So while I hope that the board will find a way to let some mention of Obama's name here or there stand without worrying that the pro-Obama members will react badly to any criticism of him, however slight, I recognize that this may be impossible; in that case, I suppose that maintaining the current "No politics" status quo may be the only workable option.

Obama: Not Pro-Life

Shared on a Catholic homeschooling board I occasionally visit was this news item, from Christian News Wire:

Susan B. Anthony List activists can send letters to their Senators as part of the "Stop the Abortion Bailout" campaign at The goal of the campaign is to secure the 41 votes necessary to sustain a filibuster against measures promoting federal taxpayer funding of abortion. The Susan B. Anthony List will deliver letters to Senators and pass along the names of Americans opposing the abortion bailout to pro-life Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Last week the Obama-Biden Transition Project posted a report compiled by over 50 abortion advocacy groups detailing extensive policy requests. The report, entitled "Advancing Reproductive Rights and Health in a New Administration," was posted on and calls for major policy reversals regarding abortion, including:

  • One billion dollars in taxpayer funds for international abortion groups like International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International (p.19)

  • 133% increase in funding for the Title X program, which funds Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide (p. 6). Groups call for increasing funds from $300 to $700 million in federal taxpayer funds.

  • Repeal every budgetary rider restricting federal abortion funding, including the long-standing Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal taxpayer funds for abortion through the Medicaid and Medicare programs (p. 7).

  • Expand taxpayer funding for abortions through the Peace Corps program. (p. vii)

The President-Elect also recently appointed several abortion advocates to his staff, including EMILY's List Executive Director Ellen Moran as White House Communications Director and former NARAL Legal Director Dawn Johnsen to his Justice Department Review Team. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards was also named immediately after the election as part of an informal, trusted "kitchen cabinet" of advisors to the Obama transition team.

Tell me again, O Wise Folk at Vox Nova, how a vote for Obama was really a pro-life vote. Tell me again how Obama is going to reduce abortions. Tell me again how wonderful Obama is, and how Catholics ought to just rush right out and vote for him.

I won't be able to hear you over the screams of the babies who are going to die because of this man.

On that same board, a poster shared the story of how a priest at her parish compared Obama to the Blessed Mother (because they had difficult jobs, apparently). The priest has his Nativity scene all wrong; it's clear that there's only one character associated with the baby Jesus whom Obama resembles at all: Herod.

Friday, December 19, 2008

To My Northern Readers

Someone found my blog today by searching for the words "Catholic missing Mass due to snow."

While the Catechism only gives two examples of serious reasons to miss Mass, specifically illness or the care of infants (sometimes translated 'young children'), these are by no means the only serious reasons one may have to miss Mass.

Travel concerns can't be brushed aside. Sometimes one may not be able to get to Sunday Mass because of distance, or a problem with transportation, and these sorts of things are usually out of our hands. When weather conditions exist that make it unsafe to drive, in that you may not arrive safely, may cause problems for emergency crews, etc., it is my opinion that this would indeed constitute a serious reason that would permit one to miss Mass.

Remember, the Catechism puts it this way:
2181 The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor.119 Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.
It's my understanding that ordinarily one's pastor will only dispense one if there is a reason you know about in advance, or a continuing situation of some kind (e.g., business travel to Saudi Arabia). Inclement weather usually has to be assessed at the time it happens, as does illness or the needs of an infant.

Here in Texas we don't get icy/snowy weather very often; the downside of that is that we also don't have a lot of road-clearing equipment. So it's been my family's practice to go to the Texas Department of Transportation website and check out road conditions. When they issue advisories that strongly state that only emergency travel should be undertaken, and that for anything less than an emergency you should stay at home, we take that seriously--and yes, that has led to one Sunday where we remained indoors and missed Mass. That particular storm came in Saturday afternoon, so the chance to go to an anticipation Mass was not there, and the icy roads weren't any better until late Monday or early Tuesday from what I remember.

The point is that we don't, as a family, take missing Mass lightly. We wanted to go to Mass that Sunday, and hoped that the weather would clear up in time for a noon or even a 5 p.m. Mass. But it didn't, and we saw lots of examples on the news of people who went out and drove anyway and had to be pulled out of ditches, so we knew our reasons for not attending were good ones.

Many people today don't live within walking distance of a Catholic parish. Many of us have to rely on car transportation, which means paying attention to driving conditions. If we make the prudent decision to stay home and find out later that the roads weren't as bad as the Transportation Department was telling us, there would still be no sin, provided we had done our best to ascertain the truth of the situation. This is because, as the Catechism puts it, we have to "deliberately fail in this obligation" to be guilty of sin; trying to figure out if you can make it to church safely and concluding, reluctantly, that you can't, isn't a deliberate failure of the obligation to attend Mass, but an attempt to consider honestly a serious reason that may be an impediment to the obligation.

Clearly, each family and each storm will be different. If there's a thin and melting layer of snow on the road and you have a four-wheel drive vehicle equipped with snow tires etc., there's probably not really a valid reason to stay at home. But as the Northeast and Midwest continue to be blanketed by heavy snow, and as Chicago officials tell people point blank to stay off the roads unless travel is absolutely necessary, many Catholics may have to pay close attention to the weather this weekend and make good choices about whether the inclemency constitutes a serious reason to stay at home and miss Mass.

En Garde!

Oh, this is just too much fun not to share:

A man’s attempt to rob a Fort Worth fast food restaurant armed with a big tree branch was thwarted Thursday night when an employee engaged him in a dual with a broom, police say.

