Monday, March 31, 2008

Rose-Colored Reality

I was thinking this morning, after a disturbing dream last night, that I actually remember milk delivery.

I'm not all that old--not quite forty, yet, though it's looming--but I remember a silver container on my parents' front porch where a couple of times a week a milkman would place a few glass bottles of milk. Years later when we lived in a small city surrounded by farmland we had milk delivery again: once a week someone would deliver whatever Mom had ordered on the previous week's list--milk, eggs, yogurt, even cheese, I think. Sure, Mom could also get these items at the store, but if the weekly delivery saved even one trip to the store a week it was well worth it.

My disturbing dream last night? Shopping and shopping at a huge grocery store, bigger than any I'd ever seen, and reaching the front to find that in the single refrigerated case where milk was stored only three gallons of milk remained--and two of them were warm, while the third was icy and looked spoiled. I was paying for the rest of the groceries and wondering how I would ever buy milk--and flour; my dream-self suddenly realized she was also out of flour, and there was none to be found in the stores--and when I woke up it took a minute before I realized I wasn't actually out of either item.

So as I lay there, thinking about my dream, I remembered milk delivery. And that made me remember the glass bottles, too--it makes me feel old to admit this, but I remember the first time I saw plastic milk gallons, and how ugly and big and heavy and wrong they seemed.

Plastic was easier to ship long distances, of course, which made it possible for supermarkets to get the best prices by buying milk far beyond the immediate area. Supermarkets also sold milk cheaper than the dairies that delivered, so soon the milkman wasn't around any more, either.

Was it just the cheaper prices that made the milkman all but disappear? Or was it also the fact that there was no one at home to answer the door and bring the milk inside before it could spoil?

What happened to the butcher, and the greengrocer, too? Supermarket, again? Convenience and ever-cheaper prices over the connection to a person who knew what cuts of meat you liked, or who went out of his way to carry the freshest local produce? We're a generation or two away from that world, but how amazingly different it seems from our fast-paced Super Big Box Store approach to grocery shopping.

But that approach may eventually have to go.

My dream centered around milk in plastic bottles, and flour. Wheat prices are skyrocketing as demand exceeds supply--demand caused by the fact that our local farmers sell that wheat all over the world. Milk prices are getting higher and higher, too--and those plastic, petroleum-based bottles can't be helping the situation any, as rising fuel costs impact the overall price of consumer goods.

Maybe one day in the future we'll buy our milk in glass bottles from local farmers, and get flour from locally-grown wheat, too, because it will be cheaper than sending everything halfway around the world and back again before we can use it. Maybe those parts of the country where not much is grown will be the only places where you have to pay a premium for food; maybe the rest of us will get our meat from a local butcher and buy locally-raised produce at a farmer's market or an actual grocer's shop.

Maybe our country will have to realize that the Super Big Box Store was a temporary madness that gripped us all, giving us lower and lower prices at an international cost we couldn't forever afford.

And maybe we'll even be able to get our milk delivered again.

A girl can dream.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Defending the Indefensible

On his Crunchy Con blog today Rod Dreher posts on, and links to, this post by Joe Carter, which is an open letter to the Religious Right. Carter's post is worth reading in its entirety, especially his point #4:

Four -- I can't make excuses for us on this one anymore: Christians have to take a firm stand against torture. Yes, there is a debate about what exactly is meant by that term. Let's have that debate. Let's define the term in a way that consistent with our belief in human dignity. And then let's hold every politician in the country to that standard. Our silence on this issue has become embarrassing.

Yes, lets!!!

Sadly, many of the comments below Carter's excellent post address this point, and not in a positive way. The same old tiresome saws we've all become so familiar with from the commenters on Mark Shea's blog are all trotted out here as if they're original, blindingly intelligent, and intellectually unanswerable, and they include the following:

1. Christians are against torture, but waterboarding isn't torture. Only medieval things like racks and screws and hot irons and beatings are torture. Waterboarding, loud music, "stress positions," cold cells--those things aren't torture.

2. Christians are against torture most of the time, but if we *had* to use it (ticking time bomb nuclear holocaust children in danger where oh where is Superman when we really need him but no we're stuck with Jack Bauer) then the option should remain on the table. 'Cause we can trust our government not to abuse the privilege-- and it's not like they're torturing anybody we know.

3. Christians aren't against causing terrorists momentary discomfort. (Of all the euphemisms for torture I've seen, this one takes the cake.)

4. Christians can kill people (soldiers, police, etc.) so why can't we torture people?

5. Waterboarding, even if it's technically torture, is being used for a good purpose (information gathering) instead of a bad one (cruelty for its own sake).

I could go on, but we've heard this tune before, and I'm still not dancing.

So instead, I'd like to take each of the points I've listed above and unpack them a little.

1. Argument from modernity: We can't be doing anything that's actually torture, because torture was one of those medieval dark ages pre-Enlightenment kinds of activities. The Iron Maiden, the rack, the shackles, the thumbscrew, those were instruments of torture. What we're doing is really science, the science of interrogation. See, we follow the scientific method and everything: Hypothesis: Information will be extracted more quickly from the recalcitrant if we simulate the pains of drowning such that he believes he really will drown. Equipment required: slanted board, plastic to cover the face, restraints to secure the hands and feet to the board and induce a sense of helplessness, copious amounts of frigid water. Process: etc.

The notion here is that torture is just horribly old-fashioned, and that whatever we moderns have gotten up to, it certainly isn't anything as silly and quaint as torture.

2. Argument from rarity: We're almost never, ever, ever going to have to torture somebody--even if you think the stuff we're doing counts as torture in the first place (see #1). But just in case, if there's the teensiest tinsiest reason why we might have to get really, really tough with somebody, maybe take out an eye or a finger or two--well, we don't want to make that impossible for Our Guys, right? Cause we can trust them to do the right thing.

The notion here is that Our Guys actually want to torture people, but never ever will unless it's legal, because hey, they wouldn't want to break the law. Just someone's legs.

3. Argument from euphemism. Torture is just momentary discomfort. Right. And murder is momentary deprivation of physical life, and theft is momentary adjustment of property, and rape is--well, we're back to momentary discomfort, aren't we?

The notion here is that if we get rid of the ugly word "torture" the ugliness of the reality will go away too. It hasn't worked in the case of "reproductive rights," so why on earth does anyone think it will work for "momentary discomfort?"

4. Argument of the apples = oranges variety. If Christians can kill in self-defense, why can't Christians torture in self-defense?

The notion here is that since killing is worse than torture, and Christians can sometimes kill, then Christians must be able sometimes to torture. However, killing is not morally equivalent to torture--murder is. Killing in self defense is not murder, just like inadvertently wrenching the shoulder of a suspect when you are arresting him isn't torture. Christians can never murder, Christians can never torture, because Christians can never do that which is intrinsically evil.

5. Argument from double effect: We don't want to hurt people for the sake of hurting them. What we want is information, so if we have to hurt them to get it, then that's okay.

The notion here is a pretty typical misunderstanding of the principle of double effect. The first criteria in this principle is that the act itself that we're talking about must be morally good or morally neutral; it may then have more than one effect, at least one of which is good. Interrogating a prisoner in the conventional sense would be a morally good or morally neutral (depending on the circumstances) act; but torture is always intrinsically evil and thus can never be the action under discussion in a double effect scenario.

Put in its plainest terms, there is never a moral justification for doing that which is morally evil. It is never possible to justify torture, which is always intrinsically evil. Christians who try to defend acts of torture must come to realize that they are trying to defend the indefensible.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Earnestness of Being Important

Back in February, Catholic professor Douglas W. Kmiec endorsed Barack Obama for the presidency. On Tuesday BeliefNet's "God-o-meter" feature interviewed Kmiec about his decision (hat tip: Mark Shea). In an answer to a question about the "failed strategy" of trying to eliminate abortion by changing the law, Kmiec replies:

It’s even broader than that. It’s not the specific failure of this president or this administration, it’s the conclusion that trying to change the law on this topic [abortion] is a bit of fool’s game, that the thing that needs to be changed is more the heart of the individual person and the attitude of the larger culture. And that can hopefully be done by some of the things that Senator Obama talks about: the attitude of personal responsibility, of importance of the family, the well being of the culture, and quite frankly the economic policies that would affect the needs of the poor and the average American.

To which I reply: Poppycock. Balderdash. Nonsense.

Kmiec is playing the typical liberal Catholic's game here, the politics of the personally opposed. No one ever talks about changing the hearts of people when it comes to illegal drug use, theft, destruction of property, or even forms of murder besides abortion; everyone seems to accept that without laws against such things some people's hearts will always incline towards what is bad or wrong or even evil.

But somehow, when it comes to abortion, the American pro-life Catholic voter is supposed to abandon any notion of the laws being just, or reflecting the truth about the sanctity of human life. We're supposed to adopt policies of persuasion, which are always left conveniently undefined. We're supposed to believe that the real reason abortions happen is because the poor aren't getting enough in the way of food stamps or health care--that if people would just step forward and help no woman in America would ever abort.

Of course, this overlooks two very important realities: one, that many pro-life people already do provide these types of tangible aid to women in crisis pregnancies, and that the government response, especially when members of Obama's party are involved, is to try to shut these crisis pregnancy centers down or severely limit their scope; and two, that while poverty can certainly be a factor in some abortions, it simply isn't the case that only poor women abort. Or, as Mother Teresa was sometimes known to say, the kind of poverty that produces abortion isn't necessarily financial poverty; it is a poverty of the soul, that so easily turns against its own flesh and blood, or, in the case of the abortionist, kills for money.

Kmiec goes on to say:

As a Catholic looking at candidates, my faith instructs me to look at the whole person respective to the church’s social teaching on wages, education, issues of family, culture, responsibility toward the environment, the reduction of mindless or excess consumption. And the Catholic Church was quite explicit about the concept of preemptive war being contrary to the principles of just war. One of the things that happened to Catholics over the last two decades is because of the evil of abortion, we’ve been somewhat less mindful of the need to serve those around us—those who are calling upon us for assistance in a tangible way.

Which, again, is poppycock and balderdash. It would be like someone saying during the Nazi Holocaust, "Well, we've been so focused on the Nazi's habit of killing Jews and others they find undesirable that we've completely lost track of our duty to spread the Gospel and open homeless shelters." The fact of the matter is that abortion is the gravest moral evil known to man in our time (though I've seen shadows of some that are its equal in diabolical evil, and are only less in the sense of being less widespread, not less hideous and monstrous). All the other issues Kmiec cites are of less immediate gravity; though this does not mean they are unimportant it does make them of less importance relative to the continued practice of the legalized slaughter of unborn humans in America. It isn't rocket science to understand this; why do so many squishy Catholics find it difficult?

Commenting further on why his fellow Catholics aren't lining up to support Obama (and, in truth, the Catholic abortion quislings are shamelessly lining up for Hillary, perhaps mistaking her for Cthulu and deciding they'd rather not support the lesser of two evils), Kmiec says:

But I am a bit baffled. When I look at Obama’s eloquent speeches, his references to Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King, those are so much a part of modern Catholic education. And the preferential option for the poor or solidarity with the poor, how that is not heard by the Catholic mind has troubled me. So one of the reasons for speaking out at this point, and one of the reasons to (s)peak out on Easter Sunday, is to have my fellow Catholics reexamine this topic and listen with more careful ear.

Or it could be that your fellow Catholics are listening to Senator Obama with a careful ear already, and have seen him vote against protecting infants who survive an abortion, what I like to call Obama's "If Mom Wants You Dead, You're Dead, Baby!" vote. Some of us aren't inclined to hear much good from someone who so unhesitatingly supports evil--in fact, it seems naive (I can just hear Obama supporters in the future sputtering "But...but he said such good things! Before the election, that is! And now...and now we find out he lied? How were we supposed to know???" ). Here's a hint, people: someone who has no problem letting babies who survive abortion die afterward just might not be--shock, gasp--all that truthful! I know, it's hard to believe, but mark my words.

But here, at the end of his garbled interview, comes Kmiec's own moment of truth: when asked if he's heard from the Obama campaign since his endorsement, Kmiec replies:

They sent me a thank you note and an Easter card in electronic form.

Boy, have times changed: Judas got thirty pieces of silver for selling out. But I suppose in addition to his thank you note and e-card, Kmiec has something else: he has that warm glow, that feeling of being important and appreciated, which is so rare a thing in the life of an earnest professor.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Question of Personality

You Are An Intro-Extrovert!

Sometimes you're social - sometimes you're shy

You've got a bit of an Introvert / Extrovert split going on

You enjoy all sorts of situations. Parties, small groups, and alone time.

Too much of one, and you'll long for the other. You need variety!

Chances are, you've got both serious and fun friends - and they don't get along.

I've posted the above quiz in relation to this discussion at Danielle Bean's of this one at Amy Welborn's. It seems like everyone is talking about parenthood and introversion, or parenthood and personality type.

On the standard Myers-Briggs type of tests, I usually come out as an extrovert. But I like the Blogthings quiz above, non-serious though it may be, because it's more how I tend to feel. For instance, when a typical Myers-Briggs test asks a question like this: "Does spending time with people exhaust you or leave you feeling recharged?" my honest answer is "Totally depends on the people." And when the question asks, "Would you rather go to a party with friends, or stay home and read a book?" my answer, again, is, "Depends on the kind of party, the type of friends, and the author of the book!"

I'm not at all an introverted mom, but I don't know that I can take any credit for this. Growing up as the second oldest of nine children, I learned to tune out noise and distractions, not as a function of my personality but as a survival skill (those of you out there from larger families know exactly what I mean!) I had places in each of the numerous houses my family lived in that were my "quiet spots;" they ranged from a corner near some built-in bookcases to a tree outside a dining room window to a space behind a tall shelf that was set out a little way from the wall at just the right angle for a thirteen-year-old to squeeze behind and play a space-invaders handheld game (mute button on) for what seemed like hours at a time, though it probably never exceeded twenty minutes. Knowing that the quiet spots were there was all I really needed; being able to choose the occasional bit of solitude was sometimes more important than actually being alone.

So as I got older I sometimes enjoyed being alone, and sometimes preferred to be in the company of others. I remember especially in the months between quitting my job and Kitten's arrival, that I enjoyed the actual solitude of our tiny apartment--but was glad when Mr. C. got home each evening, and was glad to spend time with his family on weekends. I can't say that I'd enjoy copious amounts of solitude and silence; I'd probably be lonely, and I know I'd be less inspired to write anything--but by the same token the thought of a life of constant social activity seems like it would get rather tiresome rather quickly, too. A happy medium between social activity and opportunity for introspection seems like the ideal to me.

Before seeing all the posts on the topic of parents and personality types, I didn't realize how much of a blessing it is to be a middle-of -the-road sort when it comes to the introvert/extrovert category. After reading about how difficult it can be for the introverted parent to deal with extroverted kids, or for the extroverted parent to understand the introvert's need for some quiet alone time, I can realize that being able to relate and sympathize with either type is an advantage for a mom.

Even so, I know that part of being a parent is understanding that your children are their own unique selves, and that they will find early opportunities to express this. I recall being utterly enchanted by Kitten when, at age five months, she suddenly and abruptly refused to be covered by even the lightest of blankets, and would kick her little legs furiously until the blanket was off, grinning at me the whole while. She later became the most "blankie" attached of my babies, and had to drag around with her not only her own blanket, but one for her favorite stuffed toy, too.

But after Kitten came Bookgirl, who wasn't particular about blankets one way or the other; she sometimes carried a little receiving blanket around, but more in imitation of her big sis than for any other reason. I never really saw her snuggle it or chew on it like Kitten would do, and she never got into a panic if it couldn't be found.

And then Hatchick arrived; one day, when she was still only a couple of months old she was in one of those fussy baby moods, and I couldn't seem to soothe her at all. As I put her down on my bed to check her diaper for the umpteenth time to see if changing it would help, Kitten, age about two and a half, came and stood beside the bed and solemnly assessed the situation. "She need her blankie," Kitten pronounced; she went to the bassinet crib beside my bed and pulled the green fuzzy receiving blanked out of it. Then she set it gently down beside her sister, and placed a corner of it into Hatchick's hand.

Hatchick immediately stopped crying, her little fingers curling and uncurling around the soft edge of the blanket as her eyes began to droop closed. She ended up being as blankie-attached as her oldest sister (in fact, she still has that green 'blankie').

That moment, like so many in parenthood, was the kind of moment when you realize that God made families the way He did for a reason. If Mom can't intuitively grasp all the different facets of each child's personality, maybe Dad will know, or maybe an older sibling will hear a sound in the baby's cry that's easier for her to understand than it is for either Mom or Dad.