Lt. Paul Henderson, police spokesman, said the man walked into the Eddie’s Fried Chicken at 1901 Hemphill about 8:30 p.m., wearing a white rag tied around his face. The man raised the branch over his head -- in what police called “strike position” -- and demanded money from an employee.

The 56-year-old employee grabbed a broom and, according to Henderson, “the two engaged in a battle of wooden swordsmanship.” A second employee rammed the man with a chair, causing him to drop the branch and flee the store.

Where was a customer with a cell phone camera when you really need one?

Giving and Receiving

This post is addressed to the ladies who read my blog. The gentlemen who read here can skip it if they like; or they can read it, if they want to continue learning what makes women tick, so to speak.

Okay, ladies. I'm planning to address a fairly sensitive topic here today, one that often produces tears and grumpiness instead of joy and laughter on gift-giving occasions: birthdays, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, and most especially, Christmas.

The topic is, "How to be a cheerful receiver." And I know it can be difficult, but let's talk about it, shall we?

When people give us gifts, one of our womanly tendencies is to analyze the gift from every possible angle. On the rare occasion when we actually like a gift, we may ponder how it is that the giver figured us out, so to speak, and wonder whether the giver has any ulterior motives in finding us such a perfect present; but on the more common occasion when the gift is as off as a soprano who has veered so far into sharp territory that she's changed the key of the entire song, we take the gift--and the giver--into our mental laboratory, don a white coat, and proceed to perform a total post mortem. What, we think as we weigh and measure and dissect, could the giver have been thinking? Doesn't this person know us at all? Is there something in our own personality or manner that could have led any reasonably intelligent person to conclude that this monstrosity might be something we'd actually want to own? Doesn't the giver realize that this is a color we never wear, a type of cookware or baking dishes we've stopped using due to concerns about poisonous plastic or deadly lead glaze, a variety of jewelry we wouldn't be caught dead in, the wrong shape of slipper, or a book or movie we got rid of already because we decided we didn't like it? How could the giver not have known these things?

This mental evaluation is bad enough when the giver is a friend, a relative, an in-law. But it gets really out of hand when the giver is a husband.

Of all people in the world, we think in injured silence, our husbands ought to know what we like. They live with us in the closest and most intimate of relationships, they hear us talk about our preferences, they seem to be listening when we drop hints, they have countless past Christmases they can refer back to, they have heard us complain before when people give us things we don't like; yet, with all of that, they still managed to come up with this? For us? After all these years together?

And we show our disappointment, and put a damper on the celebration; or we brood over it in silence, and wonder how we're going to come up with a good excuse for exchanging the thing, or we shove whatever it is into a closet at the first opportunity so that it's never seen again--at least, not until the next garage sale or Salvation Army donation.

Now, you may be thinking that you never do this--and maybe you don't. Or maybe you do it once in a while, or maybe the reason you don't do it is because you told your husband kindly but firmly years ago that you would buy your own gifts or that you and he shouldn't exchange gifts at all or that you'd rather do a joint donation to charity or something. (Now, maybe you did that for other reasons, and you really aren't a "gift" person, and have never had ulterior motives for ending the gift exchange with your husband--so if that's the case, then you can ignore this whole post, too.)

But you know what? They notice. And they can even be hurt by it.

Because generally speaking they really are trying to please us. That sweater that's the wrong color? Chances are we exclaimed over a similar one in a catalog, and while in our heads we were thinking, "Of course, I'd want it in blue, and probably the v-neck version, and I'd prefer it in a washable fabric," our husbands were thinking "She likes orange sweaters." The dishes we don't use anymore? Well, given the "Plastic leeches chemicals, glass explodes, lead glaze is poison, metal rusts..." conundrum is it really fair to expect him to have figured out our current preferences? And the slippers that are the wrong shape--maybe he heard us say we needed new slippers, but didn't realize that we've been wearing open backed ones, not ballet style ones, because we've never pointed that out before, and when he was sneaking around getting a look at the old ones, he was only concentrating on the size.

I've noticed that when I do tell my husband something specific (the slipper thing, for example; he never bought me the wrong kind, but that's because I told him when shopping for a replacement pair a long time ago that I prefer the open-backed ones, and ever after that he buys me that kind of slippers at least once a year, because I wear them around the house a lot and wear them out) he always remembers. But that means being willing to have direct and cheerful conversations about what we like and what we'd like to receive, instead of playing the game of "if he really loves me he'll automatically know what I want and surprise me with it," which is such a bad game to play.

And what if we've had those direct conversations, and he goes out on a limb to get us a surprise and it ends up being something we don't much like?

Accept it, find a way to be happy with it, and love him for wanting to keep the romance of a surprise a possibility. And use it! I mean that. If it's a color you don't usually wear--wear it anyway. If it's a dish you now think is poisonous to your family--get some silk flowers and arrange them in it, and exclaim over how pretty it looks (okay, this won't work with a crock pot or a platter, but you get the idea). The only exception here is if something doesn't fit (which can't be helped); but make an effort to exchange it for a similar item in the correct size, if possible.

You might discover that the "wrong gift" has a sweet charm all its own, when viewed through the lens of love.

Because, in the end, gifts don't come with all those mental strings attached; we're the ones who tie them on the packages after the fact. A gift from one's husband says, "I love you enough not only to go shopping by myself, but to go rummaging through the vast sections of the store that I usually ignore and avoid on my way to hardware or electronics," and what could be sweeter than that?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Deck the Halls, Not the Family

I enjoyed Danielle Bean's post today over at Faith and Family Live on how to avoid taking out Christmas-related stress on one's husband and children:

Are you stressed yet? Are you exhausted yet? Have you snapped at your husband yet?