So if Mom is an introvert trying to understand why one son or daughter always wants to be with other people, or if Mom is an extrovert who gets frustrated by a child's shy demeanor, it's really going to be okay. Mom isn't in this alone.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Chore Chart (R)Evolution

Did you have a nice Easter? We did! It was fun to spend some time with family and just relax after all of the choir obligations for Holy Week.

My sister, who was our hostess for Easter Sunday, has just moved with her family into a new home. I complimented her on the nice, uncluttered look the house has--it's wonderful when you move and can be ruthless about getting rid of unnecessary stuff! I've been wanting to start a massive clean-out for several weeks now, but fortunately had the sense to put it off until after Easter, so the focus could be where it was supposed to be.

And while it's still the Easter season and there are still many opportunities to celebrate between now and Pentecost, it's starting to feel like spring-cleaning time around here. I have lots of ideas for things to do this year, but the first thing on my list of things to do was a much-needed overhaul of the chore chart.

Chore charts need this, I've found. The simple lists of tasks that early helpers love to "check off" grow to something more complex, for a while--and then, all of a sudden, your children are beginning to be old enough for a new kind of simplicity, a simplicity that doesn't need to divide tasks by person or to get down to specific details about every job. And schedules change, too, which makes it necessary to see if the reason a certain chore doesn't get done is because that chore always falls on a day of really hard math or grammar, or on a day when an outside activity is planned.

Our current chore chart has gotten kind of--well, cluttered. There are the daily meal tasks--whose job it is at breakfast, lunch, and dinner to clear dishes, rinse them and put them in the dishwasher, wipe the table or sweep the floor. There are the weekly tasks, too, as well as the assigned laundry days and the daily hints for tidying the school room after school and the bedrooms. It's all gotten kind of disjointed, and aside from the daily meal tasks not much of it gets done when it's supposed to.

So I've been pondering the matter, and have come up with some new ideas for the chart:

1. The meal tasks will remain the same. This is the part of our chore chart that works the best; and if someone, say, gets too busy to sweep the floor after breakfast I can rest assured that it will be done after lunch--and that the girls "police" each other so that no one ends up being the only floor-sweeper or table-wiper of the day.

2. The laundry days are changing, and being more strictly enforced. This has been one of the weakest areas of the chore chart, mainly because I still need the most time for weekly laundry but the girls need to do a couple of loads each (this is what happens when your daughters are taller than you are, or at least the older two; their clothes are adult sizes and fill a washer load much faster than they used to!). Kitten is getting Wednesday, as I can trust her to get her laundry in and out before we have to go to choir practice; Bookgirl will move to Tuesday, and Hatchick, who hates laundry and becomes rather dramatic and/or evasive when told to do hers, will get Thursday.

3. The suggested daily tidying is being revised to this: at the end of the school day, a fifteen-minute timed clean-up and decluttering. This is the only idea I've implemented so far from the Flylady website; though I like lots of the suggestions I don't find all of them a good "fit" for my way of doing things. But a fifteen-minute timed cleaning session "flies" by and gets more accomplished than lots of specific nagging; I like to join in, as it's a great time to concentrate on kitchen clutter and/or piles of junk mail or other clutter hot spots. My kids did groan a little when I informed them today that this was going to be a new part of our daily routine, but by the end of the fifteen minutes we were looking for things to work on--and that was without Kitten's help, as she was busy finishing some schoolwork!

4. The weekly tasks are going to look like this: Monday, gather and take out trash and recycling; Tuesday, vacuum, Wednesday, help Mom tidy the kitchen, Thursday, tidy bedrooms, and Friday, help Mom clean bathrooms. "Little" chores like dusting, damp-mopping the kitchen or tiny tiled entryway, and the like will either be done on days when the girls don't need to do the regular chore for some reason (if I vacuum the house on Monday, for instance) or during our fifteen-minute tidy if we run out of things to do.

Once our new system is up and running, I plan to spend more time on the clutter trouble spots. Like anyone who has lived in a house for more than a few years, we've accumulated too many things, from extra dishes we rarely use to outgrown coats (I always remember to clean out the girls' clothing, but for some reason in Texas I forget about the coat closet!) to linens/blankets to toys to books to...but you get the idea. I'm looking forward to tackling these areas one at a time in the upcoming days and weeks.

It's wonderful to have such "big" helpers these days!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Sunday

Toward the end of the novel "The Count of Monte Cristo," Alexandre Dumas has his once-vengeful Count pen these words to the two characters toward whom he has acted with true mercy:

There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is
only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more.
He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience
supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die,
Morrel, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of living.

"Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and
never forget that until the day when God shall deign to
reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in
these two words, -- `Wait and hope.'

This is the message of Easter: Wait, and hope. Wait, for the fullness of God's plan to be revealed; hope, when to hope is to turn away from the cruel realities of life in joyful expectation that we are loved, and that the One who loves us will not abandon us to sorrow.

In this life we experience suffering, not only on our own accounts, but, most painfully as parents, on behalf of our children. The first tiny cuts and bruises a toddling infant sustains are a hideous reminder of mortality, something we can't even bear to think about when these babies are clasped to our hearts. To be a parent is to worry--but so it is, to be a child, a husband or wife, a family member or friend. To love at all in this vale of tears requires a mixture of courage and amnesia; we could never love at all, were our thoughts forever focused on the brevity of life and the inevitability of sorrow and pain, especially the pain of parting.

The eleven faithful Apostles knew this pain when they suffered through the events of Good Friday. It must have seemed ironic in a way that the only one of them to stand at the foot of the Cross, St. John, would probably have been the only one able to find any comfort at all in the hours that followed--not the comfort of implacable hope, for they hadn't yet understood what a miracle of joy would soon find them, but the comfort of knowing that he at least hadn't abandoned our Lord in His hours of agony, and that he had been able to care for Mary at our Lord's command. But even this would have been a cold comfort; as for the rest of them, perhaps only Peter felt the pain of betrayal, but they all knew they had abandoned Him in fear and terror.

Still caught in this fear, still hiding, still thinking their own final hours were approaching, they heard the staccato knock of the women at their door, and listened to their garbled but joyous message. The light of Easter was beginning to pierce through the gloom of sorrow; yet not until they had gone to see the empty tomb for themselves did the Apostles begin to dare to hope in a miracle that lay beyond all human experience.

And then He came to them, and spoke of peace. He was there; He was real, not a ghost, He was alive, He was risen.

In our own lives we will lose people we love, and we will be full of sorrow. But the miracle of the Resurrection means that those words, "Wait and hope," truly do contain the summit of human wisdom. Wait, for we will be reunited with them. Hope, for the God who is all goodness and all mercy desires our eternal happiness with even greater fervency than we do, and was willing to suffer a death of infamy to purchase it for us.

The time of our waiting is unknown to us, but it will seem so very brief, in retrospect. And when in the Heavenly Kingdom we are joyfully reunited with all the ones we loved, who had gone on before us, we will wonder at our former sorrow, and find it strange, as strange as the Apostles must have felt when they realized all that Jesus had been telling them before, that He would die, but that He would also rise.

He is risen! Let us wait in joy for His coming, and hope with love to see Him soon!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Blessed Triduum all of you.

I'll be back on Easter Sunday!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wednesday Night

Imagine for a moment that you are one of the Twelve, one of Christ's own chosen disciples. For nearly three years now you have followed in His footsteps as He has preached, healed, performed miracles, prayed, and taught. Some of His teachings were told to your little band alone, words you listened to and pondered without always understanding them; but in the main you have participated in His acts of ministry, even at one point being sent out, as part of a larger group, to teach and heal and cast out demons on your own.

You have been thinking for some time that He is the Messiah, the Chosen One, the One foretold in Scripture. Now, not too long ago, He confirmed that when Peter guessed at it; and if that weren't enough, your entrance into Jerusalem this past Sunday pretty well seals the deal--He was welcomed like a King! Surely the time has come. He's been saying so, talking with an intensity about the coming Passover feast that makes it seem as though something pretty wonderful is about to happen, though to be honest He's also said some things about "being handed over" and "going to the Father" that you're not really sure about. However, you believe in Him, and you believe that the glorious reign of the Son of David is about to begin--and you're part of it, you're in His inner circle, among His closest friends.