Early on in my married life, I realized the special kind of stress the holiday season can put on a marriage.

We each come into a marriage with different ideas of the “right” way to do Christmas, with extended families’ demands and expectations, and our very own set of holiday emotional baggage. Seemingly simple decisions such as dinner menus, when, how, and where to put up the tree, gift-giving protocol, and whether or not to “do” Santa become fraught with opportunities for conflict. Throw in some of the financial stress and just plain busyness this season brings and you’ve got a homemade recipe for something quite a bit different from “peace on earth.”

Many of us find ourselves on the short side of patience these late days of Advent, and if we’re not careful, the easiest targets just might become our husbands.

Danielle goes on to give advice on how to avoid making our husbands the scapegoats for all our Christmas confusion; read the post if you haven't already.

I've been lucky this year. There's nothing quite like the realization that you lost three weeks centered around Thanksgiving to illness to make you realize with the kind of dreadful calm that overlooks calamities that nothing is going to be on time this year. And the funny thing is that nothing is ever really on time, and I'm always a "Last-Minute-Lucy" with cards and out-of-town presents, but this year there's a tangible reason for it, which makes it much easier to let go and accept the reality of the situation with something almost approaching grace.


But I have noticed a tendency to shriek bubbling out of nowhere; I've been way more intolerant of clutter and noise, and I've had moments of downright shrewishness. Not necessarily directed at my husband, mind; not necessarily even expressed audibly. But the Holy Spirit knows when you're outwardly calm, and inwardly muttering "Dratitdangit*@#!itdarnitdratitetc.," in a kind of interior litany of meltdown.

So I'd like to append my own helpful suggestions in no particular order to Danielle's, in the hopes that those who aren't lashing out husbandwardly can still find some inner peace with the Christmas-related stress:

1. Eat. Okay, my skinny sisters are laughing, but those of us with the extra padding do not get shaky-hungry within five seconds of missing a meal, and instead can go nearly all day on a piece of cheese and six ginger cookies. Yes, I do know this from personal experience. Unfortunately, the stamina we get from that extra fat we'd like to burn off anyway only lasts so long before the crash; and then we can get mean. Really mean. Dumping the yogurt over the weird Yoplait ladies' heads mean. If you know what I mean.

2. Sleep. Again, a no-brainer, right? Do not stay up until four a.m. trying to beat the online shipping deadlines. You will regret it the next day. And yes, again, I know this from personal experience. Recent personal experience.

3. Pray. Yes, time is short and to-do lists are long and bedtime is receeding into the distance (and/or morning comes earlier and earlier, for you morning people) and there's no way it's all going to get done...but pray. Say a decade of the rosary while you're folding laundry; sing an advent hymn while you wrap things; spend five minutes reading the story of Christ's birth from the Bible, and think about it while you work. It's when there's no time to pray that we need it the most.

4. Clean. No, don't start an early spring cleaning or get obsessive about it, but don't wake up on December 24 and realize that the house is a mess because you had more important things to do than clean any of it for the last month or so. Do a Flylady crisis clean or find a quick tidying routine that works or do whatever is necessary to keep the house in reasonable order--because otherwise, that Christmas tree and Advent wreath and Jesse Tree and Advent calendar and Nativity set will just start looking like more clutter to you, so that you'll be pacing on January fifth trying to restrain yourself from jumping the gun and tearing it all down--which kind of defeats the purpose a little, don't you think?

5. Prioritize. Okay, so your blog readers had to put up with a week of you blogging elsewhere, and now you have all sorts of things to write, and here it is late afternoon and you're not done with the things you planned to do yet...etc. Which is why this is coming to you so late today; ironically, I'll have more time to blog next week, when the shopping is done and the children have school vacation for two whole weeks which means that I have vacation for two whole weeks woohoo! Which brings me to number 6:

6. Cherish the good stuff. There's always good stuff, and at Christmas there's a lot of it going around.

Only one more week till Christmas! Which means it's time to relax and enjoy the final days of Advent. And if you're on my Christmas card list--well, expect your card sometime during the Christmas season! :)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Salvation by Externals

In some conversations I've had with people about the whole "Where does the slacks = immodesty notion come from, anyway?" topic, I've realized that there's a common thread running through a lot of the "But the proper holy Catholic way is..." types of thinking going on out there.

Bear with me; I'm thinking out loud, so to speak, so this isn't going to be all that orderly.

What are the various points of contention among Catholic families as to how to live, and how to raise our children? Some of them are big deals, such as homeschool/Catholic school/public school debates, or some TV/no TV except EWTN/ no TV in the house debates. But on these big debates, oddly enough, people seem to be willing to accept that different families may arrive at different conclusions much of the time, and that a family who tries homeschooling and finds it doesn't work for them isn't necessarily abandoning their children to the prevailing culture, or that a family who occasionally tunes in to "Little House" reruns isn't handing their children over to Satan, etc. Moreover, there's more patience, seemingly, for where individuals and families are on the journey--that perhaps they are being called slowly to consider homeschooling but are still in the exploratory phase, and that we should respect that, be helpful, but not pushy or overbearing as we share our homeschool experiences.