And now you find out that He plans to eat the Passover meal with you tomorrow. Tomorrow! And after that--but you're almost afraid to speculate. All you know for sure is that it's going to be even more wonderful than that crowd of welcome, lining up to shout "Hosanna!" and to lay their cloaks at His feet. You are so incredibly happy, so grateful to God for having selected you to be here, where you are, at the coming of the King of Israel.

You don't know what lies ahead. You don't understand that in the next two days something that is wonderful, yes, wonderful and terrible is about to happen. You don't know that He plans to ordain you to continue His work, that He intends to feed you not only with the ritual meal of the Passover but on His own Precious Body and Blood. You don't know that shortly after that you will accompany Him to a garden where you will sleep through His agony, through the first shedding of His Blood for you, for everyone, for the many. You don't know that He will be seized, arrested, tried, convicted, and executed before the middle of the day on Friday, that two more nights from this night you will be hiding, sobbing, broken, alone. You don't know that instead of thanking God for letting you be present for the coming of the Messiah you will feel completely forsaken by Him, as if He never cared for you at all; you will feel, in your imagination, the cords of imprisonment encircling your own hands, and see yourself dragged away and murdered by the Romans just as Jesus was. Were it not the eve of the Sabbath, you would be fleeing in abject terror; but it's too late, now, and where will you go, anyway? He was known throughout the land, and you will be in danger of being recognized wherever you go.

But it's only Wednesday night, and you don't know any of that is going to happen. You've never been more proud or happy or joyful than you are at the present, thanks to that triumphant parade into Jerusalem, and the promise of the Passover meal tomorrow night. You believe with all your heart that Jesus is God's Chosen One, and you confidently expect him to be anointed as a King. There is no hint, even, of trouble on the horizon; when you look back, in the years to come, on this day you will understand that He knew, and spoke frequently of His death, but that you didn't realize what he was saying, or what a mystery of sorrow the next several days were going to hold.

If you were one of the Twelve, you might have been thinking these things--unless you were the one who was thinking, instead, that it was up to you to get the Messiah to reveal Himself, unless you were blinded by your own greed and ambition, and believed that your secret visit to the chief priests was justified on the grounds that someone had to take charge of things; unless you were the one whose soul was most impervious to His presence, thinking that He didn't know you were skimming from the money bag, thinking He wasn't aware of your bitter jealousy toward Peter, who had been praised, and James and John, who had asked to be princes in His kingdom; unless...

...unless you were Judas Iscariot, who alone of the Twelve on Wednesday night knew that things were about to change.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Harriet Miers Moment

So, yesterday I said I wouldn't be blogging much this week. Promises, promises.

But in light of Barack Obama's speech regarding the Jeremiah Wright controversy, I've decided to jump into the discussion. There's quite a lot to look at in that speech of Obama's, and I think it's the sort of thing that calls for careful analysis.

The full speech is here. It's length prohibits posting very much of it, but I will post those sections that seem especially worthy of discussion. The words of the speech will be in italics.

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy...

Right off the bat, Obama strikes a note that subtly hearkens back to the Gettysburg Address: "Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Aside from noting that Lincoln said it better, two places in this passage are a bit jarring: "...a group of men..."? In light of what this controversy is all about, wouldn't it have been better for Obama to have said something like "our founders" or "our founding fathers"? By using such bland words to describe the framers of our Constitution Obama is, I think, trying to be all things to all people; if we've learned nothing else from the samples of the Rev. Wright's speech we've heard this week, we've learned that many in the African-American community do not consider America's founders to be worthy of any particular respect. Whether that is justified or not is another debate, but for the moment it's at least troubling that Obama would so carefully avoid offending that particular segment in a speech that was designed to distance him from Wright's rhetoric.

The other word I dislike is "improbable", but that's probably just me. I've heard the American experiment described many ways, but "improbable" seems rather negative.

It [the Constitution] was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

"Original sin of slavery"? That's rather loaded. Not only is Obama drawing an equivalence between the Fall of Man and the existence of slavery at the time of the founding of America, he's also implying that slavery is to America what original sin is to man--not a light analogy, considering that original sin shattered man's relationship with God, darkened man's intellect, gave greater rein to his passions, and weakened his resistance to sin and evil, not to mention depriving him of eternal happiness. The analogy makes the founding of America akin to the banishment from the garden, the Civil War the fulfillment of the prophecy of salvation, and Lincoln Christ--which makes Obama the Second Coming, if you carry the analogy to its conclusion.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

Why is it that when I hear a string of words like "...more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America..." all I can think of is "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others?" These are the kinds of rhetorical flourishes Obama's famous for, but when you examine the words, you'll find that they mean little. How, exactly, are we going to make people "more equal" than they are now? Or "more free"? Or "more caring"??? That last isn't exactly the sort of thing that's measurable, anyway, which makes it very convenient to promise.

Obama then shares the story of his background for the millionth time in this campaign (did you know John Edwards' father worked in a mill?). He concludes:

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.

Is it just me, or is it weird to think that one has ideas seared into one's genetic makeup? The only things seared into my genetic makeup are redheaded tempermentalism and a crippling love of carbohydrates.

Cutting to the chase regarding the questions of racism, Obama says:

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

What a neat trick in the art of equivalence this is! Rev. Wright's speech is no different from people who say that Obama's the affirmative action candidate (not that I've heard anyone say that, but still). Moreover, Wright's words, instead of being bigoted, hateful, and disgraceful, merely "have the potential" to widen the racial divide. This isn't that far from the apology-non-apology example, the "I'm sorry you were offended" sort of phrase that takes no responsibility for the offense. Note what he's really saying here: that Wright's use of incendiary language is the problem. Oh, wait, the views denigrate the greatness and goodness of our nation, too. How about "views that promote hatred of white people," Obama? But he can't say that--that would be to admit that he took his family, week after week, to a church that openly practices racism.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy.

Here and elsewhere Obama avoids getting specific about those statements. This phrase makes it seem that it's the fact that the statements caused any controversy that must be condemned.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

This is the closest I think Obama gets to being clear about the problem, and yet he still says "...elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right..." which makes one wonder--does he share the Rev. Wright's views about what is wrong with America? Is his argument with Wright based more on proportionality than a disagreement with facts?

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church?

This is the million-dollar question, but the weakest section (and almost the lengthiest) follows. Several jumbled paragraphs discussing Obama's relationship with Wright, the reality of the black church experience, and the notion that the anti-white racism that pops up now and again is simply a reality for blacks in America today are laid out, and yet none of them really answers the question--perhaps because it is unanswerable.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

Others have pointed to this passage as the worst one in the speech. What kind of equivalence can there be between a man one voluntarily associates with, and one's own grandmother? Obama is attempting to blur the lines between family and friends; he's done this before, by calling Wright a kind of "uncle." But Wright is no relation to him; Obama chose to befriend this pastor, and to attend his church for two decades. His grandmother, to put it bluntly, is irrelevant to the discussion, and it's a particularly nasty thing to do to equate her occasional racist notions (not uncommon in her generation) to the sermons of the Rev. Wright, particularly as she's still living.

But beyond the "grandmother" question, there's another. Obama says he could no more disown Wright than he could the black community--implying that the entire black community is inherently racist and bigoted against whites! With friends like Obama...

Obama then moves on to a general discussion of racism in America. There are some good points, some bad ones, and some real head-scratchers in this section of the piece, but the main thing he's attempting is to move the question beyond Wright and his racist views. By returning to the tried-and-true theme of white racism and white bigotry that has kept black Americans from reaching their potential, Obama hopes to get away from the discussion of Wright racism and Wright bigotry; and in fact, when he brings Wright up again, it is only to remind his listeners how men of Wright's generation experienced firsthand the world of segregation, which makes their Sunday morning views more understandable, at least according to Obama.

He then touches on the resentment brewing among middle-class white America over some of the effects of affirmative action, and says:

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

I can't help but admire the cleverness of this, even as I disagree with it. Obama is drawing yet another equivalence in his speech, this time between Wright and talk-radio hosts. But any reflection on this reveals a clumsiness underneath the cleverness: no talk-show host or conservative commenter has ever been the twenty-year spiritual mentor of any presidential candidate, as Wright has been to Obama. This is one attempt at equivalence that has the potential to backfire, and backfire badly.

After comparing black and white racism and referring to the "racial stalemate," Obama says:

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

You know there's an "or" coming, right? Before we go there, though, notice how once again Obama is being rather dismissive of the idea that he agrees with Wright's "most offensive words" without saying what he does or doesn't agree with.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This is the "or" his listeners were expecting, and from this paragraph on Obama lists the things he thinks Americans care about, from schools to health care and on through the Democratic Party platform's points--some of them, anyway; there's no sop to his Planned Parenthood supporters, but I suppose it would be out of line in a speech where he's hoping to neutralize controversy.

He ends with the usual sort of "inspiring anecdote" so his listeners will have the feel-good takeaway they were expecting; it's not a bad story, but it doesn't come across as well in print.

But what I think Obama failed to do, or even to understand, in this speech is a rather profound thing, one that has ominous implications for his campaign. The discussion about Obama's association with Jeremiah Wright is not, ultimately, about whether Obama himself is secretly an anti-white racist or has strong sympathies with that element within the black community; it is, in the end, a question of judgment. What troubles some of the people who might have been inclined to support Obama before this incident is the odd disconnect between the image of the savvy, smart politician, and the tone-deafness implied by the idea that Obama has never had a problem with Wright before now. It's not that Americans want to elect a man who has wanted to be president all his life, and has therefore carefully cultivated every friendship with that in mind (e.g., John Kerry); but Wright is more than a mere friend to Obama. It is Obama himself who has pointed to Wright on many occasions, referring to him in his books, in speeches, and in other venues as a man who has had a deep and lasting influence on his life.

And so Obama had no choice but to continue to stand by Wright, while denouncing, albeit obliquely, the latter's racist views. The comparisons Obama drew between Wright and his own grandmother, Wright and the black community at large, and even Wright and talk-show hosts may temporarily quiet some of his critics, but it's only going to fuel others, particularly those who will demolish these as false comparisons and demand to know why Obama would select as a mentor and guide a man who espouses such hateful views. The questions this choice of association raise in the minds of many will not be answered by this speech; they will be heightened, especially now.

Because we've had eight years of a president who is inclined to overlook and excuse the flaws of cronies and to value loyalty above any other quality; that Obama would be ready to do the same thing in regards to Wright is going to leave an unpleasant taste in the mouths of many. Some people were hoping that this Wright speech would be Obama's Sister Souljah moment; unfortunately, Obama's speech makes it clear that Wright is going to be his Harriet Miers moment.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Light Blogging Ahead

A blessed Holy Week!

As we move forward into this week of commemoration of the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, I'll be remembering all of my kind readers in my prayers.

Because this is the most "music-intensive" week for a choir family like ours, and because most of you will have far better things to do this week than read blogs, I won't be writing much between now and Easter Sunday, though I do have a brief meditation planned for the middle of the week.

It seems impossible and incredible that our Lenten observances are drawing to a close already, but I know that the week ahead will provide many opportunities for loving sacrifices and the chance to join in prayerful remembrance of our Lord's Passion.

Whether your life permits you to be a part of the liturgical celebrations throughout this week, or whether the care of small or sick children, elderly parents, or your own health considerations prevent you from being a part of them, you can still do many things to join with the Church at her prayers this week--a lesson I had to learn when my babies were too young for 7 p.m. services. Each act of loving sacrifice you offer to those in your care can be lifted up with the Cross, an offering as pleasing and acceptable to God as your presence at Holy Thursday Mass or Good Friday services.

God bless all of you!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Favorite Parables Meme

Laura at Jingle Bells and Jelly Babies has tagged me with a Favorite Parables meme. Okay, she actually tagged me ten days ago, and it has take me this long to sit down and do it--so sorry, Laura!

Here are my favorites, in no particular order:

The Unjust Judge

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

The Sower

The Wise and Foolish Virgins

The Lost Sheep

For some of these, it may be necessary to scroll down a bit to find the parable; I've just linked to the page they're on.

Now, whom should I tag?


How about anyone who hasn't done this meme and wants to?

As a Lenten meditation, I highly recommend it; I realized in selecting these that the messages that most resonate, to me, are the ones in these five:

1. Be persistent. God will answer your prayers; but He likes to be asked!

2. Humility is a greater treasure than any amount of social and material blessings.

3. If we want our faith to grow, we need to make sure it falls on good soil. Good soil doesn't come about by accident--prayer, frequent reception of the sacraments, and pious practices will uproot the weeds, remove the paving stones, and provide a better place for our faith to flourish.

4. Never underestimate the value of being prepared. Spiritually, that is. It's easy to keep being good when we're not tested, when the Bridegroom comes as soon as He's expected. The extra oil is the spiritual strength we need to develop for the times when He seems to be late, and when our faith is tested by trial, dryness, distraction, and the like.

5. No matter what we do or have ever done, Jesus' love for us is never vanquished. He seeks us constantly, calling our names; His mercy and forgiveness are unfailing. The moment we turn to Him again, having turned away, He is ready to take us back; more, He rejoices in us, forgetting the sins we've confessed and celebrating, instead, our return. Though our sins forged the nails that held Him to the cross, though our evil ways wove a crown of thorns and torment, He still seeks us as the shepherd seeks the one lost sheep, ready to unleash the thunderous joy of Heaven if we repent and return to Him.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dust in Space

Hard on the heels of the announcement that a Roman Catholic priest has won the prestigious Templeton Prize comes this rather interesting story. I won't repeat all the technical details, but one thing seems clear: our planets are made of dust.

Swirling dust clouds around baby stars eventually grow up to be grains of sand-like particles; and someday, they may be rock. And then even planets, in a process that takes so long as to be mind boggling.

Some people seem to think that science and religion must be in conflict with each other, with one shining brightly through the gloom and the other swirling around in angry obscurity. First, they say, we had the age of religion where no one wanted to know the "how" of things; now we're in the age of science, where the "how" is explored to the infinitesimal level while the "why" is overlooked as irrelevant.

But either generalization is far too sweeping, and quite wrong. The early scientists were rather religious people, after all: pagan, but religious nonetheless. And though the unfortunate incident involving Galileo gets blown out of all proportion, the Church has never been the enemy of science, only of secularism, which tries to pretend that because science has demonstrated how creatures might have developed over centuries this therefore proves that the creatures never needed a creator, a non-sequitur to end all non-sequiturs.

The religious person who enjoys learning about our wonderful universe will never feel his faith called into question by his studies (though, alas, it may often be called into question by his professors). Learning the marvelous ways of God doesn't, or shouldn't, lessen one's appreciation for Him; it is not, after all, as though God were merely a skilled conjurer, and the universe a trick which the debunker can now replicate to show how easy it all was.

Though I sympathize with the proponents of Intelligent Design (mainly because in school textbooks the theory of evolution has been secretly replaced with the practice of materialistic secularism), evolution, properly understood, isn't an enemy of Christianity. It may not be right, either; one of the problems of scientific dogmatism is that scientists are rather religious about their theories, and have trouble looking objectively at evidence which doesn't fit a preconceived notion. Evolution may not be the whole story, or even part of it; but if it is, this doesn't provide any greater challenge to religion than an understanding of how planets might be formed, or what stars are made of.

If scientists ever start to claim that they can look to the swirling clouds of dust in space and see the origins of the human soul, then we might have grounds for religious objection. More than likely, though, what we would have would be just hubris on the part of science, a not entirely unheard-of phenomenon. For without the Creator, even the dust in space is illogical in its presence; even if we could somehow rationalize the dust, and the space, and the stars, and the planets, and even the men, we could never begin to explain why the latter can strive for greatness, appreciate beauty, weep in sorrow and in joy, or believe to the point of death that they contain within them an eternal component that has a bright eternal destiny, a destiny that lies far beyond the destiny of dust.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Fall

There is nothing like the spectacular fall from grace of a politician known for being tough on the very sort of activities in which he is eventually implicated to bring out the best--and worst--in journalistic commentary. Perusing articles about Eliot Spitzer today I read everything from well-written and thoughtful examinations of the man and his conduct (hat tip: Crunchy Cons) to ridiculously written essays in postmodern values, and just about everything in between.

Granted, there are many things about Spitzer and his present reality that are tailor-made for comments and speculation. It seems almost Gothic for a man in his position to have paid for a certain sort of companionship that, one would think, is only too readily available in this world for free--and that presumes that Mr. Spitzer wanted the company of women other than Mrs. Spitzer, which is sadly something that all too many husbands want, in regards to their wives. But to purchase the bored but probably efficient company of women who in all likelihood found him tiresome, demanding, pitiful and dull seems not tragic but pathetic, and pathetic in a way that creates a vast roaring smallness in a man, as if he has revealed to the world that his soul crawls the earth on its belly, consuming dust.