So the "big deal" matters don't seem to get as much open criticism, perhaps because it's easier to know that making these decisions isn't always easy and doesn't always work for each family's situation. Why all the contention on the smaller matters then? Why so much insistance that dressing a certain way, praying a certain way, following the liturgical seasons a certain way (with rules about when to put up a tree and why we shouldn't mention Santa and all sorts of other issues), going to a certain parish or a certain Mass, covering one's head in church if one is female, and so on?

Some of it, as many people have said, may be because so many of us were taught by the loosey-goosey, anything goes religious educators in Catholic schools or parishes, who told us--wrongly--that all sorts of things the Church actually teaches were really no big deal. I can remember hearing that if we hadn't killed somebody, we hadn't committed a serious or mortal sin, for instance--and this was during my adolescence, when serious sins become quite possible (and not just the ones violating a certain commandment; we never learned that missing Mass on Sunday without a good reason was a sin!). So, as several wise women I know like to say, we don't quite trust our own impulses, and when somebody shows us a path to holiness that looks doable and not too complicated, our desire to embrace these things comes from that place of early mistrust, to a certain extent.

Some of it, too, may come from a tendency to lump everything that is seemingly "good" into one big category, without differentiating between greater and lesser goods. So we see things like daily Mass attendance or a daily rosary/other prayers as being on the same level as wearing a veil or dressing in skirts only, without realizing that all of these things are on different levels: Mass attendance is the greatest good in this list, and wearing skirts probably last, but we start to see them not only as equally important, but as practically required for a serious Christian.

And we may also forget what the high school religion textbook my family used when I was in high school was careful to point out: even among good things, there are specific aspects relating to one's own vocation which must be taken very seriously indeed. The text used the example of the wife and mother who attended several daily Masses and spent hours in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament, but who was thereby neglecting some of her duties to her home and her family. Her notion that the good example she was setting for her children outweighed her neglect of some of their material needs was truly mistaken, and she was not pleasing our Lord by her actions, because the vocation which she was supposed to be living was not that of a contemplative nun, and meeting her family's needs was the highest and best form of prayer she could offer to God.

So some families at some times may not be able to attend daily Mass, or to pray the rosary, without neglecting their little ones or placing a hardship of some other sort on the family. And some mothers might not be able to wear skirts exclusively while still doing all their chores (bearing in mind that the decision to wear skirts as a voluntary penance is fine, but that skirts themselves don't produce holiness); and a mother whose attempts at wearing a head covering at Mass produced nothing but anger toward the toddler who kept snatching the hat or veil off of mommy's head might want to rethink the whole thing.

Because the externals of our lives don't produce holiness. Attending daily Mass is definitely productive of grace--but not if we spend the whole time distracted or frustrated or otherwise barred from active participation. Praying the rosary is a beautiful devotion and a good prayer habit--but not if we have to skimp on dinner preparations and buy convenience foods every day in order to have the time to say it. Covering one's head at Mass can be a lovely act of voluntary penance--or it can be alternately a temptation to pride and a distraction. Wearing skirts as a similar act of voluntary penance can be productive of grace, too--but not if we're already inclined to wear them and go around looking down at those who don't, or worse, judging them guilty of sin for not doing what we're doing.

The Pharisees in the Bible were famous for focusing so much on the externals that our Lord called them "whited sepulchers." On the outside, they radiated 'holiness,' but their hearts were devoid of love, mercy, humility, kindness, and joy. Sometimes, traditional Catholics are wary of being compared to the Pharisees, because the liberal Catholics liked to use this comparison as a way of insinuating that people who actually cared about what the Church really teaches, etc., are Pharisees. But there's a big difference between wanting to grow closer to God by obedience to His Church, and by thinking we can grow closer to God solely by what we do on the outside.

How do we know the difference? It's simple, really: we are being Pharisees when we make the externals more important than our interior journey toward holiness and when we begin to judge others and look down on them for not adopting our voluntary habits and practices. Being concerned when a Catholic friend skips Sunday Mass regularly in order to go to brunch with friends or when she goes shopping in a mini-skirt and halter top is not being a Pharisee; being concerned when a friend says that she can't get to daily Mass more than a few times a month or because she wears slacks while crawling around the floor after an active set of toddler twins most likely is an indication that we're veering into Pharisee territory.

Scripture tells us that we must rend our hearts, not our garments. So long as we let our interior castle fall into disrepair it doesn't matter if we wear the skirtiest of skirts or the most floor-length of somber black veils; our Lord sees the inside, and knows us for who we are, and calls us, continually, with His great love, to turn to Him in humility and penitence.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Santa Debate

Over at Creative Minority Report, this post by Patrick Archbold about a priest's debunking of Santa at Mass has garnered the usual debate among Catholic as to how to further suck the joy out of Christmas altogether in their best imitation of America's Puritan Christmas-hating past.

A little harsh? Okay, maybe. But I get so tired of it.

Patrick links to this excellent post by "The Nightfly" about how people who say Santa is lying are kind of missing the point. Whether you want to have Santa (or St. Nicholas, or La Befana, etc.) or not in your house isn't the issue; the problem is that some people seem to have forgotten how important the life of the imagination is to a child.

As for me, well, I have all sorts of things to say. Luckily, given that my shopping isn't quite done yet, I have already said them. And one of the great perks about sharing my real identity on this blog is that I can do things like link to the Dallas Morning News essay I wrote two years ago which appeared in the Christmas Eve "Points" section:

Are we lying to our children, with our ancient stories and cherished poems of a kindly saint who loves all children and hears their whispered wishes and dreams? Not at all – we are telling them the truth. It's just that some truths can't be found in scholarly lectures or discovered in dry books of facts. When we teach our wide-eyed little ones the legend of St. Nicholas, we are teaching them essential lessons about faith, hope and unconditional love. When we sit by glowing embers to share with them our December stories, we instruct them in such virtues as generosity, patience and the sort of kindness that expects no reward.

And they are able to learn these things from us because for a few short weeks every year, we find it possible to enter the world of make-believe. We fill our homes with songs and stories, and turn ordinary rooms into glittering palaces. The everyday world is swept away.

I hope you'll read the whole essay, if you get the chance. But for now, as one of Santa's little helpers I need to get my elf-shoes in gear and finish a few more point-and-click shopping chores before it's too late!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wifely Obedience

As I promised Friday, I want to discuss a subject that came up elsewhere, on the topic of obedience to one's husband and how that connects to the ever-continuing discussion of whether Catholic women may wear slacks.

I don't want to get into specifics, but the situation probably isn't all that uncommon among traditional-leaning Catholic families: the husband has decided that slacks aren't modest apparel for women and has told his wife not to wear them; the wife isn't sure slacks aren't modest, finds them practical on some occasions, and would like the choice to be hers.

How does wifely obedience relate to discussions like this one?

I know the subject matter, involving as it does the husband's opinion that slacks are never modest for a woman, is a bit of a side-track. Since I don't believe that slacks are always immodest, or that women should never wear them, and since that belief is strengthened by the fact that the Church doesn't seem to find slacks immodest for a women, and lets women tour the Vatican in slacks (but will turn away a woman in a too-short skirt), I could easily zero in on the topic instead of the general question. But I think that the general question is one of interest to many of us, because many of us have, at times, been asked to accept our husband's judgment in matters where we believe our opinion should have more weight, or where we resent being asked to do something contrary to our will.

Perhaps it's a spending issue--we want to buy something for the home, but our husbands think that the current item is perfectly good and doesn't need replacing. Perhaps it's a division of labor issue--we might believe that some particular task ought to be his responsibility, but he expects us to take care of it. Perhaps it's an educational issue--we want to switch to a different math textbook, but our husbands believe that the program already in use is superior and that we just need to work harder to make it appeal to the child. Or perhaps it has to do with dozens of other things, such as housework, family relationships, leisure time, involvement in parish groups or ministries, involvement in clubs or organizations, even the way we pray as a family; all of those are areas where a wife and husband may disagree, and a wife may eventually be called to obedience.

Notice I say, "eventually." Nothing exasperates me more than the notion that wifely obedience ought to be the same immediate and unquestioning obedience which should be given by a minor child, a servant, an employee or subordinate, or someone else in a dependency relationship. The various encyclicals that involve marriage and women are clear that this is not so; the obedience a wife owes her husband is the obedience of love, given by an equal, not the obedience of fear, given by an inferior.

So it is perfectly proper for a wife to discuss with her husband those decisions he wishes to make for the good of the family, to let her opinions and even disagreement be clearly known. If they can't agree, though, the wife may have to obey for the sake of family peace and harmony, and out of love for her husband.

How strong is her duty to obey her husband? I don't know if this has ever been spelled out, but my belief is that the duty to obey one's husband is in direct proportion to the extent to which his decision is for the good of the family.

So if the husband expresses a desire that his wife should clean the house in a certain order, for example, believing this to be the most efficient and best way, she should have the latitude to clean in a different order when the occasion warrants it--and he should respect and support that, knowing that the matter is of small importance and that she, the one doing the cleaning, may have to deal with practical realities of which he is largely unaware.

But if the husband decides that he and the whole family should make an effort to attend daily Mass together a certain number of times in a week, and there is no serious impediment to this from a family perspective, then this is a more important matter on which the family ought to come together. The example being set for the children by the parents in this matter is one that will be spiritually beneficial to all of them, fostering grace within the family and serving as an opportunity for growth in the spiritual life, and unless she has some practical reason not to join in with his wishes the wife should make every effort to go along with such a good decision.

The problem that may occur between husbands and wives in regard to the wife's duty to obey is that sometimes the matter at hand isn't at all a matter which relates to the good of the family. To revisit the original question, if a husband truly believes that any woman wearing slacks is (objectively speaking) committing a sin of immodesty, then the wife ought to insist that he discuss the matter with a holy priest, because he may be suffering from scrupulosity, or be struggling with a greater level of temptation than the average man, or in some other way be at a place of spiritual imbalance, to see sin where there is none. She can't help him to overcome this by meekly acquiescing in his request that she never wear slacks, not even alone in the house; but if he refuses to see a priest or seek spiritual counseling than she ought to wear the skirts--but not out of obedience, merely out of her loving concern for him. She should pray for his spiritual healing, find some good books that might help, suggest a retreat for married couples if one becomes available nearby, and do whatever else she can to foster improved communication and greater trust between them: because if a man insists that all slacks are immodest for women and that his wife must give them up to avoid sinning, then he is really saying that he does not trust her to make morally sound decisions without his commands, and that he may not even trust her virtue--a terrible thing for a husband to say, even without words.