But such is it always with sin. There is no sin, however grand and dramatic it may seem to the sinner, that is not tiny, weak, sniveling and mean. Sin is lowness; it is common, in more than one sense of the word. It is the selling of a precious birthright for pottage; it is the retailing of the image and likeness of God Himself for the traitor's thirty pieces of silver.

The 9/11 hijackers were not great tragic figures; they were cowards. All terrorists are; there is no glory in fighting people who can't fight back, and no honor in deliberately killing innocent people for the sake of a twisted worldview. The various school shooters have all been cowards, too, cowards with delusions of grandeur and such petty smallness in their souls that they lacked the imagination necessary to live and let live. Murderers of every sort are cowards; they choose that someone else must die in order to keep on living the way they want to live--and whether they're offing Grandma for the insurance money or getting an inconvenient wife out of the way or targeting random strangers to feed their monstrous egos, the same cowardice underlies all of their actions. Theft is cowardice, too; it is not grand if we call it a heist and involve flashy cars and staggering sums of money in our illusions. Adultery and the other varieties of sexual sin are cowardly, in that they promise something valuable for a very cheap price, and actually give the adulterer something worthless and tawdry at a staggering cost.

The fact is that all sins are acts of small, mean, cowardly, weak, and impotent natures. And this is equally true when we're the ones committing them.

We blind ourselves to this at the time, of course. We reason eloquently that we are justified in this one little sin, this lie, this neglect, this failure, this betrayal. We play with fire, placing ourselves in the proximate occasion of sin with depressing regularity, as if we can somehow hold flames next to our skin without being burned. If we are caught out, we are angry--not with ourselves, but with those "judging" us or making us feel bad for what we've done. We follow Eve, and try to place the blame on others; we plead "Not Guilty!" when we know we are.

Eliot Spitzer has been caught in his sin, and the ugliness of it is magnified in our sight. But how ugly our own sins would appear to us, if for a day we had journalists and news personnel and professional pundits dissecting them in the public view!

As the first essay I linked to points out, Spitzer has not been an especially good man up till now; in addition to his current problems and his perpetually rabid pro-abortion views, he has apparently been involved in many other questionable activities. God may be calling him to true repentance, and we can and should pray for that.

But the truth is that since the Fall of Man, we've all been prone to these sorts of evil. Perhaps one person is beautifully chaste, but practices the gentle "art" of character assassination; perhaps another avoids both of those sins but delves into enthusiastic gluttony; perhaps yet another is good in both of those areas, but harbors hatred and contempt for his parents, whom he places in a nursing home and never visits. It should be no particular point of pride to any of us that we've never sinned as Spitzer has; we have done exactly that--we have forgotten that we were made a little lower than the angels, and have sought to be beastly.

That Spitzer's particular beastliness is more extreme and more visibly ugly than most of ours has ever been is not as comforting as it ought to be. We carry that same propensity for beastliness in ourselves, and have also fallen. However much the temptation might be to look at Spitzer's actions with condescending pity as if he were a breed apart, it is fundamentally dishonest to do so. The thing of darkness that precipitated Spitzer's fall can throw us down from the highest parapet, too, if we allow him to take us there in the first place, and listen to his evil whisperings about everything that will be ours if we only bow down and worship him.

At the Fall Eve listened to the world, the flesh, and the devil, and Adam listened to Eve. The same seductive voices of temptation swirl around us, and thanks to our first parents our nature, alas, is prone to heed them. Damaged by sin, we sin without ceasing; we would be hopeless indeed, had not the new Adam come to suffer and die for us, shattering the death-grip the chains of enslavement to sin had on us. Without His help we would never be able to break away from the ugly cowardly smallness of sin; but with Him, we can transcend our fallen natures and learn to be better than we are.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I've Been Meaning To Mention This

A dear friend of mine nominated this blog in the 2008 Catholic Blog Awards category, "Best Written Blog." It was very kind of her, although it is clear that given the other blogs in this category I don't stand what the latest Douglas Adams would have called "a whelk's chance in a supernova."

Although I'm not in the running, probably several layers below the top ten, I'd be very pleased if I got a grand total of five votes. So if you haven't already voted for a clearly superior blog in that category and wouldn't mind helping me to achieve this particular ambition, your generosity in throwing a vote my way would be most gratefully appreciated.

Thank you! :)

Myths and Realities of the Third Party Option

Last week I wrote about the various reasons to consider voting for McCain. A brief summary would include the following: one could choose to vote for McCain because he's more pro-life (if not perfectly so) than either Obama or Clinton; because he might appoint better judges; because he's less likely to create government-owned health care or similar behemoth institutions than the Democrats are; because he's at least sometimes likely to take conservative actions; and because we actually believe he will bring about an end to the Iraq situation sooner and more competently than the Democrats will. Any, or all, of these points can be argued, which is one of the many reasons I haven't made up my mind about him or anyone else yet (well, except Obama and Clinton; the only fun this election offers is the chance to vote against the Democratic nominee). You could, for instance, make a good case that McCain's not as pro-life as he says, that he'll be a disaster on judicial appointments, ruin health care in a way that's different but no less disastrous than what the Dems are proposing, untrustworthy on conservative issues, and likely to plunge us into even more military involvements in the Middle East. And the depressing truth is that you might be right; the recent history of the Republican party almost makes it easier to believe this dismal scenario than any hopeful ones.

Nevertheless, the posts I wrote earlier laid out some of the decision process, and some of the things people might be looking for to help them decide whether or not to support McCain in the general election. People of good will can disagree on this, after all; two different people might reach entirely different conclusions about whether or not to vote for McCain.

What we can't do, as Mark Shea continually points out, is choose to vote for the "lesser of two evils."

If we've reached the conclusion that McCain is actually an evil, albeit a lesser one than Obama or Mrs. Clinton, then we shouldn't vote for him. Note, though, that "evil" and "flawed" don't mean the same thing. One can decide that McCain is a flawed candidate, that he's not perfect, that he's barely passable, and still choose to vote in his favor; but once a person has decided that the things McCain wants, supports, promises, or backs are actually evil he's pretty much decided not to vote for McCain at all--or at least, that's what he should decide.

It's at this point that many Republican voters, especially Catholic ones, start to get a little bent out of shape, raising the following objections:

-We have to vote for a viable candidate, because we have a moral obligation to do as much as we can to promote good and stop evil.

-No candidate is really good. We have to choose the one who will do less harm.

-Voting for a third-party candidate is a waste of a vote. You might as well stay home.

-Voting for a third-party candidate is the same thing as voting for the more evil candidate.

-Though we'd like to have better choices, the reality is that we have a two-party system, and have had for a very long time. We can't ignore this, and voting in a way that tries to ignore this is ultimately a quixotic thing to do, especially when so much is at stake.

But each of these objections is not really considering the full reality of the situation, which is that we must never do evil, or give strong support to it. I realize that the Church permits us on occasion to vote for a candidate in spite of (but never because of) his evil position on an issue but I believe the situations in which one ought to do this are extremely rare: for instance, a race in which all candidates support the evil thing, but in which some of them clearly support it to a much greater degree, might provide such an occasion. But if there exists the option to write in a candidate that doesn't support that evil, isn't that the better course of action much of the time?

It is at times like these, when a strong candidate whose values are aligned with Catholic values isn't available, that the objections to the third-party or write in option begin to be heard; but I believe they can be addressed as follows:

We have to vote for a viable candidate, because we have a moral obligation to do as much as we can to promote good and stop evil.

We do have a moral obligation to promote good and stop evil; this is one of the reasons our civic duty to vote has moral aspects. However, to say that this duty precludes supporting a candidate simply because he is unlikely to win means that we define "winning" in an extremely short term and narrow way. Perhaps a real victory would be to break the stranglehold the two current parties have on our political lives, and to raise up at least one more party to be a viable contender in elections. It should be realized that even in earlier times third parties took a while to be established, with the possible exception of the Republican party, which took the presidency only six years after its creation. Did the people who voted for John C. Fremont in 1856 err by not supporting a viable candidate? Their actions directly led to the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, so I would say they did something much more important than what they would have done had they stuck to the "viable" candidates in 1856. Granted, it's likely that a new party would take much more than six years to be established today, but it's not impossible, and no one who sees the future of politics branching out beyond our stifling two-party system errs by voting for candidates who don't have a chance this year, if their ultimate goal is to create a new party who will give the RepubliDemocancrats a real run for their money at some distant future date.