It would, of course, be different if the wife suddenly started wearing halter tops and mini-shorts at home, in public, around their teenage son's friends, etc.--then there is a definite and legitimate moral concern, and a husband's desire that his wife not dress this way would indeed be motivated from his concern for the good, the spiritual health and well-being, of the family. But the man who sees his wife's appearance in a long pair of loose-fitting slacks and a modest shirt as being the moral equivalent of the halter top and mini-shorts must be humored, not obeyed, in his request that his wife only wear skirts; as his wife is doing no harm to the good of the family by wearing the slacks, she is not required to obey her husband's request that she not dress this way, and her humoring of his request is proof of her abiding love for him.

How do we know the difference? How do we know when to obey our husbands, when to humor them out of love, and when to make a stand? Again, we look to the good of the family: if what they are asking is an important thing that is ordered toward the family's good, we ought to do it; if it's a less important thing or if it isn't really ordered toward the good of the family we may need to humor them, depending on the situation. But if what our husbands want is something disordered, or ordered against the good of the family, we must insist that this not be done, and not only owe no obedience, but could even be more in danger of sinning if we give it. Examples of this would be the introduction into our homes of truly spiritually harmful forms of "entertainment," the adoption of a casual attitude toward Mass attendance, or other seriously wrong practices--we must not make obedience more importance than the protection of the family, and a husband who is erring in one of these ways must neither be obeyed nor humored, but reminded of his duty to lead the family to holiness.

Tree Wars

So, in my rather silly sign-off post on Crunchy Cons yesterday, I mentioned in passing that we had followed our family tradition of putting up the Christmas tree on Gaudete Sunday. Guess what all the comments are about?

I know that there is a perception out there that until sometime after Vatican II, all faithful Catholics religiously avoided so much as a sprig of holly in their homes until sometime after six p.m. (or dusk, whichever came first) on Christmas Eve. But I think that family traditions varied quite a bit even before Vatican II, and have a suspicion that this is one of those things which some people want to make a law, which was never really more than a custom.

In many ways, the debate over whether, and how much, Truly Faithful Catholics may decorate their homes prior to Christmas Eve is a bit like the debate over women wearing slacks. The Church says, "Don't confuse Advent with Christmas," and people start to condemn their neighbors for putting up their trees before noon on Christmas Eve; the Church says, "Dress modestly," and people start to condemn their (female) neighbors for wearing a perfectly modest pair of slacks on occasion. It really is as though some people believe that there is only One Right Authentically Catholic Blessed and Holy way to do all of these specific practical things, and that anyone who does things a little differently should be shunned for not having figured out that Right Way yet.

Are there people--some of them Catholics--who blur the line between Advent and Christmas too much, seeing "Christmas" as beginning on Black Friday and ending December 24th? Sure, and by kindness and charitable example we can try to remind them that Advent is its own liturgical season, a time of hope and longing and excited anticipation of the feast that is yet to come. But for Catholics who are keeping Advent through Scripture readings, Jesse trees, Advent calendars, the lighting of candles on an Advent wreath, not to mention special prayers, frequent Mass attendance, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, participation in the life of the parish, and similar activities, I really don't think it's a terrible spiritual danger for a tree to go up on Gaudete Sunday or the Fourth Sunday of Advent, for decorations to bloom slowly over the course of the whole season, and for the creche to be waiting (with a cluster of sheep who presumably live there all the time) for the arrival of the Holy Family, presently located atop Mom's computer desk on their slow journey across the living room to the "Bethlehem" of Bookgirl's desk (since the set belongs, thanks to generous godparents, to her).

I know there are some who take a more strident view; in fact, what prompted my Crunchy Con post was the memory of a very orthodox priest who insisted that there should be no decorations, nothing at all, before Dec. 24, in the home. I said something lightly about someone with no children not quite understanding the reality of the situation--and you'd have thought I declared myself an open heretic, from the tenor of a couple of the responses. No, I don't think priests have to marry and have children in order to teach us what the Church teaches about marriage and family life. But that's not the same thing as pointing out that a priest in a rectory might not quite envision the difficulties that could arise if there were an actual mandate against decorating for Christmas ahead of Christmas Eve; speaking just for myself, I can say in all honesty that if this were a hard and fast rule, I probably wouldn't end up decorating my home at all--not churlishly or sulkily, but just because when your whole family is in the choir and your tiny mission parish gets 8 p.m for its "Midnight" Mass and you have to cook dinner starting about 3:30 so you can feed your family by about five p.m. in order to leave by 5:30 to be at church by about sixish in order to be ready to sing at 7:15 for about 15 minutes to be followed by the Chilren's Pageant (yay! Outside of Mass!) during which you will also be singing at intervals followed, of course, by Mass, and then by a little fellowship after Mass, so that you probably won't be home again until maybe 10:30 or 11 p.m. at which time you still have to get the kids to bed--well, maybe I'm just not organized enough, but I don't think I'd be able to get a tree, a creche, and a handful of other decorations unpacked, set up, decorated etc. in the window of time between noon and 3:30, and I'm sure not going to be able to do it all starting at about 11:30 p.m., night owl though I am. By which incredibly long sentence I'm just saying that this is one of those times when Danielle Bean's principle, "Do what works best for your family," is the best principle to apply; there is nothing sinful about getting things ready ahead of time, provided the character of Advent remains visible in your home throught the preparatory season.

But, of course, people have to fight over it all. There has to be an attitude that says "If I can do this, so can you--you're just not trying hard enough." There has to be a spirit of superiority and judgment on one side, and defensiveness and anger on the other. There has to be a fostering of joylessness and guilt, so that whatever you do you'll secretly worry that you aren't being Authentically Catholic enough (the O'Kelly family waits until 11:59 on Christmas Eve before they even bring their tree in from the garage! I'm not doing that, so I'm failing!). There has to be an attempt to take something innocent and beautiful, the desire to bedeck the house with garlands and lights from the wellspring of joy in our hearts at the coming of our Savior, and twist it into something cheerless and empty.

Who do you think is behind that, I wonder? Who wants us, especially at Christmas, to say "O Come, O Come Emmanuel!" with one side of our mouths, and "Thank you, Lord, for not making me like all those wretched sinners out there!" with the other? Who wants to sow such division over such trivialities, and disturb our peace, and make it hard for us to kneel in wonder before the Babe of Bethlehem?

I have a guess or two--and it's not the Grinch.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Friday Fun Post

If you want to read anything serious or substantial I've written today, or anytime this week, just go on over here. I'll be wrapping up my guest hosting sometime over the weekend, just in time to realize that I've blown my Internet Christmas shopping week blogging....

...Nah, I already knew that. And I'm not panicking. No, really, not at all. :)

But since I'm just about all serious and substantialed out, here are a few fun things to do. 'Cause I know some of you are about as much in the mood to tackle weighty matters on a Friday evening as I am:

You Should Juggle

You've got the talent to go far in life, but you don't really like to take risks.

You rather practice your well honed skills than put your life in danger.

You are agile and coordinated. You can work magic with your hands.

You truly mesmerize people. You don't have to resort to cheap tricks and gimmicks.

You Are Chicken Noodle Soup

You are a traditional and conservative person. You value the past, and change frightens you.

You are very loyal, especially to your family. You prefer a low-key life, with lots of time spent at home.

You like soup because it's easy, quick, and cheap.

You tend to have a favorite soup you stick to. Why change a good thing?

You Are a Discount Shopper

You love to get things as cheaply as possible. You live for sales.

It's partially because you like to save money, but it's also because you like the thrill of finding a fabulous deal.

Of all the types, you tend to shop frequently but rarely buy. You keep an eye on prices.

Brand names are not that important to you. You know how to have style without collecting designer tags.

See you next week!

Sneak preview:

Response from a diocesan official to the sacrament prep. question raises more questions than it answers...

Does our duty to obey our husbands mean accepting without question that they have the right to tell us what to wear...

Doing battle with the Leviathan of Laundry...

...and more!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Okay, Maybe We Need To Cool It With the Carols

Because Kitten and Bookgirl are singing their Saxon Math word problems.

To the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas."


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Favorite Christmas Carols Meme

Over at Crunchy Cons today, I posted a "just for fun" piece about favorite Christmas carols, linked to this news article about Britain's top ten Christmas faves. From that article, here's the list:

1. Silent Night

2. We Wish You A Merry Christmas

3. O Come All Ye Faithful

4. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

5. Away in a Manger

6. Little Donkey

7. Once in Royal David's City

8. The Twelve Days of Christmas

9. O Little Town of Bethlehem

10. Ding Dong Merrily on High

My favorite, "O Holy Night," didn't even make the list. And I didn't want to appear too ignorant on a heavily trafficked blog like CC, but I've got to ask: what the heck is "Little Donkey?"

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to ask some of the same questions, with some additions, over here; if anybody wants to use this as a blog meme, go ahead!

Christmas Carols:

1. Love 'em, hate 'em, tolerate 'em, or...?

2. Policy: none before Christmas, none before Thanksgiving, or...?

3. Favorite? Favorites, if you've got more than one?

4. Least favorite? Drives you batty/hate it/turn it off if it comes on the radio?

5. Caroling door to door in neighborhood? Ever done it/would do it? Wouldn't even consider it?

6. Funniest kids' rendition, if any?

7. Most inappropriate carol ever heard in a church setting (Catholic or otherwise)?

8. The one foreign language carol I know (or know best) is...?

9. Carol that perplexes you the most?

10. Carol your whole family will sing?

You don't have to answer all ten, and you can answer here in the combox or on your own blog--if you answer on the blog, drop me a link in the combox so I can see! And forwarding--totally up to you, if you want to ask other people to join in.

Here are my answers:

1. Love 'em.

2. Break down during Advent, always.

3. O Holy Night, though I like lots of others.

4. The "Do They Know It's Christmas" eighties Band-Aid song I linked to on Crunchy Cons. I know it was for a good cause, but it's shudderingly bad.

5. Yep, as a kid; would do it if the chance came up.

6. Wish I could remember one! Hoping some of you will!

7. My brother tried to sing the "smoking on a rubber cigar" version of "We Three Kings" at Mass. He was under five, though. ;)

8. Probably just "Feliz Navidad."

9. "I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In." What the heck is up with that song?

10. Lots of them, but here we probably come to "Silent Night," 'cause they all like it.

Your turn! :)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Not Quite a Ramona Moment, but...

I love reading Karen Edmisten's blog, and particularly hearing about the antics of Ramona, whose words never fail to make me smile.

So when Hatchick misheard something today, I couldn't help but think of Ramona.

I always plan to wait until Gaudete Sunday to pull out the Christmas music; I always break down earlier than that. Can't help it; I enjoy Christmas music, even if I don't like hearing it in stores two weeks before Thanksgiving.

Anyway, the girls had scooped up several favorite cds and brought them out to the living room to take the edge off of Math, so to speak. I glanced at the ones they'd found, noticed that one of the favorites was missing (it still is, alas; must have put it away in the wrong place last year) and asked, "What about Manheim Steamroller?"

And from the kitchen Hatchick echoed with astonishment, "What man behind a steamroller?"