No candidate is really good. We have to choose the one who will do less harm.

If you're speaking as Our Lord did, then no, no candidate is really good, because none of us are. But if you're adopting a defeatist attitude that pretty much expects to see kakistocrats in power, and keeps electing them, then you can't be surprised when that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The trickiest part of this choice is the notion of "less harm." It could be argued that a Democratic president who is hemmed in by a strong Republican congress will do less harm than an iffy Republican eager to prove his bipartisan creds by supporting all manner of dicey Democratic initiatives; so deciding who will do the least harm becomes a matter more suited to psychic predictions or chaos theory than to mere reason.

Voting for a third-party candidate is a waste of a vote. You might as well stay home.

Strictly speaking, voting for anyone but the winning candidate is a waste of a vote; fortunately, that doesn't stop us most years from turning out to support the candidate whom we believe will best serve us. And that's the thing: voting for the candidate you believe in is never a waste of a vote. It may be that the candidate you most believe in is one of the dominant parties' candidates; but if he's not, vote for him anyway. When enough people do this maybe we'll have a chance at getting out of the death grip of, to misquote Pat Buchanan, the right and left talons of the same bird of prey.

Voting for a third-party candidate is the same thing as voting for the more evil candidate.

No, voting for a third-party candidate is voting for a third-party candidate. If the evil candidate is elected, it's not a failure of the good, no matter how much we try to spin things that way. And if both candidates are evil, how exactly is electing "our" evil candidate a victory? Most people don't vote third-party in a knee-jerk fashion; usually, all the ramifications have been carefully considered beforehand. When I chose not to vote for Bob Dole, for instance, it was because I saw his influence at the head of the party as being potentially a very deadly thing, to the extent that electing him might almost be worse than the alternative. If I reach the same conclusion about McCain, I'll vote accordingly, and I won't have any illusions that doing so is somehow voting "for" the Democrat. Any vote against the Democrat is a vote against the Democrat, regardless of who I choose to vote for.

Though we'd like to have better choices, the reality is that we have a two-party system, and have had for a very long time. We can't ignore this, and voting in a way that tries to ignore this is ultimately a quixotic thing to do, especially when so much is at stake.

This objection could be paraphrased as the "Now, More Than Ever, We Can't Afford To Tilt At Windmills!" objection. The earnest people making it are usually quite sure that refusing to support the Republican nominee is exactly the same thing as sending Lady Liberty alone, naked and unarmed into some hidden cave in Afghanistan where Osama Bin Laden and his men are waiting to abuse and murder her. They get pretty agitated if you even hint that you're not quite sure yet, or that you might vote for the Constitution Party candidate.

While I appreciate their sincerity and their patriotism, the "Now, More Than Ever" objection has really long whiskers--I believe it was first used during the election of 1812. The mistake this objection makes is to see a presidential election as the one thing that makes the difference between success and failure, good and evil, right and wrong. But to do that is to forget that God is in charge. A quick reading of several chapters of the Old Testament shows that time and again, God used the wrong king or leader, even pagan ones, to do His will. He will not do less with us, and while this reality shouldn't lead us to a fatalism about the whole thing it also should remind us that ultimately His will will indeed be done; and He certainly doesn't want us to vote for a candidate we've decided is, or supports, evil.

Plenty of people will decide McCain's not evil, and will vote for him accordingly. Anyone who finds him impossible to support should not be concerned that a vote for a third-party candidate is somehow not a legitimate moral option: it is. In the end we are voting not just for a candidate but for our own consciences and souls; and there's not an election in the world worth winning if we have to sacrifice those to gain the victory.

Monday, March 10, 2008


We have a sick person in our house.

No, don't worry--it's nothing serious. Just what seems like a mild sinus infection that will probably clear up on its own.

Probably, that is, if this person will behave herself.

She's the worst patient in the house. She springs out of bed the moment she feels even remotely better, insisting to all and sundry that she's completely cured (and she's pretty darned convincing). She refuses to take time to drink the copious fluids needed to combat something like this; she's fond of soda, which has no nutritive value whatsoever. She insists on accompanying the family on their weekend errands, going along to choir practice, and otherwise getting out of the house.

So, naturally, she hasn't knocked this little bug out. To be fair, she hasn't even tried.

So today I had a little talk with her. I was stern.

"Listen, you. You're not going to choir practice tonight. You're not getting up and running around the house doing things that you don't really need to be doing. You're going to stay in bed as much as possible, take hot showers with lots of steam, take the time to take cough syrup when needed, drink orange juice and herbal tea, and get over this. I know you don't feel all that bad. You keep saying so, and I understand. But just because you don't feel bad doesn't mean you do feel good, so until this hacking cough and nasal dripping is completely over with, you're laying low. Got it?"

And I looked at my reflection in the mirror, nodded, sighed, and made myself some tea.

UPDATE: My supremely wonderful sister-in-law just drove over to my house and dropped off some absolutely delicious homemade soup, guaranteed to send congestion monsters fleeing with all possible speed! Thank you so very much--you're truly a blessing in my life (but you knew that already, didn't you?) :)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Keeping Vigil

You Are Midnight

You are more than a little eccentric, and you're apt to keep very unusual habits.

Whether you're a nightowl, living in a commune, or taking a vow of silence - you like to experiment with your lifestyle.

Expressing your individuality is important to you, and you often lie awake in bed thinking about the world and your place in it.

You enjoy staying home, but that doesn't mean you're a hermit. You also appreciate quality time with family and close friends.

I have to admit that I'm enjoying the occasional posting of a Blogthings quiz on Fridays. No matter how many serious topics to cover I still have on my list, by Friday afternoon it's hard to stay in the frame of mind necessary to discuss the evils of compulsory education law, the McCain/hawk problem, and why McCain's unquestioning support of globalism is one of the most troubling aspects of his candidacy.

So I'll put those on hold for a moment, and share the above quiz instead, with a few reflections.

I'm surprised at how well the quiz author pegged my favorite time of day. Midnight is a lovely time; in an ideal world I'd never be in bed before two or three a.m. There's something so wonderfully peaceful about a house that is settling into a deep quiet, about the hushed and still atmosphere, about the dim light and quiet voices (luckily for me, Mr. C. is a night owl too). I find it refreshing; sometimes it seems as though some normally quiet part of my mind doesn't really wake up until the hands of the clock start to point to Cinderella's doom, and from the recesses of thought come notions and ideas that have probably been percolating all day. During the summer I sometimes take advantage of that nocturnal creativity, and work well into the small hours on some tale of fiction that has proved elusive in broad daylight.

Of course, at this time of year, I'm constantly in flux. Accidentally staying up too late means that one of two things will happen the next day: I'll be a zombie, or I'll sleep in too late in the morning, which will make me stay up too late again, beginning a cycle that can be hard to break. But even when I'm really trying to go to bed at what most people would euphemistically refer to as "a decent hour," I find that I may or may not be able to quiet that stream of thoughts that rises in the middle of the night; I may sleep an hour and then seek vainly to return to sleep, having enjoyed a "nap" at 11 p.m.; or I may not fall asleep at all, and become so engrossed in my thoughts that I'm shocked and horrified to see the bedroom clock indicating that the hour is approaching 3 a.m.

True insomnia isn't really something I deal with very often, but one Saturday night in the recent past I was awake until nearly 6 on Sunday morning, falling into a short sleep and awakening at 8:30--just in time to get up for 11 a.m. Mass. There was a time when that would have been a real day-killer. But a year or so ago a period of wakefulness like this occurred right after I'd learned of a tragic event in the life of an acquaintance; ever after that I've thought of those occasional bouts of frustrating wakefulness as the opportunity to keep vigil with those who are awake for sorrowful or anxious reasons: a death in the family, a serious fight between husband and wife, a child in the hospital, a fretful baby who is up for the third straight night in a row with teething problems or diaper rash or colic, worry over the impending loss of a job, or any one of the other reasons people are robbed of sleep. I think of those I know who might be in those situations, and ponder the many I don't know who are also struggling; I present them to God, and offer the tiny sacrifice of my cheerful acceptance of my sleeplessness; I pray for them, that they will soon be granted peace and healing.

Though this doesn't always bring sleep, it does bring tranquility. I'm able to let go of that feeling of frustration anyone who has ever been unable to sleep knows well, and to regain my ability to relax. And the next day, that sense of tranquility remains; fortified by caffeine, I get through whatever the day requires of me.