Good News!

I was so busy last week (and still in such a fog from the dreaded Cold) that I completely forgot to share some more good news from my church:

The children's Christmas pageant will take place before Mass. No part of it will be done during Mass at all.

Thanks to all who prayed for a good resolution of the whole thing! God is very good, indeed.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Secret Life of Crunchy Bloggers

8:00 A.M.: Wake up later than planned. Immediately call dentist to find out when Mr. M. can bring Hatchick in, because a very loose baby tooth got cracked yesterday on a very non-crunchy (but too crunchy) McD's breakfast bagel, and I can't stop worrying about it. Explain to receptionist; tell her Mr. M. will be bringing in Hatchick since Mrs. M. is still (though finally) getting over the Cold of Endless Crud (ironically, I now look and sound more like a diseased person than I did when I felt much worse). Tell Mr. M. they can see Hatchick at noon; head out to the living room to write first Crunchy post of the day.

8:01 A.M.: Greet an anxious Hatchick, who has been waiting to hear the verdict; tell her she's going to see the dentist at noon, and make her some instant oatmeal. Start brewing a cup of tea, and turn on the computer.

8:07 A.M.: Sit down at the computer long enough to check blog comments and read emails; make more oatmeal for Kitten and Bookgirl. Chat with the girls about the day's plans, including vastly reduced schooling because of their sister's unexpected dentist visit and in honor of the feast day.

8:15 A.M.: Begin composing first Crunchy post of the day. Stop to make eggs for Hatchick, who is still hungry but can't chew anything toastish or cerealish.

9:30 A.M: (approx.) Post first post. Realize how late it is, and start writing second post. Stop several times to soothe Hatchick, who's nervous about her appointment, and to start sorting some laundry. Discuss Algebra with the older two girls.

10:30 A.M.: (approx) Post second post. Remember to start some of the sorted laundry. Mention Algebra again.

11:00 A.M.: Begin writing third post while supervising Algebra (finally). Stop to hug Hatchick and Mr. M. as they leave for the dentist. Realize that a comment box skirmish is beginning to seem likely under second post; "step in" for a moment, then continue writing third post, taking a break to try to figure out why an answer that reads "5/2" doesn't seem to relate at all to the problem at hand; be very, very glad when Bookgirl realizes that the correct answer does not begin as 1 and 13/26 but as 2 and 13/26 which simplifies to 2 and 1/2 which is, of course, the same as 5/2.

12:00 A.M.: (approx) Post third post. Finish Algebra lesson, switch laundry, discover that it's about ten till one and tell the girls what there is for lunch. Remember that I forgot to make the bed; go make it. Answer phone, and discuss tooth situation with Mr. M.: dentist said Hatchick could wiggle tooth out with no ill effects, I know Hatchick has never wiggled out one of her own teeth and will only let me check them with my hands behind my back until they're hanging by a thread and I can sneakily snatch it before she suspects, Hatchick admits she wanted dentist to remove broken tooth because it feels weird and because she's afraid she'll lose the first half long before the second, as the first half is much looser--I send them back to the dentist to ask him to just go ahead and take the dratted thing out, already.

1:30: Decided to go ahead and change into clothes suitable for the Holy Day Mass. Realize as I'm doing this that since Mr. M., Hatchick, and myself are highly unlikely to eat lunch before 2:00 P.M. or so, my plan to serve an early dinner before we leave at 5:30 to be at church by six for a Mass that starts at 6:30 has just gone out the window. Figure we'll have to get pizza or pasta up in the town where our church is, after Mass, instead.

2:00 P.M.: Mr. M. and Hatchick get home. Hatchick can only have soft food for a while (pasta for dinner, I'm thinking) and I make her some (instant, not authentic and crunchy) mashed potatoes and let her have ice cream while they're cooking. By the time I'm done I'm having one of those Random Wiped-Out Moments that this stupid bug of mine is still producing on occasion; I need to write one more post before I get a little rest, though.

2:30 P.M.: Write post.

3:00 P.M.: Post fourth post. Spend a little time checking email, putting some news links in a folder, and monitoring the comment boxes again.

4:15 P.M.: Decide to take a little nap (not a usual practice, believe me).

4:25 P.M.: Remember that Kitten is singing the psalm tonight, along with a friend of hers. Get back up because I promised to practice it with her.

4:45 P.M.: Lay down again.

5:00 P.M. Get up, because the just in case alarm just rang. Good thing I set it; I dozed off for about thirty-eight seconds.

5:30--10:00 P.M. Attended Holy Day Mass, sang, felt sorry for the retired priest who was saying Mass because he had "a touch of flu" and kept the homily brief; was proud of Kitten for doing a good job on the psalm and the "Alleluia" verse. Went to a wonderful little restaurant afterward that my family had previously attended during a choir function I missed when I was sick--truly heavenly Italian food, great service, quiet and lovely, a real treat (Mr. M. said it was a belated birthday dinner since I'd been too sick to eat out on my birthday). Drove home, dumped old leftovers while the girls gathered trash and Mr. M. dashed to put the cans out by the curb before the thunderstorm came in. Said bedtime prayers with the girls and kissed them goodnight; turned on computer again.

11:00 P.M. (approx) Write and post fifth post. Start post here; check in at Crunchy Cons and feel like a slacker because Rod has posted from his vacation. Worry I'm not doing a good job; start planning tomorrow's first post, which I plan to draft tonight, and wonder if I can sneak a sixth post in before midnight....