I'm sure that morning people sometimes have this problem, but in reverse: waking up two or three hours before dawn (or whatever time they usually arise), they find themselves unable to sleep, too, and offer a similar prayer since they have found themselves, however reluctantly, awake too soon. I like to think that all over the world on any given night there are people who are wakeful and who offer this wakefulness to God, on behalf of those whose sorrowful eyes can't close, or whose anxious eyes remain open by the sheer force of the worry they are suffering.

By this time in my life, I'm fairly sure I'll always be a night owl. So, to my fellow vigil keepers who awaken around three or four in the morning from time to time--I'm glad you're there. I'll keep watch in the middle of the night, praying for all of us; and I'll happily fall asleep when you wake up and take over as you wait prayerfully for the dawn.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Snow Day

It snowed here in Texas today; the giant fluffy flakes spilled out of a leaden sky, taking over the work that some early freezing drizzle had begun. More importantly, at least as far as my girls are concerned, the snow stuck. And accumulated. We had a couple of inches on the ground, and could almost pretend that the defiant bits of grass poking through were totally buried, since only the longest and most recalcitrant blades refused to be covered.

So this afternoon my daughters bundled up as well as children in Texas who don't own snow pants can bundle up, and headed outdoors for a glorious half-hour or so of delirious fun. All those joys they've encountered more often in fiction than real life were theirs, including a snowball fight and the building of a very tiny cute snow mouse--the snow was wet and heavy, and resisted their attempts at larger acts of fragile creation.

And while they were playing, Mr. C. arrived home early--no one wants to drive after dark around here in this sort of weather, though our Northern friends laugh at us for this display of Southern caution. But really, a state like ours isn't equipped to handle the sanding of bridges and overpasses, and traffic bulletins are issued early on, urging drivers to use the utmost care and to curtail unnecessary travel. So I was glad to see Mr. C. home safely in daylight, and helped him sweep snow out of the driveway so our confused garage door would stop thinking there was an obstruction and refuse to remain closed. It was funny for me, born in the Chicago area, to realize that we'd never had to do this before, and probably never will again!

When the girls came in, they had hot showers, warm dry clothes, and steaming cups of tea to chase away the chill. Mr. C. built a fire in our seldom-used fireplace; we all gathered around and dozed on the floor in front of the warm flickering light, while the pot of split-pea soup with ham that I was making for dinner simmered merrily away in the nearby kitchen. It was peaceful; the few remarks we addressed to each other were in whispers, though no one had asked for quiet. The hissing and crackling of the fire, the low howl of the wind, and the bubbling of the soup were the noises we were all enjoying, so our occasional words were soft and low.

Soon it was time to gather around the table for a simple dinner, and more than one of the girls remarked that it had been a perfect day. And it had been.

Days like these are as rare and fragile as the beautiful glittering crystals that fell from the sky this morning are, at least here in Texas. And that's a good thing, even though it may not seem like it at first glance. No, I don't just mean that if we had snow all the time we wouldn't appreciate it; I know that from my own childhood. But whether you live where snow is a common and frequent visitor or a rare and treasured sovereign, the point is not about the snow; it's about the sort of day when everything gets put aside so that for one precious afternoon we can experience God's world, our relationship as a family, and the simple joys of home and hearth in a way that is deeper and richer than we ordinarily can.

It seems as though it would be wonderful if we could live like this all the time, but the paradox is that if we could live like this all the time, we would soon stop appreciating it. What makes a day a treasure in part is this rare and glittering quality, whether it comes from snow, from an infrequent gathering of family or friends, from the contrast with some period of suffering we've managed to pass through, or from some other thing that makes the day stand out in shining and glorious difference. Whatever the case, these days are precious because they are so few, so spontaneously granted, so gratefully enjoyed. In this life, they have to be few, to call forth from our hearts that sense of peace, joy, and thankfulness.

But though they are few here, I have a feeling that they will be our way of life in Heaven, where it will be possible to be at peace without becoming complaisant, to be full of joy without becoming sated with it, and to be thankful forever in the sight of the One to Whom we owe all our hearts' thanksgivings.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Nerve of Charlotte Allen!

The blogosphere has been in a furor over this article written by Charlotte Allen, in which she reaches the very tongue-in-cheek conclusion that women are rather dim. Though the article isn't perfect, it is funny, and the fact that so many women took it seriously and are now outraged adds a layer to the humor that makes it even more enjoyable.

But as funny as it is to see feminists of all stripes stomping their feet in the direction of this article all while shouting, "We're not! We're not! We're NOT!" at the allegations that women are sometimes hysterical and overly emotive, I think there's something a bit more serious going on here, something that may start coming more and more to the forefront of the social realities of women these days.

In the early days of the feminist movement, women like my mother, who rejected feminism and stayed at home to raise their children, were the target of everything from cold contempt to vicious satire. Choosing to remain in traditional roles while your "sisters" were out there fighting for corporate careers, the right to behave according to the worst examples of male sexual behavior, and the right to remain standing on the bus was an act of betrayal, as far as the early-era ERA drones were concerned. Stay-at-home moms, happily married to the fathers of their children and rejecting the revolving door of divorce and the false values of materialistic success, were a rebuke to the women who burned their bras and insisted on being drafted (not that they ever were; I sometimes think a female draft could have solved the problem of rampant liberal feminism once and for all). The two sides, traditional women and new feminists, were inextricably opposed to each other.

But as time wore on, a truce was forged. If feminism was really about giving women more choices, some reasoned, then how could anyone object if a woman really chose to stay at home and raise her own children? Branding this as an illegitimate choice had the potential to call into question other choices women made. Granted, no one wanted traditional women to insist that their choice was better, or that their decision to raise their own children amid a stable married environment was somehow a better thing for society than institutional daycare, multiple partnerships (married or not), and a succession of priorities all of which were elevated above the cares of home and family; but as long as traditional women were willing to see their place in society as that of a quirky individual making quirky individual choices which had no larger ramifications for society as a whole, then the feminists would stop being openly contemptuous and hostile, and move instead to an attitude of indulgent patronization.

That truce has held together for a couple of decades, give or take. But with the explosion of homeschooling, the rise in the number of women who see their choice to stay at home to raise and teach their children as an intelligent and beneficial one, and the awareness of many people that women who are stay-at-home and/or homeschooling mothers are actually making positive contributions to society by doing so, the old truce is beginning to crumble. Moreover, mothers who do work outside the home are no longer uniform in seeing that life as the perfect one; the pressures of trying to take care of children while working for a company that expects your undivided attention 24/7 is beginning to take its toll, and women are starting to see that, in many cases, feminism is leaving them with the short end of the stick. Instead of seeing stay-at-home motherhood as a dead end life of thankless drudgery, some young moms are starting to look at it wistfully, as something they'd actually like to do, if they could figure out the financial aspects.

And the old guard of feminism is getting alarmed. Linda Hirshman is a prime example of the rattled old feminist, who sees this new wistful appreciation for stay-at-home motherhood as a threat to the heady principles once forged over the scent of burning bras and patchouli. Women have to go collect paychecks, according to people like Linda, or the whole feminist movement is going to fall apart; there's no value other than the material, and if you're not getting paid to work outside the home, you might as well not exist. Besides, everyone knows that if women stop working outside the home we're all going to devolve into sixties sitcom wives, talking enthusiastically about cleaning products and standing on chairs at the first sign of a mouse, right?

Into the midst of this old-guard feminism tizzy rides Charlotte Allen, to point out with a wry smile that the feminists themselves are the ones acting like silly girls. Whether they're fainting for Obama, shrieking for Oprah, sighing over trashy TV romances or whining about the glass ceiling, they're acting far worse than even those old sitcom wives did; they're insisting on one hand that they can do anything men can do and should be treated just like "one of the guys," and on the other hand they're spending small fortunes on shoes and consulting iffy psychics or popular pseudo-psycho-spirituality experts in alarming numbers. It's as though feminists threw out the baby and kept the bathwater, if only to fill it full of expensive bath salts, stack smutty novels beside it, and immerse themselves simultaneously in bath and bathos.

And so Allen's article has gathered lots of attention, if you can call tomato-flinging "attention." But the ire of the feminists is rather transparent, after all. They're mad at Allen for having the nerve to point out the uncomfortable truth that for all their hard work and efforts, they're still the sort of people who react emotionally, buy into the culture of sickly-sweet girlishness, and think "That's not fair!" is an argument--or, in other words, they're still women.